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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Feb 2010

Vol. 701 No. 3

Public Service Remuneration: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

rejects as neither just nor equitable in all the circumstances the decision made by the Minister for Finance on 22 December 2009 to reverse the reductions in base salary for the highest-paid public servants announced in budget 2010, while leaving the cuts for the lowest-paid public servants unchanged; and

calls on the Government, in the interests of fairness and solidarity, to implement in full the recommendations of Report No. 44 of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector.

With the House's permission, I wish to share time with Deputies Denis Naughten, Michael Ring, Tom Hayes and Pádraic McCormack.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Government decision to exempt 655 public servants from the pay reduction announced on budget day was neither fair nor justified. The unfairness is best exemplified by the fact that it means that people on the lowest level of pay in the public service will see a reduction in their pay of 5% while this category of public servants will see their take-home pay cut by just one third of that amount. That goes to the heart of the sense of injustice that is felt not just on this side of the House. Clearly, individuals on the Government's backbenches feel very strongly that this is an unfair approach to public pay.

Apart from the unfairness, it is simply not justified. We hired a higher remuneration group to recommend how people in these high-paid jobs should be paid. It made a very clear recommendation. In the full knowledge that the bonus system had been suspended, it recommended that cuts of 8% be imposed on assistant secretaries and cuts of 12% on deputy secretaries. Those recommendations were taken up and implemented in the budget. The Minister for Finance and his entire parliamentary party knew that bonuses had been suspended when they made a decision consciously to apply 8% cuts to assistant secretaries and 12% to deputy secretaries and the knock-on effect on 655 individuals in senior privileged positions in the public service.

For some inexplicable reason within two weeks in the shadow of Christmas, the Minister issued a direction under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act after a decision of Government that the recommendation of the review group and the decision of the budget should be reversed. No explanation or justification was offered. The provisions of section 6 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act are very explicit. This is not a general power to the Minister to do whatever he likes. This is a power under very significant restrictions. He must show that a substantial inequity has occurred and that it is just and equitable in all the circumstances to change the position as announced in the budget.

We are not privy to any such evidence adduced by the Minister. From the Taoiseach and Tánaiste we have seen efforts to defend this decision that were incredible and downright wrong. That suggests to me that the Minister did not take seriously his responsibility under the Act only to use this direction where there was a substantial inequity and where it was just and fair to everyone to take this action. I have not seen any independent commentator take the view that this was just and equitable. Far from it, people see this as those at the top of the tree circling the wagons to protect themselves from cuts that were being applied to those at the bottom. It was the worst example possible at a time when the economy is facing difficult decisions and people are being asked to tighten their belts and take cuts. We then find a privileged few being able to circle the wagons and wriggle out of this.

While I am not sure whether the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, knows it himself, I would like to know the procedure for this Government decision. Was there a memorandum setting out the evidence that supported this change? How did it happen that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste came in here blissfully ignorant of any such evidence as was absolutely from their efforts to defend it? I would like to see the evidence that substantial inequity was occurring and that this was fair and just in all the circumstances. What consultation was conducted with the review group that had done the work and presented a report which had been accepted by Government? What consultation took place with it before the Government turned tail and ran in the opposite direction under the shadow of the Christmas holiday?

This stank to high heavens. It is not surprising that Fianna Fáil backbenchers, who are not represented here tonight, saw this for what it was. They are not fools. They may be treated like fools and given the old mushroom treatment — being kept in the dark knee-deep in manure. However, they are not fools and were willing to face this down and take their Minister to task. Unfortunately, the Government applied the full strictures of the Whip to silence these people and we are left with just one individual, Deputy Mattie McGrath, who has the courage of his convictions, to come along and vote to reverse this injustice. I look forward to having his support and it shows that at least there is some responsibility and sense of decorum left in the Fianna Fáil Party.

When the cut was proposed, we took a very different view. We said that people on low pay should be exempted and that the first tranche of €30,000 should not be touched. That was fair and it was broadly supported that something had to be done for the low paid. People on little more than the minimum wage should not be sucked into pay cuts of this nature — the second set of pay cuts. They were struggling to get through this recession, which is very much in contrast to assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries who are on €173,000. They are not in the same category and struggling to get by.

For the Government to take a decision to make what was already in most people's eyes an unfair structure even worse and exempt those top earners was really rubbing salt in the wound. We need to see the evidence laid out so that everyone can have an understanding of this. Let us see why the Government has turned its back on the review group, a professional body of individuals drawn from not just the public sector, but also the private sector, which fully knowing that the bonus system was gone still recommended cuts.

What the Tánaiste said in the House was extraordinary. She pretended that the review group recommended precisely the opposite of what it had recommended. She said: "the review body on higher level pay indicated that the bonus was indicatively part of their salary." That was nowhere in the report. Time and again, year after year, the review group had confirmed that bonuses were not part of salary. They never are, never were and never should be. The Tánaiste seemed to take completely the opposite view. The Taoiseach came in here and asked that we be fair to these people and said that because there were bonuses, their pay had been cut over the years and they had suffered worse than anyone else.

The evidence shows precisely the opposite. The highest pay increases in the public service have been at deputy secretary and assistant secretary level. They have enjoyed the highest increases throughout the public service since 1991. Indeed, they accelerated in the period since 2001 when the bonus scheme went up to 10%. In that time those individuals have received a 78% increase in their pay when the increase for clerical officers has been 48%. That is an enormous gap of 30%. They have enjoyed much quicker growth. The differences in absolute terms are startling. A deputy secretary enjoyed an increase in those eight years of €76,000, which is ten times the increase given to a clerical officer at the bottom of the scale. How can the Government turn around and claim that not only are they entitled to a €76,000 increase over that period, but on top of that a €17,000 bonus, which should be regarded as their entitlement as if it were basic pay?

It flies against everything the review group had recommended. It is ironic that the Taoiseach was so keen to back up the review group when it was telling him and his Ministers that we should have increases. In effect, he was saying: "We always accepted the independent review group's view as gospel, since it makes its decisions fair and objectively." However, when those decisions do not suit certain people in the public service, the Minister turns tail and reverses the increases. It is simply not fair to people and we have to change it.

The Minister for Finance was no better. He came into the House and pretended that those bonuses were always part of pay. He said that the bonus scheme provided for an average payment of salary. It did no such thing. It provided that the maximum that could ever be paid was 10% of the salary pool. It provided that, generally, no increases should be given to anyone who was not exceptional in his or her performance. This was absolutely clear; it had nothing to do with core pay. It was for individual public servants who achieved above and beyond normal performance. That is what the test was.

