Confusion ends as Taoiseach rules out renegotiation of Croke Park deal
ANALYSIS:Barring some dramatic unforeseen event, the Government yesterday made it clear that it is intent on seeing the course with the Croke Park agreement until it expires in 2014
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore moved yesterday to end confusion, largely, it must be said, created by members of the Cabinet itself, over the Government’s stance on the Croke Park agreement.
Kenny categorically ruled out any renegotiation of the agreement, which guarantees public service staff that they will not face further pay cuts in return for their co-operation with reform. Gilmore said the position of the Government was very clear – it had an agreement “and we’re honouring that agreement”.
However, there had been mixed messages on the issue over the last 10 days, with various Ministers saying different things about the agreement.
It was unclear whether some Ministers were talking about changing the current agreement or seeking to add provisions to any follow-on deal that may emerge after 2014.
Minister for Health James Reilly started the ball rolling when he said public service pay was the “elephant in the room” and effectively called for the deal to be renegotiated.
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn proposed talks on a successor deal with everything on the table. Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar as late as yesterday lunchtime told Newstalk radio that if a better Croke Park deal could be renegotiated with unions before 2014 then it should be brought forward.
However, it was Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte who caused most surprise when he appeared to suggest on RTÉ Radio yesterday morning that in advance of the budget in December, the Government could call in the unions, using specific provisions in the deal, and introduce new elements into the discussion. Union leaders appeared quite relaxed at the mixed messages coming from various Ministers. They maintained they had it from the highest authority that the Government would stick with Croke Park.
However, many Fine Gael TDs are still very sceptical about Croke Park and are unlikely to change their minds.
As the 2013 budget draws nearer and decisions have to be made on where €2 billion in savings will be made, the question of why services for vulnerable groups may be hit when pay for public servants with secure jobs is protected will not go away.
The issue of the Government paying up to €200 million in increments to public service staff at a time of cutbacks is likely to be to the fore in any such debate.
Ironically, the current controversy over Croke Park came on the day the agreement secured another significant “gain” in securing a new standardised working week for staff in local authorities. A minimum 34-hour week will be introduced on foot of a Labour Court recommendation.
However, the Labour Court seemed to deal a blow to proposals by health service management to seek for staff to work longer hours. It said this could only come at the end of the current deal.
The new working week arrangement is the latest in a number of reform achievements which the Government has attributed to the agreement. These include new standardised leave arrangements and revised sick leave provisions.