Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Partnership.

Mary Harney

Question:

2 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he has received a request to meet representatives of ISME to discuss the social partnership. [1792/96]

I have received requests from a number of organisations, including ISME, for inclusion within the social partnership process and for their formal participation in the central review committee which monitors the implementation of national programmes.

The existing social partnership mechanism of the central review committee is working well. I have no plans to change it. However, I intend to ensure that in the preparation of any new programme, mechanisms will be developed to allow for a contribution in areas of direct relevance to their members from a wider number of groups than at present, including ISME. With that in view, I have asked Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, to meet ISME to discuss this issue.

Did the Taoiseach refuse to meet ISME before Christmas?

I will not be meeting ISME because Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell will be meeting it. The Deputy is well aware of the situation in regard to the representation of small firms. There are two organisations competing with one another in this area, one is a member of IBEC. The small firms association, is represented through IBEC on the central review committee. The Government should not do anything to encourage the splitting of organisations by giving representation to break-away organisations, as of right, merely because they have broken away from a larger organisation.

At the same time the Government has an obligation to ensure, where there is a split, the members of the smaller organisation receive proportionate access to decision making, which is what is being done in this case. I have offered ISME a meeting with Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell and I understand ISME has meetings on a regular basis, in regard to small firms matters, with the Department of Enterprise and Employment. The Deputy may also be aware that I have appointed one member of the council of ISME Mr. Lar Sheeran to the National Economic and Social Council. Although he has been appointed in a personal capacity and not as a representative of ISME, he is in a position to convey ISME's concerns through NESC into the whole area of social partnership. The Deputy will be aware that earlier this month I asked the National Economic and Social Council to prepare a report which will form the basis for the hoped for next agreement and ISME, through its member there, will be able to make a contribution.

Can I take it from the Taoiseach that the reason he refused to meet ISME was that he did not want to encourage a further split in the organisation that represents small businesses? If that is the case, why did he appoint a member to the NESC and why did the Minister for Enterprise and Employment address their recent annual luncheon and annual conference? If the Taoiseach's view is that by doing these things he is encouraging fragmentation surely none of these things should have happened?

I have already answered all those questions. We should not encourage fragmentation, therefore, I do not propose to appoint ISME to the CRC and I do not propose to meet it. Equally, once ISME exists there is an obligation to give it proportionate representation. The proportionate representation it is being offered involves, in one instance, allowing it one person who is not there in a representative capacity but in a personal capacity, on the NESC and accepting it will meet other Departments from time to time. There is no right answer to this type of problem. Where an organisation splits, there is no right answer to determine exactly what level of representation one should give to each new organisation. The Deputy has only to look at the farming sector where now a fourth organisation has been established. It is appropriate, if they represent people to listen to them, but equally we should do so in such a fashion as not to encourage further fragmentation. The Government in this instance, as in others, has the invidious task of striking a balance and I believe we struck the right balance in this case.

As a matter of historical interest there were two organisations: the FUE and the CII. They amalgamated and the people who represented the smaller business people decided that was not a good idea and formed ISME.

It is a bit much for a Taoiseach who heads a fragmented Government to talk about organisations that are fragmented.

The Deputy's party was born out of fragmentation.

Fine Gael will be more fragmented soon. In Martyn Turner's cartoon last week it was assigned to making the tea. I hope it was Barry's tea. Will the Taoiseach accept that we cannot have real social partnership if key elements of the economy are not represented in that partnership? Will he agree that key private sector interests are not represented in the current social partnership?

Then the Taoiseach is wrong. Who represents the private sector?

In an earlier reply the Taoiseach referred to the formation of new farming groups. It is clear that those groups enjoy access to the Taoiseach and Government Ministers. Double standards are being adhered to in respect of the representative groups of small business. Given the crucial importance of small business to the economy and in future job creation it is insulting——

A question please, Deputy.

Does the Taoiseach consider it insulting that small businesses are being referred to a Minister of State whose primary responsibility is European Affairs and who has the task of organising our Presidency of the EU?

No, I do not. When two organisations represent broadly the same interests——

They do not represent the same interests.

Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply.

——the Government should give access to them which is proportionate to their size and representation. That is the course we have adopted in this case. The Small Firms Association, which has remained part of the united business representative body, namely IBEC, is the larger organisation and gets proportionately greater access. We may regret the split but ISME now exists and it gets lesser but proportionate access to Government decision-making in the context of social partnership. We have struck the right balance and I am somewhat puzzled about the position of the two Opposition parties who seem to be taking alternating stances in their questions. In the first question they say ISME should have more representation and in the second question they imply that it should not get any representation at all. This confusion among the Opposition parties illustrates the difficulty inherent in deciding what to do when there are two organisations of differing sizes in the same sector. By adopting this approach, which I would describe as proportionality, the Government has struck the right balance.

I have sought to expedite matters on questions to the Taoiseach but the time for dealing with these questions is fast running out.

Given that the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell, seems to be doing several things at the moment, including extensively representing the Minister for Justice on programmes — he has done so four times this week — when will he meet with ISME?

He will meet with it when a suitable time has been arranged between it and the Minister's office.

When did the Taoiseach ask the Minister of State to arrange a meeting?

That is a matter for the Minister of State and me.

Was it since this question was tabled?

The Minister of State will meet ISME whenever a suitable date is arranged.

The Taoiseach is being very transparent.

It has been looking for a meeting since November and the Taoiseach asked the Minister of State to arrange a meeting only after the question was put down.

One of the reasons ISME wants to meet the Government is to find out what Minister is dealing with a task force on small businesses and services. Will the Taoiseach give us that information in the House?

It is the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa.

It is the Minister for Enterprise and Employment.