Dublin Castle, originally built under the orders of Prince John as a Norman stronghold and later used for centuries as the HQ of power and oppression on this island, is now popular for various reasons. While tourists from all over the world come to visit it and learn of its history, our own interest in the venue is of a different kind. The Castle has long been - among many other duties - the home for our so dearly cherished tribunals and meeting place for the great and good of the Republic. Today the ancient building was particularly busy.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (left) arrived this morning for a meeting of the Social Partners and said that Ireland would have "to maintain and improve competitiveness", or the economy would be in trouble. He warned that "expectations for the pay talks will have to be realistic". This is of course the same Bertie Ahern who only recently - regardless of expected economic trouble - awarded himself a pay rise of € 38,000 per annum, thus becoming the highest paid political leader in the world. He also rewarded his ministers handsomely, with increases of € 25,000 per annum on average.
These increases in payments for leading politicians are more than many Irish people earn in a whole year!
Today's meeting was concerned with launching a mid-term review of the current national agreement, Towards 2016. With the existing agreement on private sector pay due to expire next month, and the public sector in September, pay is a major part of that review.
The Taoiseach said two new pieces of legislation in this area would be published soon, and he hoped this would "reassure people".
IBEC Director General Turlough O'Sullivan insisted that a new pay deal would have to take account of "the difficult economic situation facing many companies".
But there are other issues, too. Many trade unions have expressed serious concerns about worker protection, and in particular the enforcement of the minimum wage.
SIPTU General President Jack O'Connor (right) warned that his union would not even enter the new round of talks unless issues of worker protection and agency workers were addressed. In the fast changing world of the Irish economy in the past-boom era, with hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the country and age discrimination against job seekers above the age of 45 prevalent, SIPTU will be the hope of many working people in Ireland.
The Conference of Religious in Ireland (yes, there are still some left) criticised the government for "not giving enough attention to social policy, particularly in primary health care, adult literacy and supporting carers". It is a pity that the same religious people were not so concerned about these matters in the past, when they were the dominating force in Ireland's hospitals, schools and other social institutions. But - better late than never.
Meanwhile, in another part of Dublin Castle, broadcaster and sports pundit Eamon Dunphy (left) testified he was told that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was "taken care of" to support a shopping centre develop- ment in the 1990s.
Dunphy told the Mahon Tribunal he could not say where or exactly when the conversation with developer Owen O'Callaghan took place, but he thinks it was in Dublin, between 1997 and 1998, when the two men were involved in a project to bring Wimbledon FC to Dublin.
He stated that Mr. O'Callaghan referred to his Golden Island Shopping Centre development in Athlone and told him that the then Minister for Finance, Bertie Ahern, "was taken care of to support tax designation for the site", but did not deliver on the deal.
Dunphy said he took this to mean that Mr. Ahern received a bribe. The conversation with Owen O'Callaghan was confidential and he was not wearing his journalist hat at the time.
The former footballer added that he had not questioned the Taoiseach's integrity, specifically during an appearance on the Late Late Show before last year's general election. He said he did not think the allegation was "particularly striking in the overall scheme of things".
In a separate statement, the Taoiseach denied Fine Gael claims that his legal challenge to the Mahon Tribunal will delay its work for up to six months. Mr. Ahern told reporters that the tribunal has been going on now for 11 years and he did not think he had caused it any delay. He said he was ready to give evidence to the tribunal next week, as scheduled. What ever happens then, one thing is certain: More lawyers will make even more money, with a delay or without.
The Emerald Islander