“This negation of democracy will have to be brought to an end..”

The Irish Minister for Communication, the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan, has been predicting “root and branch reform” of the banking system in the New Year.. but not necessarily how that will be achieved.. And, as the Dáil awaits re-awakening from its traditional recess, in the Irish Times Stephen Collins picks up on murmurings of discontent with unelected “social partners”, effectively, in government at a time of economic crisis.

“The point about democracy is that we are elected by the people and can be thrown out by the people if they don’t think we are up to the job,” said one senior political figure. “The social partners are not accountable to the electorate but they have acquired far more power than almost any elected politician. This negation of democracy will have to be brought to an end.”

Of course it will be far better for the country if the social partners go along with the measures required to bring the public finances under control so that industrial strife can be avoided. The problem, though, is that social partnership itself has contributed to the scale of the problem in the public finances. Those involved have a vested interest in ensuring that the problem is approached in a way that serves their own interests, and not necessarily the common good.

For instance, as the Economic and Social Research Institute pointed out in its recent bleak quarterly report, salaries in the public service are about 20 per cent higher than in the private sector. And this is before the priceless assets of job security and pensions, vastly in excess of comparable ones for PAYE workers in the private sector, are taken into account.

This enormous imbalance between the pay and conditions of PAYE workers in the private and public sectors is a direct result of social partnership. It has been connived at by all concerned, including the employers’ body, Ibec. With pay freezes and pay cuts already being implemented for private sector workers, this imbalance will become ever more pronounced unless urgent action is taken.

Of course, as elsewhere, the “sacking civil servants is the work of a generation..”