Today I’d like to point out what a brilliant job the government are doing (no, come back, this sentence isn’t finished yet) in turning us against each other.
Whenever public opinion looks like uniting in anger against those who deserve it (the bankers, regulators, developers, and most of all the Finance Ministers) they find a way of dividing and deflecting that anger toward others.
Take the RTE presenters, for example. Although Cabinet Members have taken a pay-cut, the Government have refused to cut the number of Junior Ministers or Committee heads, and the pay of ordinary TDs and Senators remains untouched, so why would one of these Senators, Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh, suddenly demand that RTEs top presenters volunteer to reduce their salaries?
Because right away attention turned to the likes of Pat Kenny and Gerry Ryan. Those who took the cut rose in the public regard, and those who didn’t are now perceived as the bad guys.
Interestingly, Jim said the broadcasters were ‘in a privileged position’. A Senator’s basic salary is €70,133 and the Seanad sits only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
A week later TD Michael Kennedy suggested that judges could “gift” part of their salaries to the nation.
“It is important now, more than ever, that everyone plays their part in leading us out of this recession and I would strongly urge our country’s judges to step up to the plate and agree on a universal 10% cut within their field,” Mr Kennedy said.
The “everyone” that Kennedy urges to play their part will not, of course, include backbench TDs, since just 11 out of the 127 have offered to reduce their pay. I’m sure Michael is probably one of these 11, though curiously his website doesn’t say so, and since the website does describe him as “Your No. 1 experienced & hardest working public representative in all of Dublin North” he doesn’t strike me as the type who’d have kept this act of selflessness to himself.
What’s important about these comments is not their blatant hypocrisy. It’s the fact that it pits the higher earners and the rest against each other. Ryan Tubridy, Joe Duffy and assorted judges are not responsible for causing any of the current mess, but suddenly it is they who are being pillioried in the media & in the pubs, and the spotlight is switched away from the likes of Charlie McCreevy, or Pat Neary, or Seanie Fitz.
Most brilliant of all, though is the public servants’ Pension Levy. Public and private sector workers are suspicious of each other at the best of times. We regard them as overpaid and overprotected, and they regard us as tax-dodgers who caused the boom by buying yachts and second homes. Brian Lenihan played on this when he had to cut the public sector pay bill.
He could have cut their pay or made some of them redundant, but that would have created empathy for their plight among the rest of us, who are suffering the same things. We might have become more unified, last week’s marches might have been bigger, and the kind of civil unrest we’ve seen elsewhere might have begun here.
So instead he called the reductions a Pension Levy, playing on the fact that the public sector pensions are seen as generous by the rest of us. And when the public sector claimed that the Levy was unfair (and many aspects of it are unfair) we all said “ah shut up, at least yiz have jobs, and a great pension”. Which is exactly what the government knew would happen.
And when the levy protests die down and we start to single out specific ministers again some other Fianna Fáil nobody will be told to open the Dáil window and yell out “what about Martin King off TV3?”
And we’ll all look at one another and say “yeah, I bet he gets paid a fortune, and the weather’s been shite since he started doing the forecasts, he should take a pay-cut till we get our summers back”.
It’s political genius.
If only they were as good at running the country.