Time and again the review body insisted that "awards must not be seen as an automatic addition to pay". Again, in another year, it stated: "It is particularly important that an award made in one year is not regarded as an entitlement to a similar award in subsequent years." Again, it said that "award schemes must avoid the perception that there will be something for everyone" and "performance related pay should not be pensionable", yet the Minister has done precisely the opposite. He has pretended this is core pay and that right across the board every deputy secretary and assistant secretary, every one of the 655 workers in local authorities and the HSE at senior level, are automatically entitled to this as part of their core pay and that it has nothing to do with exceptional performance.

The Minister is saying they are entitled to it and they should not be asked for any reduction in their pay because this bonus scheme has been suspended. That is what the Minister decided. It flies in the face of everything we learned from the review group in terms of what performance pay is about, which is rewarding people who were exceptional.

That has been suspended now, as the review group rightly said, because bonus pay has been suspended everywhere else in the economy. People in the private sector were getting similar, and often much greater, bonuses and they have been wiped out. Bonus pay is gone, as the review group told us. The same should apply in the public sector. The reduction and elimination of bonus pay was not, in the review group's view, a reason for not applying fair cuts to everyone else. It was absolutely clear in its decision, but not one of the three, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister, has shown that he or she respects the legislation passed here before Christmas. This provided that, to make a change such as this, there has to be a substantial inequity and it must be just and fair in all circumstances that such inequity be tackled. Far from this, however, the Government has given to people at the top something denied to those at the lowest pay in the public service — people who are genuinely struggling to get by, people earning less than €30,000, those on the minimum wage, porters who are trying to support mortgages. They were told that they had to take the full 5% cut.

They are angry at the substantial inequity that has been applied to them, and neither do they figure on the Government's radar when it comes to measuring exceptional and difficult times. Those who feature on the Government's radar are the people at the top of the tree, earning €173,000 plus a bonus on top of that. I cannot, for the life of me, see how that can be judged as fair and equitable in all circumstances. It is simply a disgrace and, what is more, it is going to carry on into pensions.

By treating non-pensionable pay as a reason for exempting people from cuts, the Government is guaranteeing that for those 655 individuals, where everyone else has not had that opportunity and must look at the prospect, unless they retire in the next 12 months, their pensions will be permanently eroded by this decision, one which is not being applied in the case of those who are better off. I rest the case that this is an inequity which needs to be reversed. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to debate this and to get the views of ordinary backbenchers, whose absence is deafening in its scale. There is no one here on the Government side apart from the poor beleaguered Minister of State who comes in here to listen to us. No doubt he will rise to the occasion and tell us exactly how these decisions were taken.

And where Deputy Mattie McGrath is.

I thank Deputy Bruton for tabling this motion in the name of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. Hundreds of thousands of people on low pay are struggling to cope at the moment. The average family will pay an extra €1,000 this year in stealth charges imposed by the Government and interest rate increases. They are literally living from week to week, hoping no one gets sick and that an unexpected bill will not have to be paid. Many public servants, especially those on lower pay, are mortgaged to the maximum, on the basis of the permanent pensionable job that has been shoved down their throats by many people in the media over recent months. They never envisaged that they would have to face pay cuts when they were taking out those mortgages, as they struggled with the calculations to draw down the money from the banks in the first place.

Like everyone else, they accept we need to work together to get out of the mess that Fianna Fáil has created. They are prepared to carry part of the burden, as everyone else in society must, which has been created by the Government's incompetence over the last ten years. The fact that they have to pay twice as much as many in senior management in the public service, however, is totally unjust, especially as these same managers facilitated the irresponsible management of the economy by the Government.

Among the 655 individuals are management personnel in the Health Service Executive who failed to reform the administrative structures within the health system, which has led to a situation where front line staff are being withdrawn in hospitals and community services purely to maintain managers in jobs. Also included are managers in the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, who failed to curb irresponsible lending by banks and other practices over the years, and managers in FÁS, who brought that organisation into disrepute, in addition to Department of Finance officials, who failed to project the correct receipts in relation to taxation during the good times. They were supposed to be watching over the banking system and monitoring the value for money reviews which were supposed to be taking place across the public service.

Deputy Bruton indicated the review body had made it critically clear that performance pay must be linked to successful completion of highly demanding and challenging tasks. Will the Minister of State explain to me how he can justify people in FÁS getting such bonuses while they were literally stealing taxpayers' money and why management within the HSE, who failed to implement reforms that would assure a quality health service, should get those bonuses while funds for front line staff were being withdrawn? How can these bonuses be justified? Bonuses should have been about reform and performance, but the Government and senior management took them to be part of basic pay.

Herein lies the fundamental flaw in relation to the bonus system. It was considered by Government as part of basic pay and not part of the incentivisation process to try to reform and overhaul the public service. It is enormously frustrating to see people on the lowest income levels within the public service, those who are struggling at the moment, cry out for reforms. Their jobs are soul destroying because of the lack of leadership within management ranks in the public service. They now have to carry the can.

When he articulated the position of the Fine Gael Party regarding public sector pay, Deputy Richard Bruton made it quite clear that anyone under €30,000 should be exempt because such people were on the lowest pay and struggling to cope and manage. Anyone on under €75,000 would be better off under the Fine Gael proposals rather than the Government proposals introduced by the Minister.

What makes this remarkably frustrating is that this decision will set back any plans to reform our public services. Public servants at the coalface are the very ones who see the flaws within the system and who seek reform. It is amazing when one goes out to meet public servants. They raise the issue of the need for public sector reform; they have been working at the coalface, they have put in the long hours and they have given commitment and service to the public. Their management have collected their bonuses on that basis and now they have received a double bonus, since the original bonus is now being calculated as part of their pay for the purposes of pay cuts.

How can the Minister of State justify a situation where, since 2000, the senior grades have received 30% more in pay than those at the coalface working on a day-to-day basis? How can the Government justify a situation where assistant secretaries in Departments received a €76,000 increase during that period, some ten times the rate of pay of a clerical officer? Clerical officers and lower grades have taken double the pay cut of senior management within the public service. This decision is seriously flawed. It will set back reform of the public service for years and will cause complete industrial turmoil over the coming months.

