Irish police union pulls of out new public sector talks

DUBLIN, Jan 25 (Reuters) - One of the main trade union's representing Ireland's police service on Friday pulled out of talks aimed at extending a key public sector pay agreement after failing to reach a deal to cut its pay bill.

Ireland's government started a new round of talks with unions this month to shrink a bloated pay bill by overhauling the so-called Croke Park agreement that has helped Dublin avoid the mass strikes seen in other struggling euro zone countries.

However the union representing middle-ranking police officers, who have warned they will protest if their pay is cut, said there was no way they could stomach the proposals to generate one billion euros ($1.3 billion) in savings across the sector.

"With the list of changes that was presented to us, there was no scope for agreement or a chink in the door to let light in," John Redmond, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), told Ireland's Newstalk radio.

"It was choice of 'do you want to be shot with a handgun or a shotgun?' as far as we could see with the proposals put on the table."

The 2010 Croke Park agreement, which promised no cuts in basic pay in exchange for reform of working practices, is due to run until the end of this year but the government is now looking to hammer out a new deal within weeks.

Ireland's policing service is expected to contribute about 60 million euros of the 1 billion euros in savings which the government requires, the AGSI said. Its numbers are set to reduce this year as part of the cuts already agreed.

Redmond said his members were adamant that there could be no changes or adjustments to their existing conditions, including allowances for working unsociable hours and weekends.

Ireland's department of public expenditure, which is representing the government in the talks, said the departure of any union was disappointing, but it would mean they would give up the opportunity to shape the outcome on the talks.

"All sides accepted when the invitation to discussions was issued and accepted, that a major challenge faces both sides to shape an acceptable outcome for public servants in each sector," a spokeswoman for the department said in a statement.

"The talks process will continue to see if that can be achieved."

While Ireland is the closest of the three countries bailed out in the euro zone's debt crisis to returning to normal private sector funding of its debts, the government is under pressure to cut public spending as it tries to reduce one of the biggest budget deficits in Europe.

Public servants saw their wages cut by an average of 15 percent before the deal was struck, six months before Ireland entered an EU/IMF bailout, and a hiring freeze has also seen the numbers employed in the sector fall by around 10 percent since 2008.