Lansdowne Road deal no longer seen as the only show in town

Analysis: Government’s timetable for negotiating a successor deal no longer tenable

 Garda recruits at the Garda College in Templemore. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Garda recruits at the Garda College in Templemore. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other Ministers yesterday insisted that the centrepiece of public service pay policy – the Lansdowne Road agreement – is still viable.

However, the reality is that following the new €40 million pay offer for gardaí arising from their threat to go on strike this week – the Government’s strategy is teetering on the brink.

The official Government position appears to be that the Labour Court recommendation on Garda pay falls within the flexible framework of the Lansdowne Road accord.

The likelihood is that if the Government does not move quickly to convene talks on a new centralised deal to succeed Lansdowne Road, a number of groups representing nurses, civil servants and other public servants will submit their own claims. At minimum, these will be for deals similar to what has been offered to gardaí. A public service free-for-all could ensue.

In the wake of the Luas and Garda disputes in recent months, the clear message has been that strikes and threats of strikes actually work.

Luas drivers were effectively offered pay increases linked to inflation – which is close to zero – at the start of their dispute, but they ended up getting an 18 per cent increase over four years.

If gardaí vote to accept the new offer they will receive a package worth €40 million more than was available this time last week.

The problem for the Government will be how to pay for both the Garda settlement terms and the knock-on claims that will emerge, given that in the budget for 2017 it allocated no more than the €290 million required to meet the terms of the Lansdowne Road accord.

Preferred time line

Up to recent days, the official strategy was to have the new Public Sector Pay Commission report back, probably after Easter, with an analysis that compared salaries for State employees in Ireland with the private sector here and also with public service workers abroad. This would be followed by talks with unions, leading to the budget next October making provision for pay rises in a new deal commencing in 2018.

However, many senior union leaders believe this scenario is no longer tenable.

At the very least, there will be calls by a number of unions for the work of the pay commission to be telescoped to facilitate the commencement of talks within weeks.

Ministers have privately held the view for some time that Lansdowne Road could never survive until its official expiry in September 2018 and were ready to let it be known that a successor deal could kick in before then. There had been private discussions within Government circles on the best time to raise such a prospect publicly.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe opted to give the first public hint in this regard earlier this week, an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the Garda dispute.

Breaching of agreement

Frances FitzgeraldRepresentative Association

The confidence and supply agreement struck between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil commits both parties to supporting the “full implementation of the Lansdowne Road agreement in accordance with the timelines agreed”.

Some in Government feared Fianna Fáil could use industrial unrest as a reason to undermine the minority administration and might try to woo back some of its traditional public sector support base.

The confidence and supply agreement also committed both parties to the establishment of the pay commission. Senior Fianna Fáil figures are still committed to this process but also acknowledge there is no holding back the demands for public sector pay restoration.

One Fianna Fáil source said the date of a successor agreement should be “at latest January 2018”. The source added: “The Public Sector Pay Commission will of course have to meet and listen to unions but calm heads have to prevail in the short term.

This could end up very reckless and we have to learn from our mistakes in the past.

“Public sector pay cannot screw the country again.”