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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Nov 2008

Vol. 668 No. 4

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Benchmarking Awards.

Enda Kenny


1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the costs which accrued to his Department in respect of the payment of the benchmarking pay awards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29485/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


2 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the cost of benchmarking as it affects his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37596/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

There have been two reports from the public service benchmarking body. The increases recommended in the first report of the body in June 2002 were implemented in my Department as follows — 25% of the recommended increase was paid in June 2003 with effect from 1 December 2001. The total cost to December 2003 was approximately €405,000; 50% of the recommended increase was paid from 1 January 2004, at an approximate cost of €491,000 for that year; and the final 25% of the recommended increase was paid from 1 June 2005, at an approximate cost of €150,000 for that year. The annual cost of full implementation is approximately €900,000.

The second report of the public service benchmarking body in December 2007 recommended an increase of 1.1% for the grade of principal officer. No other increase was recommended in respect of general Civil Service grades. The proposed Towards 2016 transitional agreement, which was recently ratified by ICTU and IBEC, provides for the payment of this increase from 1 September 2008. No payment has been made to date by my Department in respect of this recommendation.

The estimated annual cost of this award to my Department is €26,000. Pay increases recommended by the public service benchmarking body are conditional on delivery of real and verifiable outputs in terms of modernisation and flexibility.

Is it the Taoiseach's view that the country can afford the national pay agreement as outlined?

Yes. It is important that if the agreement is ratified by all the parties to it, we should proceed with it and take into account the situation as it develops. I do not believe it is right to negotiate a deal last month and seek to say it does not apply this month.

The Taoiseach is changing his mind every day.

I was criticised by the Deputy's finance spokesperson last August. He is on the record as criticising me for not having completed a pay deal in August. He made another statement in September welcoming the fact that the pay deal had been completed in September.

We are still in a position where we have no recapitalisation of banks and there is tightening of credit to small businesses. The situation since July and September has deteriorated quite radically with 10,000 people a month losing their jobs, mostly in the private sector. Can I take it that it is the Taoiseach's intention to see that the pay deal goes ahead as agreed? It will cost €800 million next year and €1.2 billion the following year and the Taoiseach is of the opinion that the economy can afford this at a time when we are in serious difficulties on the other side.

It is now six years since I made the point while in Killarney that the benchmarking process was a brilliant opportunity to start real reform of the public service in terms of value for money. As a politician and as the leader of the country, is the Taoiseach happy that the taxpayers were given clear and distinct results and responses regarding efficiency and better levels of service as a result of the benchmarking moneys that were paid out? The Taoiseach said that the cost of benchmarking in his own Department was €26,000. What increased efficiency is available now from the Department of the Taoiseach as a result of the benchmarking awards?

In answer to the first part of the question regarding the cost of the pay award, the Government has also made a decision for next year which sees a 4% savings on payroll costs to be effected. This will ensure an additional payment is not being made out of the Exchequer on that basis in respect of any pay deal commitments that need to be dealt with next year. It is important to point out that the Government has made a number of decisions to ensure the cost of public service pay next year is controlled in a way that does not impose a further burden on the taxpayer. The €26,000 for my Department has not been paid. Pay increases recommended by the benchmarking body are conditional on the delivery of real and verifiable outputs in modernisation and flexibility. These are obviously still in hand.

Has the Taoiseach noted that the report of the benchmarking body published in January amounted to bad news for low-paid workers in the public service? Has he noted that the trade unions and others have pointed out that higher civil servants and the top echelons in State and semi-State bodies continued to be awarded high pay increases while lower paid workers were left behind? Is he aware that this process is continuing even though it has been highlighted several times?

We have a concerted onslaught on public service workers. The intention of some commentators is to lay the entire blame for all our economic woes on that sector when the reality is that the economic mess we are in is attributable to failed Government policies and the financial institutions' bad practices.

When the Taoiseach was Minister for Finance, the benchmarking body was one of his responsibilities. What role does he see that body playing now and in the future? Will he agree it should not be used in any way to erode pay in the public service, especially for low-paid workers?

I do not accept the assertions made prior to the asking of the question.

Regarding the question itself, it is important to point out that the benchmarking process is a big improvement on the previous process, the analogue system of pay relativities. Under that system, when one category of worker obtained a pay award, there was an immediate knock-on effect for related pay categories across the service. That was not a sustainable or a good system.

