Congratulations to Michelle Ellis, Hillcrest, Ballymore Eustace who was conferred with an Honours Degree in Commerce at the N.U.I.G. recently. She has returned to Galway to do a Masters Degree in Human Resources.
In the Oct issue of the Bugle I wrote about the earnings of the top brass in the civil service, which had been published in the daily papers and wondered what the top brass in the trade unions were earning. Lo and behold in the Irish Times Oct 24th was a list of some of the top earners; some of them, for reasons best known to themselves would not disclose their incomes. All were earning top dollar, and most important, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be out of a job in these times of recession like some of the workers they represent. Some were earning handy nixers by being attached to State boards. And we mustn’t forget sick leave; some in the HSE are on paid sick leave for more than six months. I don’t know the reasons for these payments perhaps they are genuine enough, but they’re costing the State more than €11million. Sick leave has almost doubled since the eighties and is twice that of the private sector. I read in the paper t’other day that Dr Drumm, head honcho in the HSE, has received a bonus of €70,000 and in the same paper the story of anxious parents whose child is dying for want of a heart operation and is on a waiting list for a bed. Another man is waiting five months for a knee operation. Go figure!!!
However it’s not all bad news, I read that Peter McLoone leader of the public sector union Impact has decided not to accept a substantial pay rise. More power to his elbow. Will others follow suit? But as I write there’s a threat of ‘a walk out strike’ to take place next week. ‘Taking action in a coordinated way’, and the need to ‘provide best practice’, whatever the hell that means, is how one trade union leader describes it: probably means go on strike if we don’t get our way. By the time you read this all will be settled we hope.
Another topic making news these days is the call by Enda Kenny for the abolition of the Seanad. Some time ago I wrote in the Bugle making the exact same call. If I remember correctly I described it as a home for aspiring and retiring politicians or words to that effect. So have I changed my mind? As it stands at the moment no, but properly run it has its uses. It is in urgent need of radical reform. The idea of a Senate or Upper House goes back a long time, back to Roman times, and its function basically is to keep an eye on the government and to peruse legislation sent to it by whatever parliament is in power. It can initiate and revise legislation or make recommendations, but that’s as far as it can go. In short, it has limited powers. It costs 25 million euro to run, and that’s a lot of dough for an outfit with little or no clout. The salary of a senator is €70,000 plus, with expenses averaging €45,000. A handy number if you can get it! The number of senators is 60, and 11 of those are nominated by the Taoiseach of the day, 43 are elected by incoming Dáil, outgoing Seanad, and various panels representing other interests. The two universities get to elect 3 apiece. So tell me, how can a Seanad so politically weighted act independently of government? Do turkeys vote for Christmas?
Apparently reform of the Seanad has been talked about for the last thirty years. Various schemes were proposed, talked about, but never acted on. I must admit it has been all over my head and therein lies the problem; nobody cared, nobody shouted Stop. But times have changed and times are tough, and people are beginning to ask awkward questions of our elected representatives, whether in government or Seanad. Do we get value for money spent? In 2008 our senators sat for 93 days. What did they achieve? Can anyone remember? The only way we can have a completely independent Seanad is to have it elected by the electorate only, with no government interference. If this miracle were to take place then I do believe that the Seanad has a place in Irish politics, but as it stands at the moment it is just another expense we could do without. Some of our European neighbours have abolished their upper house and seem to be managing just fine. In these lean times a radical overhaul is needed, starting at the top! Social partnership and benchmarking need a reality check. I said at the time of its introduction that it only worked when things were on the up and up. A palsy walsy arrangement that suited Bertie's idea of management won’t work in the situation we now find ourselves in.
Over to you Taoiseach, leadership is required. Jeffers.