Rabbitte 'genuinely puzzled' by talk of dissent in Coalition
INTERVIEW:FOR THE second time this week a Labour Minister in the Government has backed the idea of longer hours for teachers in the next Croke Park agreement on public sector pay and reform.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has expressed support for Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s proposal that the working week for teachers should be extended.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Irish Times, Mr Rabbitte said: “Substantial changes have been delivered by Croke Park, but we have to continue to change and change and change again.”
He added: “I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Ruairí Quinn to seek longer hours in the school system, for example, and I hope that the teacher unions will be able to facilitate that.
“But I think that has to be accompanied by an acknowledgment that public servants, like everyone else, have taken serious reductions in their pay and conditions.
“I don’t associate myself with the incessant clamour in some sections of the commentariat that we should take all public servants out at dawn and shoot them.
“The monochrome agenda of some people is only demoralising the public service at a time when we won’t be able to complete the economic recovery without the contribution and allegiance of the Irish public service.”
Mr Quinn had told the Sunday Times this week: “An awful lot of teachers are doing a lot of extra hours anyway. Why don’t we formalise that and quantify it?” Asked about relations between the Coalition parties and whether it was a stable government, Mr Rabbitte said: “I’m genuinely puzzled to see efforts being made to suggest that there is substantial dissent in the Government, because it actually isn’t true.”
He wasn’t denying that “there are problems in the Department of Health in terms of personal relations” but overall the Government had “a single-minded and unified focus” on economic recovery.
There was no alternative administration on offer at Leinster House: “Fianna Fáil has no credibility on the economy; the technical group are really for theatre and fun, rather than solutions; and Sinn Féin is entirely opportunist.”
On the controversial issue of a property tax, he said “apart entirely from it being an injunction of the troika, it is desirable that we broaden the tax base in Ireland”.
He added: “The household charge experience showed that a flat charge is not the fairest way to do it. Constructing the property tax is a challenge.”
When asked if the Government was considering a system whereby the rich would pay an extra premium on their property tax, he said he did not know where that suggestion came from, “because it hasn’t progressed to anything like that stage yet”.
On the growing influence of businessman Denis O’Brien in the media world, he said: “Powerful, wealthy men down the centuries have seemed to want to own huge tracts of the media, that’s been the case on the neighbouring island and elsewhere, and indeed here.” Along with secretary general Aidan Dunning, the Minister had a meeting in his department with Mr O’Brien, at the latter’s request, before the summer.
“I had made a speech somewhere on media and the new legislation and so on. And the tumult was going on in Independent Newspapers at the time and so on and he asked to see me,” the Minister said.
It was part of a series of meetings Mr Rabbitte had with various media interests: “He said he understood that undue concentration of the media was not desirable and unlikely to be tolerated by the Government, that he accepted that what he was engaged in, in Independent Newspapers, was protecting his investment and trying to restructure the group and so on.”
Since broadcasting is part of the Minister’s portfolio, how did he feel RTÉ had dealt with the fallout from the ill-fated Mission to Prey documentary and the libel action taken by Fr Kevin Reynolds?
“I’m not happy that it seemed to take them more time than it ought to have to respond to the Fr Kevin Reynolds case, but there isn’t any doubt that they have now implemented a raft of changes in RTÉ.”
There was “regular interaction” with the national broadcaster, and the Minister commented: “I think the boxes are being ticked”.
“The reputation of the company down the years has to count for something. A pretty awful mistake was made: hopefully the changes implemented will ensure that it is extremely unlikely to happen again.”
New legislation is in preparation by his Cabinet colleague, Richard Bruton to modernise and update competition and consumer law, particularly in relation to ownership and mergers in the media sector.
“Undue concentration of media ownership would be unhealthy in our society,” Mr Rabbitte said.