The benchmarking arrangement is to provide for comparators between public service and private sector levels of remuneration in comparable jobs and areas of responsibility. The purpose behind the process is to ensure a talent pool of labour is available for both the public and private sector in respect of similar jobs of similar quality. The benchmarking body took into account the difference in pension provision that applies between the public and private sector. Benchmarking is a process; it is not a guarantee of an increase or decrease in salaries. It is a process of comparison. The private sector would contend that salary levels are beginning to decrease because of the competitive pressures on people in the sector.

One issue that has arisen in the comparisons between private and public sector pay levels at the higher end is that there is a growing disparity in absolute income levels between the lower and higher grades in the public service. It has been asked to what extent this strains the overall public service ethos. It has been commented on both inside and outside the House. It will have to be taken into consideration when determining terms of reference for the process in the future. However, the changed economic circumstances are such that the inflation seen with wage remuneration at the higher end of the private sector — the comparison made with the higher grades of the public sector — will not be a phenomenon that will continue.

The benchmarking process is a better process than its predecessor. It has provided a more transparent system, particularly with the second report, to compare like jobs with like in the pubic and private sectors. It has also taken into account the pension provision issue. At the same time, it has ensured we do not lose people from the public sector to the private sector or people not being interested in joining the public sector because of great disparities of income for comparable types of jobs. That is the broad policy context behind the process which I believe is right.

The issue for any future benchmarking process is to ensure we reflect on the fact some feel the disparity in absolute income levels between lower and higher salary grades in the public sector would become such that the natural cohesion and ethos of the service might be strained by use of the outside comparator principle since benchmarking was introduced.

The Taoiseach referred to the oft cited disparity between public service and private sector pension provisions. Will he agree the Government has failed to address the other serious disparity, the denial of the right to collective bargaining and trade union representation in the private sector? Is he prepared to take the appropriate legislative address of this serious disparity and afford the right to all workers to collective bargaining and trade union recognition? Will he consider during the course of his tenure introducing legislation to address this serious disparity?

It is straying from the question.

I believe in the voluntary method of negotiation that has built up where people can come to agreement and, in cases where an agreement cannot be reached, they can use industrial relations mechanisms accordingly. That is the right code of practice.

What about the right to negotiation?

The Government has introduced the minimum wage. Through its tax policies it has ensured low-paid workers have a greater level of disposable income after tax than any previous Government provided. It has taken many of them out of the tax net. Increasing job creation in the past has provided many opportunities.

Returning to the question on benchmarking, comparisons are made between the various grades in the public sector and the private sector. The private sector provides the market price for labour which can differ from occupation to occupation, depending on levels of productivity or labour intensity. The benchmarking process, while it may not be perfect as far as some are concerned, is a better system than its predecessor.

In the Taoiseach's reply on the pay agreement that has been concluded, I understood him to say that it is the Government's intention to honour the terms of the agreement. I would like the Taoiseach to pursue the logic of this. No money has been provided by the Government to honour the agreement's terms. On the contrary, as he has confirmed to the House, there is a requirement on Departments, State agencies and public bodies to effect a 3% cut in their payrolls. There is a pay pause in the public sector until September next year. How can the Government honour the terms of the pay agreement when it requires public bodies to effect a cut in payroll? Some public bodies may be able to achieve such a cut by reducing staff, through retirements they do not replace or letting contract staff go but I expect there will be public bodies not in that position. Are public bodies free to claim inability to pay if they cannot achieve a 3% of 4% cut in payroll in circumstances where they are required to honour the pay agreement?

One of the terms in the pay agreement that I found difficult to understand was the provision for the final phase of the pay increase in the public service. The final phase is for a month. A phase of a pay agreement for the duration of a month is highly unusual. Does it follow that a second pay pause is teed up in that agreement at the end of that month? I have never come across a pay agreement that allowed for a pay increase on the first of one month, with a subsequent pay agreement kicking in on the first of the following month. Is there a second pay pause effectively built into the concluded agreement?

I drew attention to the last benchmarking report for higher paid public servants in January. The report appears to be following the logic that higher paid public servants and chief executives of State bodies should be benchmarked against chief executives in the private sector. We are not comparing like with like. We have seen what developed in the wider private sector, where the pay of chief executives has gone way up. Some companies pay their chief executives in millions and pay their staff the minimum wage. That logic has never applied in the public sector. It caused concern that there appeared to be a tendency in the last benchmarking report to move in that direction.

