Thursday, 20 June 2019

Questions (3)

Barry Cowen

Question:

3. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the Public Service Pay Commission report will be published; the reason it has not been released to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25800/19]

View answer

Oral answers (21 contributions) (Question to Public)

The Public Service Pay Commission report on the Defence Forces was given to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in early May, or so we were led to believe. Can he confirm that, and tell us when will it be published and why has it not been published to date? Will he be conducting negotiations with the Defence Forces and their representatives prior to, or after its publication?

The Public Service Pay Commission was established to advise the Government on public service remuneration policy. In the current phase, which is the second phase of the commission's work, it was tasked by its terms of reference to undertake an examination of whether, and to what extent, there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in key areas of the public service identified in its first report. The Public Service Pay Commission has adopted a modular approach to its work programme for its present exercise. As the Deputy will be aware, the first module was published by the commission in August 2018 and deals with issues relating to nursing, midwifery, non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants. The commission engaged on work in relation to the Defence Forces in accordance with its terms of reference. Written submissions were received, and the commission has now completed its examination of recruitment and retention matters in the Defence Forces and has submitted its report to me for consideration. The report will be submitted to the Government. To answer the Deputy's three questions - I anticipate it will be coming to the Government in the next couple of weeks; I received it in May, although I cannot be sure whether it was early or late May; and we will be engaging with the Defence Forces on the report. However, this will be after its publication, as has been the case with other reports.

I was anxious to know when in May it was received, because it might not have been appropriate if the Minister had it in advance of, or after, the election on 24 May. I do not know, but it is important that we know. Why is there a delay in publishing it and bringing it to the Government? There is a real issue at stake here that was not only recognised at the time it was included in the public service pay agreement in that in recent times, and in the intervening period, it has become patently obvious there are huge issues in the retention of staff within the Defence Forces. Morale, as the Minister knows, is at rock bottom, and it is incumbent on him to ensure this process is adequately, appropriately, and speedily dealt with in order to re-establish that morale, as well as the public's faith in and commitment to the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces have huge work to do, and they continue to do it. We are very proud, and would like to remain proud, of them. We do not want to see its personnel compromised or ill-treated by a process designed to help and assist them, which was entered into by both parties in good faith. I hope the Minister will respond as to when he received the report, and why there is delay in bringing it to Cabinet and publishing it.

I am also conscious of the nursing one to which the Minister referred. It was somewhat flawed, as its chair said, in that the relevant data was not available, which meant its credibility was questioned-----

The Deputy should let the Minister respond. He will have another opportunity to speak.

-----and I hope we will not have the same issues with the commission's report this time.

It has only been a number of weeks since the report was received. I would hope the Deputy would understand that when I receive a report, particularly one that is independent of me, it is necessary that I take time to consider it and reflect on how we can best move forward with the report to a successful conclusion with the Defence Forces. I share pride in the work of our forces with the Deputy, and it was an important moment when Cabinet made agreed to the deployment of a number of our rangers in Mali, highlighting the expertise and work they can do for us across the world. It is a pity the Deputy could not wait to read the report before his party decided to bring forward a Private Members' motion on the issue. Up to that point, his party had been constructive in the area of public pay and had upheld its commitments regarding the public service stability agreement. If the Deputy understands my need to take time to consider the report, I hope that he reads the report himself before deciding on whether we are handling the issue of Defence Forces pay in the appropriate way.

I appreciate the mechanism and machinery that is in place regarding the public service pay agreement and the commitments contained within it. I also acknowledge the right of the nursing fraternity, Defence Forces, and consultants, subject to the conditions associated with that agreement, to allow for agreements to be acted on, bearing in mind that both parties, including the Minister and his Government, signed in good faith. It is surprising that conditionality appears to have been associated with the request to go to the Labour Court regarding the strike action being taken this week. I sought clarification of that matter from SIPTU officials and despite comments from the Taoiseach, it was clarified to me yesterday. I will investigate that further when the time is right, but we will step back from that for the moment while the machinery of industrial relations and the State are working in that realm.

We have every right to bring forward motions on matters that affect those we represent, especially those who were given a commitment within the agreement that the commission's report would be forthcoming. If nothing else, I hope that motion has forced the Minister to act a bit quicker than he has to date in reflecting on what is contained within the report and making recommendations to the Government. I trust and expect that he will make provision, from within the confines of what is available to him from the State, to act on recommendations that emanate from that agreement, considering both parties entered into it in good faith. This is not just about the headline rates-----

-----associated with it but the conditions as well, which have led to the processes we have alluded to.

I expect the Deputy's co-operation.

I appreciate the acknowledgment from the Deputy of the good faith I had in participating in this process. I also note the way in which his party has handled the issue of public pay in the years in which I have been dealing with this matter.

The Garda deal was the only bespoke deal, and the Minister gave it that.

Other members of his party decided to move ahead-----

It was not Fianna Fáil.

Allow the Minister to respond without interruption.

-----and form a judgment in relation to the contents of this report-----

The Minister knows that better than I do.

-----before it was published. Fianna Fáil put us in a position where we had to deal with a motion on the Defence Forces' pay and conditions-----

I am listening to the people. I do not need a commission report to tell me there is a problem with retention.

Deputy, please allow the Minister to finish.

-----before the report was even published. The Deputy underestimates the difficulty of managing public pay in a sensitive way in our current economy. Both Fianna Fáil and Deputy Cowen have previously shown a responsible attitude to how public pay is managed, and I regret that, on this occasion, they have not been able to maintain that approach when it comes to the Defence Forces. I look forward to publishing the report and engaging with the Defence Forces and others on how we can respond to the issues within it.