Value of Croke Park deal 'underestimated'


THE CROKE Park agreement is working and is delivering a leaner public service without industrial unrest, the Dáil public accounts committee was told yesterday.

PJ Fitzpatrick, the independent chairman who has been overseeing the implementation of the agreement, told the committee its value has been “underestimated” and it has “by and large” been successful in preserving frontline services at a time of greater demand.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he anticipated that by the end of the year the Government would have achieved 70 per cent of the target of reducing public service numbers by 37,000 by 2015.

He anticipated that by 2015 annual gross savings of €3.5 billion would be made in pay, but that would be offset by a €1.1 billion rise in the cost of pensions.

He told members of the committee, which is reviewing the agreement, that the reduction in pay and numbers had been achieved with sustained industrial peace which “in my view, can never be taken for granted”.

He also said the unions and staff associations had signed up to the agreements in full and he saw “no evidence” of non-co-operation. He added it could not be implemented in a highly unionised environment without the “buy-in” from staff.

“I have been impressed by the commitment of management and union colleagues on the implementation body,” he said.

He cited a number of examples of successful implementation. A total of €7.5 million had been saved by laboratory technicians and radiologists working outside their designated hours of 9am to 5.30pm without callout charges.

The Garda will embark on the first rota change in decades from April which will make further savings and prison officers also had made significant changes, he said.

Mr Fitzpatrick outlined that some €597 million has been saved in the first year of the agreement with €289 million from pay savings and €308 million from non-pay savings.

When pressed by Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe as to how he knew for certain that €308 million had been saved in non-pay related savings, Mr Fitzpatrick acknowledged he was basing the figures on submissions from the secretaries general of different departments and the evaluations of a number of specific projects.

He said a wider audit would be something he would consider in future reviews.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said Mr Fitzpatrick needed to be more forthright in criticising those non-performing departments.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he would put down markers in the next report and state which departments were making progress and which were not.

The next annual review would be published in June and “tangible evidence of delivery” would be looked for across the public service, he said.

In response to a question from Fine Gael TD Simon Harris, Mr Fitzpatrick said the cost of annual increments was in the order of €180 million a year and they were mostly targeted at the lower paid.