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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 May 1979

Vol. 313 No. 12

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - National Understanding.


asked the Taoiseach if following recent meetings, he is in a position to report progress in ordering a national understanding with the trade unions.

Agreement was reached on 24 April last between the Government and representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and of employer and industry organisations on proposals for a "national understanding for economic and social development" which incorporated proposals on a policy for pay. I had the document laid before both Houses on 25 April. Implementation of the national understanding will be conditional on ratification of the pay provisions. Should these provisions be rejected by either party or if, despite being accepted, they are widely disregarded in practice, the parties to the understanding will not be obliged to honour the commitments in it. The various organisations concerned are making their own arrangements for consideration of the national understanding, including the policy on pay, in accordance with their respective constitutions.

The understanding represents a new approach on the part of the parties concerned to employment, economic growth, industrial relations, pay, welfare and related matters.

I believe that it can bring about a new sense of national purpose and commitment and offers a prospect of a new unity, a new stability and a new attitude which will focus on co-operation rather than confrontation. I would therefore urge on all concerned to accept the proposals in the national interest.

If there are reservations on the part of some of the parties is there room for alteration of the national understanding in some respects?

This matter was negotiated for a long period during which there were difficult discussions at times between the various parties concerned. As the President of the ICTU said yesterday, involved, also, were discussions with several Government Departments. There may well be room for clarification of points and I am sure that the able representatives of the ICTU who conducted the negotiations on behalf of congress would be in a position to clarify matters where necessary.

It would be tragic if the possibility of achieving all-round agreement on a national understanding were to be lost because of the adoption of an inflexible position in relation to all the terms of the agreement as known.

All-round agreement was reached in that the representatives of congress, of employers, of industry and of the Government agreed on the proposed understanding subsequently sitting together for what was perhaps the first time at the press conference announcing and endorsing the points of the understanding.

But if there is a risk of losing all-round agreement, with constituent organisations failing to support the national understanding and if the retention of their support depends simply on certain changes, would the Taoiseach agree that there should be flexibility?

None of the parties to the agreement has come to us on any such matter.

The Taoiseach seems to suggest that clarification of points would have to be by way of the ICTU to individual unions. I wonder whether he meant to exclude in certain circumstances the possibility of the Government clarifying some aspects of their intentions should a doubt arise in relation to any point, the clarification of which would help to secure acceptance of the agreement.

Certainly, but as I have indicated, we have not been asked for clarification by either employers or by congress. That would seem to indicate that they are perfectly clear as to the various aspects and elements of the understanding. However, if the ICTU or the employers were to ask for clarification from our side, that clarification would be forthcoming.

I understand that and I am grateful for the Taoiseach's reply. On behalf of my party I express the hope that the national understanding will succeed. Regardless of whatever qualms we may have about the rate of increase that is required by reason of the growth of inflation in the past year we consider it extremely important that the understanding be accepted.

Question No. 2.

One final supplementary. Would it be the case that within the very parameters of the national understanding there would be flexibility for further negotiation?

The Deputy has asked that question a number of times and in a number of ways.

I am only trying to be helpful.

I am sure the Deputy appreciates the position of the ICTU and that he would seek to establish firmly that position and not undermine it. The Deputy may have easier access than I have to the ICTU but so far they have not raised any difficulties with me in regard to the agreement.