It is important to point out that the benchmarking report did not take chief executive salaries of major publicly quoted companies, it took the lower quarter of a range of salaries as being a fair representation, as far as one can find equivalence in these matters, between the higher paid grades in the public sector and a comparison in the private sector that was appropriate. The benchmarking body was careful and did not bring into play the very high levels of remuneration in the private sector to which the Deputy referred. That should be said in favour of the body. It was a careful calibration of what the comparison should be. I refer to the level of responsibility that these grades provide.

There is nothing teed up in respect of the pay agreement. It is as it is, that is what was agreed and negotiated. It covers the 21-month period and sin é. There is no understanding beyond that. It will be a matter for negotiation in due course after we get this one through.

Given the context of the budgetary and fiscal challenge facing any Government in present circumstances in Ireland, with a public pay and pensions bill of €20 billion, no area of policy can be immune from having to make a contribution to trying to address the fiscal deficits that have emerged. During a previous Question Time, talking about this generally, this method we have adopted provides the maximum flexibility for Departments and agencies to effect these changes and, at the same time, meet their targets. By putting it across the full pay bill spectrum, there are many ways this can be achieved. Flexibility is accorded to bodies to achieve this in whatever way is appropriate to the circumstance, rather than simply the blunt instrument of a staff embargo from a specific date.

Regarding the question of inability to pay, I am not aware if the State has invoked an inability to pay clause, or if any agent of the State has done so.

Programme for Government.

Enda Kenny


3 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the agreed programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29486/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


4 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; if modifications have been made to the programme in view of changed economic circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29531/08]

Eamon Gilmore


5 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach when it is intended to publish the progress report on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29623/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together. The programme for Government between the parties in Government, and which enjoys the support of a number of Independent Members of Dáil Éireann, was agreed following last year's general election and sets a detailed agenda for Ireland's development to 2012. Much progress has already been achieved in fulfilling the commitments. Each Department has produced a statement on its progress in regard to implementing the programme for Government imminently. These statements were published on the Government website on Wednesday, 24 September.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the programme for Government, as agreed between his party, the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party, cannot be delivered given the changed circumstances? Do the elements of the programme agreed with the party previously known as the Progressive Democrats stand in view of the fact that as an entity it no long exists? What is the situation regarding this?

Can the Taoiseach provide an update on the €252 million in the programme for Government for IT for schools? Is that still in limbo or has it disappeared?

What is the position about the co-location of hospitals programme? It appears there are serious difficulties surrounding this agreement, an agreement I do not agree with. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on this?

The programme for Government was predicated on delivering growth rates of 4.5%, which are not in prospect for the immediate period ahead. Therefore, the important paragraph in any programme for Government must be invoked. This is that the primary consideration must be to deal with the budgetary situation and, in that context, priorities must be identified. That would be the case for anyone in Government at the present time. Priorities will be identified as we proceed during the course of this Administration out of the programme for government for implementation. One cannot implement a programme based on 4.5% growth annually if such growth does not materialise. The Deputy's specific questions on IT for schools should be tabled to the Minister for Education and Science.

The Progressive Democrats signed up to the programme for Government as published, therefore there is no separate arrangement for that party. I recently answered a question from Deputy Gilmore on co-location pointing out the state of play in respect of various projects under that initiative.

That is the first piece of realism from the Taoiseach, that the programme for Government as agreed and predicated on a 4.5% increase in growth, cannot now happen. In view of the fact that there will be another set of proposals today for public service reform, will the Government indicate it is not in position to deliver the programme as agreed because the growth rates are very different to what was predicted? Will the Government present its amended priorities? Can we take it that the Government will respond that it cannot implement all that was set out but will state what it can implement, namely a reduced agreed programme for Government based on what the Taoiseach thinks can be achieved next year and beyond?

The programme for Government stands. It is predicated on the assumptions I outlined. We have indicated they will have to prioritised in view of the fact the resources of the State are not what one would have expected.

With regard to priorities from year to year, I refer the Deputy to the departmental Estimates of the Ministers which set out the activity they envisage during the course of this year based on the allocations available to them. As a result of the reforms introduced in the budgetary process — I speak as a former Minister for Finance — they will also have annual output statements which indicate to them what they expect to get for the money that has been allocated and the outcomes at the end of the year. They are also answerable to the various committees as to whether certain targets were exceeded or certain expenditures not spent, and the reasons for that. We have in our budgetary reform process the means by which Members of the House can examine these issues with Ministers through the committee system based on the departmental Estimates they put forward.

