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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Secret warning on ‘hard Left’ threat inside the unions

Taoiseach briefs Martin on 'militants' in public sector

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Philip Ryan and Wayne O'Connor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin about the rise of hard-left agitators within public sector unions during a secret meeting on the future of the Lansdowne Road Agreement, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Kenny invited Martin to Government Buildings last week to privately discuss growing industrial unrest in the public sector in the wake of the Labour Court's decision to recommend a €50m pay deal for gardai.

The meeting was arranged after Fianna Fail expressed serious concerns at being left in the dark on the public sector pay dispute as unions prepared to ballot members on industrial action.

During the meeting, which was also attended by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe and his Fianna Fail counterpart Dara Calleary, the Taoiseach said the Government was gravely concerned about a "militant" element within trade unions.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, Housing Minister Simon Coveney also warned about the rise of left-wing populism in Ireland.

"There has been a rise in the politics of street protests in Ireland and there has been a rise in small political parties and movements that spend most of their weeks thinking about when they are going to organise the next protest," Coveney said.

During a speech to members in Cork yesterday, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said he was concerned about the increasing number of populist parties in Europe seeking to "capitalise on disaffection".

Independent Alliance sources have separately revealed how Fine Gael ministers have told them that they are concerned about the possibility of "groups of Trump-like supporters popping up all over Ireland".

Unease over the rise of left-wing populism comes at a time when controversy surrounding water charges is set to reignite as parties on both sides of the political divide prepare to appoint members to the Oireachtas committee on water.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal Independent senator Padraig O Ceidigh has been appointed as chairman of the special Oireachtas committee.

Meanwhile, at the meeting in Government Buildings, it is understood the Taoiseach also told the Fianna Fail leader he had been taken aback by the Labour Court recommendation because it was far in excess of what the Government had proposed.

Martin also pushed the Taoiseach on what areas of Government spending would suffer in order to fulfil the commitment to increase the Garda pay bill by €50m as set out by the Labour Court.

However, he was stonewalled by Kenny, who insisted the Government was awaiting the outcome of ballots by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) before deciding where the money will come from.

The Sunday Independent understands there were concerns at Government level over the weekend that the GRA will reject the deal.

Fianna Fail TDs left the meeting believing Kenny was anxious to strike a deal with more moderate union leaders currently in place rather than face more radical unions leaders likely to take over in the future.

When contacted last night, Martin refused to comment on the meeting with Kenny, but said he would continue to urge the Government to stand firm on the Lansdowne Road Agreement as committed under the confidence and supply arrangement.

He stopped short of saying he would collapse the Government if Fine Gael did not stick with the pay deal. "It is a bit early to say what is tolerable and what is not tolerable," Martin said.

Coveney also warned that the Government does not have the resources to renegotiate the €600m Lansdowne Road Agreement, which will result in substantial pay restoration of public sector workers over the next two years.

His comments were echoed by Health Minister Simon Harris, who yesterday said there was not "money magically available" to spend on further pay increases.

Coveney said he "regretted" Martin's suggestion, ahead of the outcome of an expert commission report into water charges, that the levies would not be reintroduced.

Coveney also praised O Ceidigh, whom he appointed to chair the Oireachtas Committee on water charges, as "someone he has a lot of time for". Membership of the 20-member committee will be finalised this week.

The group will offer opinions on water charges and make recommendations by next March, when its findings will be debated in the Dail.

It is widely expected that the expert commission report will conclude that some form of water charges will have to come into effect for Ireland to meet EU directives.

The report will outline a number of funding options when it is presented to O Ceidigh and his committee next month.

The group will then be expected to identify and outline a number of funding models for the provision of water services for homes across the country.

One option expected to be outlined is a charge per household based on how many cubic meters of water are used.

It is also expected the recommendation of a free water allowance would be made for families, leading to a more modest bill for households.

Sunday Independent

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