Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected claims from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that he is “screwing” staff working in State-funded hospices over pay increases.
During leaders’ questions in the Dáil, Mr Martin pressed Mr Varadkar as to why hospices funded by the State are not being given money to fund pay increases under the terms of the latest Lansdowne Road deal.
Mr Martin said such hospices and other voluntary hospitals, known as Section 39 bodies, were forced to cut pay and should be included in the increases in pay in the public pay deal.
“The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy [Simon] Harris, have told me in replies to parliamentary questions that FEMPI did not apply to section 39 bodies, but it did,” said Mr Martin.
“There is no point in the Taoiseach coming in here and saying that we all support hospices, when he screws them. That is what he has been doing on this issue for the last six months. It is utterly dishonest.
“The replies from the minister and from the Taoiseach are dishonest. The hospices’ non-pay costs have increased significantly. We all have correspondence from the hospices on the matter. It is very simple: The pay linkage should be restored.”
His comments drew a sharp response from the Taoiseach, who accepted there is an issue and said he has asked Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Mr Harris to find a solution.
“First of all, I reject that allegation and the language which Deputy Martin has just used in this house. I think using that sort of language in the chamber is unbecoming of the deputy’s office as leader of the opposition,” said Mr Varadkar.
“No, I will not repeat the deputy’s language. The Ceann Comhairle may wish to examine whether that is one of the words which are prohibited and considered to be unparliamentary.
“The specific issue raised by the deputy was discussed at cabinet yesterday. I have asked the ministers, deputies Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris, to examine the matter and come up with a solution or at least a clear answer in the coming weeks.”
He said the Government would assess whether the increase of the block grants awarded to many of the bodies was there to cover, in part, pay restoration.
“We have to protect taxpayers and it should be borne in mind that the people who use hospice services and donate towards them are also taxpayers. We cannot have a situation where we give a section 39 body the same money twice,” he said.
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