Cabinet backs down on €75m in cuts over Croke Park fears
THE GOVERNMENT has admitted to backing down on cutting €75 million in public service allowances over fears it might imperil the Croke Park agreement.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin acknowledged yesterday the Government would fail to meet its target, with only €3.5 million due to be saved this year.
Under the plans agreed by the Cabinet yesterday, only one allowance out of 1,100 paid across the public service is to be abolished for serving personnel.
This is a representational allowance of up to €218 for staff attending EU meetings.
Other allowances paid to existing personnel may be reviewed or bought out in the future. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said it could not identify these allowances to the media due to industrial relations considerations.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said last night that to have pushed ahead with the planned cuts would have jeopardised the continuation of the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform.
He said for savings of €75 million “it was not worth throwing the agreement into the bin”.
Aside from the €75 million initially planned, Mr Howlin had promised savings of €150 million in 2013 and another €150 million in 2014 under a previous announcement.
The department was not able to comment on the status of those targets last night.
The Opposition last night claimed the policy now lay in tatters.
Fianna Fáil accused Mr Howlin of having “bottled” out of taking hard decisions in the face of opposition from recalcitrant public sector workers.
Sinn Féin said the Government should tackle excessive pay at the top of the public service.
For his part, Mr Howlin said in future a third of all the allowances now paid would not be available to new appointees.
These cost €475 million per annum, but the savings will be negligible as existing staff will retain them and there is an embargo on new recruitment in most areas of the public sector.
Mr Howlin also argued that some payments that were classified as allowances were really core pay. He promised that a further group of allowances which cost €250 million would be looked at with a view to modifying or phasing them out for new entrants.
Simultaneously, the department also published the business cases made by the relevant department or agency to retain some 800 of the 1,100 allowances. However, no details were given of how many employees availed of each allowance – nor was a breakdown given of the cost associated with each.
Many of the allowances were justified on the basis that if they were not retained, staff would refuse to carry out duties or the service would not be reformed.
The department also declined to publish its own assessment of the merits of each business case. In some cases the Government is to continue to pay allowances to serving staff, which the business case said was not justified.
About 180 allowances are to be abolished for new entrants. These include rent allowances for gardaí – a move which unions said could have implications for prison officers and fire fighters – as well as qualification allowances for teachers and some nurses.
The largest public service union, Impact, said last night it would take cases to the Labour Relations Commission or Labour Court under the Croke Park agreement if it believed there was a case against a management decision to discontinue any allowance. It said it would study the allowances earmarked for immediate abolition for new personnel to see whether this was the case.