Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Uninspiring Leadership of Peter McLoone

PETER McLOONE is chairman of the public sector committee of ICTU. He is general secretary of the trade union IMPACT. The Government appointed him chairman of An Foras Áiseanna Sathair, otherwise known as FÁS, where he has oversight of a budget that in 2009 is €1,080,687,000. This money represents an increase in funding of €912,500,000 since McLoone was appointed Chairman of FÁS in 2005. The State provides 99% of FÁS funding, a portion of which finds its way to ICTU and its vested-interest counterpart IBEC. McLoone would have presided over much of the Molloy-Craig controversial era of ‘entitlement’ at FÁS and the expenditure of tens of millions of € that did not comply with standard corporate governance oversight and was subject to a review by the Public Accounts Committee last year. Rody Molloy was director-general until details of his stewardship became publicly know. Craig was an apparatchik who has returned to work following an absence while an investigation concerning him was under way.

Both Molloy and Craig were cited for the extravagance of their expense accounts, which in Craig’s case surpassed €400,000 over an 8-year period. Molloy had a penchant for extensive first-class air travel, usually to exotic, sunny, pleasant destinations that provided very high levels of personal service at very significant cost to the State. When Molloy’s wife accompanied him they opted for slum-class air travel. But McLoone, with the innocence of a 3-month old infant sleeping in its Moses basket, was ignorant of all accusations of malfeasance in the agency.

McLoone is a citizen of a country where 372,800 sign on the Live Register reflecting an unemployment rate of 11% and McLoone forecast that unemployment could reach 580,000 by year-end. He is a citizen of a country that remunerates 370,027 public sector employees, including 90,508 pensioners.

The living standards and job security of the 1,250,000 that comprise the remainder of the labour force are under constant and grave threat. Those aspects of the economy that offer limited, but low-paid, employment prospects are in selling second-hand goods, money lending, fruit and vegetable gardening, door-to-door selling and distribution, green energy and fast food, according to the FÁS survey of the Irish labour market published in March 2009.

McLoone, like the rest of us, is a citizen of a country whose Government intends to spend €63.9 billion to be funded by tax revenue of €34 billion. The gross pay element of government expenditure is 35%, €22,365,000,000 or an average overall cost just north of €61,000. The capacity of the Government to fund this level of expenditure is wholly uncertain and circumstances are likely to seriously worsen. Oireachtas members have also thrown a gauntlet by refusing to immediately abandon long-service increments and pension while serving in public office - the foot soldiers of a government that presided over years of appalling management of public finances.

Last week McLoone spoke at the annual general meeting of the Public Service Executive Union and stated that the national partnership process is fundamentally dependent on existing pay, pension and job levels being guaranteed – as though these are immutable entitlements. McLoone promises union conflict in a society that is going broke and the spirit of many is crestfallen and desolate. This man has been at the centre of economic and social policy development for a long time and all he can inspire his members with in this time of crisis is the threat of chaos.

Professor Paul Krugman, the distinguished American economist, in a recent article about the Irish economy 'Erin Go Broke' published in The New York Times, stated the recovery, when it happens, will be based on ‘export-led growth’. One of advantages that Ireland could cite as an advantage was its agile, can-do labour force and there are many illustrations of this among the largely non-unionised private sector workforce.

One of the few multinationals that is unionised in Ireland is the Lufthansa Technik Airmotive plant at Rathcoole. It, like SR Technics in Dublin is in the aircraft engine maintenance business. It has been one of the few major businesses in Ireland with significant current investment plans. That is until the zombie unions have virtually caused the doors of the business to be slammed shut for good. Turkeys voting for Christmas!

This idiocy is only surpassed by the award of tens of thousands of € by an Employment Appeals Tribunal to employees of Munster Carpets last December in a dismissal case where all sides acknowledged that those concerned routinely slept on the job during working hours!

This raises some basic questions. The Government is, at last, being forced to show form in the management of public finances after years of profligacy. Change is the order of the day.

Is it wise for the Government to retain the services of a chairman in a State funded entity who is as blind to malpractice inside that agency as McLoone proved to be? Secondly, is the partnership process capable of igniting economic recovery when the vested interests that participate in it demonstrate the agility and imagination of an elephant suffering from trapped wind?

If Mr McLoone can offer society nothing more inspiring than chaos and hyperbole perhaps it is time for his curtain call.

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