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Straight outta the Seanad! A former leader of the Progressive Democrats… the National Strike… Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin is given a real Seanad welcome back after the Late Late Show and… er… the musings of a Senator on crime and punishment. March 27, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

Let us cast an optimistic eye over the Seanad… For the inimitable Senator Harris scroll immediately to the end of the piece and read the last paragraph of so… for a former leader of the PDs, well, just read on… for the rest it’s in the middle! The Pearse Doherty piece is just before the end, and I’d be interested in peoples thoughts on it. I haven’t bothered to assign party affiliation. I think you’ll find it unnecessary… and… who can tell the difference?

Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re 2009 allocation of the horse and greyhound racing fund, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, with spokespersons having 15 minutes, all other Senators 12 minutes, and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: This afternoon I pay tribute to our great sportspeople——

Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: ——who brought such pride and joy to this nation over the weekend. The Irish rugby team won the Grand Slam, ending a 61 year wait for such glory and giving us more than a few heart-stopping moments in the process. The whole country was clearly delighted and it was wonderful to have such a reason to celebrate. I also congratulate my constituent and Palmerstown resident Bernard Dunne on his superb achievement.

An Cathaoirleach: We are having questions to the Leader on the Order of Business. I do not want to turn this into——

Senator David Norris: Come on. It is an historic occasion.

An Cathaoirleach:
We all support the sentiments expressed.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I am sure the Cathaoirleach does.

An Cathaoirleach: On the Order of Business.

Senator David Norris: If it was the GAA it would be a different matter.


Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I am sure the Cathaoirleach would not expect me to refrain from commenting on those wonderful sporting achievements that have brought so much pride to the country.
Turning to the Fine Gael team, I welcome my new colleague, Senator Ciaran Cannon, the former leader of the Progressive Democrats, who has joined Fine Gael today.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is a credit to the leadership of Deputy Enda Kenny and the strong team he has built that Senator Cannon is joining us today, and it is a vote of confidence in an alternative Government and the alternative economic policies of Fine Gael and Deputy Kenny.

Senator Nicky McFadden:
Hear, hear.

Senator Donie Cassidy:

I wish our colleague, Senator Cannon, happiness on the opposite side of the House. I understand he is the only party leader since I entered the House to have served on both sides in one term. This is a marvellous achievement, which would possibly qualify for entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Given that we all come from the same background, I wish to strike the right note in wishing him health and happiness. I hope the Fine Gael Party looks after him as well as the Government side did.

Senator Maurice Cummins: We certainly will.

Senator Donie Cassidy: I also hope he gets what he wishes for, albeit not at the expense of the Government side.

And so to the crisis…

Senator Joe O’Toole: The country faces a national day of industrial action next Monday. This is unnecessary and does not need to happen.

Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Joe O’Toole: It is a direct result of the uncertainty about figures and objectives referred to by Senator Fitzgerald. The Government must explain to the social partners what it is doing, what its objective is and what the problem is.
This industrial action is unusual. It reflects anger and uncertainty among workers across the country. It is different from industrial action that seeks to reverse a Government decision or change a policy position, it relates to people not feeling part of the decisions made by the Government. ICTU tried to put forward a ten point plan that it could use to engage with the Government — even Senator Butler on the Government side said it should be discussed. This must be done and I appeal at the eleventh hour to the Government to engage with ICTU and the social partners to clear the way so this strike does not go ahead.

{and here is an interesting admission from one who might be thought to know]

No one at leadership level in the trade union wants the strike. It is a response from people to the way they have been treated. The social partners need something they can champion and explain to their members and we will then be able to move forward, united as a society. That is the objective and the Government has the opportunity to do it. It is easier to prevent this difficulty now than to pick up the pieces afterwards. Rather than look at what might happen next Monday during the strike, we should focus on preventing it. The leadership of the trade union movement has a clear view that this can and should be prevented with movement by Government to demonstrate its objectives.

