Priority Questions.

National Minimum Wage.

Leo Varadkar


46 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on whether the minimum wage should be increased, reduced or maintained at the same level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7745/09]

I understand that in November 2008, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions asked the Labour Court to review the national minimum wage and to make a recommendation on its adjustment to me. The court subsequently invited submissions on the issue. Various submissions were received from IBEC, ICTU, the Department of Finance and other interested parties. The Labour Court held discussions with these parties. I understand the matter is being considered by the court. If the court is satisfied that general agreement on an appropriate minimum wage has been reached by the various parties, it will recommend that rate to me. If general agreement is not reached following the consultations, however, the Labour Court can make a recommendation to me anyway. In doing so, the Labour Court would need to have regard to the movement of earnings of employees, the relevant exchange rate movement and the likely impact on employment, unemployment, inflation and national competitiveness. When I consider any Labour Court recommendation on the minimum wage, I am required under the relevant legislation to take into account the impact the proposed rate might have on employment, the overall economic conditions in the State and national competitiveness. The key consideration is to ensure the national minimum wage is set at an appropriate rate. It would be inappropriate for me to comment or express views on the level of the minimum wage in advance of the Labour Court recommendation.

I am asking this question at a time of rising unemployment. As the Minister of State knows, between 600 and 700 jobs are being lost in this country every day. More than 150,000 people have lost their jobs since the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, became Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is reasonably estimated that at least 500,000 people will be on the dole by the end of the year. I believe employers and employees need certainty. In recent weeks, the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs has suggested that the minimum wage might be reduced. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for an increase of up to €1 in the minimum wage. We need clear direction and certainty from the Government. Employees need to know that the minimum wage, which is extremely low, will not be cut. Employers need to have certainty about their labour costs for the next two or three years. It is important, regardless of the Labour Court's recommendations, for Ministers to clearly state that the minimum wage will neither increase nor decrease over the next two years. That would give employees and employers the certainty they need, regardless of the recommendation that is made.

I thank the Deputy. I did not suggest that the minimum wage should be increased or decreased. I pointed out that I am obliged under the relevant Act to consider any recommendation that is made to me by the Labour Court. When the Labour Court is adjudicating on this matter, it is obliged to seek submissions and to take into account issues such as employment, unemployment, inflation and national competitiveness. When it decides on a rate and makes it known to me, as the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs of the day, I will have to make a decision within three months on whether to accept, reject or amend it. Statutory provision has been made. I do not think we should override the legislation that was passed by this House. When the Labour Court makes known its findings to me, I will have three months to make known my decision to the public.

I understand that.

I accept that certainty is required by employees, employers and everybody else involved in the broader economy.

We need to get real. If the Labour Court follows the terms of the Act by taking into account issues like employment and competitiveness, the only conclusion it will be possible for the court to reach will be to recommend a major reduction in the minimum wage. We have been losing jobs by the second since our competitiveness fell off a cliff. That is where the economy is. If the Labour Court is faithful to the legislation in this area, the only proposal it will be possible for the court to make will be a savage cut in the minimum wage. That would be wrong and most inappropriate. We need the Government to govern, rather than to outsource its power to agencies, courts, bodies and the social partners. It should clarify its policy on the minimum wage. I suggest that its policy should be to provide for no increase or decrease in the minimum wage for at least two years.

The Labour Court must take many issues into account, including the earnings of employees as well, so the argument is not one-sided.

Then we are back to deflation.

Allow the Minister of State to finish.

I am simply making the point that the Labour Court will make its adjudications. It consists of wise counsel and is well represented and reflective of the broader society out there. When the court makes the determination, we will make an adjudication on that. Until such time as it does this, I will not give my personal opinion because that would undermine the court's decisions.

Live Register.

