The Government is under increasing pressure from public sector unions to start talks on a new pay deal early in the new year or face widespread industrial action.
However, the main opposition party, which the minority government relies on for support, has now put the squeeze on from the other side by demanding the Lansdowne Road Agreement remains in place. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says now is not the right time to begin a new round of talks.
“Fundamentally our position is that we signed up to support the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which would have meant pay increases this year for public servants and we still believe that the public pay issue should be resolved within the Lansdowne Road Agreement,” Mr Martin told Newstalk Breakfast.
“We think there are huge challenges facing the economy and the very basic question awaiting us is can we afford to jettison the Lansdowne Road Agreement and replace it with a new agreement paying an additional amount almost straight away?
“We believe we are not in a position to afford that given that we have prioritised services in the first instance.”
A renegotiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement is not due to begin until the third quarter of next year.
However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has given the Government just two weeks to commit to new discussions in early 2017, otherwise members would be balloted for strike action and the country could face walkouts by nurses, doctors, teachers and other public sector workers.
The increasing frustration felt among public sector workers has been exacerbated by the Labour Court recommendations for gardaí, which many believe goes far above the terms of Lansdowne Road.
“There is an issue arising from the Labour Court,” said Mr Martin said.
However, he said it would have been difficult for the Government to have rejected the recommendations.
“But I don’t think that the Labour Court recommendation should be used as a basis for everyone simply piling on saying we all need an additional amount,” he said.
Mr Martin said the country is facing uncertainty around Brexit, which is the “most fundamental structural change to our economy in over 45 years” and is “frightening in terms of its potential impact on the country. This isn’t about ideology. This is about being honest with people and saying ‘we’re still borrowing to do what we’re doing, is it not time for all of us to stand back and say isn’t it time to be cautious now.”
He said his party is not looking at this in the context of a general election, when asked if Fianna Fáil would pull its support if the Government does not stick with Lansdowne Road.