Would the Taoiseach accept that the programme for Government no longer has any credibility? Two of the signatories to the programme for Government, Deputies Bertie Ahern and Trevor Sargent, are no longer the leaders of their respective parties, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, and the third signatory of the programme, Deputy Mary Harney, does not have a party. Does the Taoiseach accept that much of what is committed in the programme for Government is meaningless at this point, as has been repeatedly demonstrated since the programme was first announced, a programme that was never debated by the House at the time?

Is the Taoiseach aware that the programme commits the Government to extend entitlement to the medical card, not take it away as he has been doing in regard to the over 70s? Is he aware also that the programme commits the Government to indexing the income thresholds for qualification for medical cards to increases in the average industrial wage, doubling the income eligibility for parents of children under six years of age and trebling it for parents of children under 18 years of age with an intellectual disability? In the time since this Government of the 30th Dáil took office last year, have any serious attempts been made to deliver on those critical commitments? Does the Taoiseach accept that a revised programme for Government, reflective of the current position, is required and that honest and realisable expectations should be put before these Houses and the people?

I am dealing with all of these questions honestly, as I deal with all questions here in the House, and to the best of my ability and knowledge available to me.

The signatories to the programme for Government did not sign in an individual capacity. They did so on behalf of their parties for the duration of the term of this Government. The Deputy will find, if his party changes its leader, that he will be bound by the signatories of successors too. That is the way it works. It is an absurd argument to suggest that because parties change leaders, people retire or move on and they are replaced that in some sense agreements made are invalid. Such agreements were signed on behalf of the parties for the duration of the Administration. It is clear that is the case and I do not understand the purpose of the question other than to suggest that if anyone retires from politics there should be a general election.

On the point about the programme for Government, I refer the Deputy to the important paragraph in this and any other programme for Government worth the name, which confirms that trying to achieve overall budgetary balance must be a priority in the context of the delivery of any commitments in the programme. Commitments in any programme for Government are not free standing, regardless of the economic or budgetary circumstances. That was set out before, during and after the election.

The fact is that we are in a new economic climate where, despite the prospects on which we all fought an election, with all of us suggesting there will be nominal growth rates of approximately 7% per year, between actual growth and inflation. We put forward manifestos on that point. It was the one aspect on which we did agree. We might have had different commitments in the manifestos but at least we based them on the same growth rate assumptions. We are in a totally different position now and we must adapt to that.

It is only in trying to achieve budgetary balance, and there will be a budgetary equilibrium which will be a serious challenge in the course of this Administration, that one can contend to the public with any credibility the provision of sustainable public services at whatever level they can be achieved but we will not achieve them by proceeding with implementing commitments as if they were free standing, which they never were. The Deputy is portraying them as being free standing and then suggests they could be sustained for any period of time thereafter. Unless one had access to resources other than the Exchequer resources, one could not make that commitment.

I do not accept the Deputy's contention that there is any dishonesty. It is clearly the case that the programme for Government sets out the parameters within which all commitments are made and upon which any responsible Government can make them.

I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has indicated to the House that he believes the Government should, as indeed we all would, feel bound by the signatories of our predecessors or whomever for the time being was leader of our respective parties and that he feels duty bound in terms of the delivery of the commitments contained in the programme for Government because that was what his predecessor signed up to. The kernel of the question is whether the Taoiseach would accept that the programme for Government, as Deputies here have been pointing out to him — it must be as evident to him as to anyone else here — no longer reflects a set of deliverables that he and this Government can live up to and can meet the expectations that have been created in the public mind.

Is the Taoiseach aware, for instance, that under the housing section of the programme for Government there is a commitment to deliver 90,000 housing units to meet the needs of 90,000 household units in the period of this Government and that there is direct reference in the programme to taking up the slack arising from the expected and slight downturn or slowdown in overall housing completion? Does he accept that a slight slowdown is not what has happened since last year? What we have seen is the total collapse of the construction sector and mass unemployment arising therefrom.

The programme for Government no longer reflects the reality faced by countless people across the State. Does the Taoiseach recognise that the Government should be committed to a programme for Government that would seriously seek to address both the housing needs and essential infrastructural requirements would, as a joint exercise, help to inject recovery into the economy? Does he accept that we are talking——

There is little time remaining and there are three other Members offering.

The Taoiseach might accept the recommendation that looking seriously at delivering on commitments such as social housing and essential infrastructural projects can help both to arrest the decline in construction sector employment and help rejuvenate an economy in serious difficulty.