Willie Penrose


47 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in view of the fact that the numbers on the live register have increased by more than 120,000 in a little more than 12 months, that there are more people on the live register than ever before and the daily announcements of job losses, she will declare a jobs emergency; the steps she is taking to stem the number of job losses, to provide new training opportunities for those who have lost their jobs and to encourage the creation of new employment opportunities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7289/09]

The total number of people on the live register for January 2009 is 327,861, which is an increase of 146,412 since January 2008. The live register is not designed to measure unemployment, as it includes part time, seasonal and casual workers entitled to unemployment benefit. Employment and unemployment are measured by the quarterly national household survey and published by the Central Statistics Office. In the third quarter of 2008, which is the most recent quarter for which data is available, employment decreased by 25,200 over 12 months to a current total of 2,120,800. Unemployment increased by 53,300 in the same period to 160,000. The CSO is releasing fourth quarter results of the quarterly national household survey next Friday, 27 February.

The rise in unemployment is particularly unwelcome and is a sign of the difficult times that global economies are facing. The Government is determined to do all in its power to support the rising number of people who have lost their jobs. My Department, FÁS and the Department of Social and Family Affairs are working together to respond quickly and effectively to the rising live register numbers. FÁS employment services and FÁS local employment services are putting in place measures designed to provide increased capacity for the rise in referrals from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, and the increased number of unemployed seeking job search assistance voluntarily. The implementation of these measures has increased the capacity of job search services from 6,500 to 12,250 persons per month.

To assist individuals through the provision of education and training opportunities, I recently announced the availability of 51,000 new training places under the FÁS training initiatives strategy. These places are in addition to the 27,000 places that were previously planned for 2009, under the bridging foundation training, specific skills training and traineeships programmes. They are specifically tailored for individuals who wish to add to their existing skills level and improve their prospects of re-entering the labour market.

In response to the significant downturn in construction related activity since the beginning of 2008, FÁS has established a training fund to enable redundant workers to provide a timely response to identified training and re-training needs for low skilled and redundant craft workers from the construction sector. This will enable individuals to secure a speedy return to work. Where this cannot be secured, it will provide relevant upskilling opportunities so that job seekers can secure employment in alternative sectors. FÁS is also focusing on providing retraining opportunities for redundant construction workers. These include redundant apprentices being allowed to move on to their next off-the-job phase of training without having to do the next on-the-job phase.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

A register of redundant apprentices has been established by FÁS and the institutes of technology to identify these people at the earliest possible stage and FÁS has prioritised the need to locate employers to sponsor the completion of the apprentices' off-the-job training. These measures will operate in parallel with the FÁS employer-based redundant apprentice rotation scheme, which aims to provide up to 500 redundant apprentices with on-the-job training with certain approved employers on a rotation basis during 2009.

The Government intends to achieve greater capacity within existing resources to meet the ongoing challenges in the labour market. In this context, we will bring forward further measures to make training and education services available to a greater number of unemployed persons over the coming weeks and months to ensure timely and comprehensive access to the full range of services provided by FÁS.

The Government's focus will also be very much on supporting and promoting enterprise development to create new jobs. The enterprise development agencies of my Department, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, are working to ensure that we continue to grow the economy and create jobs, even in the current challenging climate. The pipeline of new business for which IDA Ireland is competing is as strong as at any time in recent years. To continue to facilitate this we need to ensure that our competitiveness is sustained into the future.

Unemployment is rising at the rate of 1,500 per day. Two thirds of those unemployed are men and 25% of them are under the age of 25. Unpaid redundancies are costing the Government €50 million per year. The estimated cost to the State for each unemployed person is around €20,000, when social welfare contributions and taxes forgone to the State are taken into account. I estimate that the total cost of 400,000 unemployed people is €8 billion per year, but if Deputy Varadkar's figures are right, then it will cost €10 billion per year. That is a huge amount of resources.

Can these resources be invested in educating and upskilling the potential workforce? The key recommendation of the national skills strategy group, which reported in 2007, was that the education sector is the major vehicle for the necessary upskilling which is required. We told the Minister about the redundancies last year, yet she just threw up her hands. Why was that redundancy package not put in place last year? There is no use sticking one's finger in the dyke, when the water is cascading in and about to drown us all.

Why are the 51,000 people all attending FÁS? Why should they not be placed with VECs, which could provide another opportunity for retraining. FETAC, PLCs and institutes of technology provide a wide range of courses that allow for upskilling and retraining. They can focus on the design and delivery of courses in sustainable energy and green technology techniques. Why are the redundant apprentices all attending FÁS?

