Cowen refuses to rule out changing Croke Park deal
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night failed to definitively rule out the prospect of re-examining the Croke Park deal as part of a four-year plan to save billions.
The deal, signed earlier this year with unions, says public sector pay cuts and redundancies cannot be made until 2014.
But Mr Cowen insisted the Government will be trying to maintain agreements such as the public sector pay deal as part of the four-year budget framework to drive €7bn in savings.
Those who signed up to past agreements, such as the Croke Park deal, will be involved in the discussions on the new economic strategy between now and next month, he said.
The Government was trying to "maintain" agreements already reached and there would be an effort to bring forward plans "consistent" with past agreements, he added.
However, he refused to be drawn on the overall figure for the budget cutbacks, which could run up to €4bn.
The Taoiseach would not be drawn on specific issues such as the Croke Park deal, which protects €20bn in pay and pensions, saying speculation wasn't helpful.
Under the deal, the Government cannot cut public sector pay and pensions or impose compulsory redundancies. In return, unions must cooperate with major reforms.
But there is a "get out of jail" clause, which says the deal depends on "no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration".
Asked if he would consider invoking that clause, Mr Cowen replied: "No, we haven't discussed any changes in relation to the Croke Park deal with the people we've agreed it with at all."
He was speaking after an Enterprise Ireland forum in Brussels.
Senior government sources have said the State's €20bn payroll is unlikely to be touched in December's Budget -- but could be slashed in successive hairshirt Budgets designed to bring the deficit down.
Any such move would cause enormous anger among the public sector unions, whose members have already suffered an average 14pc reduction in salaries due to the pension levy and pay cuts.
Mr Cowen also said claims by Longford-Westmeath TD Mary O'Rourke that an election should be held before Christmas were "personal remarks".
Speaking in Sligo yesterday, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said new ways of delivering public services with fewer staff would have to be looked at.
"It will be now down to issues of productivity efficiencies and effectiveness, there are going to be difficult decisions to be made," she said.
With regard to cuts in the Department of Education, where she is minister, Ms Coughlan said all spending would have to be examined.
"It is quite obvious that I will be looking at every aspect of my expenditure within my department, be it at primary secondary or third level. I haven't made any final decisions."
But she said the Government would look to protect the most vulnerable in society and to avoiding deflation.