I am delighted to be able to speak on this motion. As with the previous speakers, I am very pleased Deputy Richard Bruton has put this motion before the House because it provides us with several opportunities. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, to the House. He has been a supporter of the Government, for which I admire him. We are affording his colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, an opportunity. He proposed a motion at the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and could not get a seconder. He will have no need for a seconder in the Dáil. All he needs to do is to walk up the steps with us or vote with us tomorrow night and I hope he will do so. I have no doubt he will do so. I hope he will not be a lion in the constituency but a mouse in the Dáil. I trust that will not be the case. I will be watching him very carefully tomorrow night, as will the Minister of State.

I know he will vote with us because he knows this is wrong and on this I compliment him. He knows it is wrong, I know it is wrong and Fine Gael knows it is wrong. This is why we are affording an opportunity to Deputy Mattie McGrath, any other Fianna Fáil backbencher or anyone else who has concerns about this matter to vote on this motion.

The Minister of State is enjoying this.

I refer to the people who were able to get to the Government. This situation proves who has the power in this State. It lies with the 655 civil servants who were able to say to the Government and Ministers that they would not take a pay cut, while every other worker in the State, in both the public and private sectors, had to take a pay cut. This is wrong. Certain people in local authorities earn a very small income. There are some who bring home €450 or €500 per week and such people must pay levies and take a reduction in their pay. However, senior civil servants who are making a fortune and whose jobs are protected do not have to pay it. It is wrong and it must be reversed.

We must all take some of the pain and no one should be exempt. Great anger is being experienced by people on low pay and in the public service at the fact that these 655 people could influence the Department of Finance and the Minister to get their way. For all my life it has been the case that a bonus is not a salary; it is a bonus. One get rewarded for the work one carries out.

Sometimes one gets rewarded for work one does not do.

That is true too. I refer to the bonus scheme in place. I have tried very hard to find out more about this area in recent years. A former Deputy, Mr. Paul McGrath, and I tabled freedom of information requests and we went to the Ombudsman to see how these civil servants were paying themselves and to find out what criteria were used in respect of the payment of the bonus. It was amazing. A little fund was in place. They divvied it up among themselves and everyone got equal pay every year, but at the same time the economy was going down. The services they were running were being put out of order and they were not doing the jobs for which they were getting paid, never mind the allocation of bonuses.

I was disappointed that the former Ombudsman, Mr. Murphy, and the current Ombudsman did not reverse that decision. It is only right because public money was at stake. We should know why county managers, directors of services, county engineers and principal civil servants were getting these bonuses, what service they did for the State, what money they saved the State and on what basis they were getting the payments, but we could never find out. Is that not amazing?

Journalists can come to the House and use freedom of information legislation to get information from the Minister of State or any and every Deputy in the House, and rightly so. They can use the freedom of information legislation to get information on everyone covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but not the 655 senior civil servants. They were saved. There was no freedom of information for them and their information was deemed private. They received their little fund and divvied it up among themselves.

There is great anger among low paid workers who wonder why they must take the cuts. People are suffering, including middle class people and people on low incomes. Third level fees must be paid, there is no medical card relief and such people have mortgages to pay. These people are struggling and I fully understand the frustration of those in the public service and why they are angry and upset. Such people do not mind supporting or helping the State or playing their part.

Has this Government not learned? Did we not see this with the builders and bankers? They were able to get their way with the Government. We have not seen a banker go to jail yet. However, there are poor people who collect the bins or who work for the council on a wage of €450 or €500 per week and who must pay this levy, while senior executives do not have to pay it. This is wrong and I hope Deputy Mattie McGrath and the Fianna Fáil backbenchers who sought a debate on this matter vote with us tomorrow night.

It is very hard to follow that, but I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute. I thank Deputy Richard Bruton for giving all of us the opportunity to discuss the matter on behalf of the thousands of low paid public servants who are very annoyed.

An announcement was made prior to Christmas that affected many of the people in charge at county manager level, at director of services level in the county councils and in the HSE. The annoyance of a substantial number of people on low wages who were asked to take a cut is palpable. Such people were out gritting the roads during the frost, filling the pot holes after the torrential rain and driving ambulances across those roads, bringing sick and injured people to our hospitals. They were annoyed and frustrated but they had come to the realisation that the economy was in dire straits. They were aware the Government was very short of money. After a long period of convincing, such people came around to the viewpoint that they should take the cut to ensure fairness. On the night of the budget, many such people were shocked to hear of the cuts to be put in place. However, such cuts were accepted in the hope that it would straighten out the economy and these people were prepared to do their bit, the same as everyone else given that people in the private sector have lost their jobs across the board.

People had come to accept the change but, lo and behold, some days before Christmas this announcement was made. I do not know how it came about or from where the influence was brought to bear, but people on the upper salary scales in the Civil Service did not get the same cut as the person who fills the pot holes in my constituency. It is unfair and unjust. It is incredible that a Government that spent up to a year preaching to us about the need for everyone to take cuts and convinced people of the need for such cuts would do such a thing to all those people.

I have never in my life, but particularly in recent weeks, come across so many people who are hard pressed for cash. They include public servants, particularly the low paid. Only last week a lady came to my constituency office whose husband had lost his job in the private sector. She had a public service job paying €25,000 per year and had a mortgage of almost €2,500 per month. Her position is totally unsustainable. She told me she was going to hand back the keys of her house in which she has lived for the past number of years. She was a low-paid public servant and as she walked out of my office she turned and said, "Who in the name of God influenced the Government such that it would allow my manager not to get the same cut as me?" I could not answer her.

Was influence used to reverse the decision on the pay cuts? I am extremely concerned that such influence got the better of the Minister. We should not have allowed this to happen. As we face more difficult budgets in the years ahead, we must bring the people with us. Unfortunately, their trust is now broken. We should not have allowed this to happen.

A bonus is not a salary, as was said time and again. There is no justification for doing what was done. I urge every Member to stand up because it is not too late to change the decision. The Fine Gael proposal, namely, not to cut the pay of low-paid civil servants, represents an alternative. Deputy Richard Bruton proposed in his alternative budget that the pay of lower-paid public servants not be cut. We should accept this because the anger among lower-paid public servants is unbelievable. If we, as their representatives, are to fight for what they want, it is in this Chamber that we must do so. Everybody should work together in this regard. Trust is broken and when one breaks the trust of the public servants on whom cuts have been inflicted, one will not receive co-operation. I urge everyone in this House to reconsider and change the decision and do what is fair on behalf of the taxpayer, including lower-paid taxpayers.

