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Pension levy an unjust attack on working people – Morgan

17 February, 2009

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD, speaking during a Dáil debate on the Pension Levy this evening, described the levy as a punitive, mean spirited and fundamentally unjust attack on working people in the public sector. Deputy Morgan said the culture of crony capitalism which was championed by Charlie McCreevy with his deregulation dogma still forms the basic structure of our financial system.

He repeated his calls for legislation to compel persons such as Seán Fitzpatrick to appear before Oireachtas Committees and for a job creation strategy based on realistic proposals to create a sustainable and equitable economy.

Full text of Deputy Morgan's contribution to the debate follows:

"I would like begin this debate by expressing Sinn Féin's support for this motion and I notice that the Government decided to amend their original amendment to include "the principles of fairness and equity". Obviously these principles are something that Fianna Fáil and the Greens easily forget!

"But it is the original motion that we are here to discuss and I would like to affirm Sinn Féin's absolute opposition to the pension levy. Sinn Féin has consistently stated that any measures to address our public finances must be done on the basis that "those who have the most pay the most". Instead all we have got from this Government is a punitive, mean spirited and fundamentally unjust attack on working people in the public sector while the pals of Fianna Fáil in senior management of our banks and other institutions continue to get off scot free.

"Through the pension levy, which is in reality a pay cut, the Government have basically asked public workers to pay for the boom that they never benefited from. And while the Minister for Finance has by his own admission spent nearly all of his time on our banks; thousands and thousands of workers throughout the country are being let go. Of course it is not just all the time he has spent but also all of our money as well.

"For the past 5 months there has been one revelation after another on corruption and fraud within our banks, one botched government initiative after another to try to restore confidence to our financial institutions and one interview after another which shows that the senior management in our banking institutions are on different planet and are incapable of changing their ways.

"We again heard today of another scandal involving Seán Fitzpatrick fraudulently moving money from Irish Nationwide to Anglo Irish. But not a single thing has been done by the Government to seize the money embezzled by Fitzpatrick and there are no signs of any criminal proceedings being brought against him. Despite all of this Fitzpatrick still had the brass neck to refuse to come before the Oireachtas to answer questions to public representatives. In my opinion this shameless cretin will have to be dragged over here kicking and screaming and made to account for his criminal behaviour. Today I called for legislation to be introduced to compel the likes of Sean Fitzpatrick to appear before the Oireachtas or to face imprisonment. Enough is enough. People are sick and tired of the bankers getting away with it while ordinary people are being made to pay. The claim by the Minister for Finance last week when he handed €7 billion of tax payers money to the banks that bonuses had be done away with is bull. Bonuses are not gone, they have simply been put on pause for 12 months and the banks are free to use what's left of the 8 billion to start paying themselves outlandish bonuses again in 2010. All we are getting for €7 billion which is set to come out of the pockets of ordinary workers is a token 25% hold of the Board of Directors. We have all seen how meaningless the Government's 25% holding on Aer Lingus is and how ineffective the Government has been.

"While the Government may claim that the corporate malpractice which was endemic in our banking system is rooted firmly in the past, there is no evidence to show that things have changed. The suggestion that "that was then - this is now" is simply untrue. Most of our banking executives are still there and the culture of crony capitalism which was championed by Charlie McCreevy with his deregulation dogma still forms the basic structure of our financial system. But as we go on and on about the banks, the problems that are affecting real people are being ignored. We have all received hundreds of emails, numerous phone calls, and numerous visits to our constituency office from public workers who are dismayed at what is happening. The pension levy has demoralised thousands of our public sector workers and has shocked this country at a time of crisis.

"And what Fianna Fáil and the Greens have effectively done is to reduce people who are on modest incomes to a point where they are struggling and made struggling families poor. This is not to mention the thousands of workers who for a variety of reasons have been unable to qualify for a full state pension yet they are still being asked to fork out hundreds of euro every month to a pension that they will never see. I recently got an email from a woman who will now double her contribution to her pension because of this levy but will not avail of her full pension because she spent a number of years raising her family at home. These are ordinary people with modest salaries and they are not like the former Financial Regulator Patrick Neary who got a golden handshake of €630,000 for standing by while our financial system was almost destroyed through corruption.

"So ordinary workers are right to feel utterly disgusted at the Government's decision to make them pay for the mistakes of the Government and their friends. Apart from the damage that the Government has done to my constituents and constituents of every deputy in this House, this whole affair is going to prove to be utterly futile. The so called 2 billion that the Government has announced it will save will be completely wiped if our unemployment continues to go at the same rate as it did in January.

"The cut backs that were so desperately sought and the Government are now implementing will do nothing to stimulate the economy or to create jobs. It is investment and planning that will create and stimulate and not cutting.

"And it is job retention and job creation which will address the public finance deficit. My colleagues and I in Sinn Fein accept that there are wastages but we do not accept that it is low and middle income earners who are the cause of this. Rather we see that outsourcing which has grown with the culture of deregulation that Charlie McCreevy promoted as the real waste of public money. And when we can finally a get clearer picture of how much money is being used to subsidise these corporate raiders operating on the back of our public services, it will become clear that privatisation is the biggest waste of public money of all time.

"Lastly I think it's important to say that this blunt object which is used to divide public and private workers and which could lead to a reign of psychological terror on our public services did not just happen in the last 3 months. The psychological war against our public servants began a long time ago when the likes of IBEC, Government Ministers, certain elements in the media and Fine Gael began kicking lumps out of our public services. These elements have used the economic crisis to attack public workers and public services. And it is utterly opportunistic in the extreme for Fine Gael TDs to be claiming that they are opposed to the levy when their own leader said only last September that the public service is "bloated and inefficient". Richard Bruton also at that time used similar language and called for "radical reform". It is simply disingenuous of Fine Gael, the Government and certain parts of the media to claim that no reforms of work practice in the public service have taken place over the last 10 years. And what the likes of Fine Gael and IBEC are really after are not improvements in work practices but simply cut backs.

"Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the pension levy, we will be supporting public workers in their national day of protest and we will continue to be the one party on this side of the House to call for a job creation strategy based on realistic proposals to create a sustainable and equitable economy." ENDS

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