Thursday, 10 April 2014
Haddington Road Agreement Review
As the House will be aware, the measures negotiated under the Haddington Road agreement will deliver a further reduction of €1 billion in the public service pay and pensions bill by 2016. The focus of public service management is now firmly on the delivery of the required level of savings and there has been significant progress in the implementation of the agreement at various levels.
The Cabinet Committee on Public Service Reform, chaired by the Taoiseach, meets regularly to review, among other public service reform issues, progress on the implementation of the Haddington Road agreement. In addition, officials in my Department represent public service management on the agreement's oversight group, which is charged with addressing issues of implementation and interpretation under the agreement as they arise.
In terms of cost reduction, almost €300 million in savings, arising from the implementation of various measures under the agreement, was incorporated into the various Votes in the context of the Revised Estimates for last year. The measures and reforms implemented helped to ensure that spending remained in line with profile and resulted in Ireland delivering on our fiscal targets for last year, enabling us to exit the troika programme.
Furthermore, the full-year impact of the measures implemented in 2013 has been incorporated into the respective Votes for 2014. In addition, a number of other measures which will deliver additional savings this year and beyond, such as the deferral of increment progression, have also been incorporated into all Votes as appropriate.
The effects of the Haddington Road agreement are now becoming obvious in the form of a deterioration of public services from the point of view of ordinary people and are destructive of public services. The recent Prime Time exposé of a crisis in the ambulance service shows that it is not possible to take thousands of workers from public services, including the health service, and still expect to have a comprehensive service for our people.
Does the Minister agree that trade unions now rue the collective agreements in the local authority sector under the Haddington Road agreement given that the Government is now taking hundreds of long-term unemployed people and will compel them into forced labour with local authorities through the gateway scheme, working 19.5 hours for €20 a week? They will earn €1.03 an hour doing often-crucial work, such as village enhancement schemes, landscaping, control of animals, libraries, which should be done by people with full-time properly paid jobs with decent conditions. Instead the Government is forcing people, who are unfortunate to be long-term unemployed because no real jobs are being created, into this type of forced labour.
The Deputy asked about the effects of the Haddington Road agreement. Without the Haddington Road agreement we could not have had a budget that would have been acceptable and passed by this House last year. I do not believe we would have exited the bailout and there would be a crisis in the country.
That is why before the end of 2012 I opened the books to the trade unions. As a good employer I outlined the circumstances and options. I asked all public sector trade unions to engage with me and they did. It was a very difficult and stressful process for all concerned because we are asking people, who had already made a contribution in our national recovery and who rightly did not feel any responsibility for the calamity that befell the Exchequer, to make a further contribution. However, without exception every trade union did. I do not believe that they rue anything because every citizen, especially every public servant, has a real stake in the country's recovery.
The Deputy spoke about unemployment. When the Government came to office three years ago there was a real fear, in some cases an expectation, that unemployment would exceed 500,000 and social disintegration would follow.
Unemployment has been falling for the past 18 months. The number of unemployed stands at 390,000 and IBEC expects the figure to decline to below 11% this year. I hope this expectation is realised. It was the actions of the government, all of them difficult and resisted by the Deputy, that led us to the better path of recovery, which will rebound to the benefit of every public servant and citizen.
The Minister raises fundamental issues when he states that without the Haddington Road agreement, we would not have had a budget. His argument is based on the acceptance of the troika programme of compelling Irish people to assume tens of billions of euro in debt that did not belong to them. The Government could have broken this cycle but decided instead to continue to sacrifice nurses, local authority workers and others on the altar of the financial markets. Does the Minister agree that this is the position?
Does the Minister also agree that the programme of austerity has seriously undermined employment creation and that it is by reinvestment, particularly major public investment, rather than repaying bondholders that the unemployment crisis will be resolved? It is shameful that he is party to a scheme that forces people who are unfortunate enough to be long-term unemployed off the dole and onto forced labour schemes.
The Deputy's comments bring us to the heart of the matter. His basic thesis is that we should have reneged on the solemn commitments made by the previous Dáil, which I voted against, in respect of our requirements. What would have been the consequences if the Government had decided not to pay the debts in question? We would have defaulted and would not have had funding for public services, as the troika was the only funder available to us until the end of last year. Our public services would have collapsed as a result. This prospect may have suited the thesis of those who believe anarchy is the way to a new society. However, those of us who want to have decent public services and standards of living, as opposed to a collapse into anarchy, cannot afford to live in a fantasy world in which the nation can default without consequences. Most ordinary people fully understand that is fantasy land.