Monday, September 15, 2008
Trust me. It's no fun being a contrarian.
People tend to make assumptions based on what you haven't said rather than what you have.
When you point out the obvious - like, for example, the unelectability of a Democratic American Presidential candidate who has no experience or the electability of a photogenic Republican Veep candidate, all of a sudden it's assumed in direct contradiction of all evidence that you're rabidly Republican and have left the planet.
This is not fun for me.
Similarly, when you point out some inconvenient truths, like the appalling inequity between men and women over reproductive rights, along comes a gang of fembloggers to depict you as some sort of Taliban.
Again, not so fun, and rather difficult to explain to the Marxist-Feminist better half.
So it is with a degree of trepidation that I say this - John McGuinness, junior Fianna Fail minister of State, is correct.
People want him to resign because he said there is a culture within the Irish civil service that stifles ambition, and that reform is hampered by overprotection of the civil service by their unions.
At the risk of being depicted in some quarters as a neo-liberal wingnut, I have to agree with the junior minister on this one.
I'm sorry to be mean, but there it is. He's absolutely right. The Irish civil service is overstaffed by a large cohort (and I mean in the tens of thousands) of lazy, skiving, entitled, pensioned-up ne'er-do-wells who wouldn't last ten minutes in a job in the private sector.
Of course there are diligent, hard working civil servants. But they're seriously outnumbered by the flexi-time brigade who'd rather apply for career breaks to go travelling, demand auto-promotion every couple of years, and count their end-salary pensions than do a day's proper work.
Just think about any interaction you have with the state. If it isn't the Revenue Commission you're dealing with, you'll be waiting a long, long time for a response. And when it comes, it will be slapdash, ill-considered and probably wrong.
Then you'll have to write to them again, fill in forms again, phone them up and wait endlessly on the end of the line again, while some surly weapon busy gossipping with her mates or some bored graduate completes his fantasy football line-up before deigning to take your call out of the queue.
We've all heard stories about how some parts of the civil service (don't) work. My favourite was told to me by a pal who once did a stint in the Births, Marriages and Deaths office.
On day one, he noticed the phone ringing and no one answering it. When he went to lift the phone, he was advised by his senior that if he did so, it would from then on become his responsibility to do so all the time. So he didn't bother. And so the phones were never answered.
Now, there are major difficulties in overseeing the reform of the service, largely because there are so many working in it. That's a large cohort of people, who unlike a lot of the population working in the private sector, do make a point of voting.
That makes it profoundly difficult for any government that wants re-electing to do anything about the excess of entitlements, massive pensions, guaranteed promotions and daily skiving that exists in the civil service here.
And it is exactly this threat that is being made by the civil service unions demanding McGuinness's head on a spike. They're effectively saying, 'Leave our pork alone, or we'll turf you all out of office.'
And to a very small degree, you can see their point. Why should they have to give up their easy life when the politicians still enjoy some of the highest wages and longest holidays in the world?
But as a taxpayer working in the ever harder-hit private sector, looking at our delapidated health service that can't afford to screen women for mammograms or immunise all at-risk children against cancer, looking at our overcrowded schools and their rundown portakabin classrooms, I want to see a cull in the civil service. A big one.
I want to see someone with the cojones to axe the pension schemes, axe the job security, cut the numbers, and reduce the lengthy list of perks in the Irish civil service.
Under benchmarking, civil servants were pegged against private sector wage levels. This being Ireland, it meant that they ended up being paid around a third MORE than their private sector equivalents, while enjoying a whole ream of things, like auto-promotion, job security and state-subsidised pensions, that no one in the private sector ever gets.
It's now time for the benchmarking to flow in the opposite direction. It's time that the civil service experienced the job losses, rationalisation, pay freezes, and slashed perks that the private sector in Ireland has been experiencing during this economic downturn.
Until we address the huge pork barrel that is the Irish civil service, we're never going to be able to correct our state and our economy to ride out this recession.
Fair play to John McGuinness (and it's rare I say that about anyone in Fianna Fail) for recognising that and putting his career on the line to say so in public.