The public sector unions signalled their commitment to opposing Budget 2010 at an protest outside Dáil Eireann yesterday evening. Union leaders were highly critical of the recent Budget and of the government's recent attempts to, in their view, demonise the public service.
Approximately 500 public servants gathered to voice their opposition to the public service pay cuts while inside Dáil Eireann the debate on the legislation took place. Union leaders called the Budget "deceptive, unfair and counter-productive", saying the measures if implemented could plunge Ireland into a 10 year recession. They also lambasted the government for attempting to drive a wedge between the public and private sectors.
"People... in the public service have been subjected to a campaign which can only accurately be described as a campaign of incitement to hatred," said David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). "At a time when every other country in the world is positioning itself to inject a stimulus into its economy so that jobs can be created, we are going in the opposite direction."
Begg cited Greece as a model for Ireland to follow after they implemented a series of taxes on high earners, including a 90% tax on banker's bonuses. He also quoted Michael O'Sullivan of Credit Suisse, who recently said that the measures in the Budget would be detrimental to Irish society as it would merely delay "bigger fiscal problems down the line".
Sheila Nunan, the incoming general secretary of the Irish National Teacher's Organisation (INTO), signalled that industrial action was still very much on the agenda. She said that INTO's members were proud public servants "who stood up before and would stand up again". She claimed the government had bowed to big business at the expense of ordinary workers. She said that public service reform, which was offered to the government instead of wage cuts, was now off the agenda.
Inside Dáil Eireann, the debate on the Budget continued with opposition leaders attacking the government for the harsh measures of the Budget. "[The] government hasn't given a second thought [about the measures]...you don't give a curse for people who are poor and people who are on low pay," said Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore. His feelings were echoed by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. "Every government minister...should be ashamed...to walk up those steps and vote for that," said Kenny in relation to the Budgetary measures.
However, the government was unmoved. Taoiseach Brian Cowen rounded on the opposition, accusing them of having no concrete ideas of their own. "We made this decision [out of necessity]...all we're hearing [from the opposition] are populist notions."
The crowds outside the Dáil dispersed after the union leaders concluded their speeches but it is clear that the unions have not played their last hand just yet. Strike action looks increasingly likely and, with further cuts expected next year, the anger of public service workers looks unlikely to subside. The provision of public services throughout Ireland is almost certain to be affected in the coming months; how severe that impact, as yet, remains unclear.