Over the past two years we have seen a clear stabilisation of our public finances and many positive events signalling our economic recovery.
It has to be said that getting to this point has not been easy. It has required great efforts by every citizen and has affected almost every aspect of Irish life.
It is sad and disheartening to see some public commentators and public representatives practically hoping that things will go wrong so that they can be proven right or that they can benefit politically.
The focus has been on the negative with little attention on the positive developments which have been crucial to restoring this country.
It is timely to remember here some of the positive developments including:
- The Promissory Notes Deal which removed the onerous and over-bearing annual €3.1 billion repayment requirement and significantly reduced the amount our country will have to repay;
- The fulfilment of Fine Gael and Labour’s commitment to protect weekly social welfare rate and leave income tax rates unchanged
- Political reforms including reductions to Ministerial and TD salaries, allowance and an injection of transparency with the abolition of unvouched expenses.
- A €2.5 billion investment in job creation measures including the first ever co-ordinated, measured Action Plan for Jobs which is delivering real results
- Protecting the vulnerable by restoring the minimum wage and exempting 330,000 people from the Universal Social Charge.
- The creation of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform – the first ever Government Department focused on maximising the effectiveness and efficiency of the Public Service in the history of the State.
That last point is very important because an inescapable fact is that 35% of Government spending is on the Public Sector Pensions and Pay bill. During the so-called good times the Private Sector through companies paying a variety of taxes was able to support the increase of pay in the Public Sector as well as the growing public sector pension costs.
Today, however, we have a private sector which is slowly recovering from the worst global economic crash in living memory. Many private sector workers have found themselves, through no fault of their own, out of work and dependent, often for the first time, on social welfare.
This is an interesting point – one that appears to be forgotten by many. If a company in the private sector experiences economic or financial difficulties it must take decisive action to reduce costs in the hope that the viability of the company can be secured. In many cases this involves pay-roll reductions for the simple reason that pay roll is often a company’s largest cost.
The same notion must apply to the Public Sector – the Public Sector does not operate in a vacuum.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of all of us to play our part in the restoration of the State’s finances the State is continuing to have to borrow €1 billion approximately per month to meet the shortfall between revenue and expenditure. It is simply inconceivable to think that as the Government is obliged to close and eliminate the deficit that one of its largest sources of expenditure would be sacrosanct and remain untouched.
The Bill before the House today is two-fold:
Firstly it introduces the legislation which will permit changes to the level of remuneration in the Public Sector which, as I’ve previously stated, is necessary if we are to successfully complete our economic recovery.
Secondly, and more importantly, however, it is necessary to prevent such measures from applying to Public Sector workers and Unions who sign up to the Public Service Stability Agreement or the Haddington Road Agreement as it is now known. This Agreement is the result of trojan efforts on the part of Government representatives and Union and Public Sector worker representatives and overseen by the Chairman of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey.
Very little in life is ever achieved by descending in conjecture and argument or by simply refusing to enter into dialogue. This Agreement is proof of the benefit of staying at the table, of listening to other viewpoints, of acknowledging problems, of considering workable solutions and of respectfully negotiating.
Everyone involved in this process deserves to be commended for their dedication and commitment to the process.