It is unfair that the extremely higher-paid public servants should have a smaller reduction in their wages and salaries than the lower-paid civil servants. This is a fact of life. It was deceptive of the Minister, on behalf of the Government, to announce the U-turn on 23 December, two weeks after the budget when he believed nobody would notice and that he would get away with it. The Dáil was in recess and we could do nothing about it at the time. Perhaps the announcement was to allow for a Christmas bonus for higher-paid civil servants — I do not know.

The policy of Fine Gael is that those on wages and salaries up to €30,000 should be exempt from the levy. Now the Government has singled out the top 650 higher salary earners in the public service for special treatment. How can it justify its decision to cut the pay of the lower-paid public servants more, in percentage terms, than the pay of higher-paid civil servants, some of whom earn €100,000, €200,000 or €400,000 per year?

The public was ready at the time of the budget to accept measures necessary to correct the damage to our economy caused by the current and past Fianna Fáil-led Governments, but only if there had been fairness all round. Fairness was the key to gaining public acceptance. The December budget announced a 12% pay cut for top earners and an 8% cut for middle and second-level earners, as recommended by the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector in report No. 44. The supposed cutback in pay for higher-paid personnel was used in the budget to try to justify a pay cut of 5% to 8% for those on middle incomes and a 5% pay cut for those earning less than €30,000. Fine Gael would exempt the latter.

The Minister, on the day before Christmas Eve, released a circular announcing the scaling back of pay cuts to an average of 3% for assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries, local authority and health board executives and other higher-paid individuals. This has led to great hardship for the lower paid and resentment over the fact that their higher paid bosses have been subject to a much lower cut than them. It has led to bad public relations in those public bodies where the staff have received pay cuts greater than those of their managers.

I received a letter today from a constituent, a public sector administrator on a moderate salary working in Galway. She stated her income has been cut by 15% in the past nine months and that the pay cuts are grossly unfair and place an inordinate burden on low-income and middle-income public servants. She said the cost of diesel, doctors and dentists has greatly penalised people in her position in the past year and that she is at her wit's end. Many of us have received similar letters, including Government Members.

Working-class families and lower-paid workers with two or three children must regularly visit the doctor or dentist. They are now hard pressed to afford this given the budgetary cutbacks that have affected them. Those families just do not know where to turn. Young children must be brought to the dentist or doctor on many occasions. The professional fees now charged are far in excess of those being charged a few years ago. I do not know what the Government intends to do or can do to control professional fees. The fees, as they stand, are crucifying hard-pressed families.

Fianna Fáil and Green Party Members know what they did was wrong. The parties' backbenchers know this and are being reminded of it in their constituencies. Their consciences are telling them to vote against the cuts. They will have an opportunity to do so tomorrow night in this House. Deputy Ring challenged Deputy Mattie McGrath, who said he would vote against this Bill, to do so. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh, who has now left the Chamber and who is from Deputy Mattie McGrath's constituency, smiled wryly at the idea. I do not know whether he knows something we do not. Perhaps Deputy Mattie McGrath will vote for the Fine Gael motion on this occasion. He promised he would do so in regard to the NAMA Bill and the legislation to reduce the level of alcohol allowed to drivers. I do not know where he was when those votes took place but he certainly did not vote against the Bills in spite of all his wild talk on the night.

The wage cut for mangers and staff in high-paid positions has been reduced to one of 3%. Those are the people who are managing the front line services that have been cut back seriously. The carer's allowance, which benefits those caring in their own homes for 24 hours per day, has been cut and, in many cases, home help has been reduced from nine hours to six hours. In one case I know, the home help for a doubly incontinent person has been cut from six hours to three hours. We will have many cutbacks to frontline services but the higher-paid managers, whom the Government wants to protect, have guaranteed jobs. They are using cuts to frontline services to save money to allow them hold on to their own positions and salaries. The Government has now given them another bonus in that it is to cut their pay by only 3% rather than 12%, as indicated in the budget two weeks before Christmas.

I propose to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—commends the Government for its actions to restore the public finances and for its difficult but necessary measures to reduce the public service pay bill;

notes that public servants have made a substantial contribution towards the necessary reduction in public expenditure, including through the pay reductions applied under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009;

commends the Government for applying substantially larger reductions to the remuneration of higher paid public servants and notes that all reductions are proportionate;

notes the decision of the Minister for Finance to take into account the reduction in the total remuneration package, including the performance related pay, in considering the appropriate reduction to apply to Assistant Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and related grades in the civil and public service;

notes the cumulative impact of the reductions in public service pay over the last 18 months ranging from one third of the net pay of Secretaries General; a quarter of net pay of Assistant Secretaries; to less than 8% of net pay in the case of a clerical officer;

further notes that the Review Body on Higher Remuneration pointed out in its report that unique among the grades it examined, the pay level of Assistant Secretaries was lower than or broadly similar to their counterparts in five other European countries;

notes the intention of the Government to ask the McLoughlin Local Government Efficiency Review Group to examine the senior management structures in the local authorities and a similar review to be carried out by the HSE;

commends the quality of the work of public servants in these difficult times; and

agrees with the view of the Government that it is necessary to engage with its employees on badly needed reform that will deliver the necessary productivity measures and savings in the costs of the public service."

There has been a great deal of populism and begrudgery about the debate that has taken place on this entire controversy.

The Minister was not here to discuss it.

I am extraordinarily conscious of the need for fairness in the sacrifices we have all had to make in dealing with this most acute financial and economic crisis.

Set one sector against another.

Please allow the Minister to continue.

In the past 18 months, the Government has had to make very difficult decisions. In doing so, we have done all we can to protect the lower paid and those on social welfare. Those who earn most have paid most.

For example, in the last three budgets a clerical officer on the mid-point of the scale has seen their net pay reduce by less than 8%. The assistant secretary has seen an average 24% cut in net pay over the same period, and deputy secretaries have seen a pay reduction of 27%. I have circulated to Deputies a page which shows very clearly the progressive nature of the reductions.

Of all persons, Members of this House, more than most, should know how salaries and remuneration can be misrepresented. Let us deal, therefore, with facts in this debate.

Before the budget, there was agreement among the main parties in this House that the extent of our deficit required that savings be made in the public service pay bill although we disagreed on how those savings might be achieved. The public service unions also accepted that immediate reductions in the pay bill were necessary. In the event, the Government made a decision in the budget to make a saving of approximately €1 billion in the public service pay bill.

