Peadar Kirby: The article by Cathal O'Loghlin in today's Irish Times headlined 'Union response to public sector levy fails to find a better way' is more revealing for what it doesn't say than for what it does. Essentially, this former assistant secretary in the Department of Finance and director of the International Monetary Fund (presumably Ireland's representative in the 13-country group through which this country is represented in that organisation) criticises the ICTU's alternative proposals to deal with the current crisis on two grounds, both of them disingenuous.
The first is his claim that ICTU fails to make any case against the planned public pension charges and the second is that the trade union group fails to put forward a comprehensive plan for reforming our taxation system. The first claim overlooks the fact that union leaders consistently affirm that they are not against cuts in public sector pay but that they want to see any cuts being implemented in a fair way with those who have contributed most to the present crisis being the ones who pay the most. Secondly, it beggars belief to expect Congress to design a comprehensive reform of the taxation system when the government itself is failing to do this. Most astonishingly O'Loghlin dismisses ICTU's call for a tax on high earners by stating that the 'net yield might reach €3 billion' while asserting that cuts in the order of €15 billion are in fact needed!
But the most revealing thing of all is O'Loghlin's inability to grasp the essential core principle of ICTU's position, a core principle that finds a ready response among many ordinary Irish people to judge by Saturday's huge march in Dublin. This is the principle of fairness. He fails to mention ICTU's call to introduce a tax on properties other than the principal family residence, its proposal for a 48% tax band for high earners and its call to end the general tax subsidies for the hospital co-location scheme. Indeed, his comment on tax relief for union subscriptions (a petty issue indeed) is perhaps most revealing of a hostility to trade union membership. All in all, his article seems to be motivated by an attempt to argue that public service pay needs to be cut back, missing any of the points made by Paul Sweeney in his recent contribution to this blog. While ICTU's plan may not amount to a full strategy for resolving the huge crisis our political and economic elites have landed us in, it is by far the best beginning towards some equitable and fair way of addressing the crisis.