News from ireland By Frank Shouldice Gov't Takes Pay Hike With widespread evidence of the

News from ireland

By Frank Shouldice

Gov't Takes Pay Hike

With widespread evidence of the economy slowing down, the Irish government aroused an angry public reaction by awarding itself a double-figure pay hike. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will take a 14 percent pay rise which, at 38,000 euros, is itself worth 5,000 euros more than the average industrial wage.

The substantial pay increase will apply to cabinet ministers as well as senior officers in the civil service, garda (Irish police force) and academia. Its generous terms were recommended by a civil service review committee, and the Taoiseach dismissed criticism by saying the pay award was calculated by an independent body.

"I don't tend to worry about these things," he said blithely when it was pointed out he will now earn 310,000 euros per year. "The Government will implement the pay scales . . . that's it."

For many, however, it is strange that the elected leader of a country of about four million people should be paid a salary greater than that of other international leaders, including George W. Bush, Gordon Brown and the premiers of economic powerhouses like Germany and France.

In comparison with his EU colleagues, Bertie Ahern will earn well over double the salary of the Dutch prime minister and six times the pay of Polish counterpart Donald Tusk. The Taoiseach insisted he would not trouble himself with such comparisons.

However, as state revenue begins to tail off from taxing a slowing economy, the immediate prospect for state finances is not so encouraging. Wage negotiations between unions and state bodies are expected to be more difficult than usual, and the government's readiness to handsomely reward itself in a time of retrenchment will surely raise the temperature. Following the pay award controversy, Fianna Fil's approval rating crashed by nine percent (to 33 percent) in a TMS/mrbi opinion poll. Bertie Ahern's personal rating fell by an even more significant 15 percent (to 43 percent).

O'Loan Reopens Nelson Case

Northern Ireland police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has found that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now named the Police Service of Northern Ireland) failed to deal properly with threats that preceded the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

The 40-year-old solicitor was killed when a bomb was planted beneath her car in Lurgan, Co. Armagh in 1999. A loyalist group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the killing.

Rosemary Nelson represented a number of high-profile cases and also acted on behalf of the Garvaghy Road Residents, a nationalist community opposed to the Orange Lodge parade walking through the Garvaghy neighborhood in Portadown, Co. Armagh. Her work attracted open hostility and even death threats from loyalist elements, but the ombudsman's investigation into her death found that the police "did not properly consider the particular nature of Mrs. Nelson's public profile or the level of concern about her safety."

Nelson's murder was reviewed by Canadian judge Peter Cory who recommended that an independent tribunal of inquiry be set up to examine the case. That inquiry is now scheduled to start, but the police ombudsman's report supports the suspicion that the RUC failed to provide protection for the lawyer.

Nuala O'Loan's report referred to some 20 incidents, including seven death threats, which preceded Mrs. Nelson's murder. The report also found "ill-disguised hostility" towards the lawyer by several senior RUC officers.

Responding to the ombudsman's report, Maggie Beirne, director of the Committee of the Administration of Justice (CAJ), welcomed a fuller examination when the tribunal of inquiry begins. "The ombudsman has confirmed that those threats were not treated with the gravity and urgency required," said Beirne.

Less Competitive Ireland Losing Jobs

Manufacturing in Ireland took another heavy blow with the announcement that Seagate is to close its high-tech plant at Limavady, Co. Derry. The closure will eliminate 900 jobs in the northwest with the company moving operations to a cheaper alternative in Indonesia. Meanwhile Waterford Glass said it would cut its thousand-strong workforce in half, adding to a worrying month on the employment front.

Exports from the famous glassware factory have been steadily hit by a weakened US dollar and strong competition from Eastern Europe. When the cuts are implemented it will leave about 500 employees at a company that employed 3,200 people just twenty years ago.

These cuts may not even be the end of drastic measures required to turn the company around. Facing a net debt of 412 million euros chief executive John Foley attributed some of the company's difficulties on high operating costs in Ireland. "While you could be tempted to slash your wrists in this environment, what the situation does is ensure that you ruthlessly focus on the cost base of the company to ensure that, even though there are outside pressures, you control what you can control," said Foley.

The announcements in Derry and Waterford follow a spate of redundancies at a range of multinationals including Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Motorola, O2 and Vodafone. Intel, the largest employer in the private sector in Ireland, also announced it would cut 200 jobs from the payroll at Leixlip, Co. Kildare. Intel manufactures high-tech microprocessors and has been a leading light during the so-called Celtic Tiger years.

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