Lenihan accused of 'sinking' public service agreement


LABOUR LEADER Eamon Gilmore has accused Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan of “sinking” the agreement with the public service unions in order to aid his political ambitions.

Mr Gilmore made the claim as he condemned the Government’s failure last week to reach agreement with the unions as “stupid”, “short-sighted” and “at worst devious”.

During testy exchanges at leaders’ questions in the Dáil, he said “the bottom line, Taoiseach, is that you have a Minister for Finance who is now so anxious to get his hands on your job that he was prepared to sink this agreement”.

But rejecting the claim, Brian Cowen said that “in any discussions I had with the congress of trade unions in relation to these matters he accompanied me to all of those meetings and full and frank discussions were had between all of the parties concerned”.

Mr Gilmore claimed that Mr Lenihan “clearly does not subscribe to the Taoiseach’s view that political loyalty is a virtue”. He added that “from the time there was an agreement in prospect he had his representatives out on the airwaves, doing his damnedest to undermine the work that was going on”.

He described the move as “stupid and it was short-sighted”, and he asked the Taoiseach to explain why he had “thrown away an opportunity to get long-term reforms in the public service for a quick one-year fix for next year, purely, it would appear, on the basis of Fianna Fáil’s political need”. It was “something we will all regret next year”.

Rejecting the claim, Mr Cowen said “that is completely at variance with the facts. A proposal was put to the Government, which I said would be considered by Cabinet. It was considered by Cabinet but unfortunately it did not meet the first requirement on the amount of savings that would be required.”

Mr Cowen said the “immediate problem related to the fact that savings of the order of €1.3 billion would have been required, not only in 2010 but certainly thereafter. Unfortunately, this was not possible to confirm with the detail that would be required beyond 2010.”

He added that “there is a common positive vision about how we might transform public services in the future were we to be able to go back to those issues on another occasion”.

Mr Cowen said “we should seek to re-engage on that changed agenda”, but Mr Gilmore intervened, shouting “who are you going to engage with?”

The Labour leader added that the unions “couldn’t trust ye”, and “you blew it”.

But the Taoiseach insisted that unless they engaged on a reform agenda “over the coming years, we put at risk the ability to maintain present remuneration levels without further reform”.

Mr Gilmore held up seven documents which he said were signed off as agreed between the public service trade unions and the Government, including major rostering reforms in health, increased hours in education with changes in teachers’ contracts, and redeployment of staff across departments up to 50km away.

Mr Gilmore said it would have given €1.3 billion in savings, “but also much-needed reforms of the public service”. But then the Government decided “to pull the plug”.

The Taoiseach said, however, that €1.3 billion in savings would have been required, “not only in 2010 but certainly thereafter. Unfortunately, this was not possible to confirm with the detail that would be required beyond 2010.”

He added that the “portrayal” of the proposal for 12 days’ unpaid leave “met with a very strong public reaction and certainly made the task of agreement infinitely more difficult”. But “the other problem, the second issue, related to uncertainty about how precisely the savings would be continued in 2012 and beyond”.