Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has refused to ask the newly formed commission to speed up its work.
The commission, which has been charged with looking into how the unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI) should proceed, is due to report back by the middle of next year. The mid-year deadline had given Government time to consider suggestions by the group before going into a new round of public sector talks in the third quarter of 2017.
However, with mounting pressure on the Government to start renegotiations of the Lansdowne Road Agreement in early 2017, it had been suggested the commission should bring forward this deadline.
An introductory meeting took place yesterday between Mr Donohoe and the members of the commission, which is chaired by former chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Duffy.
The minister stressed the need for “sustainable” public pay policy into the future.
A spokeswoman for Mr Donohoe said there was a “broad discussion” at the meeting during which the minister told members the commission is an important element in future public pay policy, as it will provide advice in relation to a roadmap to unwinding FEMPI.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it was “an awful pity” that the commission had not been established five months ago, but stopped short of calling for a speeding up of its work.
“It was part of the confidence and supply agreement, we had urged the Government to set it up quickly, it could have had a lot of its work done by now,” said Mr Martin. “It should be allowed do its work to inform the discussions.”
However, he said he “didn’t know if it is practical at this point in time” to stall new public sector pay talks until the commission has completed its work.
No discussion on public sector pay and demands for a renegotiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement is scheduled for today’s Cabinet meeting.
However, it is expected there will be some discussion on the matter, even if that involves an informal briefing from Mr Donohoe.
Government now has less than two weeks to respond to the demands of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which says its members no longer believe the Lansdowne Road Agreement is acceptable.
A two-week deadline for Government to commit to a renegotiation of the agreement was put forward at a meeting of public sector unions last week. If Mr Donohoe does not make it clear that the talks will begin early next year, public sector workers would be balloted for widespread industrial action, unions have warned.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said:
“Pay levels, of course, need to be kept under scrutiny. There is no pot of gold available for unlimited pay demands, and I believe the impending withdrawal of the UK from the EU ensures that we need to manage our economic recovery in a way that reflects its fragility.”