Howlin to public sector workers: If you swallow hard and vote yes, we’ll not be coming back for more
Would you trust this man to deliver?
The deal, if passed, will come into effect from July and run until 2016.
“If you consider this (and) swallow hard – I know it’s not easy – and vote for this, we’ll not be coming back again and we can plan our recovery over the next three years,” he said.
He added that “hopefully the next time we sit down to discuss pay and conditions with public servants, it will be on the basis of a recovered economy and we can talk about improvements in pay and conditions. That’s our objective.”
Trade unions and the Government will today begin considering the new agreement, when they receive the finalised copy of the draft deal from the LRC.
The controversial agreement will see pay cuts of 10% for those earning more than €185,000 and 5.5% for those earning more than €65,000 a year, as well as longer working hours and lower overtime payments.
What are they hiding?
Although An Taoiseach committed to reforming the Freedom of Information legislation by the end of 2012, and although that is another timed-commitment missed – like the Seanad referendum – commitment, it seems that in 2013, there will at least be a new Bill, though it’s by no means certain that the new legislation will extend as far as NAMA.
Yesterday, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin appeared before the Oireachtas Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform committee and discussed the extension of Freedom of Information legislation to several new organizations including An Garda Siochana and the Department of Defence. Of primary interest on here is NAMA, but it remains uncertain if NAMA will be included in the new Bill, and if so, to what extent its activities will open to scrutiny.
Minister Howlin stressed that NAMA’s commercial remit may make some requests unacceptable.
This concern is really a diversion on the Minister’s part, because there are existing exclusions under our FoI legislation to protect the necessary commercial sensitivity of transactions undertaken on our behalf by the State. The assessment on here, over the past three years, is NAMA is intrinsically opposed to transparency. We saw this with the extraordinary resistance to the determination by the Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly that NAMA be subject to environment requests – that resistance is still being played out in the High Court.
The resistance is understandable. NAMA is a new Agency with colossal power and money, and is under constant pressure from those wishing to take a bite out of that power and money. NAMA is not excessively resourced compared to its competitors and dealing with FoI requests can take considerable time. And NAMA will not want mistakes, which it like any large organization will inevitably commit at some point, brought to light where they can undermine the morale and effectiveness of the Agency.
When are we likely to see the new Freedom of Information legislation? The changes will be published in the forthcoming session, says Minister Howlin, which means by the end of March 2013. Will NAMA definitely be included? Not “definitely”, although Minister Howlin was emphatic on “Tonight with Vincent Browne” on 10th October 2011 when he said “we will introduce FOI to NAMA”. Will Freedom of Information which excludes requests which might be deemed commercially sensitive, be of any use? Oh yes indeed, I for one would like to see the independent valuation report which NAMA claims it had before selling a property in Lucan to Enda Farrell, okay, the figures might be redacted but it would put to bed once and for all the doubt over whether NAMA did get an independent valuation.
[Juno McEnroe in the Irish Examiner today has a detailed report on yesterday’s Oireachtas committee proceedings, the transcript of which won’t be available for a few days]
via NAMA Wine Lake.
via NAMA Wine Lake.
The Budget will contain revenue raising measures amounting to €1.25bn, and cuts in spending amounting to €2.25bn.
It is the second budget of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the fifth austerity budget in a row.
Mr Noonan will begin at 2.30pm and his speech, expected to last around 45 minutes, will focus on revenue raising measures.
It will be followed by a similar contribution from Labour’s Brendan Howlin who will outline spending cuts.
Throughout the afternoon there will be briefing sessions at which individual ministers will outline the implications for their departments.
The first vote is due just after tea time.
Mr Kenny voiced the need to increase pressure to secure savings from the agreement at a meeting this afternoon.
He told the body that while the Government remains committed to the Agreement, it is facing extraordinarily difficult choices to meet its 2013 spending targets.
Mr Kenny said delays in reforms were not acceptable, and the issues around allowances must be brought to a swift conclusion.
He said the negotiations with the hospital consultants was an example of what could be achieved and the same principle had to be applied across the public sector.
Radical reforms in the local government sector will be brought to Government shortly.
It is understood that no financial target will be available until after further engagement at sectoral level.
Mr Howlin said that he indicated on 18 September that one category amounting to 88 allowances would be looked at with a view to eliminating them under the Croke Park Agreement.
TRADE UNIONS are set to oppose the latest effort by the Government to eliminate a wide range of public service allowances.
Following last month’s climbdown on reforming allowances, the Government has reopened the issue and is seeking to eliminate more than 80 allowances currently paid to serving staff across the public service.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said yesterday that it wanted management in different parts of the public service to engage with trade unions to eliminate allowances for serving staff in cases where there was no business case for paying them to new personnel.
Alternatively, it said, management should seek to review allowances if this would present greater value for the taxpayer.
Last month the Government said it would no longer pay about 180 allowances to new personnel. It has now said it wants to eliminate 88 of these for existing staff as a priority.
Separately, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will today preside over a crucial meeting with the body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement to consider proposals aimed at securing further savings under the deal.
Mr Kenny will chair a meeting in his department at which Mr Howlin will present an assessment of potential savings across all 15 Government departments drawn up by Ministers over recent weeks.
There has been speculation in recent days that the Government has signalled to union leaders that it wanted to hold discussions on some form of an extension to the current Croke Park agreement.
Asked last night whether it had indicated to unions that there might be new talks on the agreement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: “No comment.”
Details of the proposals for escalating savings under the Croke Park agreement drawn up by various Ministers have not been made known.
However, it is understood that the Department of Health and the Department of Education have been looking at the issue of seeking staff to work additional hours. This would fall outside the scope of the existing Croke Park agreement.
Details of the Government’s plans on public service allowances emerged yesterday after a letter on the issue drawn up by the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, was given to health service unions.
The department confirmed that it had sent similar letters to each government department.
Mr Howlin last night said he favoured using a dedicated fast-track arbitration process in relation to the new proposals to eliminate allowances.
Last night Siptu vice-president Patricia King said many of the allowances went back decades and were considered part of core pay. She said while the union would be open to consolidating allowances into pay, as proposed for example in the education sector, it would oppose attacks on low-paid staff.
Paul Bell of Siptu’s health division said the proposals on allowances could place staff on a collision course with the Government.
Under the plans agreed by the Cabinet yesterday, only one allowance out of 1,100 paid across the public service is to be abolished for serving personnel.
This is a representational allowance of up to €218 for staff attending EU meetings.
Other allowances paid to existing personnel may be reviewed or bought out in the future. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said it could not identify these allowances to the media due to industrial relations considerations.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said last night that to have pushed ahead with the planned cuts would have jeopardised the continuation of the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform.
He said for savings of €75 million “it was not worth throwing the agreement into the bin”.
Aside from the €75 million initially planned, Mr Howlin had promised savings of €150 million in 2013 and another €150 million in 2014 under a previous announcement.
The department was not able to comment on the status of those targets last night.