Making Brendan An Ogre

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Brendan Ogle, above, ESB Group of Unions general secretary, appeared on Today with Sean O’Rourke, top, on RTE R1 this morning

Ogle, who has promised industrial action unless a pension scheme row is not resolved, was ambushed  played recordings from a ‘provocative’ speech he made in 2011.

He was defiant

Sean O’Rourke: “There’s been a lot of controversy and I think you alluded to it there a few minutes ago about a speech that you gave a couple of years ago to an organisation called Eirigri and you spoke about the possibility then of the ESB being privatised and how it was time, and I accept that you may not have known that it was being recorded but there’s a twenty minute version of it available, and I think that’s probably the whole thing, up on You-Tube, but here’s where you’re talking about getting the ESB workers ready for a fight.”

[clip of Brendan Ogle] I’ve got about a year, a year and a half now to start explaining that to the ESB lads and let’s get the shop steward movement going and let’s get a situation where the lads will put up a fight and if we put up a fight in ESB, and it’s hard to get into fight but we’re getting there, if we put up a fight in ESB, the lads will start to believe they can actually effect change, and if they start to believe, their mates and their brothers and their sisters elsewhere will say this actually works, but what does having a fight in ESB mean? The first thing is you get we can’t do it we still have to have power stations. Doesn’t make any difference… We turn off the power station but no electricity ever went from power station to that lightbulb, so we control it… [end of clip]

Sean O’Rourke: “And just before you come back on that one there was another clip as well where you said you had some issues with the left in Ireland but then in that speech you gave to Eirigri you said that was an opportunity for the left to get militant, to get radical This was in May of last year.”

[clip of Brendan Ogle] I would hope that the left, whatever part of the left it is, would say to each other, listen we’re all down the tubes, I know that we’re going to rebuild a society that we fought for seven or eight hundred years on the basis of principles whereby we distribute the wealth the fairest way possible and I know we’re going to look at this crisis as an opportunity to begin to do that and that’s going to take, that’s going to require radical action, it’s going to require more than marches… it’s going to require more than good marches, boning burning cars and smashing up buildings, it’s going to require militant industrial action no holds barred, and sure maybe they’d…. But at least let’s put it up to them… [end of clip]

Sean O’Rourke:
“Now those were extracts from a speech you gave, actually it was in May 2011 so it’s two and a half years ago I think but again there’s a lot of people I suspect listening and saying well, you know, it’s nearly mission accomplished, Brendan wanted, he wanted to pick a fight, wanted to put his workers on the ground where they would take on the ESB; you’ve got a casus belli not necessarily on the privatisation issue but something which may need to be settled by the company ahead of privatisation.”

Ogle: “Well Sean, those comments were comments that I made at a function in a personal capacity and I have apologised to the ESB workers for making them in that venue, and I didn’t apologise because I think I was right, I apologised because I was wrong and I let the ESB workers down.”

O’Rourke: “We didn’t actually use the clip you really apologised for, the bit about them being spoiled and having plenty of gravy.”

Ogle: “Now Sean I think if you’ve played extensive clips I’m entitled to answer.”

Sean O’Rourke
“Of course.”

Brendan Ogle: “I didn’t apologise because I think I was right, I apologised because I was wrong. That having been said, spokespersons, politicians, taoisigh in church halls in Roscommon have found themselves having to answer similar faux pas if you want to call it that in relation to comments they made in a venue which was then produced out of context somewhere else and they’ve had difficulty with it.

“So… but I want to deal with the genesis of your question. What that was about was state assets, and what I was talking about – and you played it there in fairness – was a society in which we have fair distribution of wealth and I believe as a worker and as a representative of workers and trade union official fundamentally to the core of my being in a society where we have a fairer distribution of wealth than we have in this society today and I hope I die with that belief.”

Sean O’Rourke: “What about workers what about the workers who won’t be able to pay for Christmas as a result of what may happen that you will have caused?”

Brendan Ogle: “Not what I will have caused. I concluded an agreement with my colleagues which fixed the pension. ESB repudiated that agreement and foisted onto those workers, there are ESB people, former chief executives today listening to this show getting pensions out of that scheme of 240,000 Euros and the workers I represent in a wind-up situation could be 30 years in the scheme with an average salary of 60,000 on 13; that is not a fairer distribution of wealth that I took a job in the trade union movement and that my workers and members…”

Sean O’Rourke: “The top guys do generally better out of these kinds of schemes, let’s just go to the other clip again it was a contentious one, we have it now I think, about the spoiled workers.”