Senator Eugene Regan: The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen. The victories on the sports field and Bernard Dunne’s victory in the WBA super bantamweight title fight were also good for the country. It just shows what we are capable of. We are all agreed that the most severe economic crisis is confronting the country. We have gone through the process of denial, which is common with economic bubbles. There is denial that the problem exists, eventually there is an acknowledgement of the problem and then there is a search for solutions. At this stage it is a question of implementing some immediate solutions and the budget is the focus of that. Speakers have referred to the national strike on Monday, 30 March, but it is simply insane and should be abandoned unconditionally by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The reality is the unions are still in denial. This is not a criticism of the unions, their members or those concerned at the severity of the cutbacks and the pension levies. I accept there are people in the public service at the lower end of the pay scales who have been badly affected by the pension levies. However, we have to find solutions and everyone must play their part.
The trade union leadership, which is part of the problem, is out of step with its own members. [Highly questionable, or at least not in the way he proposes] That can be judged by the reaction to some of the industrial action that has taken place to date. The leadership is certainly out of step with the country. We are trying to find solutions in this and the Lower House. The unions should play their part in this and abandon unconditionally the proposed industrial action for next Monday. The Government should not be arm-twisted with some secret deal done to secure a reversal. The trade union leadership must rethink this strike and abandon it. That would be in the public and its members interest.

Which is interesting, because…

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I am very heartened by Senator Regan’s comments and welcome them. I have been a trade unionist all my life. I have held union office and served on the picket line when necessary. However, I believe next Monday’s general strike is wrong.
I feel especially sorry for the trade union leadership. They have been endeavouring to give leadership and bring home the message of the seriousness of the economic situation. This was evident on last night’s “Questions and Answers”. Right across the political divide, it was clear people were saying we must all pull together if we are going to arrive at a solution to the current recession. One young woman in last night’s audience struck a chord with me. She said she had lost her job and is now living on €200 a week. Many of those who will go on strike next Monday have a job, job security and pension rights.
Whatever frustration brought about the necessity for this strike in the eyes of those who want it, I believe they should reflect on this. The damage they will do to any hope we have into the future will be immense. Above all, it will send a message outside of this island to prospective investors, the very people we are endeavouring to woo back into the country, and those already based here, whom we are endeavouring to keep on our side. I am not against bridge building. If there were a possibility of the social partners coming back to the table in a formalised manner, so that should be. I do not believe anyone should suggest at this stage that it is right to proceed with a general strike and to cripple the economy, particularly when so many people have lost their jobs and many more face such a prospect.

So, the union leadership is both ‘out of step with its members’ and ‘ attempting to give leadership and bring home the seriousness of the economic situation’. Okaaaay.

What next?

Senator Shane Ross: What would a prospective investor outside Ireland — we have to impress these people at the moment — make of the Irish people going on general strike when faced with the greatest economic crisis they have ever come across? What is proposed is complete and utter economic madness and suicide.
I agree with Senator Regan that the trade unions must make an unconditional declaration they will not have a strike of any sort next Monday. At least they can wait for the budget. Everyone knows they will have an input into the budget. Everyone knows talks go on with the social partners before and after budgets, whether they are open or secret, and there is huge influence.
What in the name of God are the unions attempting to do in trying to destroy the fragile economy of this country next week? I do not understand this. The airports will be closed. What message is that going to send to people outside Ireland? Aside from who would invest in such a country as this anyway, when they see we are going on general strike and the country is strike ridden, they certainly will not do so.
The proposed strike is national vandalism. I appeal to the unions to call it off today and not to start playing brinkmanship with this. The only people who will be destroyed are their own members. More jobs will be lost as a result of the action to be taken next Monday. The economy of the country will suffer and it is in no situation to do so.

And so to a cogent appreciation of the legislation around union activity. Or wait – do I mean a misunderstanding of its operation?:

Senator Larry Butler: I appeal to the social partners and the unions to call off the absolute madness that is proposed. They cannot even get two thirds majority support for it in the unions. If necessary, they should be injuncted to ensure that the regulations and rules are adhered to. I have long been a supporter of the social partnership. It has been an important part of the social structure in recent years. It is right to have a social partnership but it is not right that the social partners should dictate to the Government how budgets should be structured. That is the job of the public representatives in both Houses.
I support my colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, who gave a fine definition of what we should do and the responsibility of the trade unions. Indeed, Senator Regan made a fine contribution today to common sense, which should——
When somebody says something right, I believe in supporting it. Senator Regan struck a very important note today in that regard.