And the Minister backed down two weeks later.

Allow the Minister to speak.

I am only helping him.

In deciding how this €1 billion of savings would be applied to the salaries of public servants in 2010, the Government was guided by the need to ensure that those who earned more would contribute more and that office holders and other senior public servants would lead by example.

The reductions effected range from 5% to 8% in the case of public servants with salaries of up to €125,000. The reductions provided for are balanced and progressive but they are not painless and they had an adverse impact on all public servants in their daily lives. We all have to adapt our financial commitments and living standards to our available income and, therefore, any measures which reduce that income require immediate and difficult adjustments. I am well aware that public servants in many cases are struggling to cope with reductions in their incomes. This is especially the case for those public servants on modest incomes and, in reality, almost two thirds of public servants earn €50,000 or less per annum.

Given the numbers of public servants on lower salary levels, it would simply not have been possible to achieve the scale of reduction required in the pay bill by exempting those on lower salary rates. In deciding on reductions, however, I was conscious of the need to keep the rate of reduction in their salary levels as low as possible.

I was also aware that, in general, public servants on modest salaries have access to incremental pay scales based on satisfactory performance and service and this can become an important element in their salary. The Fine Gael policy suggested freezing incremental scales within the public service. Deputy Bruton and Deputy Kenny regularly held up this measure as an example of how they would deal with the public finances. Where is the fairness in that proposal? It is a direct hit on the pay of lower civil servants.

We, in Government, rejected that option precisely because it would unfavourably and disproportionately impact those on lower salaries for whom increments can represent a significant element of remuneration over time. For example, the average value of incremental increases at lower grade levels in the Civil Service range from more than 3% to in excess of 4.5%. These incremental increases remain in place albeit at the reduced rates.

For public servants with a basic salary over €125,000 reductions were generally as follows: 8% on a salary over €125,000 but less than €165,000; 12% on a salary over €165,000 but less than €200,000; and 15% on a salary over that.

The Minister backed off.

The Taoiseach and the highest level Secretaries General received a pay cut of 20%. These higher reductions correctly applied to those who could most afford to pay.

There was one group, however, that caused the Government some unease. That group was assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries. They would have been treated exceptionally harshly by the combination of a number of cuts to their remuneration and would have ended up incurring a greater sacrifice of pay than all other groups except the Taoiseach and the two highest paid Secretaries General. That position would have arisen through a combination of the pay adjustments recommended by the review body and the termination of the performance-related pay that had been an intrinsic part of their remuneration in the Civil Service and for related grades in other parts of the public service since 2001.

I would like to give the House some background on the performance related pay which has featured in this controversy. In its report No. 38 of 2000, the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector recommended that the overall remuneration of these grades should comprise a basic salary plus performance related pay. The review body recommended that an overall pool of 10% of the pay bill for the grades concerned should be set aside for performance-related pay.

What about report No. 44?

In accordance with the recommendations of the review body, therefore, a pool of 10% of the pay bill was paid each year in addition to basic pay. The amount paid to individuals varied but, obviously, the average payment for an individual was 10%.

Some of the commentary about the operation of the scheme of performance-related awards suggests a misunderstanding of how the scheme was operated. It was overseen by the committee for performance awards which included a majority of private sector members. The objectives assigned to assistant secretaries, on which their performance was evaluated and the awards for individuals were approved by the committee.

Performance-related pay has long played a role in driving performance in the private sector, and there could be a role for it in the public service, but current economic circumstances do not permit a performance-related award system. The Government decided in 2009 to terminate the scheme of performance-related pay but, as I stated at the time, this was subject to discussion with the relevant staff association on the way in which the decision would be implemented. I met the staff association representing assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries before Christmas and gave consideration to their views in deciding how the termination of performance-related pay should be dealt with in the context of the reductions in pay.

In the context of the discussion at Government about the draft legislation providing for the reductions in public service pay which took place at the time of the budget, the position of the assistant secretary grade was considered. It was recognised that the draft legislation could and should allow the particular circumstances of the grade to be addressed. However, no decision was taken on the manner in which this might be done. This was left to me, as Minister, under the legislation once it was enacted. Ultimately, I decided it was reasonable that the deductions applied to the grades of assistant secretary and deputy secretary should comprise both a reduction in basic pay and a termination of the scheme of performance-related pay. It must be remembered that the review body did not recommend termination of the scheme of performance-related pay. The review body stated that it remained committed to this scheme but suggested that payments be suspended until 2012 and reviewed again then. In deciding to terminate the scheme, the Government has gone beyond that recommendation.

As I have stated, there were variations in the amounts paid to individuals under the scheme of performance-related pay but the average annual payment was approximately €15,000 in current terms. It is simply not reasonable to ignore the loss of payments of this sort. If a reduction of 8% had been applied to the basic pay of the grades in addition to the termination of performance-related pay, the average reduction would have been 18% of salary on this occasion alone, which would be higher than the deduction applying to higher paid grades. This would have been especially unfair when the review body's own research showed that on a like-for-like examination, the pay of these grades was below that of comparable grades in the private sector and was lower than that in most other countries examined.

It is important to understand in the context of this debate that the review group on higher level pay did benchmark the higher level salaries against international comparisons.

I suppose it was against those in Greece.

The review body benchmarked their salary against their counterparts in five other countries. The report noted, when comparison was made on an adjusted income basis, the salary of the Irish post of assistant secretary is behind that of four other countries The United Kingdom's is 102% ahead, Germany's 29%, Belgium's 6% and the Netherlands' 1% ahead. Only in Finland was the salary level slightly below that of the Irish post.

It is unfair and inaccurate to attempt to portray the effect of the reductions imposed on assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries as involving smaller reductions than those applying to lower paid groups. The resulting adjustments, including the effect of the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay, produced significant reductions in remuneration of 14% in the case of the grade of deputy secretary and 11.8% in the case of assistant secretary. These reductions are higher than those applying to other groups at the lower salary levels and significantly higher than the minimum reduction provided for under the legislation of 5%.

So bonuses are now raises.

Deputy, please allow the Minister without interruption.

The substantial reduction the Government has applied to the pay of persons at this level is starkly highlighted when net reductions are examined. The Government, in taking the difficult decision to reduce all public servants' pay, has sought as far as possible to protect the pay of the lowest paid and apply the major adjustments to those who can most afford it. Similar performance-related pay schemes, independently assessed, applied in other sectors of the public service, including the Health Service Executive and the local government sector. Accordingly, they also were included in my direction on pay.

