JIM POWER: Recent growth figures can’t be allowed to fuel unrealistic hopes

Jim Power

The week after Easter has become synonymous in my mind with some teachers behaving badly.

We see media reports of teacher union meetings, where some teachers behave in a manner that could politely be described as ill mannered.

Ignorant is the term I would prefer to use. I just cannot understand why any education minister would expose him or herself to the behaviour that has become an integral part of some of the teacher union conferences.

I wonder how those same teachers would react if their students behaved in a similar manner in class. I suspect the reaction would not be great, but if this is the sort of example that some teachers are setting for their students, it is inevitable that some students will regard such disrespectful behaviour as par for the course.

Teachers have an incredibly important role to play in society and I do firmly believe that the nation that does not treat its teachers properly and with a high level of respect is doomed to failure. Perhaps I have an old-fashioned view of the world, but I would have thought that as role models teachers should not show the example that has become too commonplace at the annual conferences.

I understand why teachers would feel aggrieved at the dual pay structure in teaching, but my understanding was that the established teachers at the time sold out on their younger and future colleagues to protect their own positions.

Whatever the reality is, it is clear that the dual pay structure will have to be eradicated as soon as this can be afforded. Therein, of course, lies the crux.

Apart from the disquiet evident at the teachers’ conferences, a lot of disquiet was also evident from their medical colleagues over in Killarney. The GP system, in particular, is straining at the edges and represents a fundamental blockage in the healthcare system. If the primary healthcare system is not functioning, as it should, then there is little hope for the rest of the system. GPs are now effectively running the GMS (general medical services) on a free gratis basis (not literally) and this is not a sustainable situation.

In addition, it is becoming more and more difficult for GPs to engage in succession planning and many practices are shutting down.

Last week demonstrated, very clearly, one of the two very serious challenges facing government. One is, obviously, the increasingly dysfunctional housing market, which is clearly feeding into the unhappiness of many young teachers in particular. The salary of a young teacher is now simply not adequate to get a mortgage and buy a house in Dublin, in particular.

The other issue is the intensifying pressure for higher pay in the public sector and increased spending on starved public services. The bottom line is that with the economy now seemingly motoring along and the public finance crisis apparently over, the pressure to raise government spending on everything is intensifying.

The reality, of course, and the problem for Government is that the public financial crisis is not over. One of the consequences of our bizarre national accounts and the grossly inflated level of GDP is that the fiscal parameters look a lot better than they really are and this helps fuel unrealistic expectations.

At the end of 2017, Ireland’s government debt to GDP ratio fell to around 70%, which is a pretty manageable level of debt, particularly when viewed in the context of the 120% level that prevailed a few short years ago.

However, if one strips out the multinational activities that so distort the monetary size of the economy, the debt level exceeds 100% of “real” GDP. This is still dangerously high.

Fiscal resources are still tight and the pressure for increased spending is virtually infinite. At the same time, there is pressure to reduce the personal tax burden, which includes employee payroll taxes, Vat, excise duties, and the local property tax.

It will take serious political strength and courage to manage these pressures. However, it is not clear that we currently have it.


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