Howlin defends €250m public sector pay increments despite FG criticism


THE COALITION parties may be on a collision course over the payment of €250 million in increments to public servants after a stout defence of the practice by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin yesterday.

He defended the increments on the grounds that there are fairer ways of controlling public pay and questioned why they had become the subject of public debate. Half of all increments were paid to those on clerical office grades earning an average of €22,000 a year, he said. By stopping them, the Government would be “freezing the pay of the lowest while others on higher pay, who have already received increments, would remain untouched. In truth there are fairer ways of ensuring that we control the cost of public pay”, he said.

Mr Howlin’s defence came after several Fine Gael TDs called for the payments to be discontinued on the grounds that this is long-standing party policy. However, there is no reference to increments in the Croke Park deal with public sector workers, which forms the basis of the Coalition’s policy on public pay and numbers.

The latest Fine Gael representative to criticise the practice was Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe. He said “every single cent of taxpayer money must go into protecting frontline services in our hospitals, schools and elsewhere.

“We must now examine the payment of public service increments this year and whether their payment is consistent with the maintenance and growth of services that we all depend on.” The Department of Public Expenditure confirmed the overall cost of increments last year was €250 million.

Separately, Mr Howlin also expressed strong support for the Croke Park agreement with public sector workers, which he described as an “extraordinary instrument” in bringing about radical reform”.

Mr Howlin was speaking at a joint press conference with Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, where they launched Green Tender, the Government’s action plan on green procurement. Over time, suppliers of goods and services to the State will be required to ensure they reach certain environmental and sustainable standards.