Social partnership cast as villain?

It is a widely held view – and one that I share – that recent Irish prosperity was in very large part the product of the 1987 Programme for National Recovery, which was negotiated early in the third term of office of Charles Haughey as Taoiseach. This was a ‘tripartite’ agreement, i.e. between the government, the employers and the trade unions. This programme, together with the next two or so national agreements that followed at fairly regular intervals, laid the groundwork for Irish success by prompting major increases in the competitiveness and productivity of the Irish workforce. This in turn was partly achieved by bringing previously economically inactive citizens (mainly women) into the economy, generally at lower pay than that enjoyed by longer established workers.

If the 1987 agreement was a founder of the Celtic Tiger, it is the view of some that more recent tripartitie agreements have helped to destroy it. Yesterday it was revealed that a report into the Department of Finance had suggested that social partnership ‘did enormous damage to the financial system’. More significantly, it was also reported that Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton agreed with the criticism of social partnership, thereby perhaps signalling that a new government may abandon this particular mechanism.

I do not at this point have access to the Department of Finance report and so cannot judge the merits of what it is reported to be saying, but it is perhaps arguable that social partnership at some point stopped addressing economic progress and focused instead on ‘sharing the cake’ that was then still believed to be the output of the Celtic Tiger. Asa a result productivity and competitiveness declined.

It is not necessarily correct to conclude from this that social partnership las lost its purpose. It would however be fair to suggest that if it is to continue it must be re-calibrated to reflect our changed national circumstances. But there is, for me at least, no reason to conclude that we could not once again set out on the road to recovery through a social partnership agreement on the model of the 1987 Programme. However, this would have to be built on a recognition that pay and benefits and working practices that were appropriate in the apparent boom will not be acceptable now.

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5 Comments on “Social partnership cast as villain?”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Well I suppose we have to see what the report says but it was supposed to be about the functioning of the DoF. And it seems to have bravely fingered partnership which, I believe, was as much (if not more) a product of the Taoiseach’s department. Seems odd to me.
    The bottom line is that sharing a cake is so much easier when it is expanding than when it is contracting. So it will be interesting to see how such a process survives the new dispensation.
    I am somewhat skeptical of “partnership” Irish-style since in one sense it is just a form of monopoly capitalism and hence intrinsically undemocratic. Those at the table -and with the power- divide the spoils: big business and big labour. Of course there is the ritual presence of those who purporting to represent the disadvantaged but they get screwed anyway.

  2. Vincent Says:

    In fairness what Bruton was on about yesterday was that the civil service had not caused efficiencies even though the agreements were in place.
    Personally I feel that the Agreements had dubious effects on the C.S. While they had use in Industry, how could they work when there is such a view within that sees the Pension Reserve Fund as their own personal moneys.

  3. Robert Browne Says:

    But it was not social partnership it was “insider’s partnership”. One story brought that home to me and it was told by one Blair Horan of the CPSU they had a meeting back in 2002 with Bertie in Dublin Castle and they were determined to get another slice of the Celtic Tiger for their members. What did they want? Well. they wanted 600 million Euro. What did they get? They got 1.2bn Euro. Why? Well maybe Bertie Ahern can explain. Standing outside the castle on the way out he says to Horan, “Well, yis asked for 600m and I gave yis the 1.2bn” as he proceeded to laugh.

    Social partnership should be dragged to O’Connell Street and ritually slaughtered outside the GPO. It amounts to nothing more than legalised fraud carried out by pretentious dishonorable people who busy themselves emptying out the exchequer.

  4. Colum McCaffery Says:

    Let’s face it, absolutely anything will be blamed as long as the reality is obscured. A property bubble was intentionally inflated in Ireland. The madness was supported by perhaps hundreds who were PAID to think, speak and write but who remained silent.
    http://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/time-for-a-clear-out-who-misled-and-who-remained-silent-as-a-completely-irish-made-fiasco-developed/

    Nevertheless, there are at least two problems with social partnership/national agreements. Firstly, they are profoundly undemocratic. Secondly,they destroyed collective bargaining and produced lazy management which got into a habit of paying increases without negotiating routine minor changes.


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