Coalition rift as Gilmore spurns FG demand on Croke Park pact

 

DIVISIONS HAVE surfaced between the Government parties over the Croke Park deal after Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore of Labour rejected demands from two Fine Gael Ministers for key elements of the agreement to be scrapped.

Mr Gilmore said it was Government policy to honour the agreement in its entirety until it expires in 2014 and said anyone suggesting otherwise does not reflect the collective Cabinet view.

He was speaking after Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar called for the suspension of public service pay increments and Minister for Health James Reilly raised the prospect of cutting overtime and premium pay.

Questioned about Mr Varadkar’s remarks, Mr Gilmore said he would prefer if individual Ministers did not step forth “every Monday morning” with a view on Croke Park or any other fiscal issue.

“As far as the Government and its relationship with public service unions is concerned, that’s governed by the terms of the Croke Park agreement, which the Government intends to honour and to implement in full,” he said.

The suggestions made by Mr Varadkar and Mr Reilly would breach the pact, but Mr Gilmore said the Government will be keeping its side of the bargain. He said reporters were making a song and dance of the issue when asked whether he would be raising the matter with the Taoiseach. “I wouldn’t exaggerate at all,” he said in Luxembourg on the sidelines of an EU meeting. “There is an agreement . . . The Government is honouring the agreement and intends to.”

He said the deal does not provide for the withdrawal of increments but he also argued it was not the case that a split was emerging between the Coalition over Croke Park. “The agreement is quite clear in respect of what falls within it or what doesn’t fall within it,” said the Tánaiste. “What we do . . . is we look at the text of the agreement.”

Asked if it was permitted to defer increments, Mr Gilmore said the Government always intended to honour the deal.

“Frankly, I would prefer if individual Ministers didn’t get up every Monday morning and express a point of view – a personal point of view – on [the] Croke Park agreement or budget formation or whatever. And that where issues like this have to be addressed, that they’re addressed collectively by Government,” he said.

Meanwhile, the spending deficit in the Health Service Executive – which forms the backdrop to the proposal for overtime and premium pay rate cuts – is understood to be further deteriorating. The Irish Times understands that provisional figures for May show that the deficit for the first five months has increased to between €250 million and €300 million.

Last week the HSE board approved a report which showed the HSE deficit stood at just over €200 million at the end of April.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has urged Dr Reilly to engage personally in an attempt to bring health spending back into line.