Significant funding is being made available in the social and public housing programme this coming year. Based on his experience and previous work as a local authority member, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is well au fait with the prospects for local authorities and others providing for that. This arises from a significant allocation; from memory it may be over €4 billion or €4.4 billion. That is a significant commitment.

Councils have no money.

To the greatest extent we can, this was one of the areas of the capital programme we sought to affect least because of the importance of housing for some of the reasons Deputy Ó Caoláin outlined. I am glad to know he is an advocate of the construction sector. He was an arch critic of it while I was Minister for Finance and I am glad he sees its importance now that it has had some difficulties.

The Taoiseach has a very confused memory. I am more concerned about how confused he will be in future.

I do not have a confused memory. The record will show these matters. It is great to see flexibility of thinking in Sinn Féin; it is a very important political development.

When the Taoiseach resorts to that sort of reply he clearly does not have the answers.

I have answered Deputy Ó Caoláin's question. I have obviously touched a tickle bone somewhere.

The Taoiseach should address the issues I have raised instead of taking swipes at Sinn Féin.

I have addressed the issues. If Deputy Ó Caoláin can give it he has to take it. It is called democracy.

The Taoiseach can keep that for the podium at next year's elections.

If one can give it one has to take it. It is part of the game. Deputy Ó Caoláin is getting there, in fairness to him. I have dealt with the housing issues. The national development plan allocation for 2009 is, in great measure, despite the budgetary difficulties, being proceeded with.

The country is full of houses at good value but there is no money to buy them.

If Deputy Ó Caoláin suggests there be provision for further investment in that area I remind him we are still budgeting for a 6.5% current budget deficit next year. We have provided in our capital programme for €8.2 billion of investment, a serious stimulus package towards economic activity from the Government. It is twice what it is in the EU and we note that the draft report from the Commission suggests an injection of 1% of GDP into the European economy. With our capital investment programme of approximately 5.5% next year we are already approximately 2.5% in excess of other countries. There is not as much room for manoeuvre as the Deputy suggests.

There are many empty houses out there.

The Taoiseach has made a very significant acknowledgement to the House this morning that while the programme for Government exists on paper, it no longer exists in reality because it was negotiated and agreed on the assumption that there would be a 4.5% growth rate, which is clearly not the case. Despite the commitments in the programme for Government to reduce tax and class sizes, they are being increased. It is an entirely different situation. The programme for Government is important in two respects. It tells the public what the Government intends to do in its planned four or five years in office. Programmes for Government also tend to be particularly important for the minority party in government. The programme for Government is the deal, the compromise parties make before they enter Government with each other. It is the contract between the parties.

When this programme for Government was being negotiated the Green Party took it very seriously because at one critical point the negotiations broke down. If the programme for Government no longer applies in reality, and that is the position no matter how it is spun, what is the understanding between the two parties about what this Government will do? Has the Taoiseach agreed with the Green Party some new programme for Government in these new times and, if so, will that programme for Government be published?

The Green Party is afraid to get out.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government that VAT on certain environmental goods and services will be reduced from 21% to 13.5%. The budget recently increased VAT to 21.5%. Does that commitment to reduce VAT on environmental goods and services still apply? Does the Government have any plans to reduce the VAT rate, particularly following this week's announcement by the British Government that VAT in the UK will be reduced?

The Minister for Finance has outlined the budgetary position and one of the issues that affects us more pertinently in respect of the last part of Deputy Gilmore's question is the weakness of sterling vis-à-vis the euro. This concern continues. The programme for Government runs over a five year period. I have indicated its parameters. Part of the programme for Government refers to the need to have a responsible overall budgetary position so we can try, on a sustainable basis, to implement any commitments in it. All those commitments are conditional on achieving that because without it, the commitments cannot be achieved. Everybody has signed up to that. That is a continual budgetary challenge for Government.

The aspects of departmental activity getting priority are available in the departmental Estimates available to all Members of the House. They can be debated on Committee Stage or in plenary debate here on any aspect of public policy. Under the budgetary reforms I introduced, output statements are required in which Ministers must indicate the outcomes of the expenditure as envisaged during the year, what was done, what was not done and the reasons for any delays etc. All that information is available and it indicates the priorities the Government is attending to in the context of the more difficult situation we face.

I do not understand how this Government works.

Its members do not care.

Normally in a coalition Government certain commitments in the programme for Government have a particular resonance for different parties in that Government. Let us say there is something in this programme for Government which the Green Party sought to have included in it. If the Green Party says it wants that commitment to go ahead because it is agreed in the programme for Government, will the dominant party's response be that everything is predicated on the preliminary, preliminary paragraph? I cannot understand how a minority party could operate in government in those circumstances.

