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‘Timing couldn’t be worse’: Public servants with salaries of over €150k set for pay rises


Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath was told it was not legally possible to delay pay restoration for top public servants. Photo: Damien Storan.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath was told it was not legally possible to delay pay restoration for top public servants. Photo: Damien Storan.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath was told it was not legally possible to delay pay restoration for top public servants. Photo: Damien Storan.

High-earning public servants are set for pay rises from Friday week as the Government moves ahead with restoration of salaries that were cut during the financial crisis over a decade ago.

In the final phase of unwinding pay cuts imposed under the Fempi legislation, approximately 4,000 public servants, over 90pc of whom are medical consultants, will receive increases ranging from 1.7pc to 10pc.

Other posts impacted include some chief executives of State bodies, certain members of the judiciary and senior civil servants.

The pay restoration applies to those earning salaries of over €150,000 per annum.

A Cabinet source admitted the "timing couldn't be worse" as the Coalition comes under major pressure to introduce measures to alleviate the rising cost of living.

Sinn Féin’s employment spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said she wants to see the legal advice that Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath has been given.

Mr McGrath said the legal advice he has been given is that the Government has no choice but to allow some high-earning public servants a pay increase.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Reilly said: “I think at this point it is tone deaf to see that people on extremely high incomes are going to see an increase while tens of thousands of healthcare workers are left waiting for their bonus.

"And the first kite that was flown on that was in 2020 and we are now in 2022 and 70pc of them are still haven’t received it and some are being told they are going to have to wait for months.

“So we have on one hand, the Government who can okay a pay increase of 80 grand for certain senior civil servants and we have a Government that are delaying pay for low paid health care workers, while at the same time they are saying they have no option but to allow this pay increase for very high earners to go ahead.”

The increase will not apply to Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Health who is controversially paid around €300,000 per year.

Ministers and office holders do not benefit from this restoration having waived pay restoration in recent years.

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The move is likely to prove controversial at a time when the Coalition is under major pressure to address the cost-of-living crisis, however it is legally unavoidable, Government sources said last night.

A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform source said that in advance of the restoration date, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath sought legal advice to establish whether the Government had any discretion in relation to the remaining restoration.

However, he was told it was not permissible to amend or delay the terms of restoration either within the current legislation or by means of further legislation.

The Government had no basis not to proceed with the restoration, according to the legal advice.

A senior Government source said the move was unavoidable given the legal position. "It’s in law and Fempi cuts were given back to all others," they said.

The vast majority - 99pc - of public servants have already pay cuts imposed under Fempi fully restored under legislation passed by the Oireachtas which sources pointed out was supported by Sinn Féin and Labour in 2017.

Under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act, public servants on salaries under €150,000 had to have their pay restored to levels before Fempi emergency legislation by July 1 last year.

For those earning over €150,000, the deadline for restoration of pay that was cut during the financial crisis is July 1 this year.

It is understood that the increases due are in the region to 10pc to 15pc.

However, Mr McGrath announced earlier this year that he would review pay restoration for the highest earners in the public sector.

Representatives of hospital consultants objected in February when it emerged that the pay restoration plans in July could be in doubt.

A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spokesperson said it is expected that the minister will make a decision on this issue later this week or early next week.

“The process of unwinding the Financial Emergency (Fempi) legislation commenced under the Lansdowne Road Agreement 2016-2018, with the remainder of the process largely completed under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 (PSSA),” he said.

“This is continuing under ‘Building Momentum: A New Public Service Agreement, 2021-2022’.”

He said at this point, salary rates up to €150,000, which account for 99pc of the public service, have been fully restored.

“Section 20 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 sets outs the process of final pay restoration for public servants with annualised basic salaries above €150,000,” he said.

“The minister is currently examining potential options around how and when this final element of Fempi restoration will be implemented.”

Separately, Mr McGrath has set up a review group to examine the process for appointing senior public servants.

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