Kenny hosts Croke Park talks


Taoiseach Enda Kenny is today presiding over a crucial meeting with the body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement to consider proposals aimed at securing further savings under the deal.

Mr Kenny is chairing a meeting in his department at which Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin will present an assessment of potential savings across all 15 Government departments drawn up by Ministers over recent weeks.

Before the meeting, the Taoiseach defended the decision to cut the allowances, which he said will result in maximum savings from the public sector pay bill.

“We know that some allowances that are going to go over the years are part of core pay," he said. “There are a whole range of allowances and other areas within Croke Park that I believe can be actioned and progressed to bring about maximum savings.”

Mr Kenny said he and Mr Howlin had analysed reports compiled by individual departments identifying increments that should be chopped in a bid to make further cuts from the overall €14 billion public sector pay bill. “I propose to give the implementation body the evidence of what we believe can be squeezed from Croke Park in order to maximise savings,” he added.

Earlier, Mr Howlin told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee the Government would look into simplifying how gardaí, teachers, firefighters and the army are paid to avoid confusion between allowances and core pay.

He said there were difficulties in identifying which allowances were eligible for cutting, because they often formed such a large chunk of the individual’s overall pay. “It would neither be practical or reasonable to attempt to take away unilaterally such a large additional element of these public servants’ pay - in effect applying an additional pay cut just to those key groups,” Mr Howlin said.

He said there had been a lack of transparency in the way frontline staff were paid. “There are 180 classes of allowances that we have determined politically and objectively that there isn’t a sustainable business case for,” he said. “But we could not take the bulk of those away instantly because it would be taking core pay.”

He said the list of 88 allowances set out by his department as a priority for abolition "was not exhaustive". The Minister said the various sectors in the public service could add further allowances to this list.

There has been speculation in recent days that the Government has signalled to union leaders that it wanted to hold discussions on some form of an extension to the current Croke Park agreement.

Asked last night whether it had indicated to unions that there might be new talks on the agreement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: “No comment.”

Details of the proposals for escalating savings under the Croke Park agreement drawn up by various Ministers have not been made known.

However, it is understood that the Department of Health and the Department of Education have been looking at the issue of seeking staff to work additional hours. This would fall outside the scope of the existing Croke Park agreement.

Details of the Government’s plans on public service allowances emerged yesterday after a letter on the issue drawn up by the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, was given to health service unions.

The department confirmed that it had sent similar letters to each government department.

Mr Howlin last night said he favoured using a dedicated fast-track arbitration process in relation to the new proposals to eliminate allowances.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, Siptu vice-president Patricia King said the letter was an attempt to rule by “diktat circular”, and was a “complete attack on low paid workers”.

Ibec director Brendan McGinty called on the Government to suspend the payment of public sector pay increments immediately in order to achieve savings.

He said it was “not credible” that pay increases were being sanctioned at a time when a further €3.5 billion adjustment was needed in the upcoming Budget.

“The country simply cannot afford public sector pay rises at a time when we're spending €1 billion more than we're taking in every month,” he said.

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