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Thursday 19 September 2019

Underwear to Border duty - allowances still costing State millions

Paschal Donohoe. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Paschal Donohoe. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Anne-Marie Walsh

Allowances for Border duty, underwear, night attire and chaplains' housekeepers are still being paid to public servants despite Government departments being asked to get rid of them.

Other allowances the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform put on a priority list for the axe six years ago that are being paid include a tuck shop payment in prisons. Another is an allowance for Office of Public Works (OPW) employees who are - or were - members of committees.

The Border duty allowance alone cost in excess of €2.2m between January and December this year and was paid to 576 members of the Defence Forces.

The Department of Education revealed it pays more than 80 allowances at a cost of €10m a year to more than 6,000 staff covered by the review.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sent a "priority list" of allowances for elimination to departments in 2012. Secretary General Robert Watt asked them to immediately engage with unions "with a view to securing their early agreement".

Defence Forces benefited from an election gratuity allowance, paid to nine people at a cost €2,622 this year.

There are seven recipients of an Irish language teaching allowance, which cost more than €5,000, while a civilian clothing allowance is paid to 42 employees, costing more than €15,000. An underwear and night attire allowance for 318 people cost €8,713.

The allowance introduced in the 1970s to compensate troops patrolling the Border for long periods is likely to continue if a hard Border arises because of Brexit.

However, it has been abolished for all new entrants and officer ranks and is being phased out for enlisted personnel as they retire or leave.

A search and rescue allowance and entertainment and ration allowances are also being scrapped.

"Discussions with the representative associations in respect of Border duty allowance are ongoing," said a Department of Defence spokesperson.

"As discussions under the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme are confidential to the parties involved it is not appropriate to comment further."

Meanwhile, five allowances targeted in the prison service are being paid.

They include a plain clothes allowance for 141 staff worth up to €440 a year. Two people are getting a hospital orderly allowance, for work now being done by prison nurses, worth €3,275. And 18 employees are getting a tuck shop allowance worth up to €2,801 a year.

At the OPW, allowances are being paid to five staff who are or were secretaries of committees, worth up to €3,663 a year each, at a total cost of €8,893.

The Department of Education said the functions that the allowances are paid for are still being carried out by staff in question.

However, it said due to "industrial relations difficulties" that would be involved in removing the allowances, it saw the need for a broader response to the issue.

Skills

"The Department of Education and Skills saw the need for a cross-sectoral overarching approach involving the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and other relevant departments to any engagement with staff interests in relation to the elimination of these allowances," it said.

A spokesperson at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform acknowledged it wrote to departments in the context of a Review of Public Service Allowances and Premium Payments.

"In respect of commitments arising from the review, it is the responsibility of line departments to operate within the scope of policies determined by this department," it said.

It said it does not keep a centralised list of the allowances still being paid that it prioritised for elimination.

Irish Independent

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