Private Notice Questions. - Secretarial Assistants' Dispute.

My question is to the Minister for Finance. I also have one to the Minister for Labour which I understand is also being taken by the Minister for Finance. I would like to ask the Minister for Finance what steps he is taking to settle the claim by secretarial assistants employed under the scheme of secretarial assistance for non-office holders in the Oireachtas, which has led to a one day strike today, especially in view of the likely disruption to the work of the Oireachtas and the inconvenience for the general public if the claim is not settled; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

My question to the Minister for Labour is to ask him if he will consider intervening in the current dispute between secretarial assistants employed under the scheme of secretarial assistance for non-office holders in the Oireachtas in view of the disruption to the work of the Oireachtas and the inconvenience to the public that a prolonged strike could cause.

I will take both questions. As regards the question to myself, I would like to inform the Deputy and the House that the current position in regard to this dispute is that a prolonged conciliation meeting was held yesterday between officers of my Department and representatives of the secretarial assistants. That meeting ended late last night without agreement being reached. The parties have agreed that the conciliation process will be resumed on Friday morning next. In the meantime, I consider it inadvisable to engage in public discussion on issues involved in the dispute. On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Labour, I would like to tell the Deputy and the House that the Labour Court yesterday invited the parties to the dispute to a conciliation meeting which lasted several hours. A further meeting has been arranged for Friday morning next.

It is not my intention to enter into the issue in dispute but simply to have the matter raised on the Floor of the House because it affects every Deputy in this House. It is a matter which has been attempted to be processed by representatives of the staff for the past ten years. These people were appointed in 1980. It seems extraordinary that the day before the strike was due to take place a conciliation procedure was entered into by the Department of Finance. Could the Minister confirm that SIPTU have over a long period of time attempted to have the matter dealt with through the normal procedures but they have effectively met with a stone wall? The matter has been allowed to drift to the point that we are now in the middle of a strike and it may be extremely difficult to find a resolution. As I am sure the Minister knows, once a strike starts it is extremely difficult to have it stopped. He and the Minister for Labour should make every effort to meet, at least part of the way, the requests of the staff for a regarding of their status and security of employment.

I can only repeat, and I think the Deputies in the House will appreciate that it would be inadvisable for me to get into the details of any of the issues involved here. I am surprised the strike is on today. Negotiations were adjourned last night until Friday morning and in normal circumstances you would expect that the strike would at least be suspended until such time as the negotiations are concluded. I am not going into the issues here in relation to the matter. There are certain misunderstandings in relation to the dispute and possibly today or, one would hope, tomorrow morning some of those misunderstandings will be cleared up and the real issues will be seen for what they are.

As the Minister says, without getting into the specific issues concerned, the fact is that the conciliation talks that took place yesterday consisted of the Department presenting yet again to the staff the same formulae they presented months ago, which were clearly unacceptable. That is not negotiation, that is stonewalling. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that there will be no further stonewalling on this claim but that there will be genuine negotiations and conciliation and that we can expect to have a resolution of this dispute by the time we return here next week?

I do not think the Deputy's contribution has added anything towards a solution or has been the proper approach to the issues concerned. His idea of negotiation may be dictation. Conciliation is what we are talking about, not dictation.

The Minister should tell the Department officials that.

I suggest to the Deputy that it would be better left to the established procedures to deal with this dispute. If it has been going on for ten years I do not know how many times the Deputy raised it in this House, but I am not aware that it has been going on for that long. If that is the case, the Deputy was remiss in not bringing it up before now.

That is a sign of the problem.

The Deputy is obviously the shop steward and is trying to take over from the trade union.

The Minister has adopted the attitude I expected him to adopt. I can see this dispute going on and on because the Minister has not a clue——

If the Deputy stayed out of it and left it to the normal procedures and the trade union representatives, it would be far better.

The Minister has not a clue. He is living in the last century.

The Deputy is making sure they stay on strike.

Minister, please do not exhaust your courtesy in encouraging somebody to act in a way that is not in accordance with the best interests of the House. Deputy De Rossa, you asked three supplementaries and got replies. If every Deputy here was to be absolutely satisfied with a reply he got we would have a very dull House.

I had a Private Notice Question down today on the extension and reclassification of the severely handicapped areas. I accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling but, as the Minister for Agriculture and Food was in the House at the time, I am extremely disappointed that I was not given an opportunity to question him.

You will have to contain your disappointment.

This is a matter of extreme urgency.

You will have to contain your disappointment and resume your seat.

Will we have an opportunity of discussing this on the Adjournment tonight? It is extremely urgent.

You left it too late to make that request. We will now proceed with the Companies (No. 2) Bill, Report Stage.

Will we have an opportunity of discussing the matter this evening on the Adjournment? Have you the list yet?

Rather than interrupt the business of the House when the Minister gets on his feet, could I just bring to the attention of the House that there are no monitors and there is a defective sound system operating where The Workers' Party Deputies and some others are accommodated? I do not want to make a fuss about it but it is impossible to hear——

If it is any consolation to Deputy Rabbitte, I can hear The Workers' Party quite well. The voices are coming across loud and clear.

It is only fair to say that this is the first day of a completely new system. I have been here all day and every half hour somebody got up with some new complaint. There should be a procedure for dealing with these complaints other than raising them on the Floor of the House. It must be recognised that the staff who are implementing these new arrangements are doing so on the very first day and there are bound to be teething problems. In any case the official reporters are reporting everything that is said and that is all that counts.