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Dublin Report Celtic Tiger prosperity also a wellspring of discontent

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

The Ides of March have spelled out real trouble for the Bertie Ahern-led government. They have also revealed that beneath the pile of hype that boosts the Celtic Tiger, there is festering public discontent. New, conspicuous riches for the "haves" foster serious discontent among the "have nots."

There is nothing quite so spectacular in Dublin as an all-out public transport strike. It brings out the best and the worst in all of us. A full-fledged bus strike is just the thing to bring the Celtic Tiger shuddering to its knees. And that is what we now have in Dublin.

What began as a series of well-organized, highly disciplined, one-, two- and three-day strikes, has escalated into a chaotic general stoppage without any great rhyme or reason.

It would be a gross exaggeration to argue that it could spell the end for the Celtic Tiger. But public transport stations have a spectacular history of stirring up the great mass of Irish workers.

After all, it was a strike in the Dublin Tram Company, owned by the formidable millionaire William Martin Murphy, that unleashed the 1913 general strike and a lot of history that followed immediately after.

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Luckily for Ahern and his Soldiers of Destiny, the present fierce dispute arose immediately in the wake of a new national partnership involving the government, the employers and trade unions.

Even so, a victory for Dublin bus crews, gaining them substantial pay awards, is sure to give Irish workers who power the Celtic Tiger serious pause for thought.

It has highlighted the fact that although tax thresholds have been lowered, increasing net pay, Irish workers are still way down the Euro wage league.

The government is desperately trying to hold the line against wage increases. After all, the Eurocrat financiers have already issued stern warnings that the Irish economy can be severely damaged by increasing inflation.

With truly remarkable arrogance, Irish politicians have not helped much. They are currently awaiting a 26 percent increase recommended by a review committee.

Surely, it is no great coincidence that bus drivers, who routinely work six-day weeks to bring their pay rates up to an average £250, seek a 25 percent pay hike.

Apart from putting Dubliners back on their bikes and into impromptu car pools, it has also swiped attention from the Saville Inquiry into the killing of marchers on Derry’s Bloody Sunday.

Already, it is becoming clear that this will turn out to be the most searing inquiry of all, not alone into the killings but also into the motivation of the British government of the time.

The opening statement even included a taped conversation picked up by a radio ham during a confrontation at William Street, "Aggro Corner," two days before.

When a soldier told him, that one of the rioters had thrown a nail bomb and that he could identify him positively, an officer ordered him to shoot the man dead.

The dramatic sound of shots was then heard. The soldier reported back that he had missed the rioter by only about two inches.

"Bad shooting," the officer laconically commented.

This was two days before the paras went on the Bloody Sunday rampage. The tape was not admitted in evidence during the Widgery Tribunal because it was decided that it had been illegally recorded.

Comparing the 1913 general strike, Bloody Sunday and the current transport strike may seem both ridiculous and exaggerated.

But the root cause is the same. People are angry. When people are angry, governments just have to sit up and take notice.

The people of Dublin who trudge, cycle or thumb lifts to get to work are angry. Surprisingly, however, their anger is not uniformly aimed at the striking bus crews.

They recognize that they are poorly paid. To their cost, they have also realized long since that public transport in Ireland is a total shambles compared to that of other countries.

While all kinds of everything have been promised for years, nothing much has been done. One result is continuing traffic gridlock in Dublin because motorists continue to drive to city offices rather than to depend on the wholly undependable public transport.

The anger underlines a very serious perception among the mass of Irish people that the so-called Celtic Tiger has galloped ahead of them, completely out of their reach. The riches it has generated are for somebody else, certainly not for them.

The plain, unadulterated fact is that while the Irish economy is certainly thriving, few, especially the very young, can afford to keep up with it.

The scarcity of public housing coupled with an increasing, eminently predictable rise in demand has prompted soaring house prices within the private sector.

In the most favored parts of Dublin, near the city center, two bedroom, terraced houses can fetch prices as high as £350,000, well beyond the reach of young couples.

Because prices are rising at an average of more than 20 percent per annum, the cost of land has increased in proportion. The result is that even the cost of public housing is becoming prohibitive.

Once, the Irish were included among the biggest percentage of homeowners in Europe. Increasingly now, more are renting. Apartment blocks are now dotted throughout the city. They are not cheap either, not by any means.

One-bedroom apartments can cost more than £150,000. Young couples forced to rent them can hardly ever hope to save enough cash to buy their own homes.

Understandably, this has caused great public resentment. Coupled with increasingly damaging disclosures about low standards in high places that emerge daily from inquiries and public tribunals, many have lost faith in the present government.

The only good thing that Ahern has going for him is that he is still the most popular leader, according to all of the polls. It seems they regard any alternative as being worse.

So far as the hapless pedestrians of Dublin are concerned, the only good thing they have going for them is that many a spectacular romance began with an extended thumb during the bus strikes of the past.

Nothing, it seems, is ever as bad as it may seem to be.

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