Three issues for 2000
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
Apart from lighting the millennium candle, Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern took time out from his platitudes on what a great young vibrant country this is to attack those who are highlighting the negative aspects of the `Tiger economy'. It seems that this is as good as it gets for Fianna Fáil.
The fact that over 30,000 people are on housing waiting lists while his government plans only to house 10,000 this year is obviously not a big problem. Another non problem is the 38,000 people on hospital waiting lists. Add to this the failure to introduce a minimum wage, the inequitable tax system, homelessness that has doubled over the past three years and you have a very rosy picture of life in the Fianna Fáil utopia.
The simple axiom of cherishing all of the children of the national equally needs to be applied with vigour in 2000
Ahern wants us to focus on the record numbers at work, the record exports, the record economic growth. Any negative records are glossed over.
So what should be on the government's agenda for 2000? What niggling little issue needs to be dealt with to make Ahern's perfect world that little bit more perfect?
The institutionalisation of low wages and tax inequity must be tackled this year. Over 12 years of partnership agreements have seen the low paid gain least in whatever benefits were being handed out. Blame for this lies not only with employers and successive governments but also with the trade union movement who have never lobbied very hard on this issue. If they really want to deliver another round of social partnership this year they must deal with this issue. A £5 an hour minimum wage index linked for the future with the low paid taken out of the tax net altogether is just the starting point.
The plight of our children needs to be not only recognised but acted on. This is a multifaceted problem. Nearly one third of primary school children are not regular school attenders. They are missing out on education at a crucial age. In years to come they will have literacy and other educational problems and will probably be unemployed or at best condemned to a lifetime of badly paid jobs.
These children often go to school cold and hungry and this too dissipates their learning potential. Ahern has a great opportunity to act now and recognise that the rights of children are being negated in this way. The simple axiom of cherishing all of the children of the national equally needs to be applied with vigour in 2000.
Child benefit must be hugely increased. Much more funding needs to be invested in schools in disadvantaged areas. Other issues such as the quality of life enjoyed by our children needs to be examined, particularly the overly early entry of thousands of children into the labour force.
Thirdly, the government needs to act decisively on all the aspects of the housing and homeless problem. They need to act on the profiteering by developers and builders. The extortionate rents demanded by many landlords need to be checked. Local authorities need to build houses in quality developments with proper services, including schools, shops, health and leisure services.
Homelessness needs to be tackled in all its aspects. This means more shelters and greater emphasis on helping people back into society rather than merely maintaining their exclusion at some politically acceptable level.
These are just three areas that, if acted on, we could truly say that we really can celebrate our economic success. What a year that would be.
TDs double standards on 31% wage increase
It seems like the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat coalition is set to begin the new year like they finished the old - never doing what they say and at times never saying what they really mean.
How many times have we listened to the trio of McCreevy, Ahern and Harney calling for wage restraint in the lifetime of the present government? They publicly lectured not only the nurses, gardaí, teachers and CIE workers but all workers on the need for wage restraint.
Now they are set to give themselves a £250 a week wage rise. It strikes a sour note when you compare it with the December budget increases of £5 a week for the unemployed and an £8 a month increase in child benefit.
TDs, it was disclosed last week, are to seek pay parity with principal officers in the civil service, who currently earn £50,000 a year. Such an annual salary would give TDs a wage increase of almost £12,000 a year or £250 a week, a 31%-plus increase.
TDs have already received a wage increase under the Partnership 2000 wage agreement last July. This lifted their salaries to £38,035. The Taoiseach gets £111,203.
This course of action by TDs in seeking to regrade the value of their work is remarkably similar to the tactics used by nurses, gardaí and teachers in their industrial disputes last year, a course of action virulently criticised by the current government.
The wage demand comes from a Leinster House Members Services Committee. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin pointed out last August when such a wage rise was first mooted for TDs that he had not been consulted about such a wage rise. Six months later, Ó Caoláin has told An Phoblacht that he has yet to be consulted about such a rise. He stands over his assertion last August that ``TDs are adequately remunerated and our efforts should be concentrated on ensuring that the growing wealth in the Irish economy is shared''.
Leinster House Salaries