SHOULD we give a hero’s welcome to Ireland’s new tormentors? The likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wants to punish us for our economic sins. Or Finnish hawk Olli Rehn, who is hovering over the land.
Olli is coming to town. Are he and Angela European saviours or menacing outsiders tightening a noose around our necks?
We may not have liked what we heard from Angela, but our Government is quietly summoning external reinforcements designed to put manners on internal dissent.
Next week Olli Rehn, the hard man from Europe, will fly in to tell us a few home truths. Officially, the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs is planning to meet Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan; but the Dublin meeting with Lenihan is a blind.
Rehn meets Lenihan in Brussels regularly. Indeed, last Monday’s Cabinet meeting at Farmleigh was delayed by none other than Olli when he kept Brian late in Brussels. Olli has continental clout.
The two guys must be sick of the sight of each other by now. Ireland spells trouble to Olli. And Olli spells austerity to Ireland.
As the Cabinet has already bought into Olli’s diagnosis and cure the Finnish hawk comes, instead, to deliver a grim message to a wider audience — the Irish people .
First port of call: Olli is set to nobble the parliamentary Opposition. In private.
Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan, Labour’s Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton are in line for a lecture. Olli will spell out both the diagnosis and the treatment.
He is giving the Government a digout, as Lenihan has already signed up for the Rehn timetable. If the Opposition challenges Lenihan’s economic parameters, it will be challenging Olli’s.
Life is becoming harder for the Opposition.
Second port of call: Olli will make a speech to the most boring group in Ireland, the Institute of European Affairs. This time in public.
The event will provide a pulpit for his sermon to the nation. Olli will probably warn of Armageddon if we do not toe the government line. He will soften us all up for a scorching in the December 7 Budget. Not only will he support the Government in its pursuit of a 2014 deadline for elimination of the deficit, but he will warn of the dangers of delay.
While the Opposition will begin to search for wriggle room, government spokesmen will constantly defer to Olli’s warnings. They will wrap the words of Olli around them like a comfort blanket.
And, of course Olli, a mere civil servant from Brussels, would never dream of meddling in the internal politics of Ireland. Perish the thought.
According to government sources, he is simply meeting the Opposition leaders to let them know about a “few harsh realities”. No matter that the mess is of its making, the Government has pushed Enda and Eamon into a corner.
If they confront Brian, they confront Olli. If they eyeball Olli, they risk the ire of the global markets.
If they offend the global markets, they risk a run on Ireland. If they cause a run on Irish bonds, they risk an electoral backlash.
They will have to be polite to Olli. It will be harder for them to vote against Brian’s Budget if it is really the first staging post in Olli’s — and not Brian’s — four-year plan.
The final port of call will be Olli’s meeting with the social partners. Now why in the name of democracy would the hawkish Finn want to meet such busted flushes as the neutered IBEC, Sean Healy’s broken voluntary social pillar or even the farmers’ leaders? On the surface, it seems pointless. None of them really mattered much, even in the social partnership game. But they will provide cover for the only social partner that matters, the bearded beasts bearing the sting of dying wasps.
The guys with the whiskers will be paraded into his presence to hear his views on the state of the Irish economy.
Thankfully, it is many months since we have seen trade unionists David Begg and Jack O’Connor swaggering along the red carpet into Government Buildings. When they meet Olli, they are likely to be treated royally. Just like old times, back in the glory days. They will once again be made to feel important.
In the past, a seat at the top table for the brethren always delivered pay deals. The Government is hoping that the same wheeze may work for one last time.
They will love being feted by the Commissioner.
David Begg is spouting nonsense about postponing the evil day, pushing out the deadline until 2017. If there is slippage along the lines advocated by David, the bond markets will freak.
Olli is likely to present the raw potion to the brethren: the Exchequer is empty and the biggest item — public service reform — is the only message that the bond markets understand; the Croke Park agreement must be altered; any trade union attempt to fudge or delay the budget deficit reduction could spell disaster.
Worse still, if the trade unions react to the cutbacks by bringing their members on to the streets, damaging images will be flashed abroad that will threaten Ireland’s credit rating.
The leaders of social partnership owe Irish taxpayers big time. Few people have yet rumbled the way that some union leaders plundered the country’s coffers. It was a social partnership benchmarking cabal that recommended the 9 per cent pay hike for the public service in 2002. It was union leaders who landed gigs galore on the boards of well-paid quangos, appointments given by grateful governments to insiders in return for keeping middle and lower paid staff in line.
The union leaders led good public servants up the garden path into the fantasy land of double-digit wage increases, accompanied by guaranteed jobs and pensions. The outcome is today’s bewildered public service, nursing an understandable grievance while the sheriff knocks at the door. They had been led to believe that they were the chosen people.
The social partners were the most powerful pillars of the State’s hierarchy during the Celtic Tiger years. They sidelined the democratic forces of the Dail. Brian Cowen repeatedly doffed the cap to them during his time in Finance. His speeches were filled with sycophantic promises to “consult” the boys with the beards.
Did the same comrades ever cry halt to the spending spree when they were scoffing it up in Merrion Street or in Dublin Castle? Show us the record of union leaders warning of the dangers of the property frenzy. On the contrary, they extracted bonanzas for the public service, partly funded by massive revenues from the same construction industry.
While bankers, developers, regulators, auditors and civil servants bear a heavy responsibility for the banking disaster, the social partners are far from blameless for the shambles in the nation’s Exchequer.
While it was indulged by successive governments, social partnership — the sacred doctrine of yesterday — cost the nation a fortune. It is payback time. Olli Rehn could deliver the coup de grace.
Sadly, we have shown ourselves unfit to run an economy in boom times. Olli and Angela could yet prove saviours, not sinners.