As RTÉ viewers and readers of Irish newspapers will know by now, public sector workers are the most evil, self-centred, lazy, opportunistic, stupid, dishonest and vile group of individuals Ireland has ever known. Their thievery knows no bounds and goes back generations. DNA tests on a nurse from Enfield recently discovered she is a direct descendant of a family of cruel kitten killers from the 1890s. Investigations into the background of a teacher in Kilkenny revealed that wealthy ancestors on his mother's side used to stand outside the homes of starving people during the famine, munching potato salad sandwiches and feeding the leftovers to the local bird population. What else would he do with that kind of history but look for a job in the public service?
But of all the insults perpetrated by public sector workers over the years, perhaps the worst was their mass Christmas shopping outing to Newry last Tuesday. Luckily, the media was around to uncover the crime. The day of action, RTÉ confidently reported at lunchtime on Tuesday, had led to an influx of public sector workers who had abandoned their picket lines in search of cheap whiskey (they didn't quite put it like that, but it was clear what they were getting at). It was an arresting image, no doubt, and one backed up by no evidence whatsoever. I tuned into the Six-One News later in the day to see if they were able to put any more meat on their story. Sadly, they were not, although that didn't stop them pushing an angle that was too attractive to abandon.
Three witnesses to the madness were interviewed. An Englishman who didn't work in the public sector thought the busier-than-usual shopping day might have had something to do with the work stoppage, although he didn't seem sure. A shopper from Dublin who didn't work in the public sector thought a fellow over there might be in the public sector, although there was no interview with the fellow over there to confirm that suspicion. An elderly woman who didn't work in the public sector was sure she was surrounded by public sector workers, their horns and pointy tails having completely given the game away.
RTÉ at least acknowledged that many of the people who arrived in Newry on Tuesday might have been the parents of children who had the day off (which, of course, was always the most likely explanation for the long queue of southern-registered cars meandering towards the town). Nevertheless the impression created, and amplified in the following day's newspapers, was that thousands of strikers had used their day off – taken ostensibly on a point of principle – as an excuse to boost the economy of a foreign nation. The unstated analysis: what would you expect from the people who ruined the country?
The journey of the public service employee from unambitious, unimaginative workhorse to shopaholic destroyer of an entire economy has been a sight to behold. During the boom years, nobody worth their salt would be caught dead working in the public service. Our thrusting, creative, adaptable workforce demanded the freedom and excitement offered by the private sector to express themselves (whatever that means), win attention, secure promotion and earn lots of money. By contrast, the public sector was looked on as a kind of fusty fallback position for Denis and Denise Dullknickers, where they could toil away unrecognised by anybody. Judged by the rules and morality of the Celtic Badger, these people were unambitious, and therefore slightly weird, losers.
Now that the boom is over – wrecked mainly, let us not forget, by the private sector – the public service has been reimagined as the modern equivalent of Nero's Rome. Denis and Denise have been tried and found guilty of excesses likely to lead to a visit by the International Monetary Fund. A country's future depends on them being chastised for reckless behaviour they were never aware of.
To those people in the private sector who insist on the demonisation of public service workers, I would quote the great Roy Keane: Get Over It. If the public sector was the fantastic land of opportunity you say it is now, you could have joined at any point in your working past. But you made a choice to go the private route, as I did, and as did many of my colleagues who now so boldly lead the charge against the public service. Try as I might, I can't think of a single reason why public sector workers should be held responsible for that choice.
The papal nuncio: a two-bit diplomat
In his first homily after his appointment as Papal Nuncio to Ireland last year, Giuseppe Leanza argued that "more than ever today, society looks to the church, hoping to find in it a sure guide in its quest for the truth and for the ultimate meaning to life". The previous year, before Leanza's appointment, his office had been asked by Judge Yvonne Murphy to help with her quest for the truth of the church's cover-up of child sexual abuse, but had refused to respond. After Leanza's elevation to Nuncio, Judge Murphy wrote to his office again. Again she was ignored. Those seeking the truth will have to look elsewhere. In the meantime, the government could do worse than expel this two-bit diplomat. But that would risk our good relations with the Vatican. And we couldn't have that, could we?