Ceisteanna — Questions

EU Summits

Gerry Adams

Question:

1 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken directly to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy since he came to office; and whether they have discussed the issue of the EU-IMF bailout. [16162/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he intends to engage directly with French President in the weeks or months ahead. [16278/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his contact with the French President Nicolas Sarkozy since 9 March 2011; the telephone calls he has had with the French President; if he has had any direct meetings with him and if he has any plans to have any telephone calls or direct meetings with the French President in the next few months. [16294/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

4 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the forthcoming meeting of the European Council. [16605/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

5 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of the Government’s request for a rate cut on the interest of the EU-IMF bailout at the forthcoming European Council meeting. [16606/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

As I will make a statement to the House following parliamentary questions, I will confine myself to a few brief remarks. The proposed agenda for this week's European Council meeting is a wide-ranging one covering economic issues, migration, asylum and international questions. In the area of economic policy, the meeting marks the conclusion of the first European semester and will include endorsing country-specific recommendations on foot of recent proposals made by the Commission. This is in light of the commitments made by member states in their national reform and stability and convergence programmes. The Council will also take stock of progress on all other strands of the comprehensive economic package it adopted in March.

There will be a review of progress in implementing asylum and migration policies and issues raised by recent developments in the southern Mediterranean. There will also be a review of progress in negotiations on Croatia's accession to the European Union. The Council is expected to note the outcome of work on the inclusion of the Roma population in the EU and on the launch of a strategy for the Danube region. The Council will also be called on to decide on the appointment of a new President of the European Central Bank.

I have not spoken by telephone with President Sarkozy. However, I met him at the European Council meetings in Brussels on 11 and 24-25 March. There has also been regular contact between our Administrations at official and diplomatic levels. I expect to see President Sarkozy again this week. Arrangements beyond that have not been finalised.

The principle of an interest rate reduction has already been agreed in respect of EU funds being drawn down under our EU-IMF programme of financial support. Work on this issue by finance Ministers is under way and I remain hopeful of a satisfactory outcome. Our position is that the interest rate should be priced to support recovery and to facilitate a return to markets. We will continue to take every appropriate opportunity to press this case.

I will address these questions in a thematic way. There are two issues, the first of which is the way the Taoiseach responds to questions. I asked direct questions — Nos. 4 and 5 — about the Taoiseach's priorities and whether he would raise the issue of the cut in the bailout's interest rate at the forthcoming Council meeting, but he did not answer either. There is a difficulty with how we do our business. Second, the manner in which the Government is dealing with the EU is a debacle. It is a bit like the emperor having no clothes — depending on which Minister is speaking, it will be on, it will not be on, we are going to burn bondholders, we are not going to burn bondholders. All the while, the unsustainability of our large debt is being ignored.

Promises are being continually broken. For example, it was promised that not one red cent would be given to the banks, but they were then given €24 billion. That is €13,000 from every worker. Remember the universal social charge and the public service issues we discussed, in particular the health service. The Labour Party should be ashamed of its involvement in these measures.

Will the Taoiseach reflect on my genuine point about how we conduct our business? Is the Government committed to burning the senior bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, as the finance Ministers promised recently? Will the Taoiseach tell our European partners that we will no longer take orders from Frankfurt and that we will not sell off our State assets or impoverish our citizens from this point forward? This debt is unsustainable.

The programme for Government is designed to implement a series of measures that will restore Ireland's good fortune and restore the opportunity for people to have prosperous lives, careers and work opportunities. This requires dealing with a range of problems — the banks, unemployment and job creation initiatives — as well as the central question of closing our budget deficit in Ireland, which is part of the reason for a comprehensive spending analysis and review. That is our business and that is what we have to deal with. As a Government, that is where we are focused.

In respect of the European Council, the Deputy is aware that, under the Treaty of Lisbon, the President of the Council — in this case, President Van Rompuy — is the person who determines the preparation of the agenda for the continuity of the work of the Council. He does that in co-operation with the President of the Commission and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Committee. No less than four weeks ahead of a regular meeting, the President submits a draft agenda to the General Affairs Council in close co-operation with the member state holding the Presidency and with the President of the Commission.

I have responded to questions here before. I expect not only to attend the meeting, but to participate in an inclusive fashion in the discussions that take place about the situation, as we see it, in so far as Europe is concerned and the challenges that Europe faces.

Deputy Adams is aware that, in the programme for Government, we are committed to realising €2 billion in respect of the sale of non-strategic assets at the appropriate time and under appropriate conditions. He is also aware of the list of potential assets submitted by Mr. Colm McCarthy, who made a series of recommendations, but the Government will, in due course over its lifetime, decide which non-strategic assets should be sold, in what conditions and in what respect. There is no intention of impoverishing anyone. What is involved is rectifying the trouble our country is in economically. This is an economic challenge and the support and contribution of everyone will be required to meet it. That is what we will do.

