Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

2:00 pm

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Question 112: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is satisfied with the management of retirements from the public sector that took place up to the end of February 2012; the number of retirements he expects between now and the end of 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20261/12]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I am pleased to report to the House that the management of retirements from the public sector at the ending of the "grace period" on the 29th of February last was broadly successful. This is not to say that there were not problems in some locations in the public service, rather that any problems that arose were resolved locally as is right and proper.

Returns from the various sectors indicate that approximately 8,500 public servants will retire this year. Latest reports from the various sectors within the public service indicate that some 8,000 retired in the first two months of the year. The staffing number returns for the end of the first quarter in 2012 are being received by my Department at present from across all the sectors. These will be published on my Department's website in the usual manner and will show the updated and confirmed position at that point.

There was a degree of hype in the run-up to the end of February. One broadcaster asked me to be on stand-by to meet the Y2K level of catastrophe that was supposed to happen but did not. I am glad that there were no significant issues. I pay tribute to local managers and workers across the public service who managed that significant downsizing, which would normally represent a year's out-take, in two months.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for the information where he indicated that 8,000 have retired up to the end of February and he expects possibly another 500 to leave over the subsequent ten months up to the end of the year. Does that meet his original target as I thought there was a figure of closer to 9,000? How many new people will be recruited to fill the vacancies created by the 8,500 who have retired or will be retiring? The obvious area is teaching. A number of those retiring are teachers and many of them must be replaced - there is no question about that. In how many cases has the Minister given approval for the recruitment embargo to be lifted? I know the HSE got a budget to recruit additional staff in the primary care and mental health areas. It was given a budget to do so and once it does not exceed that budget it does not need to go back to the Minister for supplementary approval on a post-by-post basis.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I would be happy to give a detailed briefing to the Deputy in that regard. We will have to move on in a few minutes, so I probably will not be able to give the Deputy a comprehensive answer. However, I will give the specifics. The announcement I made with regard to public sector numbers was that by 2015 numbers would have reduced to 282,500. The outturn figure for the end of last year was 296,872, and this year's figure under the employment control framework is 294,401. That is, in ballpark figures, where we started, where we are going and where we are now. It is conservative to suggest an outflow figure of 8,500 for this year; that is the figure I have been given. The current estimated figure for the first two months, which might change by one or two, is 8,168, so we will exceed the figure of 8,500. However, it is my intention, as I have indicated, to allow some staff back in key pressure areas. As the Deputy has seen, for example, the Army is currently recruiting in an attempt to get back to its complement of 9,500, and there are other sectors under pressure in which we need to bring specific skills back. Most teachers, because of the pupil-teacher ratio, are being replaced.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister mentioned some time ago that the next set of retirements would be targeted.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Yes.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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He might explain what he means by that. Will retirement be made available for specific grades while other grades are excluded, or will it apply to a certain coterie of employees with X number of years' service?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is a good question. Many people did not understand - although obviously those in the House did - the nature of the exit at the end of February. Put simply, those who were coming up to retirement did a calculation in which they compared their expected retirement pensions and lump sums with the amount that would be available at the end of the grace period and decided, based on this, whether it was in their interest to leave. Many people left, but they were mostly people who were on the edge of retirement - within a year or two or within a few months of retirement.

We had no control over who left in February, and we lost some people a year or two early whom we would have preferred to hold on to for a couple more years. If there is to be more downsizing it will be on a targeted basis, applying to areas in which we clearly have too many people whom we cannot redeploy within the terms of the Croke Park agreement. We have made no decisions on that, but I will keep the Deputy informed.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I could not let what the Minister said go. He struck almost a smug note when he said there were concerns about the large exodus from the public sector and its consequences. He has acknowledged the good work of public servants, which is correct, but could he also acknowledge the fact that public services are under significant pressure? It would be entirely misleading for us to have a false debate in the House-----

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy, we are not having a debate. It is Question Time.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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-----implying that the exodus had no consequences in terms of service provision. I ask the Minister at least to acknowledge that.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I readily acknowledge it. If there was any smugness about my statement it certainly was not intended. I was anxious that things would go smoothly during that period, and I pay public tribute to those who ensured it did, that is, local managers across every sector and local workers who increased productivity and flexibility to ensure the impact on front line services was minimised. Of course there were pressure points, but they were addressed locally, and I commend people on doing so.

We are in the process of downsizing the public service, of doing more with less. We have had enormous gains in flexibility. The Deputy might join with me in congratulating those who have embraced the Croke Park process and who have proven that we can achieve an awful lot more with co-operation than with coercion. I am proud of the increases in flexibility that have been achieved across virtually every sector of the public service through the Croke Park agreement.