The airwaves are alive with the sound of dissatisfaction
RADIOOn-air clashes can be a sign of a good compromise – or of a barrel being scraped
If it’s the sign of a good compromise that no one is happy with the outcome, Croke Park II might well be the fairest deal yet. After the proposals on public pay were announced on Tuesday, the airwaves were awash with voices declaring dissatisfaction with the plan. Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) proved a particularly spirited forum for denunciations of union leaders by public-service workers vowing to reject the deal.
At the other end of the spectrum lay the financial adviser Eddie Hobbs, who went on Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays) to suggest that the mooted cuts did not go far enough. Even with the new deal, Hobbs told Jonathan Healy, the presenter, Irish public servants are highly paid by European standards. Even so, he exuded an air of grim satisfaction that the public-sector “cartel” was being trimmed.
“This has been a very privileged area that is now coming through the fur coats in the wardrobe from Narnia into the real world,” Hobbs said, winning the award for the week’s most tortuous metaphor.
Admitting the measures were deflationary, Hobbs said there was no alternative, repeating the mantra that “we’re out of road”.
He also invoked the often-used comparison between job security in the public service and the more ravaged private sector as though it were a revelatory game-changer.
More than 350,000 workers had received a “permanent pay cut”, he said, “and that’s never brought up”. Aside from in every argument justifying public-sector wage cuts, that is.
Hobbs, in fairness, did not think compulsory redundancies were the way to go; nor was he blind to the distress looming for many. “There are genuine people hurt in the public service by these cuts, and it’s going to push those on the margin into insolvency.” But this was no reason to avoid cuts: State workers in debt “endgame” would now join their private-sector counterparts in trying to get the best deal from new insolvency laws.
Hobbs seemed to think the State was better off allowing public workers to slip into the state of nature prevailing throughout much of the economy: nasty and short of money.
Hobbs also took time out to criticise the public broadcaster. He chided RTÉ for giving union leaders a “free run” during radio interviews, prompting Healy to reply that “we try not to give them a free run when they’re on here”.
If either man was alive to the irony of Hobbs being given free rein to air his own highly subjective analysis, he did not mention it.
In fairness, Newstalk presenters no more all read from the same hymn sheet than their Montrose counterparts. Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) looked back on the history of social partnership with the historian Diarmaid Ferriter, painting a largely sympathetic portrait of the concept behind Croke Park II.
Ferriter reminded listeners that the original social-partnership agreement, signed amid the depths of recession in 1987, was a reaction to the despair of the era and was “successful in building conditions for sustainable prosperity”. He also cited the late Mary Holland in pointing out that, while a consensual approach had its problems, it underpinned the notion of society in Ireland, rather than tearing the place apart.