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Friday 18 August 2017

Business as usual after Howlin says he'll hire new staff

Anne-Marie Walsh and Eilish O'Regan

THE size of the public service is unlikely to shrink much more than usual this year, despite predictions of a mass exodus.

Around 6,000 public servants are set to retire before the end of this month to avoid cuts to their pensions.

This is the same number that would normally retire in a whole year.

The Department of Finance said up to 9,000 may retire from the public sector in total this year -- 3,000 more than normal.

But Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has promised to take on the same number of staff this year.

He said he would make an exception to the ban on hiring by recruiting up to 3,000 public servants to fill crucial gaps, meaning this year's fall in numbers in the public service would remain at normal levels.

Some fears have been expressed for services due to the added strain of the accelerated retirements, on top of the continued ban on hiring.

However, in addition to hiring frontline staff including teachers and nurses, the Government can use redeployment to move staff to under-resourced areas.

Agency staff are also available to fill gaps.

The Government has already relaxed the retirement rules to allow former teachers to take Leaving and Junior Cert classes, although on lower pay.

The Department of Finance said 7,772 public servants had beat last night's deadline by applying to leave by the end of this month.

It said 2,000 will go in education -- of which 1,500 are teachers -- 1,000 in the civil service, 730 in local authorities, 298 gardai and 192 in the defence forces; while around 3,500 are expected to retire from the health sector.

However, around 1,500 of these health staff quit last September -- with the remainder signalling their intention to go in January and February.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it still had no definite figures on how many will definitely take up the offer, saying the figures were being collated "locally" around the country.

Fluid

"Staff can continue to withdraw and so the final figures are likely to remain fluid over the coming weeks," said a HSE spokeswoman.

Among those who indicated they may leave are 155 general staff nurses, 26 midwives, 48 hospital consultants, 79 attendants, 67 home helps and 58 domestic staff.

Others include social workers, radiographers, speech and language therapists and care assistants in intellectual disability services.

The HSE said it has contingency plans to deal with gaps in service and is expected to hire agency staff.

The spokeswoman said its service plan, setting out services and spending for this year, does allow for some additional recruitment in targeted areas including mental health services where 400 staff can be hired.

Public servants who choose to go before March are likely to be very close to retirement and will benefit from the fact that their annual pensions and lump sums will be calculated on their wages before pay cuts.

If they have 40 years' service and have reached minimum retirement age of 60, they will walk away with a lump sum worth one-and-a-half times their pay and an annual pension of half their pay.

But those who depart will suffer a cut in their annual pensions -- once they are over €12,000 -- which was introduced last year, and does not apply to those who retire after February.

Irish Independent

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