Deputy Gilmore had better get used to it.

I just want to know.

Did the Deputies hear that? Deputy McCormack says Deputy Gilmore had better get used to it.

The Green Party will take anything.

It appears they will take anything. That is the point.

A Deputy

The Green Party had better get used to it.

If there is no functioning programme for Government, how does a minority party operate in Government?

It might join the dominant party.

A Deputy

It lies down and rolls over.

The implementation of the national spatial strategy and the delivery of Transport 21 were incorporated in the programme for Government. What is the position on major capital projects such as the continuation of the motorway from Kinnegad to Roosky and phase 2B of Longford-Westmeath General Hospital, where, in 2002, €57 million was ring-fenced for this project? What is the situation regarding the three cities for the midlands? That was part of the programme for Government.

In 2002 and 2007 we were promised 3,000 extra hospital beds. A total of 1,300 were delivered at a time of plenty when the country was not in trouble and the remainder were to be provided through co-located hospitals. We still await such hospitals and not a single bed has been delivered, yet the HSE has closed 500 beds this year and intends to close another 600 next year.

The Deputy should ask a question.

The Taoiseach and Deputy Ó Caoláin referred earlier to the construction industry. One man's slight downturn is another man's shuddering halt. What has the Taoiseach to say to those who will be left waiting for services as a result of these moves by the HSE? Why have the redundancies promised last year not been delivered? This was a new story yesterday whereas it is a year old. Susie Long had to wait seven months for a colonoscopy but the waiting time has increased to nine months while the number of patients on trolleys has increased by 50% this month compared with this month last year and the people of Navan will be unable to undergo orthopaedic operations for the rest of the year. Procedures are being cancelled all over the country, including in Cappagh and Waterford hospitals. How will the Government maintain services? As the Taoiseach said, the Government promised, under its previous leader, that there would not be cutbacks while the Minister for Health and Children said the cutbacks would not hurt patients. Yet we have this mess.

The cervical cancer vaccination programme for 12 year old girls was announced in August and cancelled in November. What discussions have been held? It is in the programme for government. When will it be implemented?

The Minister for Health and Children said she would revert to the matter as soon as the budgetary position allowed.

It is only €10 million.

Either the Deputy wants to hear the answer or she wants to give me the answer. The requirement of a national screening programme is an absolute prerequisite for the implementation of any other aspect of that programme. That is being proceeded with and additional money is being provided for that in the coming year.

With regard to Deputy Gilmore's question, the programme for Government must abide by the financial and budgetary realities. This is an agreed programme and we are working well as a Government working out all the priorities of various Departments. The Green Party is achieving many of its objectives in Government in respect of environmental matters and energy policy.

Deputy Gilmore should know if he is ever to be in Government again that every Government should have a basic cohesion about it. It is not about saying, "We have certain demands and what are you going to give us for them?" It is about everyone working together to achieve priorities within Government based on the budgetary situation. That leads to a much better outcome than the making of demands all the time suggesting Deputy Gilmore's party's commitments are more precious than Deputy Kenny's, if that were ever to be the case.

That is a cosy little arrangement.

It is highly technical.

It is a temporary little arrangement.

It is not a question of being a cosy arrangement, it is a question of being part of how a Government operates and how it intends to discharge its responsibilities in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

It is hard to give a coherent answer to Deputy Reilly because his finance spokesman said we should have cut €5 billion more in our budgetary strategy.

The Government is cutting front line services, including home help.

Make savings on waste not on the backs of patients.

He said taxes should not be increased, which amounts to €2.3 billion and the budget deficit should be reduced from 6.5% to 5.5%, which amounts to another €2 billion. We would, therefore, need €4.3 billion. Fine Gael claim that saving can be made on by eliminating waste. Public services refer to nurses, teachers, psychologists——

And administrators. What about people lying on trolleys and waiting for colonoscopies?

——and the need for supports for medics and paramedics to be able to do their jobs to have an effective hospital system and provide a transparent and accountable system.

There is no transparency. That is the problem.

The Fine Gael proposal is that we can provide for €5 billion more in savings and expenditure cuts while, at the same time, every saving identified by the Administration is criticised, but such saving only adds to that party's budgetary gap.

The cuts are being imposed on patients, not administrators.

That says more about Fine Gael's lack of credibility than it does about ours.