News Analysis

Saturday 20 September 2014

'National fixer' Mulvey always gets the job done

Martin Frawley

Published 25/05/2013 | 05:00

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Last Tuesday in the opulent surroundings of the front lawn of Government Buildings, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, welcomed a final resolution of the revised Croke Park II agreement, which he said he was confident would cut €300m off the public sector pay bill this year and €1bn by 2015.

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But the real 'shirtsleeves-rolled' work in getting most of the unions kicking and screaming over the line was down to the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey (pictured), and his team of Kevin Foley and Anna Perry, during a number of all-nighter talks in the less salubrious LRC offices in Dublin's Haddington Road.

Ironically, it is one of Mulvey's old employers, the secondary teachers union, the ASTI, which he headed up before moving over to the LRC in 1991, which threatens to unravel his work.

It's unclear whether this represents a barrier to overall agreement or just a bump on the road but if anyone can persuade the teachers to recant and even let their members ballot, it's Kieran Mulvey.

He was the perfect choice for Howlin in that he carries no political baggage and is respected by trade unions and employers alike.

The Roscommon-born Mulvey was able to use his good offices to effectively isolate the unions and force them to spell out exactly what would be acceptable and what would be a 'red line' issue.

Over the last few weeks, Haddington Road hosted an array of union leaders shuttling from one negotiating room to another. But unlike the previous negotiations, none walked out.

One union leader marvelled at Mulvey's ability to quickly identify the barriers to agreement and then work on them.

He knows when to listen, when you are grandstanding and when to push, said the union leader.

The 61-year-old consensus builder has over 20 years' experience at the helm of the commission, having dealt with some of the country's most high-profile disputes in Aer Lingus, the banks, the ESB and more recently Bus Eireann.

He was even brought in to arbitrate in the bitter dispute between Cork county GAA board and the hurlers and footballers in 2008 – a role that saw him appointed chairman of the Irish Sports Council in 2010.

The commission costs the Exchequer around €6m a year to run, yet has quietly saved the country many multiples of that by resolving intractable disputes in the public and private sector.

This at a time when the recession has put enormous pressure on the commission, which deals with 2,000 disputes every year.

Mulvey is in pole position to take the top job in Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton's new Workplace Relations Service, which will be formed later in the year from the commission, the Equality Tribunal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the National Employment Rights Authority.

Mulvey would be a shoo-in for the expanded role of national fixer – that is if he wants it.

Irish Independent

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