I am concerned about the efficiency of management structures, particularly in the HSE and local government. Accordingly, the Government intends the McLoughlin group, undertaking an independent efficiency review of local authorities within a tight timeframe, will also review management arrangements in local authorities, as well as taking account of Government policy on local government reform and measures already in train in the transforming the public service agenda. The group is to complete its work by the middle of this year. The Government intends that a similar review will be carried out in the HSE.

The Government's policy approach on pay is dictated by necessity not confrontation. Common approaches and shared solutions remain the preferred policy instruments of the Government to address public service pay issues. These approaches have served well before at times of serious economic difficulty in the 1980s and have the potential to continue to do so. The approach is based upon a mutual recognition among all stakeholders, employers, Government and employees, of the scale of the economic problems facing us and an agreed policy response which sets aside short-term interests for long-term economic gain. The magnitude of the economic problems facing us is greater, but I believe we are in a much better position than in the 1980s in potential, ambition, confidence, achievement and determination. We have overcome our economic problems in the past and will do so again.

Budget 2010 was the latest in a series of measures, beginning in mid-2008, to bring order to the public finances. It is clear the actions taken by the Government are having an effect, the decline in tax receipts has moderated, expenditure pressures have lessened and the cost of borrowing has reduced from the high levels seen in early 2009. Recent movements in the international markets underline the importance of continuing to take such firm and decisive action to restore stability to the public finances. They also underline the importance of the decisions the Government took on public service pay in the recent budget. Decisive action now will return the economy to a sustainable growth path. While challenges and difficult choices still remain, the Government is determined to continue to take the necessary steps in this regard.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This debate has been characterised by a less than scrupulous adherence to the facts surrounding the matters at stake. Some fundamental points need to be made before a detailed debate on the motion.

The criticism by the Opposition and much of the media is focused on the public sector pay cuts imposed in the December budget. However, this presents a misleading picture of what happened in the public finances and public sector take-home pay in the past 12 months. Last year, we did not have one but two budgets, introduced in extraordinary circumstances. Both fiscal-type budgets involved serious reductions in pay for civil and public servants in eight months. One, however, cannot examine the effect of the December budget without examining the April budget.

This time last year, as the Minister for Finance pointed out, serious questions were raised about Ireland's ability to make its loan repayments in the international financial and sovereign debt markets. Then when Exchequer returns stood at €32 billion, Ireland had to borrow €26 billion which was unsustainable. If allowed to continue it would have become untenable not in the medium or long term but in months. To dig our way out of that hole required great determination and courage, as shown by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. Then Ireland was portrayed as the sick man of Europe. Last weekend I looked at European financial reports which all focused on the serious problems in the public finances of Greece, Spain, Portugal and, to a lesser extent, Britain but not Ireland.

Any criticism of the Government's policy cannot be focused on the December budget alone but on both. Those who have had serious reductions in their salaries and tax increases will look at their take-home pay. The April emergency budget saw serious increases in taxes and the introduction of a pension levy, imposing serious hardship on everyone, including civil and public servants. The budget was introduced in emergency circumstances with the sole intent of stabilising the public finances while the second budget in December dealt with the expenditure side most severely. It did cause severe hardship for people across the country.

We must examine the cumulative effect of both budgets. Comparing salaries in 2008 to those in 2010, a Secretary General at level I saw a 33.9% reduction in net salary while at levels II and III the reduction was 29.7% and 28.8%, respectively. For a deputy secretary, it was 27.3%; assistant secretary 24.9% and principal officer 19.3%. However, for a clerical officer at the standard scale the reduction was 7.3%. To claim those in the so-called lower grades in the Civil Service, a term with which I am not particularly enamoured, were asked to contribute more than those at the higher levels is grossly misleading and does no one any service. Of course I would expect it from the Opposition, but I would ask the media, in particular, to pay more attention to the fact that those on the higher reductions of 33%——

I note the Minister of State's expectation of the Opposition was such that he did not bother to come in to listen to the debate.

——but those on the clerical level——

He had decided what the Opposition would say beforehand.

Obviously, I listened to what the Opposition stated earlier on——

——and it was characterised by a misrepresentation of the facts. The problem here is that these are the facts. The facts, I would readily accept, are simply not capable of being explained in the modern 30-second media cycle. It is not possible to do so.

Neither do I accept that these sit easily with the increasing tendency towards the politics of populism that is exhibited increasingly on the Opposition benches. I detect clearly that the public is getting a little wary of the wafer-thin veneer on Opposition politics and policies such as they are. When they look at the facts, they see, as the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, stated, that the severe budgetary measures we are taking are having a real effect. This is even the case in the international community where they were saying Ireland 12 months ago was the sick man of Europe unable to pay its way, with a big question mark over its sovereign debt and downgraded by the ratings agencies. Twelve months later, because of this resolute action involving the severe contribution made by everybody, and particularly public servants, we are no longer in that position. That is to the credit of the Government and that should be acknowledged.

Every progressive tax system in the developed world is based on a number of simple core principles. First, the system ought to be transparent so that the taxpayer knows exactly what he or she pays and what everybody else pays, and it is clear and straightforward. It was not always the case. Second, the system does not discriminate unfairly between different classes of individuals and does not discriminate unfairly within particular classes of individuals. Third, and the most important feature which is accepted internationally as being a benchmark for all modern taxation systems, it must be progressive in the sense that it is progressively more burdensome on those who get paid more than those who get paid less, that taxation increases are increased proportionately as one goes higher up the scale. The figures for the take-home pay of civil and public servants in this country bear this simple fact out, that the measures the Government has introduced, unpopular, difficult and politically difficult to take though they were, have all the characteristics of being consistent with those principles of international budgetary parameters.

Despite the facts which no doubt bear out the Government's position, there was a preferred approach to all of this. Clearly, the Government did not want confrontation. We would have preferred to have a common approach with all the stakeholders, particularly the public and civil servants.

I hope this debate highlights two matters, the first of which is a progressive tendency in the Opposition benches towards pure populism at the expense of any fact. Second, it points out that, progressively, the difficult measures taken affect more those who get paid more — Secretaries General, minus 33.9%; those on the clerical officer level, minus 7.2%. I accept 7.2% is a great deal if one is on the clerical officer level. It is a big imposition, especially if one is struggling to make ends meet, but do not insult the Irish electorate and the Irish people by trying to portray repeatedly through the media, which in many respects is willing, the fact that those who get paid more are not shouldering their fair burden; they are actually taking greater cuts than those on lower pay. Those are the facts of the matter and I would ask the media to portray them more accurately in future.

