Reports in The Irish Times today make the disturbing revelation that more than one quarter of the country's health and disability agencies are in breach of public pay policy. There are related stories in the Irish Independent and other media. Given that it is only a few months since the Haddington Road agreement, it beggars belief the allowances have been sustained and, more importantly, kept from public view and hidden under the carpet. It appears they have been exempt from the cuts applied to all other public servants and those who work in various Departments. The Taoiseach will recall that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform declared a fatwa on all allowances more than 18 months ago; for example, he pursued people in the mental health sector who were getting a sleepover allowance of only €8 per night. All of these allowances, from footwear allowances to a range of others in public services, were considered fair game. However, it appears these Premier League allowances were exempt from the review and are tolerated on an ongoing basis. Many of the people who receive services from these agencies have witnessed savage cuts to disability and other services. Thousands of children suffering from delays in development have to wait up to access vital specialist and assessment services. Day and residential services have been cut and there is reduced access to respite care services.
In the case of people working in the sector, the salary of newly qualified nurses was reduced by 20%. In many instances, the basic income of nurses does not equate to the average top-up allowance the executives are being awarded. Fairness is at the heart of this. We are saying to newly qualified nurses that they must survive on €23,000 and that it is okay for someone at the top to take €30,000 above and beyond two sets of income they may be in receipt of, one HSE-funded and one agency-funded. It reduces a sense of collective approach, solidarity or that everyone is suffering at the same level. What is consistently happening is that those at higher pay echelons are being exempted from the kinds of cuts does on low and basic income is in the public service and elsewhere have had to endure.