I appeal to the unions to take a patriotic approach to this, an approach like that to the great win on Saturday. That was a team effort. The current situation cannot be overcome unless there is a team effort. The unions could do a great service to themselves and the people they represent in this regard. They should also think about the people who are losing their jobs each day in the private sector. The unions and the social partners have not yet woken up to this. It is a serious situation and I appeal again for the strike to be called off. If necessary, a court injunction should be sought against the unions because they do not have their two thirds mandate for a strike. I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me time on the Order of Business.

And here…something a little more constructive…

Senator Dan Boyle: Like other Senators I, too, call for the strike planned for next Monday not to go ahead. I do not believe it serves any useful purpose and on those grounds it should not proceed. If it takes an intervention to stop it from going ahead then that intervention should be sought. If it takes a formal restoration of the social partnership process then that too should be given every consideration. In restoring the social partnership process all the social partners need to be aware we are in an era where difficult and unpopular decisions will have to be made. If that were to precipitate a decision not to proceed with a strike on Monday, it would be the beginning of a process in which we as a nation need to engage.

I also join in the calls made by other Senators for a debate on the banking system. I am aware we are having a debate on Thursday on pre-budget statements but the news that came out of the Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs today was very disturbing. There is ongoing concern at the events in Irish Nationwide. While I have made several comments in recent weeks on the resignation of the chair of that board, the revelations about the interaction of Irish Nationwide with Anglo Irish Bank, and the news about the €1 million bonus payment and the €27.6 million pension pot that exists for the acting chief executive who has continued in office in that organisation for no reason whatever, I am surprised there has been so little political comment from other political parties in this Chamber. If we are serious about bringing about——


Senator David Norris: I welcome the presence of Mr. John Drennan in the Press Gallery on what I think is his third visit in a long, distinguished and somewhat acerbic career as a political analyst ——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames:
Hear, hear.

An Cathaoirleach: It is not appropriate to the Order of Business to welcome anybody to the Press Gallery.

Senator David Norris: I hope his newspaper group will show a sustained interest in this House from now on.

An Cathaoirleach: Has the Senator a question appropriate to the Leader?

He does… sort of.

Senator David Norris: On the issue of the proposed strike, I am glad to be a member of three trade unions, IFUT, the NUJ and Equity and support the trade union movement. However, on each occasion I have voted against this strike. Senator O’Toole may well be correct that the trade unions are angry, but an angry response is not necessarily a rational one. I have heard of people cutting off their noses to spite their faces, but in this case they are cutting off their faces to spite their noses. The proposed strike is excessive action.
I also criticise employers because it is clear unions are being provoked by employers who are making use of the difficult financial situation to cut back and not pay legitimate wages. People are also provoked by the behaviour of people like Mr. Fingleton. I understood Irish Nationwide was a mutual society, but if that is the case, Mr. Fingleton’s idea of mutuality and mine are quite opposed. I understand the €28 million pot was described as a group insurance scheme. His definition of “group” is also unusual, because it appears to be confined entirely to himself. This is very provocative when so many people are losing jobs.
A number of property speculators who have driven this country into the mess we are in have indicated publicly they are not in a position to pay their debts or even the interest on their borrowings. Meanwhile, a 37 year old single mother of two was jailed last week for a month for non-payment of €5,800 to one of the financial institutions. Where is the equity in that? Is it any wonder people are angered? I share the anger of the trade unions, but I try to hold on to my rational intellect. The picture of Ireland this strike will project outside the country is disastrous.

Senator Jim Walsh: The point I want to come to is that the programme dealt with the economic circumstances in Latvia which was rescued by the IMF. The IMF, as a condition of its support, sought and received a 35% decrease in public service salaries. When the IMF rescued Argentina, the number of people working in the public service was halved and the salaries of the other half were halved. If we do not join together to meet the challenges that exist, this will be the outcome for everybody. The unions, as partners within the social partnership structure, will have to accept that they have contributed to the problems to some extent and therefore have a responsibility to resolve them in a way——

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot have a debate now.

Senator Jim Walsh: ——that does not bring the whole economy down.