I support the amendment as proposed by the Minister for Finance. I pay tribute to him for the calm, reasonable, humane and equitable way that he has dealt with this situation.

We have a serious constitutional responsibility in this House to distribute the resources of the State as available to Government and this House has a mandatory responsibility under the Constitution to distribute those resources. The challenge in a situation where there are diminishing returns is to distribute diminishing resources in as fair and equitable a way as possible taking into account the first calls that are on those resources. The Government has addressed this in the past two budgets, and more particularly has given clear leadership in enunciating to the nation at large the responsibility that we as a nation, as a people and as a society led by Government, collectively, on a consensual basis, agree within this House on the best way possible to distribute those available resources. If the Opposition constantly opposes for long-term, short-term and medium-term political gain the Government on what is a constitutional responsibility, it is only confusing people on the Government's responsibility to this Parliament.

I see from the motion that there is even confusion within the Opposition's own ranks. One of those whose name appears on this motion is no longer a Member of this House. He has left in a state of frustration because, he says, there was no consensual approach within Opposition to supporting Government to achieve that which was best in the interests of the common good. That is basically the theme of the confusion and the demoralised state in which this young man has left this House. If that is the position with somebody who has come in to give economic advice to one sector of Parliament, and he leaves in that state of confusion, how will the people of Ireland, watching and listening to the Opposition's utterances on a continuous basis over the past two years, feel about the role of this Parliament in discharging its constitutional duty to the people of Ireland on a consistent basis when that confusion reigns?

There has been a strong commitment over the years on different occasions when there was a crisis in this nation that politicians together in Parliament, elected by the people with a sovereign mandate to discharge their obligations to the people, would do so in the interests of that which was best for the people. The Minister, led by the Taoiseach, stated clearly over the past two years that faced with the challenges we had, political leadership was required and he was the first person to come forward and say that at the highest level of Government and the highest level of public service there would be a requirement to take a one-fifth cut in salary, never done in the history of this State previously. That is real leadership and real commitment.

We take into account then the fact that the Minister for Finance came in and produced a budget here prior to Christmas clearly enunciating the resources available, the challenges that were there and the requirements on us as a Parliament under the Constitution to discharge our duties. That man, who put that budget before this Parliament, had it ratified by Parliament and had the legislation subsequently ratified by Parliament, went back and looked at how it was best, fair and reasonable to deal with the resources of State taking into account the need to reduce public sector salaries. Where there was a distortion, an unevenness and an unfairness at a particular grade of public servant, he examined that in totality and specifically, had consultation and ultimately realised that to be fair to everybody the burden had to be shared on an equitable basis taking into account, like the State itself, the capacity of the individual public servant grade to take the required reductions in order to——

The Deputy has one minute.

Is fuath liom a briseadh seo. Let me say that what has been done has been reasonable, has been fair, is constitutionally correct and is an acknowledgement that the Government wants to be fair to the public service, recognising the role of public servants in society, their contribution to the country, their requirement that they, like all of us as parliamentarians and politicians, ensure that we give the best value for money taking into account the resources that the people of Ireland can afford to give us through revenue inflows into the Exchequer at any particular time, and that we must be fair to everybody. The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has done an outstanding job in sustaining that fairness and that equity, and I fully endorse this amendment.

Before we go into what happened and the sequence of events, it is very important that Fianna Fáil recalls the circumstances in which it brought the country, for the second time in as many generations, to the point of economic ruin. The reason it has had these extraordinarily difficult budgets, which have impacted very heavily on low paid people, people on social welfare, people in receipt of child benefit and people in receipt of early childhood payments, is that it destroyed the economy. During this crisis Fianna Fáil has taken a relentless approach, assisted by its public relations people, in trying to drive a wedge between the public service and the private sector. To some degree, it has been successful in that regard.

It was Fianna Fáil that blew up a fantastic housing boom from around 2000 when it created a vast range of tax incentives in regard to property and lending. The consequence of that was that two civil servants or two public servants on relatively modest wages — for example, a nurse married to a teacher — ended up in a position where, in an inflated property market, they could barely afford to buy a house. For generations, buying a house was a legitimate aspiration of people on modest middle incomes not only in the public sector but in the private sector.

It is foolish of the Government not to look back at how it brought the country to its knees and how it brought people to the pass it imposed on them in the last two budgets. Civil Service salaries rose very sharply on the back of a situation where ordinary civil servants found it difficult to buy houses. It is important to remember that.

The consequence is that many public servants at high and low levels are heavily indebted because they bought houses and apartments at the height of the property boom when the frenzy to get on the property ladder was so strong. The consequence of that is that a significant number of public servants of all ranks are trapped in negative equity and will bear the brunt of mortgage increases. I am sure the Minister and the Minister of State, who have spoken, have had people call to, and e-mail, them to tell them of their difficulties, in particular if the negative equity is accompanied by debt. Fianna Fáil will correctly say it never told people to borrow to buy houses but, of course, Fianna Fáil through its friends in the construction industry told people to get on the property ladder. It is important to recognise what drove the huge level of pay increases.

In regard to the events following the Minister's Budget Statement and subsequently, two lawyers for the Government have spoken lawyer talk to explain away everything and say black is white. That is what lawyers are trained to do. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, for brazenly not acknowledging the crux of this problem.

The crux of this problem lies with the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach and, to a lesser extent, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. When the Minister for Finance made his budget speech, he clearly laid out that there would be reductions in public service pay and that those reductions would bear less onerously on people on lower salaries in the public service. As the Minister said, there is a large number of people in the public service on €50,000 or less per year. One must bear in mind that many of them have debt problems in regard to mortgages and other debts. Like other people on low wages, they are hard pressed.

When the Minister declared — it was one of the headings in the budget — that those who are well-off would bear more of the burden, English being what we all understand, we thought that meant the people in the higher grades would take a proportionately higher hit. I do not believe anyone wants to see people take a cut in their wages. It is painful for Members of the House who have had to do so and, of course, it is painful for everybody in the public service. However, it was the deceit inherent in the presentation which is the cause of the public grief and anger.

The Taoiseach, rather like the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, on another occasion, said it was "only €5 million". When PPARS was a fiasco, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, famously said it was only €155 million, we were good for that and that it did not matter. However, when we are in such an extreme situation, it matters a great deal. It is the inherent unfairness.

