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Beards Sweat it Out in Sauna

Posted on: July 10th, 2011

JEAN-Claude Trichet is on his knees, begging our hero to change his mind. Nicolas Sarkozy is planning an emergency visit to Ireland to plead with him. US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is seeking an audience with him. Enda Kenny is waving the white flag.

Earth-shattering news hit Ireland last week. President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Jack O’Connor revealed he was considering joining the ranks of the debt “defaulters”.

Did the planet really shudder? Did Liberty Hall even wobble?

The bearded boss of Siptu, Ireland’s biggest union, chose the comfortable cushion of Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland’s most popular beauty spot, to release this thunderbolt to the world’s breathless media.

Jack and the brethren were living it up, attacking unemployment and poverty from the four-star Brehon Hotel in Killarney. Eight hundred overworked delegates at an Ictu conference stumbled into the holiday haven to discuss lofty ideals and to offer their largely loony solutions to Ireland’s economic woes.

Jack’s swanky hotel provided all the usual luxuries worthy of a bearded waffler. According to its brochure, Jack’s hotel is the home to “Europe’s first Angsana Spa, a concept developed in Thailand, which offers an extensive range of holistic, non-clinical spa treatments and massages to refresh and revitalise the spirit, mind and physical being”. The blurb goes on to suggest that Jack and other customers should “indulge in the Angsana Spa’s Vitality Pool, Hot and Cold Spas, a Tropical Shower, Herb Sauna, Crystal Steam Room, Ice Fountain, Kubeldusche and Salt Grotto”.

Every bearded wonder should have an Ice Fountain. No decent comrade can foment revolution without the Brehon therapy.

And, of course, delegates were able to enjoy all the other props necessary for class warfare, including a pool with hydrotherapy jets, tennis, gymnasium and in-house movies.

To be fair to the ordinary brethren, a source at Ictu’s conference told me that the posh Brehon Hotel was mostly occupied by Ictu’s officer class. The footsoldiers slummed it in the three-star versions.

Among Jack’s comrades in the salubrious surroundings was none other than his bearded chum, Ictu’s general secretary David Begg.

The duo was reported as the best double act in Killarney. Rumour has it that puzzled American tourists (staying in lesser lodgings) queued for tickets at the doors of the nearby Gleneagle Hotel to hear them rabbit on about the joys of socialism and denounce the evils and inequalities of the free market.

Down in Killarney, they quietly buried social partnership. The speeches were full of delusion. Instead of admitting their severe internal problems, conference delegates decided on minor matters — like the Middle East and Ireland’s default.

No mention was made of the embarrassing little item of declining union membership, the loss of revenue, the Siptu ‘slush fund’ revelations, or the death of the comrades’ clout at the top tables.

Jack and David are busted flushes. But busted flushes can still make empty threats, even if no one in power takes them seriously. Evidence of their loss of public support surfaced at their November march against EU/IMF cuts when they were booed by the crowds. The public has rumbled them. Top trade unionists milked the Celtic Tiger. Social partnership quangos provided juicy little board gigs for favoured brethren. Bankers were not the only ones with their snouts in the trough.

Social partnership, the source of such pain to the nation, was given an elegant burial in Killarney.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore even dropped down to Killarney to act as undertakers. Eamon confirmed the death of partnership when he gently declared that “social partnership was a formula that worked at a particular time in our history”.

Enda delivered the coup de grace when he insisted that “formal social partnership agreements are not appropriate at this time”. Both coalition leaders signalled the end of trade union dominance. Jack and David were out of the loop.

Indeed, Enda must have listened with muffled glee as Jack threatened to join the ranks of the defaulters. Jack is the sort of ally Enda can afford to lose. The Taoiseach no longer needs to give a hoot whether Jack huffs and puffs till his beard implodes.

Those of us who have anticipated default for months will plead with Jack to stay onside with Enda. If Jack jumps ship and begins to advocate default, we will have to challenge our consciences and our judgement.

Of course, there was always the possibility (admittedly a long shot) that Jack’s conversion might have been well thought-out policy, backed by hard economic facts. Happily, he does not seem to have marshalled any. So, mercifully, he may continue to cling to the coat-tails of the insiders.

Jack was firing blanks with his threat of default. During his keynote speech to the brethren he reverted to type. Lunatic ideas poured forth. Not surprising, as he has had years of practice. Unfortunately, he and the brethren were indulged in the good years. They were the brains behind such brilliant wheezes as benchmarking, which destroyed the public finances.

This time, Jack wanted to engineer a scheme for investing the nation’s pension funds in “infrastructure and venture capital” to create jobs. He mentioned a figure of 80,000 new jobs. Just like that.

The citizens’ pension funds have already been pillaged by the Government in their recent raid. Jack wants to pluck another five per cent (€4bn) out of your savings and mine to build roads, railways, airports, bridges and other structures to create employment.

God forbid. Jack’s Ireland would be peppered with white elephants while you would lose another slice from your rapidly vanishing pension.

He also wants to confiscate the residue of the National Pension Reserve Fund for the same purpose. He will be joining a very long queue. That little honeypot has been spent many times over.

Jack’s rhetoric was followed by a more measured offering from the less-bearded brother Begg. He replied to Enda Kenny’s diplomatic burial of social partnership with mild warnings about the IMF, the EU and the ECB.

It was good stuff. David Begg is far better qualified to offer his opinion on such matters — including default — than his impetuous brother Jack. We tend to forget that Begg was the “social partner” director of the Central Bank during the property frenzy. Perhaps he should give us his unique version of what happened behind closed doors during his 15-year stint on the board of the Old Lady of Dame Street.

Now social partnership is dead, such a key insider has the ability to give us a unique account of the hothouse of activity that regulated the banks with such rigour for so long! Now the glory years are over, it would be useful to know what really happened under social partnership.