I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 161 together.
The Government is considering the report of the National Minimum Wage Commission and has established an interdepartmental group of officials to assist in formulating a plan of action. This group has been meeting and it will report to Government as early as possible.
As the Tánaiste indicated in her statement of 5 April 1998, striking the initial rate should be done in the context of negotiations on a successor to Partnership 2000. The challenge for Government and the social partners will be to proceed with the introduction of a minimum wage in a way that takes account of employment, overall economic conditions and competitiveness. Indeed, the commission itself recommended that these factors be taken into account in setting the initial rate.
The impact of a national minimum wage on the public service pay bill, the public sector pay bill and, indeed, the economy as a whole will depend on the timing and manner of its implementation.