Sunday 19 November 2017

Is it the end of Lansdowne Road deal?

Many gardaí still feel aggrieved

Owen Reidy of Siptu arrives for talks with Dublin Bus management in Dublin last month Photo: Damien Eagers
Owen Reidy of Siptu arrives for talks with Dublin Bus management in Dublin last month Photo: Damien Eagers

Anne-Marie Walsh

Like the famous stadium of the same name, when the Lansdowne Road deal was shiny and new, its creators thought they were on to a winner.

The government of the day felt it was done with its industrial relations housekeeping until 2018, and had managed to keep pay aspirations around the 2pc mark that was the norm across the recovering economy.

When the deal was signed in May last year, Paschal Donohoe's predecessor as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, said the three-year deal "strikes the right balance between the legitimate aspirations of public servants for pay recovery and sustaining our improving public finances", and would secure a peaceful industrial relations environment until September 2018. How wrong could he have been? The current Government has no small hand in the blame for this, as it talked up the economy in a bid to win the election.

There was a clamour among public servants for an acceleration of the 'restoration' of the pay cuts taken during the crisis years - in the form of a pension levy and pay cut - at their conferences earlier this year.

But it soon all went quiet again. Behind the scenes, union leaders did not seem to be demanding anything extra back right away.

Some privately accepted there was little scope for further pay hikes next year, given that most public servants would already be getting around €1,000 each extra in September next under Lansdowne Road.

For the time being, they seemed OK with Paschal Donohoe calling the deal "the only show in town".

But the plan is for talks next year that could lead to some extra pay rises in 2018.

What the Government hadn't banked on was the seething resentment of gardaí about what they saw as years of ill-treatment by the entire establishment.

They felt they had been shafted in successive deals by officials and, sometimes, fellow unions.

The Garda Representative Association is not recognised as a union, it has had little clout at the negotiating table and its members do not have the right to strike.

This could be seen in their pay, particularly for those starting out, when decades ago they had enjoyed parity with teachers.

The Government thought it would get away with applying a band-aid by offering them a more palatable deal, while not being seen to give more. But the decision of their delegates to reject it without even a ballot was a shock.

Garda sergeants and inspectors, who signed up to the deal, now seem to feel they are outside it and are threatening industrial action unless they get a 16.5pc pay rise, and the 18 unions that signed up to the Lansdowne Road deal but are chasing full pay restoration are waiting in the wings.

"We came into it together, we're going out of it together," said a union source.

Whether the Government likes it or not, the Lansdowne Road deal is in danger of unravelling.

It is questionable whether it pays off for Frances Fitzgerald to keep courting the gardaí and teachers with separate offers and for Paschal Donohoe to call all the union leaders in for crisis talks.

When asked about the Government's dilemma, the leader of the union for lower-paid civil servants, the CPSU's Eoin Ronayne, suggested that next September's increase be accelerated to January next year.

It might provide a way of getting the teachers and gardai on board - but it could cost around €200m.

Whatever happens, a solution won't be found in a stand-off.

Irish Independent

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