THE FLOODGATES HAVE opened and the government will find it difficult to stop the surge of public pay demands.
Following last week’s Labour Court recommendations on garda pay (which are believed to be a lot higher than the government were expecting) the government is between a rock and a hard place.
It’s estimated the garda pay deal – if approved by members – will cost around €40 million.
The minister said the recommendation has “far-reaching consequences, which will be dealt with collectively by government and within existing budgetary allocations”.
So, where is the money going to come from? It’s believed it will have to come from the Justice Department’s budget that was announced last month.
The minister said he will be working with the Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald to ensure that frontline services are not impacted. He said what aspects of the budget will be affected will be discussed with the Justice Minister.
“We are committed to maintaining all the services that the garda deliver,” he said.
However, when asked by TheJournal.ie if government will row back on their promises to re-open garda stations or give additional resources to special garda task forces to tackle gangland crime, the minister said moving away from the Lansdowne Agreement will create such risks.
This is the very reason I am emphasising to you today that collective agreements and maintenance of the Lansdowne Road Agreement are so important because the absence of agreements like that will create the type of risks you are referring to.
A government source said the pay deal meant there may have to be some “re-juggling” of the justice budget.
While there was some speculation that other departments might have to help the Justice Department carry the load, this is not believed to be case for the portfolios held by those in the Independent Alliance.
A spokesperson for the group said it was his understanding that the monies would be coming from the Justice Department budget and would not be coming from any of the Independent Alliance’s budgets (such as disabilities, training and skills, and sport).
The only show in town
This week sees the government clinging onto the Lansdowne Road Agreement for dear life.
Donohoe is digging his heels in, stating any additional pay claims will have to be dealt with within the agreement and to sway from it would be detrimental to the delivery of public services, and other promises made in the Budget last month.
If the threat to public services didn’t grab the attention of taxpayers, the minister hoped the mention of the Universal Social Charge would.
In order to deliver on promises such as increased spending to third level, health services, and “delivering gradual reform and reduction of the USC… an overall agreement is the best way of making that happen,” said the minister.
Cost to the country
“Not having agreements like that present great risks to the country and present to the sheer cost to the country,” added Donohoe.
He denied that the unions were holding the government to ransom, but said he wanted to work with the unions “to deal with challenges that our country faces”.
Harking back to the days gone by when it was said widely believed that benchmarking got out of control, the minister said:
We went through a period of time in which we saw a growth in public service wage bill get to a point that it became unaffordable for everybody and it had really severe consequences for public servants themselves. We don’t want to see that happen again.
It started with transport bodies, like Dublin Bus, then came the gardaí, the teachers and now the nurses.
The minister is calling for a “collective” approach in dealing with the demands of other unions – but added that any change at all to the agreement will have “very serious consequences” to the government’s ability to fund public services while maintaining tax levels that are crucial.
Donohoe is holding the line, stating that the government are not for moving from the Lansdowne Agreement. But how long can it last? Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure – this is only the beginning to what is looking to be a very difficult winter ahead for government.