I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill is required to give effect to the decision by the Government to increase the maximum number of Ministers of State from 17 to 20. As members will be aware, the number has remained unchanged since 1995, when section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1995 increased the maximum from 15 to 17.
It is appropriate to set before the House the reasons behind the Government's decision in this matter, which are similar to those set out by Deputy Ruairí Quinn when he moved the Bill to increase the numbers in 1995.
The major consideration, as in 1995, is that of workloads. In determining the number of Ministers of State to be appointed by the Government, the Taoiseach has taken account of the growing burdens on Ministers and Ministers of State as a result of the greater complexity of the policy agenda, the management pressures in giving political direction to extensive Government programmes and the increased engagement with stakeholders at all levels, both domestically and in Europe. As a result, the Government has decided to increase the number of Ministers of State by three. A Minister of State may receive delegated powers from a Minister of the Government in accordance with the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1977.
It remains true, and is inevitable, that the business of Government has grown and continues to grow yearly in volume and complexity. While this is probably true almost everywhere, there are obvious reasons for the increasing workload in Ireland. Our population has increased significantly and continues to grow. The economy has grown rapidly, providing us with the resources to deal with issues which in less affluent times we could not address as thoroughly as we might have wished, and generating demands for Government to allocate some of our new wealth to areas that previously could not be prioritised against competing demands. Our economic growth has also produced needs of its own, for example, the need for improved infrastructure, public transport and investment in education, research and development if we are to retain our competitiveness.
Many of the new challenges are cross-cutting issues which require cross-departmental responses. For example, the increase in the number of people coming to live and work in Ireland over the past ten years is a welcome concomitant of the growth in our economy, job opportunities and social and public services, but it also presents real challenges in the provision of public services on a number of fronts. For example, the provision of education services to the large number of newcomers requires the provision of physical and teaching resources and language support.
These factors, and the ageing of our population, plus the increasing importance of lifelong education and the promotion of innovation in the educational and enterprise sectors are the background to the particular challenges for which the Government requires an increase in the cadre of Ministers of State. Specific areas for increased focus and activity during the life of this Dáil encompass integration policy, lifelong learning, innovation, children, disability and older people.
The management of the asylum-seeking process has perhaps tended to overshadow, especially in the media, the challenge of facilitating the effective integration of the greater number of immigrants settling in Ireland for the medium to long term. Ireland is late on the scene as a major recipient of economic immigration. Most of our previous experience has been in the opposite direction. The immigration experience in other countries shows that the most important factor in avoiding socio-demographic problems is the effective integration of the immigrant groups with the indigenous population and with each other. Where this has been mishandled or neglected, the long-term economic and social consequences have proved deleterious, even disastrous in some areas.
We have the opportunity to avoid this potential downside by addressing the integration issue in a measured, focused and strategic fashion. To this end, the Government has appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy. It is envisaged that this Minister of State will draw on expertise from several Departments and State bodies which provide services in this area. Integration issues, in so far as they affect all non-Irish nationals coming to the State, will come under this remit. A major priority will be the development of a coherent national policy on integration which draws on global best practice, establishes what works best and is tailored to the needs of Irish society as well as the reasonable requirements of immigrants who are lawfully resident in the State.
Another area of public policy, arising from demographic changes which the Government believes merits increased and intensified focus is the range of problems arising from the steadily increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and over in the population. In 2006, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over was 11%. By 2011, this is estimated to rise to 14.1% and to 20% by 2036. This expansion must be planned for and the problems of particular relevance to this older group addressed. These include matters relating to the development of services for older people, the development of palliative care services and the capacity and standards of nursing homes.
As the programme for Government indicates, a central element will be involvement in the preparation of a new national positive ageing strategy. The objectives identified in the programme for maximising the independence of older people and making it easier for them to stay in their own homes represent crucial challenges for our ageing population. These are only some of the problems that fall to be addressed as the population of older people continues to increase, both in absolute and percentage terms, and which reinforce the need for extra assistance at Minister of State level.
Public policy has become more complex as our society has grown and developed. We are all aware of the need to tackle various policy issues, such as drugs etc., in a cross-departmental and more focused manner. This has been a successful approach in the past, as I know from my own direct experience. The increase in the number of Ministers of State will enable the Government to extend this approach to different areas.
The additional Ministers of State will play an invaluable role in the delivery of our extensive programme for Government. Accordingly, I commend this Bill to the House.