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€2bn purge on overtime is planned by Howlin

FRONTLINE gardai, nurses, prison officers and other public servants are to have €2bn worth of overtime and allowances slashed under radical plans being considered by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

His department is to attack public-sector overtime and allowances in order to stave off pressure from Fine Gael ministers to abandon the Croke Park deal, which protects public-sector pay and jobs until 2014, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

At present, around €2bn of the €20bn public-sector pay bill goes to pay the State's overtime and allowances bill.

Much of this is paid to uniformed frontline public servants and makes up a considerable proportion of their income -- a third in the case of gardai and prison officers.

Senior Fine Gael sources have said Mr Howlin has until March to show that meaningful efficiencies are being delivered or they are likely to withdraw their support for the deal.

It can also be revealed that Mr Howlin has slashed fees for retired civil servants who sit on interview boards and conduct consultancy work for the Government.

The reduction in rates comes ahead of the recruitment of between 2,000 and 3,000 workers during 2012, under a partial relaxation of the employment moratorium.

Under the plans, former secretaries-general will now receive €400 a day for the first 60 days they work and €200 per day after that. This compares to the previous rates of €695 and €348.

Retired assistant secretaries-general will now receive €200 a day for the first 60 days they work and €100 per day after that.

Savings are likely to be modest next year, but will become significant when the recruitment ban is fully lifted.

While support for Croke Park is waning within Fine Gael, Mr Howlin believes it is the best chance for achieving the much-needed reforms of how the State is run.

According to senior government sources, Mr Howlin and his top official, secretary-general Robert Watt, are anxious to illustrate that Croke Park is not simply a means to reduce numbers but also a means of "dragging the public sector into the 21st Century".

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Mr Howlin said the loss of 37,500 staff would result in a saving of €2.5bn, but Mr Watt has conceded that areas of "under-performance" remain throughout the system.

While Mr Howlin is committed to maintaining pay, the Budget debacle over disability payments has forced many TDs within both coalition parties to question the viability of such a guarantee.

And 2012 could be the last year that incremental pay increases for public-sector staff are paid. Mr Howlin has said they are being reviewed.

At the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last Thursday, increments which have totalled €1.2bn since 2007 were branded the "elephant in the room" by Fine Gael backbencher Simon Harris.

He said that if the Croke Park deal was to get the support it needed from the wider public, the issue of awarding increments for staff next year would have to be addressed.

Mr Harris added that this issue was "being discussed in the media, it's being discussed at kitchen tables throughout this country".

He asked Mr Howlin at the PAC: "Can you explain the rational behind the increments next year?"

A number of government departments this weekend disclosed how much they intend to spend on increments in 2012 in answers to a parliamentary question from the Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell.

• Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said that teachers, lecturers and other staff would share a bonanza of €82.5m in increments next year.

• Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has said 497 people in his department would share €421,754 in pay increases in 2012.

• Jobs Minister Richard Bruton's department will pay €435,272 in increments, while Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan's department will pay €401,163.

• Environment Minister Phil Hogan's department will pay out €300,000 to 324 staff.

• Minister James Reilly's Department of Health will pay €111,000 to 130 staff.

• Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's department will pay out increases of €194,000.

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