Cesiteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Jobs Forum.

John Bruton

Question:

10 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach whether the Government intend to establish a jobs forum.

For the past few weeks the Government have been engaged in discussions with the other parties, through the Whips, about the Government's proposals for an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment and amendments to those proposals which the other parties wished to have considered.

The Government's final proposals on the matter were published on 26 March 1992, and I am arranging to have a copy of those proposals circulated in the Official Report. I hope that these proposals, which have taken account of views put forward by Opposition Parties, would now be accepted by all as practical and constructive proposals which would help increase employment and reduce unemployment. The unemployment situation is so grave that the House should now unite around these proposals which are commanding considerable support from outside this House and give them a trial for at least 12 months for the sake of the unemployed who are entitled to look to this House for constructive and practical ideas that could increase employment.

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment

1. A Joint Oireachtas Committee consisting of 19 members. 10 Government nominees. 6 Fine Gael. 2 Labour. 1 Other.

2. The Chairman of the Committee will be provided by the Government.

3. A permanent Secretariat will be provided by seconding qualified officers from the relevant Government Departments.

4.Terms of Reference.

In view of the serious unemployment situation, and the gap between employment growth and the net job requirements of Ireland's potential labour force, the Committee should examine and make recommendations on all aspects of economic and social policy that have a bearing on employment creation and can contribute to alleviating unemployment.

The Committee may consider any other issues or subjects that it deems relevant to its task.

5. The Joint Oireachtas Committee should provide regular reports to be debated in the Dáil at least three times a year. In the course of the debate the Government will provide a response to the report detailing the action to be taken to implement the report recommendations. The Government will be accountable to the Oireachtas for the implementation of the terms of their response.

6. The Committee will operate through three Sub-Committees each with a specific task to perform. (Appendix A refers).

7. The Sub-Committees will be made up of 5 Oireachtas members, 2 representatives of the Government and 1 Fine Gael, 1 Labour, 1 Others and one representative each from: ICTU, Farming Organisations, Employer Organisations, the Unemployed and one other.

8. The Committee as a whole would meet regularly to review reports and recommendations drawn up by Sub-Committees. Every effort would be made to ensure that consensus was arrived at prior to adoption of Sub-Committee reports and recommendations. All members of the Sub-Committees would be entitled to attend and speak at full meetings of the Committee when the work of their Sub-Committee is under discussion.

9. In order to assist the political parties in preparing documents and undertaking research for the submissions, £10,000 per annum will be made available for this purpose to each Party.

10. The National Economic and Social Council will have an important role as an independent body providing backup, research and advice to the Committee. In addition the Committee would be empowered to commission reports and studies, either from NESC or from the ESRI and would be entitled to up to date information on areas under study.

11. The Committee would liaise on a regular basis with members of Government, through the medium of the task force implementing the Culliton report and the Task Force on Employment.

Appendix A

Sub-Committees

1.Job Creation Strategies.

The focus on this Sub-Committee would be to build and maintain a consensus around the various strategies already outlined by Culliton and other relevant reports.

The Sub-Committee would examine the various recommendations relating to the impact of tax reform on job creation policy; strategies to increase the level of self-sustaining employment to promote the sharing of available employment; the role of the public and private sectors in wealth and job creation, and the need to gear the market economy towards the creation of maximum employment; employment development plans in such areas as value-added, import substitution, linkages, and regional and sectoral structures would be given special attention.

2.Strategies for the Unemployed.

This Sub-Committee will focus on the unemployed.

It will make recommendations aimed at gearing the labour force more effectively to benefit from economic growth; identify obstacles to employment, to the take up of employment and recommend strategies to overcome these obstacles; consider the effectiveness of the educational system and of existing training and employment schemes, with particular reference to the needs of the long term unemployed.

In addition the Sub-Committee could also address the question of how work could be more evenly shared across the community.

3.The European Issue.

This Sub-Committee would address European aspects of the crisis. Its purpose would be to build and maintain a consensus around the need to develop a strategy based on an EC response to the issue of unemployment. Specifically, the Sub-Committee will seek to develop (and propose to the Government and the Oireachtas) the economic and social measures necessary for the development of an EC employment policy which will ensure a fair distribution of investment and employment in the regions of Europe, and will give priority to disadvantaged regions.

May I ask the Taoiseach why he will not agree that the employment problem is of sufficient seriousness to warrant Ministers taking part in a committee of this House established to deal with it? In view of the fact that Ministers took part directly in the New Ireland Forum and in the negotiations that led to the agreement of theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, why can they not take part with other Members of this House, in a forum dealing with employment?

The Deputy, as a former Leader of the House, is fully aware that Article 28.4.1º of the Constitution provides that the Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann. He is well aware that neither Standing Orders nor the Constitution provide that a committee of this House can command Ministers to appear before them.

It is a forum.

