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End Croke Park deal, FG rebels tell Enda


TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is under mounting pressure from Fine Gael TDs to "stop pretending" that the Croke Park deal on public sector pay remains viable, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

A significant number of backbenchers from all around the country are angered by the lack of progress to date on pushing through reforms and seven have dramatically broken ranks from the party line to publicly voice their opposition to the deal.

Speaking to this newspaper, the angry Fine Gael TDs have said the promise not to cut public sector pay until 2014 is totally "unsustainable".

Their strong opposition to Croke Park comes in the wake of a survey of coalition councillors last week, which showed that a huge majority -- 73 per cent -- now wanted the deal either renegotiated or scrapped altogether.

The calls from the Fine Gael backbenches will heap significant pressure on Mr Kenny, but also on Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who has previously pledged to honour Croke Park -- even if the European crisis worsens.

The TDs who are opposed to maintaining Croke Park in its current form are now calling on their ministerial colleagues to abandon or radically overhaul the agreement.

Dublin South TD Olivia Mitchell yesterday called on the Cabinet to "stop pretending" that Croke Park is affordable any longer.

She said: "It is totally unsustainable. It is just not working. The time has come to stop pretending that everything is sustainable.

"I would go further. Even if Croke Park was working, we still couldn't afford it. People have said Croke Park is the price of industrial peace, but it is too high a price."

Wexford TD Dr Liam Twomey said the slow implementation of reforms was making the agreement "no longer viable".

He pointedly blamed union leaders for frustrating the reform process and said their actions would lead to Croke Park being "tossed in the bin".

Mr Twomey added: "Public sector workers have to tackle their leaders and force them to stop frustrating the process of reform. We cant afford this any longer."

Wicklow TD and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member Simon Harris -- who in recent weeks has called for incremental pay rises to be stopped -- has said he also has "serious concerns at its viability".

He said: "The public service has to deliver for the consumer. I am not convinced that it is doing so. The time has come for a real debate on Croke Park."

Mr Harris has called on the Croke Park implementation group to appear before the PAC to show whether reforms are being achieved or not.

His fellow PAC member, Eoghan Murphy, TD for Dublin South East, echoed his colleague's concerns.

"Serious questions are being raised over the viability of Croke Park remaining in place," he said, adding: "Those questions are totally legitimate and are getting louder."

Both Mr Murphy and Mr Harris said the process of reform had not been quick enough or transparent enough and they demanded "greater clarity" over where reforms are taking place.

"If the implementation body is happy with its work, then it should have no problem in coming before the PAC. They should have nothing to hide from the PAC," Mr Murphy added.

Aine Collins, TD for Cork North West, said Croke Park needed to be re-examined immediately.

"The reforms simply aren't happening quickly enough and it needs to be looked at again," she said.

Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy told this newspaper that Croke Park should be torn up in the best interests of the economy.

He said: "This Government was elected to make decisions on what is necessary to improve the economy. If that means dismantling or tearing up Croke Park, so be it.

"The mandate for this Government was to make hard decisions, quickly. We are running out of time."

Mr Deasy said he and his colleagues were becoming increasingly disgruntled that so much of the spending budgets remained untouchable.

"We have a faltering economy and we can't tax it to death. Even if it means bringing government back to bare bones, dismantling Croke Park to allow the economy to recover should be considered."

At least seven other Fine Gael TDs, who declined to be named publicly, said they seriously questioned the viability of Croke Park.

"We are seriously pissed off," said one Dublin TD. "For some reason, we are having to stay quiet and go along with this when frontline services are being axed left, right and centre. It is time for some common sense."

But Finance Minister Michael Noonan said it was still too early to tell whether Croke Park was working.

"We have made an agreement as a Government not to cut pay in return for efficiencies. It is too soon to tell whether those are happening. I want to wait and see who goes at the end of February to make my mind up," he told the Sunday Independent.

The highest-ranking politician to date to question Croke Park's sustainability has been junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes. He said there needed to be a greater urgency in implementing the deal.

However, other Fine Gael TDs were more circumspect. Cork East's David Stanton said Croke Park had to be given every opportunity to work.

"We should push Croke Park as hard as possible to ensure we get the needed deliveries. I wouldn't support ripping it up," he said.

Dublin Mid West TD Derek Keating also supported its retention, commenting: "Croke Park has to work. The consequences of it failing are very severe. I can't imagine the chaos that would happen."

Sunday Independent