Last November, the people of Dublin were shocked and appalled following riots in the city during which bus drivers and firefighters were attacked and abused, buses and a Luas train were burned out and shops looted.
The rampage was sparked by far-right elements who issued a social media call on people to assemble in the city centre after children and a care assistant were attacked and stabbed outside a primary school on Parnell Square.
The most seriously injured child remains in hospital after several weeks in an induced coma while the care assistant is recovering from the wounds she sustained. A man, originally from Algeria and an Irish citizen who has lived in the country for over 20 years, has been charged with attempted murder and remains in custody pending trial. It is understood that he has a history of mental health problems.
In the week following the attacks, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) organised a protest on O’Connell Street where public service workers, including a bus driver member of SIPTU from Romania, addressed the gathering of 1,500 trade union and other progressive activists and described how they were attacked by masked men as they carried out their duties.
The parents of the most seriously injured child are also immigrants to this country as is the trained nurse from the Philippines who gave vital medical aid to the victim at the scene while the man who disarmed the attacker with his crash helmet is from Brazil.
Since that appalling attack the far right has encouraged people across the country to mount protests and, in some cases, set fire to planned reception centres. The underinvestment by successive governments in some of these communities has contributed to the discontent and tension.
Inevitably, it is workers in the fire and ambulance service, the gardaí, hospitals, local authorities and public transport who are on the frontline dealing with these, sometimes dangerous, confrontations and incidents. Inevitably, they are singled out for praise by the Government and politicians, as they were during the pandemic, before their contribution to the public good is forgotten like eaten bread.
Our public service workers should be properly recognised and rewarded for the role they play in providing and maintaining essential public services. Instead, their employers have dragged their heels when it comes to ensuring that their pay keeps track with the cost of living at a time of record inflation and a housing and rental crisis.
In the early hours of Friday, 26th January and following protracted talks, the officers of the Public Service Committee of the ICTU reached an agreement which we believe can deliver on pay and protect the jobs of our members over the next two years. A ballot on these proposals will take place in the coming weeks.
It includes a new package of pay proposals worth over 10.25% over 30 months which are structured in a way which would see money land in the pockets of low and middle-income earners immediately to help them cope with the continued cost of living crisis.
The pay increases for 2024 are valued at 4.25% for the year. This means, if the proposal is supported, that SIPTU members will receive substantially more money in the first year than initially put forward by the Government when negotiations hit a roadblock in recent weeks.
Significantly for our members, it also guarantees the protection of public service jobs from the threat of privatisation and all the risks associated with outsourcing. It has removed the remnants of the punitive emergency legislation introduced after the financial crisis and also provides a new mechanism to deal with grade-related claims.
But the decision rests with our members in the public service. Workplace ballots will follow a period of extensive and concentrated consultation over the coming weeks, including a special meeting of the SIPTU National Executive Council.
This agreement is not an end of our campaign for better pay and conditions for public service workers. It is another step towards achieving a better quality of life for those who deliver those services and those who benefit from them.
Ireland is a wealthy country with robust and improving public finances yet we continue to lag behind our key European partners in terms of public service investment, employment and expenditure.
We are a growing multi-cultural population with increasing and changing demographics which brings many challenges in the delivery of services across the health, education, local government, civil service and administrative sectors.
We must continue to campaign and battle for better and improved public service provision, delivered by directly employed workers on fair pay that recognises their contribution to society and the protection of all our citizens.
John King is Deputy General Secretary for the Public Service