It is interesting that Fine Gael's original proposals did not refer to this question. The present proposals are practical and the committee should be given a trial run for 12 months, with perhaps changes and improvements along the way. There are outsiders looking at this House and many organisations have indicated their support and wish to participate in this committee.

They are watching the Taoiseach.

It is incumbent on this House to set up this committee to deal with the matter.

Is the Taoiseach aware that the original proposals of Fine Gael on this matter envisaged that not only Ministers but the Taoiseach of the day as being members of the forum in view of the importance of employment and unemployment? Is he aware that Ministers have been full members of committees of this House, for example, the Minister for Industry and Commerce was a full member of the special committee dealing with the Companies Bill? Therefore, there is no obstacle to members of the Government being full members of this committee or of any other committee. Would the Taoiseach agree that if there is an obstacle under Standing Orders to Ministers being asked to appear before the committees, it is perfectly in order to change Standing Orders to allow for their appearance? There is nothing to prevent Ministers from appearing and taking part in this committee if the Government consider the employment issue to be sufficiently important to warrant their involvement.

I repeat that the original Fine Gael proposal of last June did not provide for attendance of Ministers in the way Deputy Bruton is now demanding, and he knows that as well as I do.

What about open Government? Things have changed since last June.

Ministers can appear on a voluntary basis before any committee. Deputy Bruton is trying to confuse people because committees set up by this House to deal with legislation are completely different from the committee we are discussing here, and the Deputy knows that as well as I do.

It is not a jobs forum.

Is the Taoiseach aware that not only did the original proposals of Fine Gael in this matter provide for leaders of parties, including the Taoiseach, to take full part in the forum, but that last June's proposals, to which the Taoiseach referred, specifically required the Government to report on a range of matters, which would require that Ministers would have to be present? That was obvious and implicit in the proposals. Therefore, any suggestion on the part of the Taoiseach that the committee are not important enough to warrant the time of Ministers is a suggestion that the committee are not important in the eyes of the Government.

The Deputy should stop playing around with this issue.

We will not debate this matter now.

Everybody knows the position. The Deputy knows well what was in his proposals of last June. I repeat that the country is looking to this House. They should be allowed make their contributions and put forward their ideas, and it is up to us in this House to provide that opportunity for them. I hope that in the next couple of days sanity will prevail, that parties will give this committee a chance and——

Will the problem be solved at the press conference on Thursday?

——let us come back in 12 months time to see whether it is working.

Bearing in mind the crisis in unemployment, does the Taoiseach intend to go ahead with the establishment of this committee, notwithstanding the objections of any individual party in this House?

I hope that when the Whips finalise their discussions on Thursday the decision will be made for me. However, the Deputy can take it that, if the Whips still disagree at that stage, the Government will make their own decision.

May I ask the Taoiseach why, if it is his intention to reach agreement on this matter as he is now indicating, he indicated earlier that the announcement by the Government last week was "the Government's final position"? How can the Government be serious in wishing to reach agreement while at the same time indicating that they have adopted a final position?

The Deputy is playing with words. He understands that in certain areas agreement has been reached. It was the Government's position from the start that unlike Ministers appearing before committees in the House of Commons or the American Congress or Senate, which are not comparable to this case, this Oireachtas joint committee would not be allowed to demand the appearance of Ministers before them.

Why is that the case when it could solve the problem?

For the reasons I have spelled out. It was never envisaged that Ministers would appear before this committee.

The Taoiseach has no answer to the problem.

Deputy McCormack should desist from interrupting.

Between now and Thursday the matter will receive final consideration and if the Government have to make a decision at that stage they will do so.

The problem will be resolved at the press conference on Thursday.

It seems evident that the attendance of Ministers would be likely to enhance the role of the forum in terms of its effectiveness. Does the Taoiseach agree that the ongoing wrangle about the terms of reference of the proposed all-party committee is likely to bring this House into disrepute in the eyes of the unemployed and others? Having regard to what the Taoiseach has said, could he indicate the timescale to get the forum up and running so that, hopefully, some impact will be made on the scale of unemployment?

It is a committee not a forum.

The Deputy should have listened to what I said. The strong indications are that there is fairly widespread support for the setting up of this Oireachtas Joint Committee. This is the last appeal to all the parties in the House, some of whom have already indicated where they stand. By the time the Whips agree the business for next week, hopefully there will be an agreement to set up the committee for a trial period on the basis set out in the document of 26 March. If that is not forthcoming, the Government will then have to make their own decision.

Would the Taoiseach agree that the New Ireland Forum achieved excellent results, that those results related to a large degree to the unique format of that forum and the personnel engaged in it? Furthermore would he agree that the Oireachtas backbench committee he is now proposing bears no resemblance to the New Ireland Forum, and that the results Fine Gael and others were expecting from a forum of that type cannot conceiveably be achieved by this backbench committee?

