6 DECEMBER 2005
The Irish Ferries Dispute: Social Solidarity and Economic Efficiency
A Statement from the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA)
A Commission of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
The moral dimension of the economy shows that economic efficiency and the
promotion of human development in solidarity are not two separate or
alternative aims but one indivisible goal.
(Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, section 332)
Recognising that morality and economics must go hand in hand for any
society that wishes to foster human development, the Irish Commission
for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) adds its voice to those who
call on all parties in the Irish Ferries dispute to work towards a
resolution that respects the rights of all involved. In this regard,
it welcomes the talks currently taking place at the Labour Relations
This dispute raises complex issues that affect Irish Ferries and its
workers, Irish exporters and, possibly most importantly, the prospect
of a continuation of social partnership. In addition, it draws attention
to the way in which we in Ireland treat migrant workers. In responding
to this dispute none of these issues can be avoided.
In addressing this first issue, it must be acknowledged that labour
costs are a legitimate concern for any industry. Nevertheless, Irish
Ferries is a profitable company and the desire to maximize return on
capital employed ought not be pursued at the expense of the workers
employed and in a manner that could undermine societal acceptance of
appropriate standards of employment and rates of pay.
Furthermore, in this context, the ICJSA notes with concern the potential
of this dispute to undermine the social partnership model of society.
There are many who would hold that the economic prosperity of Irish
society has been built upon, and depends upon, social partnership.
However, its importance for Ireland transcends the parameters of economic
considerations. As a model for the organisation of society, social
partnership promotes an ideal of equity or fairness, and it is at
least arguable that this model of social partnership has in recent
years gone some way towards countering inequities in Irish society.
In this light, and conscious of the potential of the dispute to
undermine societal acceptance of the ideal of social solidarity, the
ICJSA offers its support for the day of protest on December 9th that
is being organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
The occasion of this dispute also raises the larger issue of the type
of welcome that we in Ireland offer to migrant workers. Ireland has
had its share of emigration over the past one hundred and fifty years.
More than most countries, it knows only too well how indiscriminate
employers can exploit migrant workers. It also knows at first hand
the suffering that xenophobia and racism can cause to immigrants and
In the past five years Ireland has witnessed unprecedented levels of
immigration. The question is whether we can learn from our own history.
Society should take care to ensure that immigrants to Ireland are not
exploited but are rather treated with a respect for their rights and
are paid a just wage. Apart altogether from any consideration of the
moral correctness of such a position, one would be foolish to ignore
the danger that the exploitation of low paid immigrants could lead to
a large scale displacement of indigenous workers. History has shown
that over tine, this generates a misplaced popular resentment against
foreign workers that in turn fuels racism. If this were allowed to
happen in Ireland, the very foundations of a stable and civilized society
would be undermined.
At a time of economic prosperity when forced emigration is hopefully
a thing of the past, it would be a pity if Ireland was no longer
perceived to be a welcoming nation. Today, we have an opportunity to
re-commit ourselves to that Christian ideal which welcomes the stranger
while ensuring moral equity for all citizens.
6th December 2005
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)
NOTES TO EDITORS:
* The Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) is a
Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.
* The ICJSA is chaired by Bishop Raymond Field and its role is to
support the Bishops’ Conference in promoting the social teaching of
the Church and advising on issues of social concern both nationally