Minister insists he is addressing pay issue


MINISTER FOR Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has rejected claims he did not have "the belly" to deal with the "high pay and pension pots" of senior public servants. He insisted no Minister had been as pro-active as he had in cutting high-level pay.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald made the accusation at Question Time in the Dáil when she said reform of the public sector was not just about cutting personnel numbers.

Claiming Mr Howlin was "more than cautious in addressing issues of culture within the public sector, particularly at the upper echelons", she accused him of "almost being afraid to deal with some of the obvious issues, including high pay and pension pots".

She said "the Minister has run away from that". The Dublin Central TD said redeployments had happened as had "cuts for civil and public servants on modest incomes and they are feeling the pain as a result".

She added: "When it comes to playing the game with the big boys, however, it strikes me that the Minister does not have the belly for it."

Mr Howlin accused the Sinn Féin TD of either "living in a bubble" or "deliberately ignoring the facts" because no Minister "has been more proactive in reducing high-level pay than I have". He referred to the €200,000 pay ceiling for civil servants and pointed out that none was paid more.

But Ms McDonald accused the Minister of "blowing his trumpet about a €200,000 pay cap" when the French president did not earn €200,000 and the Finnish prime minister earned €129,000.

She claimed "the Minister clearly does not have the belly for that segment which arguably is the most in need of reform. The Minister has run away from that matter."

Mr Howlin said that in net terms, the Taoiseach earned 44 per cent less than a taoiseach did in 2008, and Ministers were earning 40 per cent less.

"They are still on a handsome salary, there is no doubt about that."

But he said Ms McDonald "should have the good grace to acknowledge" the reform agenda the Government was delivering on and the "hundreds of thousands of public servants who are driving reform and making the change". The Sinn Féin deputy leader replied "they are not earning €200,000".

Earlier Fianna Fáil public expenditure and reform spokesman Seán Fleming said Minister for Health James Reilly "must be brought into line" because he "has obtained an exemption from the pay ceiling for hospital consultants" and there were "a couple of thousand" of them earning more than the Taoiseach. "That is wrong," he said.

Mr Howlin was unable to give figures for the number of retired health sector personnel who had been rehired this year.

A total of 7,900 public servants retired in the first three months of 2012 and 70 personnel were rehired apart from in the health sector. Mr Fleming said the health services were the "biggest category" in the public sector and it was "a discourtesy" that a situation was allowed where Mr Howlin had to come into the Dáil and say he had to exclude the health services. "They must be brought to heel at some stage," he said.

The Minister acknowledged Mr Fleming's point but said "in fairness" to the Minister for Health there was a major job of restructuring in the HSE which in turn had been "very proactive in downsizing".