A headline in one today's newspapers states that the education cuts will cost at least 9,000 school leavers and jobless people a place on a further education course from next September. There are many jobs being lost at 33 VECs. Is there any joined up thinking taking place at all?

Is the Minister going to do anything for indigenous industry? Are we afraid of bringing in employment grants to help to get people back to work? Is the back-to-work allowance scheme going to be expanded? Will the VTOS be expanded? Is the back-to-education allowance still curtailed by the imposition of stupid limits? The Minister should get rid of all the eligibility criteria and get the people moving. We are in a new situation that requires drastic solutions, not the same solutions dressed up in a new bottle.

I can only answer questions that are relevant to my Department. FÁS is the agency that provides the training opportunities for my Department.

Is that not the problem? Why does the Government not integrate them? On a point of order, what is the role of the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey? There is taxpayers' money involved here.

I ask the Deputy to take his seat.

Deputy Haughey is Minister of State in the Department of Education and Science, which has responsibility for VECs, PLCs, FETAC and so on.

I am sure that would be an excellent question.

There are 300,000 people unemployed and I am here to ask questions for them.

The Deputy has asked a long series of questions, and the Tánaiste must be afforded the chance to respond.

The Deputy is as sincere as everybody else in the House about this issue, and I would like to tell him that we have a co-ordinated approach and we work within all the Departments that are relevant to training and upskilling. The Minister of State is involved in the co-ordination of the skills programme and the reorientation of the skills needs of workers. That is only a part of all that is happening. We have provided a facility for 2,200 redundant young people to allow them to fulfil their opportunities from an educational perspective. We are working with the Minister for Education and Science and with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to provide new initiatives in the back to education scheme and the back to work scheme. There is a co-ordinated approach in dealing with these issues. We have short, medium and long-term resolutions to these problems.

We are also working on the task of sustaining people in employment by supporting industry. The methods as to how that can be done are being pursued with industry to ensure that the greatest outcomes will be afforded to people. We cannot have a situation where we have training for training's sake. It must be linked to where new opportunities will arise. On that basis, the skills strategy is being re-orientated to deal with the immediacy of what is happening. That is what we are doing with the convergence and the transferability of skills from people with existing skills and from others. We are working towards other programmes for graduates and others with different skill types. These are not necessarily the focus of FÁS.

As a member of the Government, the Tánaiste is responsible for the provision of credit. I know a person in south Westmeath who started a business from scratch, and who now employs eight people. The person changed the business from that of a sole trader to a limited company on 1 February, and sought €3,000 for an overdraft, something that already existed when the business was that of a sole trader. The bank refused the company the overdraft, even though the taxpayers are putting money into that same bank. The company had invested €200,000 of its own money and was investing a further €50,000 of profits into a development project, which would employ up to 20 people.

I wrote to Mr. Brian Goggin, the chief executive of Bank of Ireland. He must have known I was coming back to the House today. I e-mailed him on the 13 February and received a reply.

The Deputy may not go into such specifics.

Specifics? It is our money. That is specific. He replied and said he would investigate. Some €3,000 could provide the opportunity for 20 jobs. The Minister should haul those boys in and tell them it is our money. We want it given out to those people to create those jobs. An additional 12 more jobs in rural Ireland is like 1,200 in a large urban area.

I have had an opportunity to meet with all State agencies, including Údarás na Gaeltachta, which is part of a working group that took place last week between us and the banks where we examined new opportunities for investment. We also examined the issues the Deputy raised which are pertinent to all of us in business. We expressly said if we are to sustain employment and create new opportunities, we must allow those entrepreneurs to continue in that capacity. We are also examining how guidance for smaller companies through the county enterprise boards in providing new opportunities, such as refundable loans, would allow a little more traction for such companies. The Minister of State is dealing with this.

It is a matter of concern that some of the banks do not have a business acumen. On that basis my agency, Enterprise Ireland, will make available people with business expertise in a new initiative with the banks to allow them the opportunity to have a greater acumen and support business, which is a most important initiative on which we have embarked. Deputy Penrose may rest assured that is being followed through.

