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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 18, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

    The public (sector) has spoken

    Harry McGee

    It’s just after 9.20pm and the Dail has risen after its first day back.

    It’s no great surprise that it’s been an eventful day and was a more turbulent one for the Government parties than had been expected.

    The Cabinet has reached a decision on a wording for the children’s referendum but it will not be released until tomorrow, after the Government has consulted with opposition parties and groups.

    There is a press conference at noon so it really will be tomorrow when we begin to parse the text and begin to scope the strenght of the Yes and No campaigns. No groups have emerged yet that have said they will oppose the amendment. But although at this stage it looks like there is huge momentum behind the change, do no underestimate the scale of the oppositon that may be mounted against it.

    The two issues that dominated today and tonight were the Fianna Fail motion of no confidence in Minister of Health James Reilly in addition to the admission by the Government that it had abjectly failed to meet is objective by cutting public sector allowances by €75m this year.

    The former generated a lot of sparks and shouts in the Dail – with a good deal of venom shooting across the floor of the Chamber. Mattie McGrath painted Reilly in an unfavourable light compared to Oliver Cromwell which was a pretty big stretch of the imagination.
    The real drama – and embarrassment, the opposition hopes – will occur tomorrow night when the two Labour Ministers of State, Kathleen Lynch and Roisin Shortall, will stand up to defend Reilly. Given their relationship with the senior Minister that will provide for great interest in the House.

    As for the public sector allowances, that was probably the Government’s biggest bellyflop this year. Brendan Howlin, in his Budget speech last December, identified savings of €75m this year; and a total of €300 million over the two following years.

    The chances of reaching those targets are zero. They are not going to be reached. An pitiable €3.5m will be saved this year and only a solitary one of 1,100 allowances has been abolished. Howlin spoke about almost €500m in allowances not being available to new entrants. But that was spin as the €500m will have to continue to be paid to existing beneficiaries and with an embargo in place the amount that will be saved in the short and medium term will be negligible.

    Business cases to retain or moderate 800 allowances were posted up on the website. But these were next to useless as they didn’t tell you how much each cost, or how many benefitted. Nor was there the Dept of Public Expenditure and Reform’s analysis published.
    And most argued for their retention on the ‘gun to our head’ approach – if we cut them, the staff will refuse to cooperate and the service will not be performed etc.

    There’s a bit of waffle beginning to creep into the public service reform agenda. One out of 1,1000 allowances abolished. €3.5m out of €75m in cuts achieved. That’s a very poor return.


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