Talks failure a 'lost opportunity'


Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said that while the forthcoming Budget will tough, it will be a “turning point” in Ireland’s fortunes.

“It’ll be a very tough budget, but on the other hand, I think it will generate confidence that Ireland has the capacity to deal with the very serious challenges facing us and there is resolve within the political system to meet those challenges head-on,” he said.

“That confidence will help us to turn the corner in the present recession and I believe 2010 will be a turning point in terms of what has been the worst global recession since the late 1920s.”

Earlier today,  Ictu general secretary David Begg said the collapse of talks between the Government and unions on public sector cuts  was a "huge lost opportunity for the country".

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said the Government will press ahead with pay cuts of €1.3 billion across the public service after it rejected a trade union proposal for savings to be made through staff taking unpaid leave

Under the unpaid leave proposal put forward by unions, public sector workers would have agreed to take 12 days’ unpaid leave next year and would then later come up with a separate proposal to cover 2011.

Speaking on RTÉ today, Mr Begg said what was discussed were "lay-offs" for 12 days, adding these operated in the private sector and not "a remarkable unknown concept being brought to the talks".

Mr Begg said it was his belief there were two strands to Government policy - a stated objective to achieve fiscal correction and another objective cut wages in the public sector so as to make it much easier to introduce pay cuts across the economy. He said more permanent cost savings in the public sector would come through restructuring across the sector.

Impact general secretary and chairman of Ictu’s public sector committee, Peter McLoone, told RTÉ News that Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan had cautioned last year that pay cuts in France could lead to riots. Mr McLoone warned we could expect a similar reaction here.

The decision to reject the unpaid leave proposal came after strong opposition at Cabinet to acceptance of the plan from Mr Lenihan and the two Green Party Ministers, John Gormley and Eamon Ryan. A number of Fianna Fáil backbencher also raised objections.

Mr Cowen has indicated public servants now face a pay cut of between 5 and 6 per cent in the Budget after the negotiations failed.

Yesterday, Green Party senator Dan Boyle said the proposal on unpaid leave was never going to be a permanent solution and it was not a long-term solution to tackling the costs involved in the public service.

"Budgetary cuts in the public service were only short- and medium-term. The decisions we make have to be deep and long-term,” he told RTÉ radio. He said a decision on across-the-board cuts had not been made yet and that this should come early next week.

Questioned on whether the Greens took into account the swing in public opinion against the proposal, Mr Boyle said his party expressed its concerns over the plan during Cabinet meetings.