That is good to hear.

Job Protection.

Deirdre Clune


48 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps she has taken be satisfied that employment in the pharmaceutical industry is secure; if she has met with representatives in the industry in the past six months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7746/09]

It will give the Minister a chance to recover.

Pharmaceutical exports from Ireland are valued at €34 billion annually, achieved by 80 companies employing 20,000 people. The pharma and biopharma sectors are extremely important for Ireland and have experienced significant growth in recent years. The outlook for Ireland in terms of development and manufacturing is that in spite of intense competition, we will still secure investment in both the small molecule or pharma area and also in the large molecule or biopharma sector. Ireland has a long history in the sector and eight of the top ten major pharmaceutical companies now have a major presence here.

Much of IDA Ireland's engagement with the companies is around securing additional investment and business functions from the established client base. With over 40 years of investment in Ireland, the operating environment is recognised as world class, with excellent infrastructure and specialist services and a regulatory record that is second to none. IDA Ireland is continuing to win development projects from the pharma sector.

The single most effective strategy of securing the future of manufacturing at the Irish sites is giving the Irish companies a role in new product development. Major investment projects currently under way include Merck in Carlow, Teva in Waterford, Eli Lilly in Kinsale, Genzyme in Waterford, Gilead Sciences in Cork and Hovione in Cork. These projects, which are mainly at an advanced construction stage, will lead to the creation of 800 jobs and involve substantial capital investment of over €800 million.

The key objectives of Enterprise Ireland's three-year strategy for the development of this sector are to accelerate indigenous export growth by €175 million; build a platform for longer-term growth in the sector; build client innovation capability; and drive improved leadership and management competencies. These are all positive developments. However, in international markets the traditional pharma sector has been experiencing somewhat slower growth. This is due to a combination of factors including patent expiries, a decline in product pipelines, increased costs of clinical and pre-clinical research, pressure on pharmaceutical prices, increased costs of marketing and sales and greater intensity of competition. There has been a decline in research and development productivity and generic drugs have been achieving greater market share. Given these developments, it is more important than ever to concentrate in Ireland on building the infrastructure to support a healthy, vibrant pharmaceutical industry, an industry firmly rooted in the sciences.

The Government has strongly committed to this. Over the last decade or so we have put in place the programme for research in third level institutions which focused on building world class research facilities and capability under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Science Foundation Ireland was established to attract world-class researchers to Ireland and promote world-class research activity, focusing mainly on life sciences and ICT. With these foundations in place, the Government is committed to further developing the sector. We have a clear vision in place, which is being carried out through the implementation of our national strategy for science, technology and innovation for 2006 to 2013.

With regard to dialogue with the sector, the Tánaiste and her Ministers frequently meet individual companies from the whole range of sectors. For example, on a recent IDA Ireland investment promotion mission in the US last November, the Tánaiste met a range of companies including four from the pharmaceutical sector.

On the question of manufacturing, the 2008 report of the high level group on manufacturing identified the actions to be taken by all stakeholders to respond to challenges and take advantage of opportunities to further develop the sector in Ireland. The report sets out a number of recommendations directed at innovation, productivity leading to transformational change and reskilling and management development. It also identifies a need to increase awareness and take-up of existing supports. In the recent review of Towards 2016, the social partners agreed that a manufacturing forum should be established to monitor and ensure the implementation of the report's recommendations. The members of the forum are now being appointed.

I asked a question on the security of existing employment in the pharmaceutical industry and the Minister of State referred to the additional investment o which IDA Ireland is focused. I would like if the Minister of State could answer me on two issues that have come into the media recently. These are GlaxoSmithKline, GSK, which is reported to plan to cut back 6,000 to 10,000 jobs internationally. What steps has the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment taken to address that or to contact GSK to see if any jobs in this country will be affected? Pfizer and Wyeth employ 5,500 people in this country and Lipitor, one of the drugs that Pfizer manufactures in Cork, will go off the market in 2011. What steps has the Department taken in those two areas to ensure there will be no job losses in those areas in this country?

