Nothing personal as Opposition smells blood over industrial strife

Dáil Sketch: Some early skirmishes in what could be a long war

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: “The deputy has a brass neck.’’  Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: “The deputy has a brass neck.’’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Fri, May 10, 2013, 01:00

Industrial strife is the ghost that could become flesh stalking the Government in the Dáil corridors and offices these days.

And it is becoming clear that Labour will be the Opposition’s main target if there is a summer of discontent as public service workers take to the picket lines.

Some skirmishes in what could be a long war took place yesterday. Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley challenged Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on the strife in Bus Éireann.

Dooley said the public was shocked at the Government’s apparent approval of the company’s intention to unilaterally impose severe cuts on the workforce’s pay and conditions.

Gilmore said the company was in a very difficult position. It had incurred accumulated losses of €27 million in the past five years, a position that was unsustainable and put the company at risk.

Dooley put the boot in. “One would have thought the Labour Party in Government would have looked at the workers’ situation,’’ he said.

It was too much for a grim-faced Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin. “The deputy has a brass neck,’’ he said.

United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly included Fianna Fáil in her verbal artillery fire. She suggested that it must have been pretty nauseating for the Tánaiste to take a lecture from Fianna Fáil about workers’ rights. But it was even more nauseating, she said, to hear the Tánaiste’s response.

“I ask the Tánaiste to explain the journey he has made on to the side of Ibec,’’ Daly added.

Gilmore allowed himself a brief moment of levity. “I get the impression the deputy does not think very highly of me,’’ he said.

Defending Labour’s record, he pointed to Government action in restoring the national minimum wage, legislating to reintroduce the joint labour committee system and recognising that people in low-paid employment needed to have a statutory framework to protect their pay and conditions.

Daly had no time for levity, as she brusquely assured the Tánaiste she had nothing against him personally.

She said she was trying to make the point that he appeared to be considerably out of touch with the reality on the ground.

The Tánaiste and his colleagues can take no comfort from Opposition assurances that there is nothing personal in onslaughts on the Government. There will be no let-up.

The Opposition scents political blood. And Labour is first in the firing line.