Andrew Lynch: If NTMA have a few quid left this week they should buy a dictionary and look up 'shame'
In two-thirds of English schools, the teachers are so afraid of hurting their pupils' feelings that everybody is awarded a prize on sports day.
Over here, it seems that some people at the higher end of the public service are being treated exactly the same way.
As we can see from today's revelation that 84pc of National Treasury Management Agency staff received bonuses last year, the Celtic Tiger entitlement culture is alive and well -- even for people who have achieved the equivalent of coming last in the egg-and-spoon race.
The figures are damning. A grand total of 258 workers in both NAMA and the agency that oversees it received an average payment of €7,700 in February as a reward for their sterling work in 2010.
This €2m bonus pot represented a nice little top-up to their salaries, which themselves average out at a mere €100,000 each. Fourteen people in the agencies are paid over €250,000 -- more than the Taoiseach himself or any of his ministers.
What about the new public salary cap of €200,000 that the Government has been boasting about? For some strange reason, it forgot to mention that this does not apply to these bodies, since it believes that the top-flight people they need to recruit would not bother to get out of bed for such a trifling sum.
This information has only come out because Michael Noonan was specifically asked for it in the Dail -- which suggests it's just as well that ministers don't have to rely on bonus schemes themselves to scrape a living wage together.
The reality is that if you're lucky enough to work for one of these prestigious agencies and you don't actually burn down the building, you are virtually guaranteed to pick up an extra payment at the end of the year.
This kind of nod-and-a-wink culture might be easier to tolerate if NAMA was obviously doing a fantastic job of cleaning up the banks' toxic debt.
Instead, many of the builders who landed us in this mess are still living the high life, using every legal loophole they can find to make the public pick up the tab for their reckless behaviour.
Over the last few days, a war of words has broken out between Government ministers and the semi-State chiefs who are due to collect six-figure bonuses on top of their salaries.
Leo Varadkar claimed victory by forcing Declan Collier of the Dublin Airport Authority to give up a €106,000 payment, crowing that, "the penny has finally dropped".
In fact, for many of those chief executives, the penny is still rattling around -- because they still don't understand that performance-related perks are not acceptable at a time when public spending is being slashed right, left and centre. This week alone, we have seen the human cost of the recession in all its frightening detail. Emergency services are being removed from hospitals and bus routes withdrawn from rural schools.
Unemployment is up yet again, while the Government seems determined to scrap Sunday and overtime premiums for workers who are already on the minimum wage.
The really scary thing is that despite everything that's happened over the last three years, there are still so many people on the public payroll who seem to assume that the recession only applies to other people.
Politicians constantly insist that "we are all in this together", but the evidence suggests something quite different.
In Greece, this kind of basic injustice has led to riots on the streets -- and while we don't have that culture of protest here, the Government would not want to rely on the public's goodwill lasting forever.
If NAMA's management have a few quid left over at the end of the week, they might consider buying themselves a dictionary and looking up the word 'bonus'. 'Shame', 'fairness' and 'repayment' should be next on their list.