[clip of Brendan Ogle] But I’ve got a problem with the people I represent who have power because they also have money. Because they also – and they won’t mind me saying this because I say it to them often enough, they are also – spoiled. Because for the last 20-25 years, when they were building this building that and building the other, the thing that the right wing Fianna Fail PD governments needed once they got the unions in their back pocket, the thing they needed the most was industrial peace and the way they got that is to throw a bit of gravy round the place, a bit of overtime here, this thing in the ESB called after-hours schemes, would take me an hour to explain it to you. Gravy. So people who worked in good jobs, were always good jobs, suddenly are in great jobs Not only have they got the house, the mortgage is paid off, they’re buying an apartment in Bulgaria and they’ve got two or three cars, the kids are maybe going to private school, universities, fee paying…[end of clip]

Sean O’Rourke: “No surprise that you felt it necessary to apologise to people you worked for, for those kind of remarks, and again I say it’s got to be accepted you were caught off guard, but maybe that’s what you feel you were wrong about, you let the mask slip.”

Brendan Ogle: “No Sean, I didn’t let the mask slip. I was wrong and I apologise.”

Sean O’Rourke: “But you have a fair assessment there, a summary of how well off your members are.”

Brendan Ogle: “I want to respond to that point. I want to make two points and I think I’m entitled regardless of your time constraints to make these two points. I came in here today to discuss pension. Nobody explained to me that practically the entire Eirigri speech was going to be played live on air, but I will deal with that no problem. I want the listeners to know that there is an empty seat here. There is an empty seat in every studio in every broadcaster over the last three weeks for ESB who caused this problem by foisting a pension deficit onto working people, who won’t come out and answer so I come and answer because the public, the listeners are entitled to an explanation from somebody and if they’re not getting it from a chief executive on 300,000 Euros a year stabbing workers they’ll get it from me. That’s my job.
“I’m answering you now and I’m proud to do it. In relation to the points you make, and the points that you play, there is no doubt absolutely no doubt that for many years while a bubble was being created while we had budget surpluses coming out of our ears and we thought we had reinvented market economics in a way that we could show the world, that Charlie McCreevy could go off and boast in Europe about the Irish model, there is no doubt that during those years that…”

Sean O’Rourke: “The IMF running the country and the rest of the troika and literally eight hours after they leave this country officially on the 15th September you guys pull the plug…”

Brendan Ogle: “I am not going into ESB at 2 o clock to pull the plug. I am going into ESB to tell ESB you got guys sitting across the table who haven’t answered any questions You made a decision, which against the law, against your agreement, a repudiation…”

Sean O’Rourke: “Now…”

Brendan Ogle: “Every time I answer you talk to me, move me onto something else. I can only assume my answers are quite good. Because as far as I’m concerned I’m not getting to answer my questions The people who will pull the plug if the plug is pulled are the people who Pat Rabbitte appointed to office on salaries who would make the Taoiseach’s eye water, who are hiding from you. I’m not, not hiding from you.”

Sean O’Rourke: “And I genuinely appreciate the fact that you’re here and you can’t have been surprised we would have wanted to play these excerpts.”

Brendan Ogle: “In fairness, no.”

Sean O’Rourke: “No. And in fairness you said you’ll answer anything we’ll put to you. I think, what people would like to know as well, you say you care for workers, you want to make sure workers get looked after but there are people listening to this or maybe not listening to this because they’re lucky enough to have a job, maybe not paying very well, and they are not going to have gravy to use your word to put on their turkey this Christmas and certainly it won’t be as thick as they would have otherwise expected because of the disruption that could be caused.”

Brendan Ogle: “Sean, thank you for introducing the gravy point again. I didn’t get to respond to that. The gravy is gone. Because what nobody says and nobody invited me in the studios to say at the time, since that was made I and my colleagues set down and agreed a 20% pay cut in ESB and people in RTE and everywhere else weren’t not too interested in reporting that at the time but good news travels fast.
“To the rest of those who are listening here who may be impacted by a dispute unless ESB return to proper behaviour I have to say this. Myself and my colleagues can only represent the workers that we represent. In my time as a trade union official which goes back to 2004 and before that I have sweated blood to represent my members and I let them down on that occasion and I apologise for it and I take the hit for it and I will continue to take the hit for it if the media continue to be fixated with it, it goes with the job, but any workers we represent we will continue to represent, we will not be bullied or harassed or intimidated from representing the workers of ESB whom I am proud to represent and will continue to represent until their pension is restored.

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