The Tánaiste has met with GSK and there may be new opportunities available there. The takeover of Wyeth by Pfizer is undergoing due diligence in the international arena. US and EU competition law must be examined. It is believed that it will proceed around September or October and the IDA estimates there will not be any great implications for this country but we must wait and see what happens.

What about Lipitor, the drug that will go off patent in 2011? What steps is the Department taking to address that? This is coming down the tracks. We do not want another Dell situation where the change is well signalled in advance, yet we are fumbling when the job announcement happens. There are serious questions around these companies and people working in them are concerned about their futures. They want to see that the Government is proactive in addressing potential job losses.

One of the reasons Pfizer purchased Wyeth was to get the intellectual property on that drug. When a product goes off licence many proprietary drug companies manufacture it as a generic.

Work Permits.

Denis Naughten


49 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her plans to review the work permit system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7747/09]

Since 2004, Irish labour market policy has been to ensure that general labour and skills needs are met from within the workforce of the European Union. For strategic skills or labour shortages in designated occupations in key economic sectors, Government policy is to issue employment permits for the employment of non-EEA nationals for specific vacancies and in response to employer demand. The various schemes that give effect to such policies — green cards, work permits, spousal and dependant work permits and permits for intra-company transferees — were introduced under the Employment Permits Act 2006 and came into effect on 1 February 2007.

The green card scheme replaced the previous work visa or work authorisation scheme and is available for occupations where there are strategically important high-level skills shortages. A green card can be issued for an extensive list of occupations with annual salaries of €60,000 and above, and for a specified list of high skilled occupations with salaries between €30,000 and €60,000. No labour market test is required for the green card applications. Green cards are issued for two years initially and will normally lead to the granting of permanent or long-term residence after that.

The work permit scheme is mainly for non-green card occupations in the €30,000 to €60,000 annual salary range. A work permit may be granted only in exceptional circumstances for occupations with salaries below €30,000. There are also a number of categories of employment for which work permits will not to be considered, as vacancies for such positions can be filled from within the EEA. Work permits are the subject of a labour market needs test and are granted initially for a period of two years, and then for a further period of up to three years.

Currently employment permit holders constitute approximately 1.5% of the total labour force. Given that our current employment permit arrangements were designed to be vacancy-driven, the numbers of permit applications and consequent numbers of permits issued over the last six months have been showing a consistent downward trend. Our employment permit arrangements are being reviewed to ensure their ongoing relevance to the needs of the Irish labour market.

Why have the work permit and green card schemes not been reviewed since 2006? Although we have had a dramatic shift in economic circumstances we are only now reviewing the conditions for those schemes. While I accept that the number of work permits issued over the last seven months has decreased — a figure of 1,100 is significantly down on the previous period — the issue is not only the figures but of perception. The Government needs to be seen to be on top of the issue. Is there any plan to introduce a labour market test for the green card? Have any discussions taken place with the Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy, Deputy Conor Lenihan?

The schemes are reviewed every six months. There is a constant change in the context of the labour market and that change is reflected in the review.

The statistics, both here and across Europe, indicate that the numbers coming in to seek employment are reducing quite rapidly. There is a need for us to adjust accordingly and as that change takes place, depending on the area about which we speak, the adjustment is made in terms of policy and what we are doing. Currently, a review is being undertaken.

Is it the case that the fees established for employment permits have not been reviewed since January 2007? While employment permit holders make up 1.5% of the labour force, they make up 3% on the live register, or 10,000 people, resulting in a loss to the economy on an annual basis of approximately €200 million. Would it not make sense to waive the fee for migrants who are resident here and who are in receipt of employment permits as this would remove the barrier for such migrants who are legally entitled to PRSI-based social welfare payments and give them the opportunity to take up a job for the period up to the expiry of their work permits? At present, they do not have the opportunity to avail of that because employers will not pay the fees and in the vast majority of cases the migrants do not have the resources to pay those fees.

The fees issue is under review and out for consultation at present. The comments made by the Deputy can be taken into consideration in the context of that review.

