Pay talks likely as soon as April in bid to head off strikes

Talks to replace the under-fire Lansdowne Road agreement could begin as soon as April as part of the Government’s attempts to prevent growing public sector anger spilling over into widespread strikes.

Government sources confirmed to Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent with the Irish Examiner, last night the move is being considered days after Siptu president Jack O'Connor set a deadline of this Thursday for agreement on early talks to begin by February 1.

Speaking in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, as part of remembrance Sunday events in the North, Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned any successor to Lansdowne Road will not be put in place before the existing deal runs out.

He said the budget for next year has already been set out and “nobody wants to wreck the progress the people have made with their sacrifices over the last six or seven years”.

He said that while there will eventually be a successor to the Lansdowne Road deal— which has come under fire in recent weeks due to industrial action threats from Siptu, gardaí, teachers, junior doctors, and nurses — no changes will be made without “collective” discussions about funding.

While he side-stepped questions over talks beginning earlier than expected in light of the Siptu strike threat, senior government figures confirmed last night discussions could begin as early as April in a bid to calm public sector anger.

One well-placed source said while the Government’s public sector pay commission is not scheduled to report until the end of the second quarter of next year and “has to be given space to do its work”, the start of talks based on its work could begin in April.

The current deal is not due to run out until the latter half of 2018.

However, while stressing any move will still be based on pay deal changes in 2018 and that it will be entirely dependent on the money available in budget 2018 — which could be impacted on by Brexit, EU division, and US election fallout — the source said it is a “reasonable assumption” that talks will begin in spring.

It move emerged after Siptu president Jack O'Connor warned in recent days that the existing Lansdowne Road deal is no longer fit for purpose and early pay talks on its replacement must begin as soon as possible.

Citing a February 1 deadline as the most appropriate date for the talks to take place, he said if Government does not agree to the date by this Thursday he will ask his 60,000-strong union to ballot for industrial action.

Responding to the remarks in Enniskillen, Mr Kenny said that while a successor to the Lansdowne Road deal is inevitable, the budget cap has already been set for next year and that Government will not move on the issue.

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