A former union member speaks…

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I am outraged at the thought of a national general strike next Monday. As a former member of IFUT and of the INTO, of which I am now an associate member, I am greatly disappointed with the misguided and poor leadership shown by teachers’ unions. They have been encouraging teachers to strike when fewer than 50% of them voted for a strike in the ballot. [if the rules allow it, as they do in elections to our representative bodies…] This point needs to be made in the context of our economy, which is haemorrhaging jobs, and of how we present ourselves to the wider world from which we want to borrow money. We are putting the examinations of our pupils under threat and receiving calls from parents who are saying the proposals are having a demotivating effect on the students.
The Government must take responsibility. I am touched by the fact the House is united on this issue.

And an actual trade union member speaks:

Senator Ivana Bacik: I echo the words of Senator O’Toole about the proposed strike or day of action on Monday. We are all in agreement that it is unnecessary. Even though I speak as a committed trade unionist, many of us are very unhappy about the way it looks and many in the public sector are understandably reluctant to be seen to be withdrawing labour at a time when so many of their friends, relatives and colleagues in the private sector are being made redundant. It is something I hope will not happen. I think it is within the power of the Government to engage with the trade unions as ICTU has sought to engage with the Government by putting forward what seemed to many to be an eminently sensible ten-point plan a few weeks ago. ICTU has been seeking to engage with the Government, and IBEC has also been sending signals that it is willing to engage. It is incumbent on the Government to engage with the social partners to ensure the day of action does not go ahead. I agree it should not go ahead and I hope it does not. There has been a real failure by Government to engage with the social partners, especially on the ten point plan. All of us wish to see a plan of engagement and a coherent structure emerging regarding what we can expect, instead of lurching from one mini budget and financial crisis to the next. It is vital that the Government engages on this matter.

A former leader of a national political party speaks:

Senator Ciaran Cannon: I agree with the comment about an increasing disconnect between the membership of our unions and union leadership. That is very much the case. From speaking to a number of union members in Galway in recent days, my experience is that they are utterly ashamed of the positions adopted by their leadership. While listening to a radio station yesterday evening — I cannot recall which one — we got a frightening and particularly sickening insight into the mind of one such union leader — I will not name him — who commented on the very responsible decision taken by the members of IMPACT not to proceed with the strike next Monday. He sought to usurp the will of the members of IMPACT by suggesting methods by which the decision could be got around. His comment at the end of the interview was particularly appalling, that he did not expect the members of IMPACT to pass pickets staged by other unions and that he still hoped they would be able to achieve major disruption on Monday. If that is the mentality that exists within the leadership of our unions, I have very serious concerns for our future. I ask the Leader to take a very strong unequivocal and unified message from this Chamber — I know that he will do so — to the union leadership that the strike on Monday serves no one’s interest, least of all that of union members.

Oh dear.

Senator John Ellis: I echo the sentiments of other Senators with regard to the proposed action next Monday, which is totally unnecessary. More deliberation and consultation would lead to a much better result. The proposed action on Monday is an attempt to force the Government’s hand prior to the budget which will be introduced in the following week. If we are to have fairness, cuts must be introduced across the board and no sector should suffer more than others. [Okay. So how to reconcile that with the following?] We all accept that higher income earners are able to take more punishment and will probably have to pay more taxes. The view among some people that everyone but themselves should be hurt in this process is wrong. While I accept it will not be easy, everybody will have to take some pain.


An Cathaoirleach: Allow Senator Doherty to continue without interruption, please.

Senator Pearse Doherty: The House should also recognise that 65% of IMPACT members voted for strike action and the ballot did not deliver the 66% required for strike action to proceed. Let us not twist this issue and try to blame the executive or leaders of trade unions for the decision forced on union members by the Government. I call on the Taoiseach to stop his attacks on public and private sector workers.

An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Pearse Doherty: Government Senators called on people to be patriotic. The most recent occasion that we heard such comments was when 30 attacks were made on the education sector and front line services. The solution to the national strike planned for Monday lies solely in the hands of the Government.

Senator Donie Cassidy: After Friday night, we all know where Senator Doherty’s loyalties lie.

You might think that a strange remark, and you might be right. The previous Friday Senator Doherty was but one amongst a galaxy of Senators on the Late Late Show. And what might have he said that was so contentious?

Seems innocuous enough to me, even sensible. But…

Senator Pearse Doherty: I have no problem defending the approach I took on Friday night to the role of this House.

