I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
Negotiations on a new social partnership agreement were launched yesterday week by the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and me. All the social partners acknowledged fully the enormous contribution which partnership has made, in both economic and social terms, while at the same time recognising that much more remains to be achieved.
Substantive negotiations are now getting under way and, as with previous agreements, the proceedings are subject to confidentiality strictures in order to protect the negotiating positions of all. However, each of the social partner pillars, including the Government side, has made clear on many occasions in the recent past their own priorities and concerns.
I requested the NESC in November 1998 to prepare a strategy statement on the new national programme of social partnership. I very much welcome that the NESC has responded to my request with a comprehensive and imaginative strategy. The strategy statement outlines a vision for the development of society over the coming decade which reflects the aspirations of all sectors of society while addressing the challenges faced by Ireland in the new global world economy.
The Government welcome the conclusions and recommendations in the strategy statement, which outlines how the NESC believes its vision can be effectively realised. As with previous social partnership agreements, this NESC statement will serve as a focus for negotiations on a successor to Partnership 2000.
As to the timeframe for concluding the negotiations, we will need to see how the negotiations go before making any predictions on that score.