Ministers anxious over cuts to budgets

There is fear and loathing among Cabinet ministers over where required budget cuts will be inflicted to pay for increased public sector pay, the Irish Examiner can reveal. There is no remaining fiscal space for next year and October’s budget will see no new measures included in it, ministers have warned.

The expressions of concern from within the Cabinet come as Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe warned his ministerial colleagues that the €120m cost of bringing forward public sector pay increases will have to be delivered by savings.

“When Paschal came to the Cabinet last week, and said he had done the €120m deal, there was a collective gasp. Then when he said it will have to be done through efficiencies through the year, people gasped further,” one minister told the Irish Examiner. The minister said that the spending review is not about identifying new projects but more to figure out what priority items ministers don’t want cut.

“We knew this warning was coming as there was no explanation where the money is coming from. This is his way of saying ‘guys I want your estimates in early and set out your priorities’ which means those at the bottom of the list are going to be cut,” the minister said.

“The days of buoyancy could be over and public sector pay could be more expensive. There is definite slippage in the numbers alright, which is worrying, but we may get looking. But I doubt it,” the minister said.

“Everyone has been talking as to which ministry is going to get the axe, but we don’t know. He is going to try and spread it evenly, but €10m say off each department is a lot of money,” he said.

Separately, Transport Minister Shane Ross has come under fire for “shunning” his responsibility in the Bus Éireann dispute.

Bus services are set to come to a halt as unions have announced an all-out rolling strike from February 20 if management at Bus Éireann does not withdraw its proposals to significantly cut premium payments, allowances and shift rates.

The National Bus and Rail Union is to attend the Oireachtas Transport Committee next week to discuss the issue. General secretary Dermot O’Leary called on Mr Ross intervene.

“Playing footloose and fancy free with the rights of ordinary decent bus workers, along with the travel plans of hundreds and thousands of workers, college students, those who require to attend at vital hospital appointments and school-going children is simply not good enough, whilst the shunning of political responsibility by the minister in this matter is manifestly irresponsible,” he said.

The country’s public service transport links could all grind to a halt if disputes at Dublin Bus and Irish Rail are not resolved. Unions have said they will ballot Dublin Bus workers in the coming days if a solution to a dispute centred around pensions is not found.

A pay dispute at Iarnród Éireann has been referred to the Labour Court after talks at the Workplace Relations Commission failed. Rail workers are demanding a 21% pay rise. The company has said it is in severe difficulty having accumulated a deficit of €153m.

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