Senator Donie Cassidy: I do not speak from both sides of my mouth. I know where our people were in 1916.

Senator Pearse Doherty: What is that comment supposed to mean?

What indeed? A very good question indeed. But answer there is none. For the Cathaoirleach ignores the question and continues straight into…

Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Regan, Norris and John Paul Phelan congratulated our sportspersons on their wonderful and uplifting achievements. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and Senators from all sides, I wholeheartedly congratulate the national rugby team and Bernard Dunne on their remarkable successes…etc…

Sorry, did I say finally? Not at all…I’ve got to relay this gem from one of our Senators:

Senator Eoghan Harris: In the same way that the Government must plan ahead in a phased way to deal with the economic crisis and reassure the public that there is such a plan, the same obligation to plan is on the Government regarding other crucial aspects, such as public order and safety. I am referring to the criminal justice system. The recent rape and murder case in Galway raises serious questions about the equity of keeping the full context of crimes from a jury. I am not a criminal justice lawyer and I do not know how this can be done. However, there must be prudential situations about which it would be a good idea for the jury to know — at least, before sentencing — or be allowed to comment in some way when the verdict is brought in. I do not know how it can be done but it is disgusting that this person can get away with that without the jury knowing it.

On a recent visit to New York I was struck by three aspects of the criminal justice system there. First, the speed of the police response to incidents on streets was enormously fast. I was on the lower east side of Manhattan, which is not the most salubrious part of New York. Second, there were very few such incidents. It is shocking to think that during the entire week I was in New York there was not a murder in Manhattan, while it would be normal in Dublin. Third, I was also struck by the severity of their criminal justice system as regards white collar crime. Bernie Madoff is in a cell with lights on 23 hours a day. He gets one hour of recreation and the New York Post is given to him one month late. We do not have that kind of severe system.

No, it’s much more severe than that… our prison inmates are probably given the Sunday Independent free of charge on the day of print.

Now what was it that Pearse Doherty was saying again?


1. Jer - March 27, 2009

Donie Cassidy seems to think he is running a private fiefdom.

Whats that nonsense about knowing where people were?

Thats the type of gombeen republicanism that slick Donie and his buddies in FF love.

My grandda did something for the nation; we did nothing but we’ll milk it for all its worth.

sad embittered gombeen


2. Garibaldy - March 27, 2009

I found the near-unanimity against the strike utterly sickening.


3. Remi Moses - March 27, 2009

Sadder that it is coming from Bacik, and Labour as well.


4. Joe - March 27, 2009

Bit of a downer for Gilmore that the Red Cannon of Galway East has opted for FG.


5. CMK - March 27, 2009

I think this review of sentiment in the Seanad towards stike action throws up some interesting issues. By coming out against the strike the entire political class seem to be declaring their willingness to keep a collective lid on a pot that’s simmering at the moment, but to which more heat will be applied very soon,with the possibility that the pot may blow at some point in the future….. By supporting the strike (Labour for instance) they may have let some of the pressure off. It’s politically risky to be so united and adamantly against strikes by the public sector (and were whole swathes of the private sector to strike the same condemnation would, no doubt, follow).

Things are only going to get worse, a corollary of that will be that any industrial action anywhere at any time in the future will be condemned automatically by the political and media classes.

The hardship and despair many are experiencing, in particular among what will soon be the massive number of indebted ‘working poor’ in both the public and private sector, will have to find a political outlet. Since no political party seems to want to do anything radical, the trade union leadership are patently desperate to avoid any kind of industrial action, and the hairshirt is being readied again by the state, the conditions are ripe for serious political strife if some way of allowing anger to be expressed.

If I were a revolutionary of either left or right, which I’m not, I’d be excited by the direction of events. But as a middle of the road centre-ish left socialist I think the political classes, most especially Labour, are digging a lot of graves and failing to show true leadership. Which in this instance would be to support the strikes while stressing solidarity among all workers.


6. Leveller on the Liffey - March 27, 2009

I wonder what Labour’s weekend conference in Mullingar will throw up against the background of (a) Gilmore against any left alliances; (b) Dissing Fianna Fáil but not Fine Gael (both in the Sunday Business Post); (c) Labour’s opposition to the public sector unions/ICTU stance.


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