The Deputy must understand exactly what is happening here. First, this committee are unique in their structure in that they will try to accommodate the views of everybody; recognising the very deep involvement of many organisations, the social partners and the Government in various task forces in relation to employment.

I, as Taoiseach, am chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee responsible for the implementation of the Culliton report. Under the CRC there is a task force on employment and a task force on tourism. Twelve black spots have been picked out for special treatment under the area based projects. Looking at all the interested groups and different organisations involved, we ask ourselves who are the people who are most often left out? The answer, of course, is Members of this House.

I have listened to criticism in this House about theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for National Recovery. It has been said that the political system was being by-passed in relation to their views on unemployment, the biggest single challenge facing this country. The opportunity now given to involve the House and other organisations that are not already involved in making an input through the structure of subcommittees — an opportunity that will result in the issue of reports to the House at least three times a year and will require a Government response — is a meaningful way of involving those who are not already involved and not over-involving those who are already involved. This House has not had its opportunity. If Opposition Members do not intend to take up that opportunity now, then they should not point the finger at me and say that I never gave them the chance.

Now we know why.

I have heard the criticism that the political debate was going outside the House through theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for National Recovery. Let us restate our position and put the House back in its rightful place.

A backbench committee is not a jobs forum.

(Interruptions.)

Does the Taoiseach recall that when in 1973 the Government established a committee of the House to consider the question of Northern Ireland, Ministers were full participants, and that the idea of a committee considering a matter as serious as that without ministerial participation would have been quite unacceptable at that time. Why on this issue, which is of similar importance, are Ministers to be excluded? Why would the House not follow the precedent of the 1973 Northern Ireland committee?

There is a great deal of repetition.

I do not have with me the details of the committee to which Deputy FitzGerald, an eminent backbencher, refers. However, I should be very surprised if the 1973 position was any different in that Ministers were mandated by that committee to appear before them. There is nothing to stop a Minister from participating voluntarily. Indeed, I recall Deputy FitzGerald himself attending a committee voluntarily at that time.

I was appointed by this House as a member of the committee. I ask whether or not the Taoiseach will appoint Ministers as members of the present committee on the same precedent, and, if not, why not?

I have to bring this matter to finality.

Would the Taoiseach agree that there is no constitutional obstacle to Ministers voluntarily attending and participating as members in the work of such a committee? Would he agree that in the context of our serious unemployment crisis, such participation by Ministers would ensure that any deliberations of the committee had a direct input into Government deliberations and would have an immediate prospect of implementation when there was a consensus on the measures to be taken? In that context, would the Taoiseach not agree that Ministers should participate in the committee and that there would be no constitutional difficulty in their doing so if the Government were willing for them to do so?

That is what a forum is all about.

The Deputy should not try to put a gloss on the issue. There is no basis in the Constitution for mandating Ministers to attend the committee.

They are appointed by the House.

If the Deputy wishes to continue to argue the very fine points that he has been arguing then I shall leave it to the 280,000 unemployed to make their own judgment on whether or not Opposition Deputies are serious.

The Taoiseach is not answering the question.

They might agree if the Taoiseach were to ask them.

Why does the Taoiseach not take the opportunity? He should try them out.

Deputy Carey should restrain himself.

(Interruptions.)

I wish to advise the House that I shall proceed to deal with Priority Questions at 3.30 p.m. Let us bring this matter to finality. There is still a question from Deputy Bruton to be dealt with.

Does the Taoiseach not agree that, as Ministers and he himself are taking part in all of the other committees dealing with various aspects relating to unemployment to which he referred, the failure of Ministers to take part in the forum would lead to the likelihood of duplication and failure of communication? Would he not agree that it would make much more sense for the Ministers who are doing work in other capacities to also be members of the forum so that no time would be wasted and there would be no misunderstanding in relation to the relative work proceeding in different areas?

Please, Deputy Bruton, let us come to finality.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that it is a reflection on the House that Ministers have time to take part in committees with other people but do not have the time to sit down as part of a committee with other Members of the House to deal with the unemployment issue?

No matter how much the Deputy wishes to bluster about it, his requirement — using his own words — is that the Ministers should attend. That is not possible and the Deputy knows that it is not possible.

It is possible.

The Deputy is looking for something that he knows he cannot get and he will use that as an excuse not to participate.

The Taoiseach should make it possible. He is the boss.

In relation to communications and so on, the way in which Ministers may interact with the committee, the way in which the Government will interact and the way in which the reporting system is structured are covered quite clearly. The details are all explained if the Deputy would take the time to study them, rather than reject proposals out of hand, in the way that they have so far been rejected each time, five minutes after being made. If the Deputy is serious, the details are available, and if he is not serious, then I am sorry but that is his decision.

It is not happening. For some reason or another the Taoiseach will not have a jobs forum.

The Government will not have a requirement, that is all. We will have it without the requirement.