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Row over pandemic bonuses for public sector staff rumbles on

Inside Politics: Scheme likely to disappoint those who qualify, enraging those who don’t

Good morning.

It is a problem created for itself by the Government, carefully nurtured by Ministers and it’s now coming to fruition nicely.

The proposal for bonuses for frontline workers in the health service has grown into a plan for bonuses for, well, see if you can keep up: non-frontline workers, transport workers, civil servants, gardaí, teachers. What will today bring? Maybe bonuses for early morning writers of politics digests? There’s a cause we could all get behind.

Furious attempts to land the ball into Row Z in the stand for a few weeks are now being executed (rather poorly) by Government fullbacks. But the thing about kicking the ball into touch is that pretty soon, someone throws it back into play again. The coalition will have to deal with it sooner or later.


Lest we forget, there was a generally-accepted expectation that healthcare workers who were in the frontline dealing with the pandemic – the doctors and nurses and other staff who were donning the PPE and spending 12-hour shifts in wards with Covid patients – should get some reward for their dedication. It is only in recent weeks this has inflated to most of the public service, with the encouragement of several government Ministers, including last week – in the Dáil – Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Warnings by Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath that this could all cost in excess of a billion euro didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. Now the Government is trying to dampen expectations, even as further applicants line up. And so, with stunning predictability, the eventual scheme is likely to end up disappointing the people who qualify for it, and enraging everyone else who doesn’t.

Last night, a Fine Gael TD told the parliamentary party meeting that whole idea was mad. This morning, our editorial calls it a "confused and clumsy plan".

Jack Horgan-Jones and Harry McGee have the latest here.

Education Editor Carl O'Brien, meanwhile, reports that the reaction to attempts by the teachers' unions to get in on the act have not even been well-received by, er, teachers.

Behind firmly closed doors in Merrion St, a series of crunch budget meetings are currently taking place. Compared to those decisions, and the looming choice to be made on corporation tax, the bonuses row is a sideshow. But it is likely to be a damaging one.

Expect questions about it when McGrath appears at the Budget Oversight Committee today.


Mica, and the effect the presence of the mineral has in defective concrete blocks, is the problem that the Government didn’t create for itself – but it is pressing hard upon it all the same. Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien met with the Mica steering group last night but it appears there has been no meeting of minds between the officials and the representatives of the affected householders on the group. Their report is expected to be issued today, but is likely to reflect their differing views. Those affected seek a 100 per cent guarantee that their costs will be met by the State; the officials representing the State want a cap on potentially unlimited costs.

Our off-lead this morning reports that the cap could be in the region of €300,000-350,000. Most people will see the point of both sides of this argument: the desperate position of blameless householders on one hand, and the desire of the State to protect taxpayers from limitless costs, paid for by all taxpayers, some of whom can't afford their own houses. The Government will soon have to choose between these two. It's a neat illustration of the reality of governing – often choosing between two unattractive alternatives.

Jennifer Bray has a detailed explainer of the ins and outs of a possible redress scheme.

The issue is likely to come back onto the agenda today when the Minister for Housing receives the working group report.


Our lead story today is the warning issued by the new Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Lieutenant General Liam Clancy to soldiers, sailors and airmen in the wake of RTÉ's Women of Honour revelations about the appalling treatment some women received at the hands of their comrades.

“Leadership must be responsible and accountable by demonstrating intolerance of any actions or omissions that fall short of expected behaviours,” Clancy said.

“It is important that Defence Forces personnel empower all personnel to follow that lead. Inappropriate behaviour is simply not acceptable and will not be tolerated.” Officers and non-commissioned officers have a responsibility to “manage the power associated with rank” and a duty of care to protect all service personnel, he said.

These are strong words from the State’s most senior military officer. Observers, and the women of honour, will watch to see if they are followed by equally robust action.


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Simon Coveney is up and out early doors this morning for Foreign Affairs questions, followed by Defence questions in the Dáil. Leaders questions (usually without the leaders on a Thursday, though) at 12 noon. The rest of the day is heavy on climate issues – there's statements on the upcoming climate action plan and later the Dáil will debate a People Before Profit bill to restrict fossil fuel infrastructure developments and also the construction of further data centres. The Dáil adjourns just before 10pm.

The Seanad will discuss a report on the impact of Brexit.

At the committees, it's a light enough day. Much attention this morning on McGrath at the Budget Oversight Committee but Nama is in at the PAC while the Disability Matters committee will hear from the representatives of deaf people, among others. Cross-Border healthcare will be discussed at the Brexit committee. Full schedule is here.