There was an alarming report last night of what appeared to be yet another Stormont capitulation to a pay demand.
A five-week industrial action by NI Water employees affected thousands of customers at the most critical time of the year – Christmas and early winter.
It ended in January but we never found out exactly how.
According to the BBC, Ryan McKinney from the union Nipsa claims the two-year deal exceeds a Stormont pay cap. He was quoted: “Our members aged 47 and over will have full pension protection, so they can retire on a final salary scheme at 60.”
Danny Kennedy, the regional development minister, needs to clarify as a matter of urgency whether this is correct.
If it is true, then it is an unacceptably generous deal.
The most obvious problem with such a response is that it is a surrender to blackmail and so gives the green light to other strikes and other similar demands. The less pressing, but perhaps even greater problem, relates to the ultimate cost of such deal, when people reach retirement age.
NI Water is largely funded by Mr Kennedy’s department. It is highly irresponsible to use scarce taxpayers’ funds to authorise early retirement at 60 for people in their 40s, a generation that is now expected to live perhaps into the 90s.
That is why the ages at which pensions are payable are rising.
Most employees would be delighted to have the opportunity to retire at 60. But if governments allow large groups of people to have that entitlement now, then younger workers will have to work even longer to fund the lucky few.
Northern Ireland, like Scotland, is in danger of losing all respect in terms of fiscal responsibility, insisting on lavish funding from London while showing no restraint.
This is particularly perilous now that British voters have endorsed a standalone government that is determined to cut the debt (if it can first eliminate the deficit). This is what responsible administrators do – they show financial restraint so that we don’t burden future generations with debt.