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Sunday 26 February 2017

Cowen says 'pay for change' deal won't be bettered

Ann-Marie Walsh and Fionnan Sheehan

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen made an impassioned plea to public servants yesterday to back the troubled Croke Park agreement.

Mr Cowen starkly warned they won't get a better deal if they kick it out.

He also dismissed the options put forward by unions promoting a 'no' vote if the 'pay for change' trade-off fails -- including strikes and further talks.

In a hardline message, he said he found it "hard to believe" that "some people" want full-scale industrial action as the country struggles to make an economic recovery.

He also starkly warned that time has run out for talks and it was "just wrong" for people to believe a rejected deal could "simply" be renegotiated in the summer or autumn.

In a final bid to get the deal over the line ahead of balloting, Mr Cowen ruled out the arguments being made by union executives to their members, in a speech at the Fianna Fail president's dinner in Cork last night.

Guarantees

His rallying cry came after his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, and the chairman of the talks, Kieran Mulvey, emphasised the guarantees in the deal and came out behind the key union negotiators and minority of unions who want to bring it home.

Although seasoned union negotiators including Peter McLoone, brokered the deal, the consensus among their executives has been a resounding 'no'.

The future of the draft deal is hanging in the balance if public servants follow their unions' recommendations.

It guarantees pay will not be cut for four years and promises wage refunds if public servants deliver major reforms, including a longer working week and redeployment.

Mr Cowen said the Government had asked those calling for a rejection of the deal to spell out their alternatives.

"So far that hasn't happened," he said.

"It is hard to believe that people want full-scale industrial action if the deal is rejected.

"And it is just wrong for people to believe that a rejected deal can simply be renegotiated in the summer or autumn.

"The position won't change on either side. Government will still be faced with the same budgetary constraints.

"We are in a defining period for Ireland's future and an Ireland free of industrial turmoil will further boost international confidence in this nation, its people and its economy and will inevitably therefore smooth our path to recovery," he said.

But the Taoiseach's rousing speech came as another union -- the TEEU -- warned it would escalate the ongoing campaign of industrial action if the deal falls through.

Although it has a small public sector membership of 1,200 electricians, plumbers and fitters, they work in hospitals, health boards and local authorities and could cause major disruption to key services.

The TUI has also said industrial action would be the alternative if the deal fails, although the INMO has ruled out an escalation of action.

In addition, Blair Horan, general secretary of the CPSU, recently told members in a dispatch that he believed renegotiation of the deal would take place if it was rejected.

Other unions, including IMPACT, whose executives have rejected the deal, are seeking clarifications that could soften their stance in the weeks ahead.

Irish Independent

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