Howlin dismisses Fine Gael backbench opposition to pay deal

Labour Minister insists Lansdowne Road agreement fair

Opposition to the new public sector pay deal from Fine Gael backbenchers has been dismissed by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

The Labour Minister said he thought the proposed new Lansdowne Road agreement on pay restoration was very fair because it started the unwinding of a series of "severe" pay cuts by focusing on the lowest paid.

“Bluntly I’ve listened very carefully to the voices, and they’re very few, who are against, and they’re the voices I would have expected to hear,” Mr Howlin said.

“I think there’s general welcome. I think that most people in public affairs and in fact most citizens of the country appreciate the work done by public servants particularly in the last number of years.”

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Mr Howlin said public servants had been faced by two and sometimes three pay cuts while they were asked to work longer hours and change their work practices fundamentally.

“The most radical set of reforms that has ever happened certainly in the last 40 years has happened in the last three,” he said.

He was speaking on his way into Government Buildings on Wednesday.

However, Dublin South East TD Eoghan Murphy of Fine Gael re-iterated his criticism of the deal.

“It seems crazy to me that we’d be borrowing money to give a pay increase to one sector of the economy when the fairest way, if there is money there, is to give something to everybody through tax cuts,” Mr Murphy said.

The Fine Gael TD said what really frustrated him was how the pay talks had been constructed.

He complained about “senior civil servants sitting down with unions in a closed session that isn’t open to the public”.

Mr Murphy said the people who were negotiating would be the ones who would benefit directly from the deal. The process “should be independent”, he added.

Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton said he was not against public servants getting pay increases but he would have preferred to see other areas being prioritised.

“I would rather when we had extra money that it was spent in other areas, such as intellectual disability services and mental health services, for example,” Mr Connaughton said.

“It’s heartbreaking as a backbench TD when you have people coming in who have a son or daughter with an intellectual disability and they are being told by the care providers they don’t have money to give them a place.”

Mr Connaughton said he was meeting families who were “at a very low ebb” and had often been among the first to experience cuts when the recession hit.

Waterford TD John Deasy, also of Fine Gael, was critical of the pay deal.

“For political reasons, mostly Labour Party reasons, the Government seems to be picking winners and losers when it comes to pay,” he said.

“It would be more advisable and more just to lessen the personal taxation burden on all workers, no matter what the sector.”

Mr Deasy pointed to the private sector workers at contact lens giant Bausch & Lomb in his Waterford constituency, where employee acceptance of a cost-cutting deal last summer allowed the manufacturing base to stay open. He said this included pay cuts and almost 200 redundancies,

“We’re still running a deficit. We need to continue to reduce the cost of government,” he said.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times