Pragmatic Minister clear on Croke Park deal: 'In my view it's delivered'
INTERVIEW:THE FOUR-year agreement to achieve savings and reform in the public service without reducing pay rates or introducing compulsory redundancies is due to expire in 2014.
“In my view it’s delivered. I hope there’ll be a Croke Park II. We will be looking for much better terms and conditions than we got in the first one,” says Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn. “Would I like to get more productivity from teachers, more flexibility in time? Of course I would. Will that be on the table when we sit down to talk? Of course it will.”
In response to “hard-line” media commentators who suggest he “take on” teachers whose pay accounts for more than 80 per cent of the education budget, he refers to the “massive disruptive effects” of school closures as a result of withdrawal of services in the North and Britain.
“Just hypothetically, if the service is withdrawn, there is a presumption among some commentators, ‘ah, well, sure mammy will look after the kids if the schools close’. Most mammies now are out working outside the home,” he notes.
Mr Quinn was first elected to the Dáil in 1977 and it is uncertain whether or not the 66-year-old will contest the next general election. “That’s yet to be decided,” he says. He rules out a job in Europe, something that appealed to him in the past: “I have no interest in becoming [a] European commissioner.”
Mr Quinn has served in two previous coalition cabinets. He assesses the key relationship between the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, as very good.
On the contentious issue of gay marriage, Mr Gilmore has called it “the civil rights issue of this generation” while Mr Kenny has refused to say whether or not he supports it.
Mr Quinn has praise for how Mr Kenny has handled the matter, however.
“I think he has to bring all of his party and all of his constituency with him . . . he knows his own constituency.”
The Labour Party respects the institution of marriage, he says. “We just want to extend it to every citizen if possible.”
He suggests the public is becoming increasingly relaxed and comfortable about the concept of gay marriage.
“The first few civil partnerships were front-page news. They’ve now disappeared off the page. It’s no longer news . . . once that happens people who have understandable and genuine concerns about it can be reassured.”
He rejects the threat to Labour from Sinn Féin, insisting they remain “toxic” in terms of transfers from other parties. “I don’t regard Sinn Féin as a left-wing party. I regard them in the same space as reactionary nationalist parties. I abhor nationalism.”
Mr Quinn remains optimistic about the country’s future, despite the difficult economic situation and painful adjustments yet to come.
“Look, in another life I used to be an architect. The most desolating experience a client can have of the dream house that we’re about to construct is to walk on to the middle of the building site.
“All they see is slurry and not carpets. It’ll be grand when it’s finished. It’s work in progress.”