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Time for action, not more words

Health Minister James Reilly's questioning of increments marks a further escalation in what looks suspiciously like a Fine Gael campaign to rein in public service pay and conditions.

While criticism of the Croke Park Agreement and increments has up to now been largely confined to backbench TDs of the main government party, the fact that Dr Reilly, who in addition to being a senior cabinet minister is also Fine Gael deputy leader, has now added his voice to such criticisms ratchets up the pressure by several notches.

It can hardly be a coincidence that, with 110,000 workers, the health service is also by far the largest public service employer.

Almost a year after this Government first took office, the seemingly blind determination of certain Labour Party ministers, most recently Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin in the Dail last week, to preserve the Croke Park deal -- under which the previous government pledged no further public service pay cuts or compulsory redundancies before 2014 -- and pay increments, looks ever-more wrong-headed.

However, as Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's recent assertion that there was "considerable merit" in not paying public service pay increments demonstrates, this is not exclusively a party issue.

After almost two years, it is now abundantly clear that Croke Park has not delivered the efficiency savings promised by the public service trade unions.

It should be torn up without any further ado.

Having failed to live up to their side of the bargain, the public service trade union bosses can have no complaints when Croke Park is scrapped.

Public service pay increments, which despite a nominal "pay freeze" guarantee public service workers average annual pay increases of €1,000, are also unaffordable in the current budgetary circumstances.

With the Irish State set to borrow more than €13bn this year, even when the €3.1bn cost of the Anglo promissory notes is excluded, pay freezes must mean what they say.

No matter how hard the cases or worthy the causes, paying average €1,000 salary increases at a time when the exchequer is borrowing 25c of every euro it spends, is simply an overly-expensive luxury. If we are serious about bringing the public finances back under control, then there is no place for increments.

For too long, the Government has avoided tackling these issues, but they must now be placed firmly centre stage.

Irish Independent