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Dublin Government’s Class War: The Pensioners Are Next


Éamon Ó CuívThe Dublin government’s relentless assault on the public sector continues apace. The new Twenty-Six County minister for ‘social protection’ Éamon Ó Cuív, content that his pre-emptive strike against the unemployed (Ó Cuív declares war on the unemployed) met with little opposition, now has senior citizens on old age pensions firmly in his sights.

Just two weeks ago, Ó Cuív used the occasion of a Fianna Fáil gathering to claim, in effect, that he believed there are two categories of unemployed: a throwback to the days of the 19th Century Poor Law and the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. Ó Cuív made clear his intent to force the unemployed into low paid jobs and to cut welfare rates; his statement was couched in language that both sought to pitch unemployed people against each other and to soften up public opinion in advance of the next assault.

Given the silence from the parties that constitute the so-called opposition in Leinster House, Ó Cuív is free to advance his war on working class people onto the next level. The latest group upon which he intends to swing the axe are senior citizens on old age pensions.

Employing classic Fianna Fáil double-speak, the Ó Cuív briefed journalists: “I am not ruling anything in or anything out in relation to social welfare changes until I have all the information and [have] looked at all of the parameters… Pensions have to be taken into account in the mix….I’m not saying they will be cut, but I cannot also rule out absolutely the possibility that they might be.”

The purpose of Ó Cuív’s briefing was to put the possibility of cuts to old age pensions in the public domain well in advance of the next budget in the hope that the population will be conditioned to believe that these cuts are inevitable and, in fact, are ‘common sense’ measures. The approach to cutting the old age pension, which amounts to just €219 [£189] per week, for some of the most vulnerable people in Irish society, stands in marked contrast to the prevarication when it came to the colossal pensions of wealthy bankers such as Michael Fingleton and Richie Boucher, former Dublin government ministers and judges.

Ó Cuív’s kite-flying simply reflects the modus operandi of the right-wing establishment in Ireland as expounded by Colm McCarthy, UCD’s quack economist and author of the infamous McCarthy Report – a wreckers charter that seeks to drive a bulldozer through the public sector.

Addressing a conference in Scotland last February on the theme of public sector cuts, McCarthy provided an insight into the thinking of the establishment in the Twenty-Six Counties. He advised the assembled Scottish public sector figures that the problem with the Dublin government’s budget of October 2008, which proposed to take the medical card from pensioners and resulted in mass street protests, was not the cuts themselves, rather the fact that they were not “pre-sold” and were “not well managed politically”.

Colm McCarthyHaving realised that people would not meekly accept cut backs, the Dublin government established An Bord Snip in an attempt to politically manage the cuts and get key allies in the media and business sectors on board. It is worth quoting McCarthy at length:

“The PR element of the body was just as important as the economic function. I get the impression that that element of the equation is very important. It’s getting public opinion and the opposition parties and the broadsheet media on board and getting them to accept and understand that we’re not doing this for fun, that we’re in a hole and that the quicker we start dealing with it the better and that there has to be a fiscal consolidation, and all this kind of stuff. That’s really important and the mechanism they used in Ireland was designed to achieve that objective, as well as the objective of having a great big menu of cuts for the government to choose from.”

That is the purpose of Ó Cuív’s recent briefings to the media – attempting to create the political conditions in which cuts to welfare or public services are considered the natural order of things, or, to use the much abused establishment term, ‘in the national interest’. The ‘national interest’ was the concept used by Brian Lenihan to justify the bank bailout and by none other than corrupt Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke back in 1992 while attempting to justify the handover of Ireland’s natural resources to multinational oil corporations.

The Dublin government’s intention to slash a further €3 billion [£2.6 billion] from public spending in next December’s budget is well known, the kite-flying from Ó Cuív will be followed over the coming weeks by other ministers. The sell-off of state assets and public services is also on the agenda as evidenced by the disgraceful announcement by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council that its waste collection service is to be fully privatised. Proposals to introduce water charges are already in train and, over the last number of weeks, households previously entitled to a bin charge waiver have been receiving bills for individual bin lifts of €6 [£5.17] each.

It is clear that the only interests that Fianna Fáil serve are those of private banks and capitalists: the same class that has bankrolled that party for decades. While social protection is afforded to the rich in the form of an €80 billion [£69 billion] bailout, a social and economic war is being waged against the working class.

However, working people in Ireland are becoming increasingly restive and will not take this lying down. Public sector unions have defied their leaders and publicly rejected the Croke Park deal, which seeks to further undermine the pay and conditions of public sector workers. Members of the Civil Public and Services Union voted by a 2:1 majority to reject the deal and it is hoped that other unions will follow suit as balloting continues over the coming weeks.

CPSU members rejected the Croke Park dealThe example set by the Greek working class in resisting the attempted IMF takeover of their country is finding its way to Ireland as increasing numbers have begun to take to the streets. It is on the streets that this battle will be won and it is crucial that all of the various struggles come together, whether it is pensioners demanding the right to a decent standard of living, workers resisting cuts to their wages, or communities battling against the privatisation of public services. In the month that marks the anniversary of James Connolly’s execution, it is worth recalling his words:

“Against such things it behoves all who value freedom and the possibilities of peaceful progress to organise our forces to make a determined stand. In this matter every man’s battle is our battle. Every man or woman who takes up a stand for liberty is our comrade, and their cause should be our cause. No petty personal quarrels should count, no question of the rivalry of organisations, no foolish strivings after exclusive credit for any man or any party. In this battle, the lines of which are now being traced, it will be the duty of every lover of the country and of the race to forget all minor dividing lines and issues, and in contemplating the work before us to seek earnestly after the unity of the progressive forces.

“Labour must be the backbone of all the resistance to tyranny. Labour has won a few steps forward and upward, but it has a long and weary climb before it – a climb so long and weary that it cannot afford to lose a single one of the liberties it has already gained.

“Already our eyes have been gladdened by the sight of that rally, and from all over Ireland comes the answering shout of joy at the sight. The heart of the nation is good and sound, the courage of the workers not abated one whit.

“We are living in perilous times. But we shall not flinch from the struggle.”

- James Connolly, Liberty and Labour, 1915


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