In regard to the pay and conditions of assistant secretaries, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said in the House that the review body on higher level pay indicated the bonus was indicatively part of their salaries. She accepted that a further reduction which would equal a reduction of 20% would be disproportionate. However, the review body stated, "we consider that, in the light of the very serious economic and fiscal environment, the developments in relation to such schemes [bonus schemes] in the private sector and our recommendations that reductions in remuneration are warranted, the continuation of performance-related awards cannot be justified in the current climate."

It may be that the Government, in setting up the performance-related bonus scheme in 2001, was at fault. It called it "a bonus". A bonus generally means a reward for exceptional service, dedication and achievement of required outputs where they are measured. On examination, it appears almost everybody got a bonus. The Minister for Finance has now backtracked and said, it was an inherent part, or as the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said, it was an indicative part — I still do not understand what that means — of the pay package. Lower paid civil servants hear their bosses get bonuses. A bonus means something for exceptional service. Perhaps a bonus could be given to people who never have a sick day or to people who get an output over and beyond a required level of service. What happened with this was the absolute depressing appearance of a sleight of hand for a group of civil servants who had the Minister's ear.

What is even more disturbing is that remuneration package carries to many other grades. When I spoke about it at the beginning, people did not appreciate it applied to directors of service, county managers, people in the HSE and so on. People in the HSE get bonuses as an indicative part of their salaries. Many people find that difficult to understand because the level of dissatisfaction with the HSE is, at times, very extreme.

In another sleight of hand, the HSE is demanding of bodies funded by it under the Health Act 2004 to offer cuts of 21.5%, including salary cuts, or to find the cuts by other means. The question again arises for the Minister. He has not been forthcoming on this. Does that mean that the people in the HSE-funded bodies at the affected grades of assistant secretary and director of service also have a different formula to people in the lower levels or do we just have a cut in services? The House and the public have been treated with a lot of contempt. A lot of damage has been done by this and by the Minister in the first budget when he made grandiose announcements about reductions in the pay of Deputies and Ministers which turned out not to apply for a long period. They applied afterwards but did not apply at the time.

On budget day the Minister was already fully aware of the situation and had been briefed that there was an issue relating to this group of civil servants. He could have done two things. He could have stood by what he said or he could have been honest and said these reductions will apply, except in the case of certain categories where they will be calculated in a different manner. At least then we would have had some honesty.

I support the general thrust of this motion and also call for support for the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies, which demands that the Government reverse the pay cuts imposed on public servants earning less than €100,000 per year. The decision before Christmas to reverse the cuts on the higher paid public servants was the equivalent of rubbing salt into the wounds of those who are on lower salaries, for many of whom the pay cuts mean they are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

The Minister's rationale for the decision, which is repeated in the amendment to the motion, is that a small number of the people concerned had already lost bonuses, does not stand up given that for others on lower rates the budget cuts were also the second cut in income which they had imposed on them. We should not forget that such people had no overtime or possibility of it.

I noted the self-congratulatory amendment tabled by the Minister, which is an insult to public servants and all those who have been hammered in recent budget cuts. In it he said he notes the cumulative impact of the reductions in public service pay and refers to assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries and others. It does not note the cumulative impact of the reductions in public service pay for the tens of thousands of public servants who are now living on the threshold of poverty or below it.

It is madness that recent budgets have lead to the crazy situation whereby the State admits it is cutting pay to save the Exchequer money while forcing people to accept slave wages. They are slave wages because the same State admits it by giving the families concerned family income supplement. That is the proof of the matter. It is a ludicrous situation that the State cuts someone's income, supposedly saves taxpayers' money, and then finds itself having to pay it back through social welfare, which incurs administrative costs. In case an idiot on the other side of the House does not understand the situation, I support a reversal of the cuts to public servants' pay and not a change in the threshold for social welfare payments.

Once again I urge the Government, as I did when the two budgets were introduced last year, to look elsewhere. My party made a substantial submission to the Government on where the Exchequer could find the necessary savings of €4 billion. We also went beyond that and proposed how the State could find the money to create jobs and increase the tax take by employing people and getting people back to work. The Government does not understand the situation. There are very few Deputies on the Government benches who have any understanding of what it is to be unemployed for any length of time or to be a lowly paid civil or public servant on the lowest grades, including general operatives and clerical officers who are trying to make ends meet to pay for overpriced housing which they were encouraged to buy during the Celtic tiger years because the alternative was to overpay in rent.

One can hear from the Government that the next target is the minimum wage. The Government and its friends in ISME and IBEC are already building up a campaign to target and lower the minimum wage. There is a logic to such a decision from the Government's point of view. If it is willing to kick its public servants and slash their incomes, why not go after another layer of society?

The politics of this situation are apparent. Once the Government has broken the back of public servants and public service unions on pay cuts it is set to continue that right-wing agenda to force wages down to the lowest level possible. The only people who benefit from this are speculators — na hamhantraithe. That is why it is important that we go well beyond legitimate criticism of the Government for its hypocritical climb down on the cuts for a small number of higher paid public servants and insist, as our amendment does, that the cuts for all public servants earning below €100,000 per year be reversed. Such a view is not incompatible with the wording of the motion. In our amendment we are merely attempting to turn the sentiment expressed towards lower paid public servants into a meaningful demand.

I hope the Fine Gael Deputies, excluding one who still has his name on the amendment, will accept our proposal as will other Opposition Deputies, including Independent Deputies, so that the word goes from here to the Government benches that we are not accepting this and will oppose any move which excludes those who are higher paid in our society from taking the full share of cuts which are deserved or required. It is not just about the higher paid public servants but also many others in our society who have lived and still live well beyond the means which any person should. The greed in our society which was perpetuated and encouraged during the Celtic tiger years is still reflected in Government thinking.

There is a clear dividing line between those who believe that those who are least responsible for and able to afford to pay for the current crisis are forced to carry the burden and those who do not. The attitude of the Government is to make the poor pay for the wrongs and sins of the speculators, bankers and financial planners in the Government. There is a difference between it and those of us who oppose such an approach and have proposed an alternative.

This motion highlights the disparity between the manner in which the Government treated those at opposite ends of the salary spectrum in the public service. It can go beyond that if Fine Gael accepts our amendment calling for the reversal of the pay cuts imposed on public servants who earn less than €100,000.

Debate adjourned.