On Thursday and Friday, I will participate in the discussions that take place at the European Council meeting. I expect to meet all of my colleagues there during the course of the two-day summit. As appropriate, I will raise the issues in respect of Europe and in respect of Ireland, as I see fit at the meeting. Obviously, the big issue is consideration of issues arising from the vote of the Greek Parliament to set out on a road of serious austerity measures. In so far as Ireland is concerned, we are in a programme, we are meeting its demands and conditions, challenging though they are, and we are heading in the right direction. Our job and the Deputy's job is to point out initiatives that can take place that help our indigenous economy, restore confidence and get our people back to work. The Government will make its decisions in due course for debate in the House about how we close our budget deficit. The decisions made must be based on priority, maintaining services and doing more with less.

I do not understand the strategy. The Taoiseach has heard me say so previously and I have tried to appreciate what the strategy does, but I can predict what he will say at the Council meeting. He always starts off his remarks by committing the Government entirely to the bailout. Why on earth would the Council take him seriously when he is telling it that the Government is committed to doing what the Council wants us to do? Every day of the week, we can see the social consequences of this commitment in our constituencies. I ask the Taoiseach to take on board the hard reality learned a long time ago by our mothers and grandmothers that one cannot solve a debt crisis by taking on more debt. It is time the Taoiseach took direct responsibility for negotiating with the EU, IMF and ECB and started defending all of those people who are being impoverished, although I accept that may not be the intention of Government.

As the Taoiseach said prior to entering government, this is a Fianna Fáil plan. While Fine Gael and the Labour Party were before entering Government opposed to it they are now implementing it. This is not the Government's plan: it is implementing Fianna Fáil policy. I say that not to score party political points but simply to make the point. The Government is doing exactly what the previous Government did in terms of this bailout.

It is incorrect to say we are doing exactly what the previous Government did. We have inherited a situation whereby the sovereign is unable to borrow money. That is a fact. Our challenge and that of the Opposition is to get our country back to a point where it can borrow money on the bond markets and thus be in charge of its economic destiny. That is the challenge facing the entire country into the future. It will not be easy. We face many challenges, all of which will be spelled out clearly as we unveil the full truth in the context of the comprehensive spending review.

I have said on many occasions that we cannot tax or cut our way back to prosperity. There is no difference of opinion between us in that regard. However, the only way forward is to make progress in respect of developing our economy, strengthening our indigenous economy, increasing productivity and our exports, which are very strong, having credit available from banks for business and demonstrating we have rebuilt our international reputation. The Government has decided on the bank situation, the deleveraging of non-core assets internationally and will make available €10 billion per annum for each of the next three years for lending to small and medium enterprises. I want the banks to be able to show the people on a bimonthly or quarterly basis what new lending they are making available following which I, Deputy Adams and Deputy Martin can discuss what new businesses in Cork, Louth or anywhere else are in a position to obtain credit for expansion of employment under appropriate conditions.

When in Deputy Martin's constituency last week, I had the privilege of turning a sod on a major site in Mahon where 300 people will be working over the next few weeks. It is a €50 million investment.

That shows what was going on before this Government took office.

Yes, I understand that. The American company involved expects to double its workforce here. A man on the site said to me on that day: "It's great to hear the sound of buckets rattling round this site again." That is the type of expression of confidence we must get back. The Government is focusing on those priorities in order to get us back to a point where we can borrow on the international markets and be in charge of our own destiny.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in the context of setting out the achievements of the Government since its election made the point that bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society are in a different position to those in other banks. We cannot decide this matter unilaterally. The discussion in that regard will take place with the European Central Bank in the autumn. It is not a matter for discussion at the forthcoming European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. I have already made clear that discussion will take place with the European Central Bank in autumn because the matter cannot be decided unilaterally.

Arising from the Taoiseach's reply to Question No. 3, I find it incredible there has been no substantive bilateral meeting or discussion with President Sarkozy on better settlement terms for Ireland. The Taoiseach has acknowledged that in February all EU Governments agreed the need to improve conditions attaching to financial support for Ireland and other countries. This was formalised on 11 March with the expectation that matters would be finalised within weeks. It was stated by officials from the Taoiseach's office that he was leading a major diplomatic initiative in relation to the conditions attaching to European Union funding. This was said on the morning of the Taoiseach's only bilateral meeting with an EU leader involved in providing funding.

The Taoiseach made clear on a number of occasions during the past two weeks that a lower interest rate is being held up by the personal veto of President Sarkozy. Brief encounters at the side of noisy Council meetings do not constitute substantive bilateral engagement. Given, by the Taoiseach's own admission, that this matter is being held up by the personal veto of President Sarkozy, perhaps he will explain why he has not gone to Paris over the past three months for a substantive bilateral meeting with President Sarkozy to sort out the issues. Part of the reason may involve the Taoiseach having to explain why his staff went out to hype up the dispute at the meeting on 11 March. However, that can be got over very quickly.

