Friday, February 20, 2009

The state of the nation.

I have shied away from this becoming an overtly political blog as the blogosphere is awash with them, and if they are from people with my own (left) leanings, then they are readable and enjoyable as I can empathise with them. I will occasionally write some posts with a polemic approach, if I feel strongly about something (as in this post on African colonialism some weeks back) - though I am not aggressive enough to be a true polemiscist by definition!)

This is a "cat's eye" on the road near Lismore - I like the imagery of the Irish Tricolour being driven over by the cubs of the Celtic Tiger which is now barely miaowing.

What has me exercised at the moment is the state of this nation and the carry on of the bankers and what they are getting away with - they have arrogantly bled the economy during the boom with the encouragement and collusion of the right wing Fianna Fáil government, and now when it all goes pear-shaped we are the ones paying for their excesses.
No-one will be called to account and as long as these high-stakes gamblers of our money stayed marginally within the law, morality and ethics don't seem to matter. Now we are all bankers - or owners of a pretty toxic bank - since Anglo-Irish Bank was nationalised a few weeks back. It isn't something you would be bragging about as it seems every day uncovers a new scandal relating to the wheelings and dealings that went on.

The latest insult to the national intelligence is the decision - unilateral - of the government to levy a hefty increase on the pension contribution of the workers in the public sector, which includes me, and most other nurses and teachers, and all civil servants. The rationale for this levy, designed to raise €2 Billion (euro) is that the public sector workers are guaranteed a fine fat pension on retirement with a guaranteed income based on final salary. Which all sounds fine and dandy, and has set us up as grasping pariahs in the eyes of many in the private sector, but is only half the story.

The government would like us all to be as placid as this cow -we need to know our place!
To qualify for a full retirement pension one has to have accrued 40 years of service, and to have paid contributions throughout. The final pension includes the State Pension (the old Old Age Pension in pre-PC days) and many of those who are at the lower end of the spectrum will never get much more than their State Pension, as their final salary would not be much higher than twice the State Pension. The most you can get is half your final salary, after 40 years, and pro-rata below this. The reality for most public servants is that most will not have 40 years service.

This can be partly explained by the bizarre (by todays' standards) ruling that required women to resign from their civil service jobs on marriage! This "Marriage Bar" was firmly in place until 1973, and shows how the past really is another country! The consequences of this is that many competent and talented women were lost to the public sector in those pre-feminism days, and have never re-entered the workplace at a similar level. Those who did resume work after children were reared rarely resumed similar work, and those who did were penalised by having to buy back missed years through either costly AVCs (Additional Voluntary Contributions) or equally expensive PNS (Purchase of Notional Service) payments.

No public servant has an opt-out option regarding their pension. The new levy which is a pay cut in any language is on a sliding scale based on salary, and is capped at 9.6% for those earning over €300,000. So there is inequity even there - it is easier to miss 9.6% at that earning capacity than to have a levy of 5.8% on €30,000 for a lower-paid worker.

So tomorrow there is a big rally in Dublin to protest at the levy and the inequity of targeting the public sector when the fat cats who were responsible for the economic downturn have got off scotfree. I will be there marching through Dublin city centre to Government Buildings, under the banner of my trade union, the INO - Irish Nurses Organisation - who are protesting along with all the other unions in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and probably many who are non-affiliated.

The government is trying hard to drive a wedge between the private sector and the public sector by a divide and rule classic colonial ploy, and the unions are determined not to let this red herring undermine the reality of our anger. The levy is unfair and inequitable by excluding those top-earners in the banks and financial institutions who creamed it during the boom. The public sector is an easy target, and it is to the shame of the policy makers that they disingenuously state that this is the price we have to pay for job security and a guaranteed pension. That this pension can be a pittance for many who through no fault of their own spent many years outside the workforce is conveniently forgotten.

I will have photos from the demonstration for another post - meanwhile please show your support for our actions and if you can - join in the rally and be at Parnell Square at 2p.m. tomorrow, virtually or in person!


At Home on the Rock... said...

Hi Catherine! I'm Linda from "At Home On The Rock" and have followed you here from the comment you left on my blog.

As you mentioned...Newfoundland does have a strong connection to Ireland. There are many Irish people here. Many people say Newfoundland scenery is similar to Ireland (although I don't know because I've never been to Ireland...although I would love to visit some day!). They also say Newfoundland is closer to Ireland than it is to western Canada. As we look out over the Atlantic Ocean, we always comment that Ireland is "just over there".

It's great to 'meet' you. Thanks for stopping by my blog and I'm looking forward to looking around yours!

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, Well done if you went on the march yesterday, I saw it on TV and could not believe the turnout! They reckon 100,000 marched in protest,I think there should be protest marches arranged in every city at the same time on the same day as the ordinary people are so incensed with the whole thing and each day brings out a new more shocking revelation.

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments.
Linda - good too have you here, with all the Waterford and Irish links to Newfoundland! I think your scenery is more rugged than ours, maybe less trees than here but the coastline here is very rugged in parts, have a look at the coastal shots in some of my recent posts - esp. frosty fluey january days.

Peggy - thanks for the support - I was indeed on the march yesterday, it was a fantastic turn out and support from the private sector especially Waterford Glass and SR Technics (team aerlingus formerly) beat the myth that it is only selfish public servants who want to stay on the gravy train. The greed of the big gamblers with our money has incensed everyone. I will try to write a follow up post.

Jeanne said...

Catherine thank you for letting me know you responded to my comment. I must admit I don't usually go back to a post I commented on to check for followup or subscribe to the comments(just posts in Google Reader). So little time for so much! What they tap the maple trees for here is the sap, which is then cooked down to make the syrup. A very premium price we pay for it also since it takes so much sap for a very little amount of syrup(it doesn't hurt the trees or I wouldn't use it). Interesting back story on Miss Ahern. I enjoy her writing and it's a shame her father's problems have dimmed her success. I somehow missed this post before. Like you, I try to stay away from making political posts. Can't help but have it trickle in there on occasion, it's part of life, but with all the gloom on both sides of the pond I keep trying to focus on more positive things. A Happy St. Patrick's to you! So right it's become a big celebration with many here. Mostly, to be honest as an excuse to drink. I somehow doubt that's what St. Patrick had in mind.