Galway Fine Gael TD Sean Kyne has called for the renegotiation of the Croke Park Agreement, in order to address mounting costs within the health system.
The agreement on reform and pay scales within the public sector was signed under the Fianna Fáil government in 2010 and has been vociferously protected by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition since its establishment.
However, in the wake of newly announced €130 million cuts to health service funding, the Connemara TD has said that the renegotiation of terms for higher grades within the sector must be considered in an attempt to protect frontline services.
“The reality is that Health Minister James Reilly is unable to seek reductions in pay levels, which accounts for approximately 80 per cent of the health budget. We must face up to the fact that we cannot continue to pay for both the existing levels of service and the public sector pay bill,” he said.
Deputy Kyne said that while the Croke Park Agreement has secured savings and reforms, the current financial position of the country dictates that pay levels for higher-level civil servants and employees, such as hospital consultants, must be addressed.
“It’s most insincere and disingenuous of some public representatives to castigate the proposed reductions in health services necessitated by the serious financial challenges, while simultaneously ignoring a major cause of these reductions – the Croke Park Agreement,” he explained.
“The choice before us is clear: we much renegotiate the pay of higher level public servants as part of the Croke Park Agreement in order to minimise any reductions in services provided.”
The recently announced cuts would see HSE West targeted with a saving of €30 million of the total €130 million. However, Labour Deputy Colm Keaveney this week said there are still other avenues to be pursued before applying further pay cuts to staff.
And he listed the high cost of generic drugs to the Irish government and the mounting debt owed by private insurance companies to the HSE as issues that need to addressed with urgency.
“Croke Park is delivering €1.5 billion this year alone in savings, how would you achieve those savings if you didn’t have that methodology and infrastructure to control and manage public expenditure in the public sector?”
“I would have much preferred to see a more just and transparent outcome of the ongoing discussions with the consultants in terms of their pay and the degree of co-operation that is required rather than attacking the frontline services. I’ve said that consistently. But I also would say that the question that needs to be asked is why can the HSE not get a secure revenue from Bupa and VHI for services carried out in public hospitals? There you have €200 million and here we are taking €130 million from frontline services. It’s a matter of political choices for sure.”
Meanwhile, the Galway East TD has stood over his assertion that the current coalition government has been put in danger by last week’s announcement.
Deputy Keaveney sparked major controversy at the weekend after intimating in an interview that a general election could be on the horizon, as a result of the cuts being announced “without agreement” with members of the Labour Party.
Deputy Keaveney’s party colleagues have since rejected claims that Labour are preparing for a ‘snap election’, but he stood over his comments when speaking to the Galway Independent this week, explaining that the solo run of Fine Gael on the health cuts had “destabilised the foundation and core of Government”.
However, he added that it was a “very hypothetical question” and asked “what politician doesn’t wake up every morning and think about the next general election?”.
“My comments are based on the perception that this is clawing and gnawing and attacking the foundations of a relationship because one side is not telling the other what they are doing. You’re talking to a backbencher here; it’s for the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach to ensure at Cabinet level that relationships are sustainable.”
Mr Keaveney said the coming budget could prove the final straw in the tempestuous relationship with the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.
“I think any politician approaching a budget of that scale and magnitude has to prepare for the unforeseen circumstance. In terms of that, governments have fallen over less,” he said.