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End result of new talks may be an even greater 'No' landslide

THE Government and unions are taking time out to lick their wounds after the shock-horror of the demise of Croke Park II.

It is going to be a few weeks before we know what will happen next in the saga of the Coalition's search for €1bn payroll cuts.

Unions are waiting to see what the Government's plan B is before they react.

It has threatened to slash pay by up to 7pc, which would force unions to carry out their threat of industrial action.

The other imposed option might be for the Government to bring in its original proposals tabled at talks to reduce incomes by 7pc.

In this scenario unions would lose all compromises reached on cuts to premium pay, working hours, increments, and pay cuts for the higher paid.

In the run up to the ballot, there was no shortage of ministers threatening across-the-board pay cuts.

Labour minister Brendan Howlin, the man in charge of the deal, insisted the time for talking was over.

But now that the deal has been thrown out, there is a question mark over how serious he was.

In a rattled performance on RTE, he sounded slightly pathetic by lamenting that just 3pc would have pulled the deal over the line. He has now changed from talk of pay cuts to taking time out for reflection.

It seems that members of his party are still hoping for a negotiated settlement, and chances are, so is he.

This option would mean a U-turn, but saving face may not be as important as avoiding a campaign of industrial action that could throw the administration of the State into chaos.

Some government face-saving might be possible by leaking evidence that it has prepared legislation for a pay cut – possibly tiered to show some compassion for the lower-paid – shortly.

This might 'concentrate' union minds, so to speak, to explore other options.

A negotiated settlement is still very desirable to unions, who don't want industrial action, and government members desperate for €300m savings this year.

But those politicians who think they have plenty of time to do this by July are mistaken.

This is not very long when it comes to industrial relations.

The chances of their success by tweaking the deal are bleak, when over 90pc of members in some unions voted against it.

Croke Park II was extraordinarily complex.

The Coalition may find itself in a head-wrecking scenario where it is robbing Peter, an executive officer in the Revenue Commissioners, to pay a primary school teacher called Paul, to encourage him to vote 'Yes'.

And such a plan would also need agreement from the unions to re-ballot their members.

There is a huge risk involved, as the end result could be an even greater 'No' landslide.

Irish Independent