Most Fianna Fáil TDs reject plan on leave


A CLEAR majority of Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators have voiced steadfast opposition to a proposal that 12 days’ unpaid absence should form the major part of the plan to cut public sector pay costs.

At a packed parliamentary party meeting yesterday, attended by 88 people, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan gave strong assurances that the Government would achieve €4 billion in savings, would cut public sector pay by €1.3 billion, and that the cuts would be permanent in nature.

Mr Cowen said that 12 days’ leave was one union proposal studied by the Government. No conclusion had yet been reached.

Many of about 20 deputies contacted by The Irish Times said the strong impression they took from the meeting was that the leave of absence proposal was no longer a runner. Others said they believed that if retained, it would form only part of an overall package of real cuts in public sector pay.

More than 25 of the 30 or more TDs and Senators who spoke opposed the proposal, some saying they had been inundated with angry calls and texts from constituents. Several criticised it for being vague and unworkable.

The meeting lasted almost two hours. While many TDs had reacted with outrage to the proposal when first made public on Wednesday, the atmosphere of the meeting was described as muted.

Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan made short addresses at the start and end of the meeting. Government chief whip Pat Carey said the leave of absence proposal dominated the discussion.

Members “were reflecting views of people who e-mailed, telephoned and texted them and expressed concern about that mechanism and its vagueness and uncertainty. They were concerned that if it was the only part of the package it would send out a message that Government was not resolute in maintaining fiscal policy,” he said.

Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan, he continued, had both outlined in the “starkest way” that they would stick to the €1.3 billion and €4 billion targets, and that the cuts would be real and permanent.

“At the end, the Taoiseach reiterated the position that this 12 days or five days or no day leave was one approach that was being explored with trade unions.”

Niall Collins of Limerick West said much concern had been expressed about the proposal, and he spoke strongly against it on grounds of workability and vagueness. “The mood out there is that we need real reform of the public sector as part of the package. We need to see more detail of the 12 days. I am not happy with it. If it was used, it would have to be part of an overall package, and not the major part of it.”

Another opponent, Sean Connick of Wexford, said 85 per cent of members felt it was unworkable and unfair to others, like those on social welfare facing cuts. “We have to be seen to be tough and making changes for the good of the country, and not just for Fianna Fáil.” He said he would be astounded if the proposal was still a runner. “It will be an impossible sell. It will need to be unbelievably clear,” he said.

Seán Power, Kildare South, said he saw no real merit in it as part of a solution. “Even the proposal exposes the fat that exists in the system. We need reform. A major reduction is required as part of reform,” he said.

Noel O’Flynn, Cork North Central, said there could be no deviation from the plan to cut €1.3 billion from the pay bill.

“This is the plan that we were conditioned for during the last six months. That is the plan that has to be implemented. People who contacted me said it was unbelievable. We have lost our jobs or have not guarantees. They have jobs for life and are getting days of unpaid leave when they already have privilege and holy days,” he said.

Tom Kitt, Dublin South East, said the politics of the matter had been “absolutely disastrous”.

“The one thing is, unlike the medical cards last year, it’s come up before the budget and will allow us to put it right. On its own it’s crazy,” he said.

Chris Andrews, Dublin South East, said decisiveness was required. “The unions have used it as a negotiating tool, while welfare recipients will have reduced incomes after the budget. I got the impression after the meeting that the 12 days’ leave of absence proposal was no longer a runner. I do not see it myself. If it’s part of any deal it will have to be a very small part of the bigger picture.”

Beverley Flynn, Mayo, did not think the proposal should be thrown out, but that there would be a need for other measures such as direct pay cuts, as was happening with social welfare.

Michael McGrath, Cork South Central, said it could form a part, but not the principal part, of an overall package of pay cuts.

Darragh O’Brien, Dublin North, said “the jury is out” on the proposal. “There will have to be an element of real reductions as well. It does not stack up on its own.”

John Cregan, Limerick West, said he believed it should form part of pay cuts. Michael Mulcahy of Dublin South Central agreed.