Saturday 24 February 2018

Government still working on funding for Garda pay deal

€45m cost has hurt chances of tax cuts, admits Varadkar

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: ‘Ministers have yet to engage on how the money can be found’. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: ‘Ministers have yet to engage on how the money can be found’. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Anne-Marie Walsh and Cormac McQuinn

The Government has not yet worked out how to pay for a Garda pay package worth more than €45m to end the threat of strikes, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has said.

The 10,500 members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) will ballot on the proposal between next Monday and November 28. It is worth roughly €3,600 per garda, and up to €4,150 for those with longer service, according to GRA figures.

Meanwhile, local authority workers will table a motion today at a Siptu conference seeking full restoration of pay cuts suffered by low- and middle-income workers during the financial crisis.

But when asked if he knew where the money for the Garda deal alone would come from, Mr Varadkar said: "Not at this stage."

Mr Varadkar said that if gardaí accepted the proposal set out in a Labour Court recommendation, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald would then "engage on how the money can be found".

He said that the Government's commitment to phase out the Universal Social Charge (USC) still stood.

Read more: Comment: If public servant pay restoration is accelerated, the rest of us will be left to suffer with more cuts

However, he added that any demands on public spending would have an impact on the capacity to cut taxes for 1.2 million people. "So that's something Government had to balance," he said.

"We need to find resources to improve public services. We need to find resources to improve public sector pay and we need to find resources to reduce the burden of taxation on people. But obviously, there's only ever enough money in the pot."

He said he did not agree with Siptu general president Jack O'Connor's assessment that the Lansdowne Road Agreement was a "dead duck".

The agreement guarantees moderate pay rises for public servants up to September 2018.

But Mr Varadkar said the court's recommendation changed the "context" in relation to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

He said this meant the Government would hold talks with unions to work out a pathway forward through agreement.

"Because what we don't want to see is a series of individual claims, a series of individual strikes and of course groups that are more powerful benefiting more than those that are not," he said.

When asked if he felt an acceleration of pay restoration for public servants was inevitable, he said it had to be discussed.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Michael Noonan warned that any future cuts to the USC would be dependent on the Government having the resources to do so.

The policy of phasing out the tax came under fire as the Budget 2017 Finance Bill was debated in committee stage.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the country risked being caught up in a "perfect storm" between the impact of Brexit and election of Donald Trump, which may lead to a threat to American investment.

"I've always said that the Government's plan to continue to phase out USC will be dependent on having the necessary fiscal resources," said Mr Noonan. "We have them this year and I hope we'll have them again next year."

Unions have demanded that talks on faster pay rises begin straight after Christmas. A meeting of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' public services committee will take place in Belfast next Wednesday to discuss its policy on the acceleration of refunds of pay cuts.

Irish Independent

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