Why has the Minister of State not had this reviewed until now? He is reviewing it every six months. Why was action not taken in that regard? It is a barrier to taking people off the live register and it does not make sense.

Deputy Naughten has just answered his own question. It is being reviewed and he just acknowledged it is being reviewed.

When will the review be completed?

Deputy Naughten asked one question and answered it. He answered his own question——

When will it be completed?

——and acknowledged that, in fact, it is being reviewed.

Allow the Minister of State to conclude.

The fees have not been reviewed since January 2007.

On the fees, consultation is taking place and comments made by Deputy Naughten can be taken into consideration in terms of that consultation.

Ceist Uimh. 50 in ainm an Teachta Damien English.

There is always a report waiting for a decision.

Better that than waffling from the Deputy's side of the House.

We note what the Deputy had to say. It is a different view from that which has been expressed by others but all of this must be considered in the context of bringing the matter to finality in a month's time.

I called Question No. 50.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Damien English


50 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on initiating a national jobs activation scheme; if she has had communications with FÁS on this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7748/09]

The Government is determined to do all in its power to tackle the rise in numbers of people——

I thank the Tánaiste.

——Deputy Naughten is good at writing to me about them too — finding themselves without work or with reduced working weeks. Our approach to tackling the issue is multi-layered and centres on restoring our public finances, protecting employment across the economy, retraining those without work, and attracting new investment and jobs to our shores.

As regards strengthening our jobsearch supports, at my request, FÁS's employment services together with local employment services is putting in place measures designed to provide increased capacity in jobsearch supports for the increased number of unemployed. The implementation of these measures will increase capacity from 6,500 per month to at least 12,250 per month.

The Government is also working to significantly improve access for unemployed persons to maximise opportunities for upskilling and reskilling so that people will be better placed to avail of new job opportunities when they become available. A number of programmes are already in place and it is intended to expand greatly the frequency and range of these programmes over the coming months.

I recently announced the availability of 51,000 new training places under the FÁS training initiatives strategy, which brings to 78,000 the total short training course places under the bridging foundation training, specific skills training and traineeships programmes.

The training initiative strategy enhances the traditional mix of course offerings and will be delivered through three core training initiatives, short courses, night courses and on-line courses. The courses are for highly employable persons who wish to add to their existing skills level and improve their prospects of re-entering the labour market.

In addition, FÁS is responding to the major increase in the numbers of people within the construction sector who have found themselves out of work and the increase in the number of apprentices being made redundant.

We have established a training fund to provide a timely response to identified training and re-training needs for low-skilled and redundant craft workers from the construction sector. FÁS is also focusing on providing retraining opportunities for redundant construction workers in emerging areas such as the installation of energy efficient and renewable technologies, environmental activity, and compliance and regulatory work.

On redundant apprentices, my Department and FÁS have put in place a series of actions to facilitate more than 2,200 apprentices to complete their studies. These include apprentices being allowed to progress to their next off-the-job phase of training without having to do the next on-the-job phase. A register of redundant apprentices has been established by FÁS and the institutes of technology in order to identify these people at the earliest possible point and we have prioritised the need to locate an employer to sponsor the completion of the apprentices' off-the-job training.

Last year I announced the launch of FÁS employer-based redundant apprentice rotation scheme, which operates this year and aims to provide up to 500 redundant apprentices with on-the-job training with certain approved employers on a rotation basis.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Further help for those who have become distanced from the labour market for some time and who are seeking to re-enter is provided by the community employment, CE, scheme. CE is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a fixed-term basis.

While a significant amount of work has been done in a short space of time, the Government is intent on achieving greater capacity within existing resources. In this context we will bring forward further measures to make training and education services available to a greater number of unemployed persons over the coming weeks and months.

In addition to the activation measures that I have set out today, this Government's focus will also be very much on supporting the growth of Irish companies with the ambition, leadership and innovation to succeed in creating and sustaining employment.

With respect, I will repeat the question. What are the Tánaiste's views on labour activation schemes? Is she for or against the concept? I have asked this repeatedly over the past eight or nine months. I acknowledge all the training initiatives and that the Tánaiste is making improvements in that regard, but what are her views on Government organised labour activation schemes?

