A WAR of words has erupted between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail over public sector reform as the General Election campaign enters its finals days.
With Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan poised to top Friday’s poll, much of the rhetoric of the past week has centred on public sector reform and cuts, which accounts for a large number of jobs across Laois-Offaly.
Deputy Flanagan has emphasised Fine Gael’s support of the Croke Park deal. “We fully support the Croke Park deal, protecting the public sector from more pay cuts, in exchange for reform. Any redundancies will be achieved voluntarily and through retirements. We estimate this will achieve 18,000, with a further 12,000 through voluntary redundancies over a four year period.
“Frontline services will be maintained. As it is these are stretched to the limit already. We do not want cuts in frontline services, and neither do we want to reduce core pay,” stressed Deputy Flanagan.
Deputy Flanagan said he was also committed to decentralisation in Laois. “Portlaoise is well placed to gain under Fine Gael’s proposals to streamline certain aspects of Government in order to create efficiencies, protect frontline public sector jobs, maintain core public sector pay and keep taxes down,” he said.
However, Deputy Fleming, Fianna Fail’s newly appointed spokesperson on the public sector, accused Fine Gael of using the public sector as a whipping boy to win votes. “Everybody throughout the country has some family or relation working in the public sector and the Fine Gael policy, which will be supported by Labour if they are in Government together, will inevitably lead to massive job losses,” he charged.
Speaking to the Leinster Express, Deputy Fleming accepted that there had been a recruitment embargo, and every public servant had taken a 20 per cent cut in pay under his party.
“Every public servant I’ve met says to me that there is scope for efficiencies and improvements in the public service,” he also stated. “It is painful and that is what I am meeting more than any topic in Portlaoise,” he said.
As Friday approaches, all candidates are making their final pitches to voters, ahead of what will be a marathon election count in Tullamore. Fine Gael look set to take two seats, while Fianna Fail may also hold two. If that scenario transpires, a veritable dogfight could ensue over the fifth seat, with Sinn Fein and Labour in the hunt.
Upsets are clearly possible, particularly given the high number of Independents in the constituency.
Meanwhile, outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen has reflected on his time in office in an interview for this week’s special election preview in the Express.
“In time there might be a more balanced judgement given. Obviously there are immediate difficulties but in time when people look back and we come through this phase I’ve no doubt that the Government I led will be seen to have helped solve problems which were probably of a magnitude not seen since the state was founded,” said the ougoing Taoiseach.
For Mr Cowen’s interview and full election coverage see this week’s 24-page Election Special.