Wednesday 24 January 2018

Taoiseach Enda Kenny defends government U-turn on 88 public sector allowances

Lyndsey Telford

THE TAOISEACH has defended a Government U-turn to scrap almost 90 allowances paid to public sector workers.

The cuts will affect gardai, nurses, teachers and other frontline workers, but Enda Kenny claimed they will result in maximum savings from the public sector pay bill.

He stood by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin's decision to slash up to 88 allowances in the cost-cutting exercise.

They have not said how much will be saved and are in talks with the body which oversees the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement on pay to discuss which government departments they can apply pressure on to abolish allowances.

Mr Kenny said: "We know that some allowances that are going to go over the years are part of core pay.

"There are a whole range of allowances and other areas within Croke Park that I believe can be actioned and progressed to bring about maximum savings."

Mr Kenny said he and Mr Howlin had analysed reports compiled by individual departments identifying increments that should be chopped in a bid to make further cuts from the overall 14 billion euro public sector pay bill.

"I propose to give the implementation body the evidence of what we believe can be squeezed from Croke Park in order to maximise savings," he added.

Earlier, Mr Howlin told the Dail's public accounts committee the Government would look into simplifying how gardai, teachers, firefighters and the army are paid to avoid confusion between allowances and core pay.

He said there were difficulties in identifying which allowances were eligible for cutting, because they often formed such a large chunk of the individual's overall pay.

"It would neither be practical or reasonable to attempt to take away unilaterally such a large additional element of these public servants' pay - in effect applying an additional pay cut just to those key groups," Mr Howlin said of those on the frontline.

He said there had been a lack of transparency in the way those groups were paid.

"There are 180 classes of allowances that we have determined politically and objectively that there isn't a sustainable business case for," he said.

"But we could not take the bulk of those away instantly because it would be taking core pay."

The Department for Public Expenditure and Reform pays out 1,100 allowances a year, at a cost of €1.5bn.

But unions have warned that removing allowances from serving public servants is in breach of Croke Park, which took effect in 2010 and will stay in place until next year.

Siptu's Patricia King said a move to cut public service allowances was an attack on low-paid workers.

Liam Doran, of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), claimed the payments are an integral part of the core pay of many grades in the health service.

"Almost without exception these grades, groups and categories of staff are in the frontline of health service delivery, and have already borne the brunt of previous pay cuts, increased demands for services and depletion of staffing levels," he said.

"They cannot be expected to take any further cuts in their weekly/monthly pay and the Government must reverse its current strategy on this matter."

Elsewhere, employers' group IBEC said savings could be made in the public sector bill by getting staff to work longer hours.

Mr Howlin's fresh decision to scrap allowances is a U-turn from a shock announcement last month that he could only identify one allowance eligible for cutting.

He had initially planned to shave €75m from the public pay bill, but only managed to save about €3.5m.

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