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No, Mr Howlin -- we won't cut perks for our own workers

CABINET ministers stubbornly refused to make cuts to the allowances paid to public sector workers in their own departments, despite rumblings about not being able to reduce pay under the Croke Park Agreement.

The Irish Independent has learnt individual ministers defended the vast majority of the 800 allowances paid to public sector workers in their departments.

The development comes as controversy continues over the protection of public sector pay under the Croke Park deal.

The Government has now backed off its threat to get rid of some of the €1.5bn worth of allowances and won't come near reaching the aspiration target of saving €75m this year.

Some of the allowances are regarded as outdated and possibly not forming part of core pay, shielded under Croke Park.

But ministers still shirked from making cuts when they were asked by Public Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to list all the allowances in their areas and say whether they believe they were still justified.

Government sources say ministers didn't propose any cuts to the overwhelming majority of the allowances -- and the plan to hit them stalled.

Instead, the Coalition is going to look at the issue over a longer period and try to bring in the allowances under formal pay rates.

But the Government is standing firmly by the Croke Park Agreement and only talking about bringing in changes when in a successor to the deal.

The agreement runs out at the end of next year.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, a longtime critic of the agreement, yesterday said the renegotiation of the Croke Park deal should begin within six months. But despite mounting questions over the viability of the agreement amid fears of frontline cuts to services, the minister said that public sector pay, allowances and increments would not be touched during renegotiation.

Mr Varadkar said talks should begin "in the next six to eight months, if not sooner".

"The agreement stands until it either ends or is renegotiated."

Mr Varadkar noted that there was a clause, which states the implementation of the agreement is subject to "no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration".

But he said this could only be invoked if there was another major economic collapse.

"I don't think we would have a strong case to invoke that clause," he said.

SIPTU chief Jack O'Connor said he welcomed the Government's commitment to stand by the deal, but could not say if unions would allow everything to be put on the table when the deal was renegotiated.

"I don't believe that the people who are charged with responsibility of leading that negotiation, of which I am not one, are anywhere remotely close to setting out a position yet," he said.

Labour Relations Commission chief Kieran Mulvey also noted that there was a specific clause in the agreement that allowed the parties to return to the table in difficult economic circumstances.

"Nobody has contacted me to say that they want to return to the table," he said.

Irish Independent