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Brexit talks continue but at this stage prayers may be more useful

Inside Politics: Taoiseach misses point when it comes to student nurses and well-off public servants

Deal or No-Deal

The way things are going in Brexit negotiations it would be no great surprise to see Noel Edmonds rock up to 10 Downing Street on Sunday with a box in his hand. Boris Johnson would then open it to let everybody know (including himself) if it's deal or no-deal.

It all feels so random. The brand of brinkmanship being played by the British prime minister just doesn’t seem to have depth behind it other than to placate the visceral detestation of the party’s Brexiteers for all things Europe.

And so Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, had their dinner in Brussels last night.

Anyone who thought it might have the same outcome as the Johnson and Leo Varadkar bromance at Thornton Manor over a year ago were to be disappointed. Number 10 sources said after the meeting that "very large gaps remain" while von der Leyen said in a Tweet that the two sides were very far apart.

The best quote by far in our main story came from Dublin where a Government source said: "The talks aren't dead anyway - but they are on a ventilator".

Don’t say we are not devils for detail in The Irish Times. Our main report also contains a full run-down of the menu.

“Incidentally, on the menu was pumpkin soup and scallops for starters. The main course included steamed turbot and mashed potatoes with wasabi. For desert, there was pavlova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet.”

No humble pie to be seen anywhere.

So where does it go from here? The fact the Northern Ireland protocol was cleared early in the week has to be taken as a sign of intent, and there is always the chance of all being agreed at the very last minute - I mean, how often has that happened in recent Irish political history?

As of now, the same three intractable issues remain: fishing; the so-called level playing field; and governance/oversight. Johnson was in a defiant mood in Westminster earlier.

The Taoiseach has been decidedly downbeat about the matter too. Micheál Martin who is in Brussels for the December summit has warned we are “on the precipice of a no-deal”.

Anyway Michel Barnier and David Frost will continue talking until Sunday. Even though at this stage prayers to St Jude might be more useful.

The wages of spin

Former taoisigh: an extra €17,000. High Court judges: an extra €4,000. Student nurses: zero. Government timing on all this: priceless.

Yep, it does not take a genius to see the trap the Government laid for itself in the past week, although the Opposition will take a lot of credit for it.

Within a matter of days after the Government had point-blank refused to consider pay for student nurses working on hospital wards, it turned around and made two decisions that favoured only the richest public servants.

At the time the Troika was in town, the previous government slashed pensions for the most well-off public servants who had retired prior to 2012. It affected only those who had salaries of €108,000 or more at the time they retired. Besides getting a tax-free lump sum, the public service pension for that group was half of their final salary.

So anyone with a pension above €54,000, lost 12 per cent of its value between that figure and €60,000. Then it went up dramatically. There was a levy of 17 per cent on any pension income between €60,000 and €100,000. And that portion of the pension that was over €100,000 was levied at 24 per cent.

So on those compound reductions a person with a pension of, say, of €134,5000 would be in for a bonanza now, as their salaries would suddenly jump by over €17,000 to over €150,000. And it just so happened that that was the pension being paid to former taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and John Bruton. Cue outrage.

And to compound it, there was the 2 per cent pay rise to the State's 160 or so judges. For High Court and Appeal Court judges that was worth over €4,000 even though Chief Justice Frank Clarke announced he was not accepting the increase. Every public servant got that 2 per cent increase in October. The only reason the judges did not get it was because they are not designated as public servants, given their independent and Constitutional role. Thus, special provisions had to be made for them.

Unfortunately, it came to pass on the week when the student nurses issue was high on the agenda. The Government was mauled by the Opposition and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste also received verbals at their own parliamentary party meetings.

The Taoiseach in particular - to use one of his own favourite phrases was “just not getting it.” He kept banging on about it being a binary choice between a nursing degree (introduced by him but unpaid) and an apprenticeship (not introduced by him but paid). He was missing the point.

Here is our take on it.

Best Reads

And on that very topic, Miriam Lord nails it with some great repeat references to "de fempi" towards the end of her piece.

Naomi O'Leary underlines that Brexit is not the be-all and end-all for other EU countries.

Pat Leahy reports on Mary Lou McDonald's prediction of a united Ireland within 10 years.

Jennifer Bray reports on mutterings in the ranks among Fine Gael TDs over the refusal to pay student nurses.

Simon Carswell has a very useful Brexit explainer on the Northern Ireland protocol which explained it very well for me.

Marie O'Halloran reports on interesting Dáil exchanges on the huge squadron of advisers taken on by the three parties in Government.

Playbook

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is in Brussels for the December summit of EU leaders, with the shadow of a no-deal Brexit hanging over the talks.

As is usual on Thursday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will take Leaders’ Questions at noon.

Legislation being debated includes the Finance Bill, the Bill to relocate the Central Mental Hospital from Dundrum to north Dublin, as well as a private members’ Bill being brought by Mattie McGrath calling for a ban on sulky racing on public roads.

The Seanad is not sitting today.

The Public Accounts Committee is examining the Vote on Prisons with Catherine Murphy in the chair, rather than Brian Stanley who has taken leave for a week.

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has engagements with the ambassador of Georgia, and then the ambassador of Israel, which should make for some interesting exchanges.

The education committee is looking at the effects of Covid-19 on further education and training.