by Fearghus Roulston
The minimum wage in Ireland will be cut by a euro, falling to €7.65, as part of a planned series of austerity measures introduced by Taioseach Brian Cowen today. The plans, outlined in a 170-page document, involve cuts to the social welfare budget and a hike in income tax. The Irish government hopes that they will make savings of €15 billion by 2014. The Taioseach said Ireland would have to “take some steps back to go forward again.”
“Postponing these measures will lead to greater burdens in the future for those who can least bear them, and will jeopardise our prospects of returning to sustainable growth and full employment. It’s a time for us to pull together as a people,” he said. The measures also entail tapping into the pension reserve fund to provide for infrastructure plans, and the loss of 24’000 jobs in the public sector over the four-year period.
These announcements come in the wake of negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund over a proposed financial aid package of around €90 billion euros. The austerity measures are considered key to ensuring the bailout goes through. They also mark an attempt by the beleaguered Brian Cowen to enforce his authority over an increasingly fractious government, as Ireland continues to suffer from social unrest. The decision to cut the minimum wage seems likely to lead to more protests, with the Mandate trade union leader claiming it will “will place those with the lowest incomes, including migrant workers, in an impossible situation”.
Ireland has seen a rash of protests over the last two years of financial recession. Measures in February 2009 aimed at stabilizing the economy brought 120’000 protesters onto the streets of Dublin. The plans to introduce fees for higher education have been constantly opposed and demonstrated against by the Union of Students in Ireland. Some protests have led to violence. A few days ago the office of the Transport Minister, Noel Dempsey, was attacked and sprayed with graffiti, and the arrival of IMF officials led to massive demonstrations outside government buildings.
Other countries across Europe have also seen explosions of anger and violence as the recession begins to affect daily lives. Portugal’s general strike against proposed austerity measures began at midnight, with worker participation of more than 75 percent. Union chief Joao Proenca said he considered it the biggest strike ever in Portugal.
It seems likely Irish workers will follow a similar route, with a major protest planned for Saturday the 27th in Dublin. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the street in protest over the cuts, but trade union secretary David Begg claimed the protests would be peaceful. “They just simply want to bring to the attention of the government that look, you have to be concerned with the citizens of the country, as well as the bond markets,” Begg said.