DO you have the mobile phone numbers of cabinet members? You don’t?
Funnily enough, nor do I. And me a senator, to boot!
Last week, I did a spot check on a few members of the Oireachtas. I asked them if they had cabinet ministers’ mobile numbers. Funnily enough, the responses were overwhelmingly negative.
It was soon obvious that no self-respecting minister would honour the average TD or senator with a mobile number. Such access for representatives of the people is out of the question.
I will wager a week’s wages that Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae are exceptions to the rule. They are key power brokers, not lobby fodder. Michael and Jackie have all the right mobile numbers.
And guess who else has been important enough to be honoured with hotlines to the ministers?
None other than the arch-insiders of the Celtic Tiger — the big, bearded bosses at Siptu, Ireland’s largest trade union.
Last week, Siptu released the ministers’ mobile numbers to the public. The ayatollahs of social partnership, recently ousted from Ireland’s hierarchy by the IMF and Europe, had been in possession of ministers’ numbers for years.
So during all those Celtic Tiger years, the bearded twins — namely David Begg and Jack O’Connor — had instant access to Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, giving them an open channel to promote Liberty Hall’s latest smash-and-grab raid on the Exchequer.
No one should be surprised at Siptu’s decision to release ministers’ private numbers into the public arena. The union is in a big huff now that its chieftains no longer get the red carpet treatment in Merrion Street. The IMF and Europe are the social partners now.
Yet it would be fascinating to know what they muttered into the ministers’ mobiles in the glory days.
Perhaps they were belly-aching about the banks? Perhaps they were warning former ministers and Taoisigh, like Bertie and Brian and Charlie, about the hazards of the property market.
I have scoured the internet and can find no evidence of such warnings. Certainly not in any trade union press releases.
And why would they have called time on the construction boom? David and Jack’s followers were among the beneficiaries of all that wonderful stamp duty from the property furnace. There is no way that the public service bonanza, the benchmarking awards and other social partnership goodies could ever have been granted without the buoyant tax from the madness in the construction industry.
At the time, there was no chorus of warning from the unions about the need to stop the upward march of the developers or their patrons in the banks.
Not surprisingly. The social partners had their snouts buried firmly in the national trough. The same trough was constantly being replenished by phantom banking profits fuelling developers’ excesses.
Today, bearded brother Jack is constantly denouncing the banks and developers.
Bearded brother David is more circumspect.
No one can blame him. Bearded brother David was a director of the Central Bank, the guardian of the solvency of the banks, throughout the period of banking madness.
Brother Jack shoots bankers from the hip. Whatever the question, he likes to answer by tapping into our anger with the banks. A pity he was not so vocal when the bankers were going berserk. He was too preoccupied cosying up to government ministers.
Last week, brother Jack was savaging the bonuses awarded to Allied Irish Bank employees. Good for the whiskered one.
Except he was strangely circumspect about a similar revelation — that big bonuses had been given only last year to officials in, of all places, the Department of Finance.
Bank bonuses bad. Mandarin bonuses good. What a puzzle.
Last Tuesday on RTE’s Late Debate programme, Jack O’Connor was asked about the mandarins’ juicy bonuses.
He ducked and dived. He was “not familiar” with them. He even pleaded: “I don’t know very much about it.” Where were the denunciations?
The reason for Jack’s reticence became more obvious on Wednesday, when Brian Cowen was asked about the same bonuses in the Dail. The Taoiseach admitted that they were the product of a “social partnership” deal dating back to 1994. Ah.
‘It is mightily convenient for the brethren to pick a fight with the banks. It distracts the public view from another party to the catastrophe — themselves…’
Bank bonuses bad. Social partnership bonuses good.
The 1994 deal was followed by the crippling benchmarking awards in 2000, the social partnership time bomb that has contributed to the downfall of the economy. The new oligarchs won 9 per cent pay awards for their followers and promptly reneged on their promise to deliver modernisation in return.
So it is mightily convenient for the brethren to pick a fight with the banks. It distracts the public view from another party to the catastrophe — themselves.
Last week Brian Lenihan threw down the gauntlet to the brethren, putting social partnership in the frame by revealing that a pending report will blame the social partnership process for damage to the financial system.
Brother Begg responded, weakly pointing out that previous finance ministers had supported the social partnership process.
Brother Begg is dead on. Most of them did. Cowen is a fan. Charlie McCreevy was lukewarm, while Bertie Ahern was a zealot. But did anyone ever, ever expect David to call in the Fianna Fail cavalry as a shield, to rescue him from criticisms of partnership?
David was being loyal to old friends.
Indeed David and Jack were reputed to have been on the mobile to Bertie day and night, not only when he was in Finance, but also when he was Taoiseach. Their closeness to the powerful Fianna Fail chiefs drove their long-time comrades in the Labour Party insane.
The mobile numbers were crucial. Bertie enthusiastically fostered the growth of a social partnership industry, a system which gave the brethren unprecedented clout in government. They became the insiders. Bearded fanatics of social partnership won directorships, State board positions and even sat on the well-paid benchmarking body that awarded such generous rewards to their own followers in the public service.
Social partnership quangos sprung up everywhere. The comrades became the new cronies.
Were these really the same comrades who posed as citizens’ champions a few weeks ago, the guys marching in the streets of Dublin against the excesses of the old regime?! They were part of it. The leaders were not fooling their flock. Begg and O’Connor were booed by a sceptical crowd.
Siptu’s slogan at the march should have been “Bring back Bertie”. Their former hero was the man who waved through their pay increases and their top brass ascension to State boards.
Bertie’s pal, Siptu’s Billy Attley, was a big beneficiary. Last week, he was helping the Public Accounts Committee with enquiries into a Siptu slush fund. Social partnership money is at the centre of awkward questions.
Siptu’s Des Geraghty was another to enjoy the fruits of partnership. Both Billy and Des landed plum posts on the board of Fas, the RTE Authority and a host of others.
I am fully in favour of marching on Leinster House, on Anglo or AIB’s headquarters, on David Begg’s old Central Bank and even on the mandarins’ Merrion Street nest; but I will not do it under a Siptu banner.
Sadly, there was a missing link in the destinations chosen for the protesters.
The next time a protest march is called in Dublin it should assemble at Anglo’s headquarters on Stephen’s Green and head determinedly to Liberty Hall, the Siptu bosses’ skyscraper loftily overlooking the Liffey. We should send a message to the insiders privileged with the ministers mobile numbers.