I note her own reports in the newspaper today about what might be announced at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, that is, letting people keep their benefits on going back to work. That is one idea of a scheme, but is she against the concept of Government organised labour activation schemes which would get people out there working on much needed projects such as school buildings, parks, walkways, train stations, bus stations and council housing stock? All such work could be done through Government activation schemes, either using the local authority or whatever. Is the Tánaiste against that concept, yes or no? I have been asking for a long time. I think it is a good concept. I have not received any reaction from the Government on that.

The Tánaiste visited SR Technics on Thursday last. Can she enlighten us any further? Is there any chance another company would be willing to buy it out? First, is SR Technics willing to sell to anybody? In addition, is there any way that the Government——

The Deputy should ask a specific question.

It is a specific question.

The Deputy should a specific question on the matter.

The Tánaiste was aware I would raise this.

Get the Tánaiste to answer it.

Can I get the question out? On reports that the Tánaiste will introduce a subsidy scheme to keep employees at work, would such a scheme be made available to SR Technics to keep some of the staff working? The company claims it is 20% more costly to do its work here and that cannot be passed on to the market. Can the Government step in to help the company with its costs along the lines of the scheme she was talking about in the newspaper?

First, I did not say anything to the newspapers. Anything I have to do will be in confines of the Cabinet sub-committee.

Sorry, I meant reported in the newspaper. The Tánaiste knows what I mean.

The Tánaiste without interruption.

Everything we are doing is activation. It is about getting people back into work and retraining. How that is done must be multifaceted because the people who are unemployed are coming from all types of skill bases and account must be taken of what will suit somebody with a particular skill less than FETAC 5, and over and above.

The Tánaiste knows the question.

We are providing a complementary number of initiatives, for example, internships and graduate placement, an activation measure which can be Government sponsored or otherwise.

We also have our community employment schemes. The Minister of State and I have been evaluating whether that can be expanded, one way or the other, and how that can be done, with the premise that it is an activation measure as opposed to an employment measure.

We are aware of the issues appertaining to schemes like this. The focus is specifically not on the issue which, unfortunately, can be entangled in a work fair type of idea. That is not necessarily where we are going. We are looking at training, re-training, internship and those types of opportunities for people with an array of skills.

There are situations whereby my Department's State agencies do not provide new retraining. There are institutes of technology, universities, PLCs, and VTOS. There will be a suite of measures in place which will be client focused.

The question on SR Technics was out of order but I will refer to it anyway. I met with the unions. I indicated that IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland who have brought in expertise in aviation are in a position to facilitate any company.

I have spoken to the CEO of the company just before I came into the House. I indicated to him that there are a number of people who have expressed an interest in the company. He is aware of that and he has stated, although timing is of the essence, that he and the company would have no difficulty in working with the State agencies to facilitate any opportunity to sustain employment in the north Dublin area.

The Tánaiste stated she would look at the expansion of the CE schemes. When will we have a review?

No, I referred to the framework.

Perhaps the Tánaiste will let us know when that will happen. Is she ruling out getting involved in providing work through these schemes? Is that out of the question? I just want to know so that I will stop asking. Is it "yes" or "no"? If the Tánaiste decides at the Ard-Fheis to allow people to go back to work while keeping their dole payment, will any such scheme also be open to local authorities that are currently letting staff go? Will they be able to re-employ staff topping up their dole payment?

We are not saying we are expanding community employment schemes, we are looking at the framework set down in such schemes. I am also saying that we only have specific funding and we must re-orientate it, as I am doing in my budget through FÁS, while other colleagues are doing likewise.

When will the Tánaiste make a decision?

All of these initiatives are being considered because we have such a huge issue before us where we must support those in work as well as getting people back to work and training. There are children in school taking the leaving certificate and we must ensure there is a framework in place for them. It is an all-encompassing method by which we are reacting to the needs of the people.

When will the Tánaiste make a decision?

Any and all ideas are being taken into consideration. New measures have been introduced, as I have outlined, and further measures are being worked on. There will be a balance between enterprise measures and activation measures to allow us to deal with the issue.