Friday, December 31, 2010

Incestuous Social Partners are as stale as the current Irish Government

2010 04 11_4223

Danny McCoy, boss of IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation),  and Paul Sweeney, the economic adviser to the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions), set out their respective panacea for the future of Ireland in The Irish Times today.  Both speak as high-priests and advocates of the social partnership process.  Each is seeking wriggle-room to establish a bedrock of influence in 2011. 

This time in the context is that of ‘a collective’ that is ‘robust and rational’, whose deliberations are based on ‘evidence-based policy’ making.   They opine that ‘social partnership’ is ‘dysfunctional and politically expedient’‘We’ in Ireland need to reflect on the type of economy and society ‘we’ would like to emerge and ‘we’ need to craft laws and policies that reflect that vision!  The ‘perverse economic experiment must be dismantled’ and the next government will have to be ‘courageous and radical’; the private sector will have to be ‘reformed’ so as to move from ‘shareholder value’ to ‘stakeholder value’ and ‘cronyism is to be stamped out’. 

Who, under God, will deliver this utopia?  Lobbyists?? The backing of at least a dozen Nobel Laureates will be necessary to attribute credibility to all of this and to ensure the Jewish and Arab bankers who buy Irish bonds adapt to the collective’s notion of ‘stakeholder value’ and fall into line like obedient foot-soldiers.

Social partnership started modestly in the late 1980’s as an attempt to successfully tame a flaming industrial relations jungle. But, by the turn of this century, it had become a disingenuous platform that provided lobbyists with an unwarranted span of influence, instant access to government and direct funding amounting to millions of wasted euro that has been shown to have been inadequately accounted for. This led to a ‘dig-out’ culture of entitlement, free of any risk to the negotiating parties, which ignored the obligation that bread must be earned in the universe - not doled out at the parish pump.

This is the culture that gave legitimacy to gigantic ‘pre-contracted’ bonuses, outrageous professional fees, described as ‘fair and reasonable’ and annual cumulative directors’ emoluments in domestic financial institutions routinely exceeding €30 million because the government and its agencies failed to govern and the absence of moral responsibility is shrouded in legal legitimacy.

Mr McCoy is concerned about the trauma of the past few months; what about the trauma of the past decade? Does the memory of the lines of people queuing to buy a lousy-designed, poor quality residence on highway-robbery terms not make him squirm in outrage? Does the experience of the thousands of FÁS trainees who never obtained certification from an agency controlled and directed by these very same, ever-solicitous, ‘social partners’ not tell its own story about their capacity to be accountable and practice a decent standard of corporate governance?

He is concerned about the Climate Change Bill and the impact of ‘rushed legislation’. But is he not also concerned that the Government has failed to open the marketplace for professional services by, for example, not implementing the Competition Authority’s 2006 recommendations to open the legal services marketplace, a development which would surely benefit IBEC members.

Mr Sweeney, I also abhor the use of the NPRF resources to bail out the vandalism and delinquency of mercenary galoots, but how could this have been avoided? Japan’s debt/GDP ratio is twice that of Ireland but 95% of its debt is due to Japanese people, a higher proportion of whom are in the older age bracket. If bond holders renegotiate and play their ace card – not to put a further cent into Ireland – what happens next when all new Irish debt is owing to foreigners? It is not unnatural to expect borrowers to spend their own money as well?

It is a pity that Mr Sweeney did not define our ‘real economy’ and elaborate on how it is in ‘good shape’ and what the basis of its sustainable strength is.

This country does not have mineral or energy resources. Recovery from the more restricted Swedish bank bailout of the 1990’s was facilitated by a viable engineering and timber sector as well as hydro capacity. Ireland’s younger demographic profile is an important asset but where is the wealth creation potential for this resource to exploit?


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