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Public Sector Pay and Conditions: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly]  Second, any final reduction which may have to come from pay to meet the target, after waste is dealt with, must be applied fairly. However, the formula applied was not fair. The figures for the GRA, for example, show that a garda on €35,000 who works nights and weekends, would have seen a cut in the Croke Park II deal of €2,500 euro, but a civil servant who sits here and works from 9 a.m till 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, on €65,000, would not have seen a single cent of reduction to his pay. That is patently unfair. Third, any reduction that must come and which is applied fairly after waste is dealt with, must be done in a way that takes issues such as unsustainable debts for households into account. It must be part of a policy approach.

I commend the motion put forward by Fianna Fáil and I fully understand why public sector workers voted against Croke Park II.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I now call on Deputy Regina Doherty, who is sharing time with Deputies Mitchell, Mulherin, Humphreys, Maloney and Harrington.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this motion. The motion is about honest, constructive and productive engagement with the public sector. Engagement is the key issue. Even in a crisis, engagement must continue. Negotiations do bring results.

We do not have the luxury of sticking our heads in the sand, as the previous Government did. Its lack of engagement and its sleeping at the wheel fed the fire that engulfed the economy. It was its sleeping at the wheel that resulted in an historic budget deficit of almost 30%. Agreements were made that ran way ahead of inflation. The Government then was spending three times more than it could collect. Today, even though we are in a deep recession, the moves the current Government has made have reduced the deficit to 7.6%. I remind those on the Opposition benches that management, analysis and organisational review are part of our mandate, both legislative and administrative. It is when one holds office that one can effect change, not in retirement and certainly not in memoirs.

I welcome the Government's initiative of introducing a second round of talks to be led by Kieran Mulvey. Creating the conditions to re-engage the parties will not be easy, particularly in light of the potential agenda to be addressed, which has already been alluded to publicly by both politicians and economic commentators. However, such an agreement is essential to the orderly conduct the business of the State in its return to economic sovereignty and in the rebuilding of the State. We are now in the process of rebuilding a new, fit economy, where our taxes actually support the economy.

Nobody said this would be easy and it is not. Any discussion about pay with employees is complex. When the agenda concerns an employer in a difficult financial position and their staff and immediate reductions in payroll costs, the level of complexity increases exponentially. Add the fact that we are talking about the pay of more than 290,000 people at all pay levels and in all roles in the public service and we can understand why the negotiations are enormously complex. Nobody underestimates how difficult reaching an agreement will be, but no one in the talks should underestimate the Government's determination to meet our fiscal targets or its desire to see Ireland's public service meet the challenges of a new era in a flexible and responsive fashion. We would prefer to achieve this through a negotiated agreement, if one can be reached. I believe public servants would also prefer a negotiated solution, rather than the uncertainty that a breakdown in industrial peace in the public service would bring. Their pragmatic approach to the delivery of comprehensive industrial peace across the public service since 2010 has made a significant contribution to the improvement of this country's fortunes.

We are on the cusp of an economic recovery and close to the time when we can wave goodbye to the troika. Now is the time for cool heads and creative thinking. It is vital that the country and the Government stick to our plan, which is working. We need to instil a sense of confidence in the Irish economy again. We all want to see a situation where we can invest in our infrastructure for the public good, building schools, primary care centres and public buildings where contractors and people can have the opportunity to work and earn a living, an investment in all our futures. This will come, but we need to continue to work hard on getting our economy back to full health.

We can never allow never allow the stack of cards of public debt and spend, to build up again. This is a Government of the people and an economy of the people. History will write that the steps being taken today by the Government established a new era in the Irish economy.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell After five years of budgetary adjustments, it is inevitable we all feel we have reached the end of our tether, that we have had enough and that we cannot take any more. However, it would be tragic, when it seems we may be over the worst and on the cusp of recovery, to jeopardise it all and devalue the sacrifices that have been made by every section of society over the past five years, with the small but significant exception of a handful of politicians, and of bankers, who got off scot free. I accept that is galling for everybody. However, no matter how severely we would penalise these people, it would not make a real difference to the budgetary arithmetic, although I suspect it would make us feel a lot better. Most sections of society feel they are carrying a greater burden than others. It is only a small step then for them to feel that this tax increase or that tax cut should be borne by somebody else. Everybody feels hard done by, and the truth is they are. Everybody has had expectations shattered through no fault of their own.

The people who are most hard done by are not the public sector. They are those who have lost their jobs, their pensions and their savings. They are those older people who have lost jobs and will never work again and those young people who have had to leave the country in order to find jobs. Public sector workers have certainly taken a hit, but it is not the biggest hit, not by a long shot. Their jobs are secure, their pensions are secure and these are privileges funded by the rest of the working population. Of course, they also have the privilege to go on strike and take industrial action, something not available to the rest of the population or to those who have lost their jobs. Those in the private sector know that such action would threaten the viability of the businesses that employ them.

Realism is necessary now. The saving of €300 million is not a matter of choice. The Croke Park II negotiations and the ballot were never about the right to reject a cut of €300 million in payroll savings. They were merely about making a decision on how those cuts would be made, not whether they should be made. They must be made. Choice on a matter such as this cannot be left to chance. The truth is the decision was made in this Chamber and voted on validly by the majority of the Dáil in budget 2013. Some people have now suggested we could have an alternative budget and could spend the moneys saved on the promissory deal. This is a complete denial of the fact that the savings on the promissory notes was a saving on what we had to borrow, not money that is hoarded in the Department. Therefore the suggestion of an alternative budget is unrealistic. Surely nobody is suggesting we should borrow more in order to sustain salaries of 15% or 16% of the working population and jeopardise the salaries of the other 84%.

Another suggestion was that we should tax those earning over €100,000. On the face of it, this suggestion is appealing, but in reality we are at a point where if we increase tax any further, this will be counterproductive and will jeopardise the jobs of the majority of people working in the private sector. Therefore this is not an option. However, that said, I understand and feel that the cutbacks have not been easy for anyone. They have been painful and unpalatable, but no matter how we dress it up, the reality is that we must face up to our problems now and try to contain the borrowing or continue to borrow wherever we can and at whatever price we can, accumulate further debt and then pass on the problems to our children. To be honest, I do not want to be part of any Government that passes on a legacy like that to our children. Nobody wants to sacrifice and undermine the potential prospects, pensions, pay and prosperity of our children.

I commend the union leaders who recommended the deal to their members. I know this was not an easy choice and I know it was difficult for those who voted for it to do so, because nobody wants to vote for a cut in pay. Whatever happens, these people should not be disadvantaged in any new arrangement. I support the Government in making every opportunity available to the unions to come forward and renegotiate, however they can within the envelope of the €300 million. It behoves all of us, on both sides of the House, not to raise expectations unrealistically or to suggest there are expectations outside the €300 million envelope.


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