Trade unions and economic crash


Madam, – David Begg is too modest (Opinion, December 13th). The repeated success of Mr Begg, through the process of social partnership, in funnelling a great proportion of the property boom revenue into the pockets of his public sector members is more than deserving of the recognition afforded by Stephen Collins. As they face another secure Christmas with their premium income intact, I’m sure his happy members will be raising a glass or two to Mr Begg and this outstanding achievement over the next couple of weeks. – Yours, etc,


Hollybank Road,


Dublin 9.

Madam, – David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in his article (Opinion, December 13th) disavowing any responsibility on the part of the trade unions for the economic crash, echoes the queen in Shakespeare’s Hamletwhen she says: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. He is correct in implying that reckless banks and a blundering government were the chief culprits and as he states that facts are sacred, some inconvenient ones should be considered.

In a crucial move in early 2001, Ictu joined the rest of the establishment in rejecting the censure by the European Union of the Government’s budgetary strategy. Months later, when the OECD said Ireland’s social partnership needed to evolve towards setting general principles and guiding pay determination rather than committing the Government to delivering specific tax cuts, the then incoming Ictu president, Joe O’Toole, criticised “academic bean counters” and said they speak from Paris “with an air of authority that is utterly undeserved,” when different governments and groups were queuing up to find out how we earned our economic success – a sign of the hubris that was common in the bubble years.

A year later, the benchmarking body suggested an average public pay award of 9 per cent but “strongly” recommended that 75 per cent of the payment be withheld until agreement was reached on how “real outputs” would be delivered. It also recommended that an “appropriate validation process” be established to ensure that agreements on issues such as adaptability, change, flexibility and modernisation were implemented in accordance with their terms.

The Government ignored the advice; it refused to disclose the data used to arrive at the award; it went ahead and stuffed a super-ATM full of cash to Ictu’s acclaim, and almost a decade later, reform is still awaited.

Despite the potentially influential roles of both Ictu and Ibec, the employers’ body, both groups avoided pushing for reforms because of knee-jerk pandering to their vested interests.

Mr Begg refers to the jump in net foreign debt at the banks from 2003, but he was a board member of the Central Bank at the time when it was full-steam ahead for the rocks.

If he had opposed Central Bank policy, he should have done what would have been very strange in Ireland: resign on principle. – Yours, etc,


Jalan Kiara,

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Madam, – David Begg of Ictu is focusing on the wrong culprits when he names the Irish Government and the Irish bankers as responsible for the crisis (Opinion, December 13th). True, both were more culpable than Ictu, but neither are as culpable as the ECB. The ECB presided over a deluge of speculative capital flow into Ireland from German banks and stood idly by, in spite of pleas to raise interest rates from Ireland.

Charlie McCreevy, and I am no fan of his, introduced three emergency fiscal measures in response to the ECB’s failure to act to prevent this speculation: 1. Set up the SSIA scheme, 2. Paid down large chunks of national debt and 3. Set up the National Pensions Reserve Fund. They were only partly effective although, in fairness, it is difficult to see what more he could have done without being over-ruled by Brussels. All three measures were designed to reduce the speculative over-heating of the Irish economy facilitated and encouraged by the ECB.

Why, pray tell, is the ECB now the only body not responsible for the crisis? In fact, it is set to make a tidy profit on the suffering of Irish workers and their children over the next three decades. Mr Begg should “follow the money” before he apportions blame overly parochially. – Yours, etc,


St Joseph’s Cottages,

Ashtown, Dublin 7.