An Ode to Autumn – “Season of hissy fits and shallow ruthlessness…”

The attacks on the Croke Park agreement move up a notch for the Autumn season.As the new school term gets underway, I am filled with reasonably fond memories of getting stuck into Keats’‘Ode to Autumn’ at the start of my inter cert year in 1983. Dublin had just won the All Ireland final, and the sun was mellowing on the back of a glorious summer.

I was fortunate in having a very gifted English teacher, Mr Brady, who was able to hush a large class of unruly young men by reading aloud and imparting the full effect of the poem’s haunting lyricism. Mr Brady had the distinction too of dispensing neat lines in useful wisdom to us. One of these was that we must ‘play the ball and not the man’ in arguing our case on any subject. The Dublin win was prompting a lot of sporting metaphors at the time.

Aside from the detectable change in the season, memories of that piece of advice were prompted once again when I read Eddie Molloy’s opinion article in the Irish Times this morning –Government should act and ditch Croke Park deal.

Far from offering a proper critique of the Croke Park agreement, the article is largely an attack on public service trade unions. He holds unions responsible for a number of issues that have nothing to do with Croke Park.

For instance, large retirement packages for senior public servants were never negotiated by unions nor lower pay scales for new entrants agreed by them. On the contrary, unions are regularly on record opposing both. Molloy’s ire focuses largely on issues that are either Government decisions or issues that could be addressed by Government without any reference to the agreement.

But his real fury is reserved for the unions themselves, and suggests a thinly disguised desire to see the unions neutralised, and their members exposed to the likelihood of more pay cuts and compulsory redundancies. And in pondering the question (as Molloy does) as to what James Larkin would make of it all, there is no doubt in my mind that Larkin would recognise immediately the disingenuous attempt to undermine the legitimacy of workers’ rights to organise themselves and to make an agreement with their employer that fully recognises the gravity of the employer’s circumstances.

Molloy also proves himself to have a very selective memory – strong enough to remember pay increases under benchmarking (averaging 8.9% more than a decade ago), but too weak to remember that these gains were more than wiped out by two pay cuts in 2009. And one can only assume the €1.5bn in annualised and sustainable savings achieved by the agreement already was ignored, if not forgotten.

Croke Park has provided the kind of structural stability that is vital when the state is reducing public sector numbers so significantly. Stability which has improved our international standing in a time of crisis (which is helping to lower our ridiculous debt burden), and has ensured that services continued to be delivered. All of this is ignored in Molloy’s analysis. But this is inevitable if you are to ‘play the man’ of public service unions instead of ‘playing the ball’ and getting your facts straight.

Expect this aggravated autumnal tone to continue in the pages of all newspapers, well into the short days of Winter.

Niall Shanahan

Communications Officer