Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Priority Questions

Public Sector Allowances

2:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 108: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has brought to Cabinet the findings of his Department's review of allowances and premium payments paid to public sector workers; and if he intends to make public these findings. [20540/12]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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As the Deputy is aware from my previous replies, on 5 December last, during my address on the 2012 Expenditure Estimates, I announced that a review of allowances and premium payments would be carried out by my Department. This announcement was made on foot of a Government decision which requires the public service to take additional measures to deliver further efficiencies in 2012 and thereby ensure the pay bill targets which have been set are met, with a view to delivering additional pay savings in 2013 and subsequent years. The measures include a reduction of 10%, or approximately €40 million, in overtime payments in 2012. This is being achieved by means of a reduction in allocations for overtime by that amount. To date, my Department has received well over 800 business cases in respect of allowances and premium payments. As a result of resource constraints, the volume of submissions to be evaluated and the complexity and variance of allowances across all sectors, it has not been possible to complete the review in a short timeframe. Indeed, agencies and Departments are continuing to propose business cases and seek further explanations in advance of the completion of the review. I will bring proposals to the Government in relation to the findings of the review as soon as it has been completed. In the interim, urgent business case requests are being processed, in so far as possible, to ensure the work of the public service is not unduly disrupted by the review. The outcome of the review of particular allowances will be communicated to Departments and subsequently made public. I have indicated my expectation that further discussions with the relevant staff representative bodies will be required before we reach that point.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is clear that the Minister does not believe allowances and premium payments fall under the definition of "pay" for the purposes of the Croke Park agreement. He will be aware that the public service unions take a different view. The teachers' unions - the TUI and the ASTI - and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation have been quite trenchant in their defence of these payments as part and parcel of what is understood as "pay" for the purposes of the Croke Park agreement. I ask the Minister to clarify his view on that matter. Can he say whether any changes or cuts that might emerge from the review will apply solely to new entrants? Does he envisage that they would also apply to workers who are currently in employment?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The allowances cover an extraordinary range of entities across the public service and relate to many different issues. Some of them could quite reasonably be acknowledged as being part of core payments even though they are called "allowances". The Deputy will recall that last week, we debated a so-called allowance that is payable to a Minister of State. I regard that as a wage. There are analogies to that across the public service. Some of the allowances in question are historic. When the Deputy reads all 800 cases in due course, she will raise an eyebrow when she comes across some cases and she will wonder whether there is a place for them. The Deputy asked whether I regard these allowances and premiums as being part of core pay. In some instances, they are. In many instances, they are not. She also asked whether any changes will apply to new entrants only. By and large, they will apply to new entrants only. There might not be a sustainable business case in some instances. When I answered that question in exactly that fashion last week, a great deal of news print was devoted to what I had to say. It is clear that there is no longer a justification for some historic allowances. I will seek to address those in the current framework. The changes to most allowances will affect new entrants only.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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The Minister should not forget the teachers.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister referred to the additional payment of €17,000 that is made to "super-juniors". We have debated that matter. I repeat that I find it extraordinary that the Minister is standing over that payment-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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No.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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-----at a time when he is reviewing premium payments for other workers who are on far lower wages than the Ministers of State concerned.

I find the Minister's answer unsatisfactory. On the question of whether the allowances and premia are part of core pay, he stated "Yes" and "No". On the question of whether new entrants alone will be affected, he stated "Yes" and "No". The Minister undertook the review exercise not having consulted a broad range of people, including the unions. Perhaps the Department is still a little at sea in terms of processing. The Minister referred to tight resources and receiving business cases. Is this not a very messy response that he has given? Is it not a very messy process? Workers and their representative bodies would prefer a much more clear-cut answer in respect of whether and allowances constitute core pay. "Yes but no" is not a satisfactory answer. On the fundamental question of whether new entrants or workers across the board will be affected, I would have expected the Minister to have been in a position to answer in a much more straightforward way.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy has a propensity for reducing both complicated and simple issues to black-and-white responses of "Yes" or "No"; it suits the narrative. I could give the Deputy 800 answers because this is the number of individual allowances, some of which fall into the category of core pay and others of which patently do not. When we have finished the review of over 800 individual allowances, we will be able to answer all the questions. It is taking some time to do that. That it is messy to review all the allowances because it has not been done before does not mean the review should not be undertaken.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It should be undertaken in a coherent way.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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The Minister should tell us about the teachers' allowance.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is the point I am trying to make. This is the first review of all the allowances in God knows how many years, if ever. We are reviewing every sector of expenditure for the first time in my Department so we can determine objectively whether shoe allowances or others are proper and fit for purpose in 2012 and in the current economic climate. I will be making a discernment on that and will present it to the House for its views thereon in due course.