Croke Park accord must be reviewed in light of fiscal needs, says Coveney
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said he finds some limitations of the Croke Park agreement very frustrating and has called for a delay in the payment of increments to public-sector workers to be considered.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney said economic recovery was in the interests of trade unions and their members, and focus had to be placed on solutions to Ireland’s fiscal problems.
“In my view, a review of Croke Park needs to be part of that process so that there is more flexibility in terms of things like targeted voluntary redundancy programmes; in terms of areas like maybe a longer working week; in terms of areas like reducing overtime bills; in terms of issues like how we handle increments within the public sector that are automatically applied that maybe need to be delayed.”
The Government is seeking to generate savings of €1 billion on the public service pay and pensions bill between 2013 and 2015, as part of new talks with trade unions on an extension to the agreement, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said.
Mr Coveney said the “upside” of Croke Park had been financial savings, reductions in staff numbers and reforms in a context of industrial peace.
“Having said that, I think there are some limitations of Croke Park that I find very frustrating. But Brendan Howlin has opened up a dialogue now with union leaders to try and get more out of Croke Park,” he said. “And I think that’s necessary. I welcome it and I expect and hope that the union leadership will be able to work with Brendan Howlin to find savings.”
He said he did not intend to prescribe to Mr Howlin or trade union leaders what they should be discussing, “but I do know one thing: we need more flexibility and we need more savings”. Unions should be treated in a “respectful” way, he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Coveney complained Róisín Shortall had “painted people like myself and Leo Varadkar as somehow in the pockets of the alcohol industry” since they disagreed with aspects of the former minister of state’s alcohol strategy. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” He said 90 per cent of what Ms Shortall had proposed had his support but he had reservations about abolishing alcohol sponsorship of festivals and clubs.