If it is the case, despite agreement of all Heads of State on 11 March, that President Sarkozy has vetoed the reduction in interest rates, as the Taoiseach said he has, the only issue then is why the Taoiseach has not met him. I find it extraordinary that the Taoiseach has not even had a telephone conversation with President Sarkozy on this matter and that his contact amounts only to meeting him at summit meetings. We all know what happens at those meetings, namely, there is back stabbing and shaking hands on the margins. That does not constitute a substantive bilateral meeting. Given all that has happened and the prioritisation of the debt reduction, I find it extraordinary that the Taoiseach has not had a substantive meeting with President Sarkozy. The Minister for Finance is not in a position to negotiate with President Sarkozy, the man the Taoiseach says is holding up the reduction in the interest rate. Will the Taoiseach agree that he should now initiate substantive talks with President Sarkozy on the settlement terms for Ireland?

The decision taken by Government to have diplomatic engagement is paying dividends. In this regard, I note the report of Tony Connelly this morning. This requires that Ministers attend meetings and work outside formal meetings in rebuilding Ireland's reputation. I am sure Deputy Martin would have had something else to say had I come in here following the meeting on 11 March and said I conceded to the request of the French President that we should increase our corporate tax rate. The indication appears to be that on that basis we would get an interest rate reduction.

The Leaders agreed an interest rate reduction should be applied. From our point of view, we have met the conditions and criteria set down in our bailout deal, based on the assessment carried out by the troika. It is not a case of constantly being on the telephone to the Elysée. I agree with Deputy Martin that a meeting on the margins of a formal meeting does not constitute a substantial bilateral meeting. However, the Ministers for Finance have been given responsibility for this matter and they are negotiating on it. I can confirm that officials from my Department and the Department of Finance and others have been in regular contact with their counterparts in Europe. The Minister for Finance has engaged constructively with his counterparts, including his French counterpart. Madame Lagarde was most helpful and supportive this week in Luxembourg in respect of the change on the preferred creditor status within the EMS, which is important in its own right.

If and when it is appropriate to arrange a substantial bilateral meeting with President Sarkozy arising from the conclusion or otherwise of the work of the Ministers for Finance I will be happy to do so. I have never set a date for a conclusion of this issue or the question of an interest rate reduction. It has always been my expectation and belief that it will be concluded successfully. As I said, the negotiations and discussions continue.

If there is a fundamental difference on an issue with a Head of State, I find it extraordinary that a meeting has not been held to deal with it. This is an issue that has already been agreed. An interest rate reduction essentially was agreed to at the meeting on 11 March; it is its implementation that has been delayed. Ultimately, it will be agreed to. Having all of these hyped-up briefings before and after meetings about the great spats we are having——

A supplementary question, please.

——does not add anything to French-Irish relationships and so on. Has the delegation to the Finance Ministers been a manoeuvre to circumvent Mr. Sarkozy? Are people afraid of him or are they simply trying to resolve the issue around him? It is difficult to comprehend, given the priority the Taoiseach attaches to the issue, the reason he has not sought a meeting with him.

On general issues for the Council, the simple reality about the schedule for the Council meeting this week is that we are not even on the agenda. ECOFIN met for two days——

This is Question Time, if the Deputy would not mind asking a question.

I am coming to it, as I am entitled to do. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, was left trying to claim credit for a change we had not sought to a fund we did not want to access. Ultimately, there will be an interest rate reduction and the Taoiseach will obviously claim that some deep strategic manoeuvre was responsible for it. Why has an Irish rate reduction which was agreed to in principle three months ago not been on the agenda of Finance Ministers or, indeed, Foreign Ministers this week? Why is it not on the agenda for the summit?

I have explained this previously. It is not a case of trying to circumvent anybody. The decision to devolve authority to the Finance Ministers was made deliberately. It was made because lending countries told me directly that they would only go to Parliament once. Therefore, we need to have accurate figures and know the truth of the scale of the requirement from Ireland arising from the bank debacle. As I was not in a position to give an accurate figure to other leaders, the matter was not decided. The reason I was not able to give that figure, as the Deputy knows, is that the stress tests on the banks had not been completed. Therefore, in the absence of clarity and truth about the matter, the leaders decided to wait until the stress tests had been completed and to devolve authority to Finance Ministers to conclude the negotiations on the interest rate reduction. As I said, Greece was not involved in the EFSF bailout, as it was in a slightly different position. However, an interest rate was agreed to for Greece, as well as an extension of the time allowed for repayment. As Ireland was not in a position to give an accurate and truthful account of the scale of its requirement because the stress tests had not been completed, the leaders, including President Sarkozy, said they would devolve authority to conclude the negotiations to the Finance Ministers. The negotiations are ongoing. That is where the matter lies and progress is being made. I hope we can bring a conclusion to the matter. While I would like it to happen very quickly, I have never been in a position where I genuinely could put a date on when it might become a reality.

Constitutional Amendments

Micheál Martin

Question:

6 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline consultations which he has held with political parties and non-governmental organisations regarding proposals for constitutional amendments. [16286/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

7 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the reason no consultations have been held with Opposition parties and groups concerning the establishment of the citizens’ assembly. [16292/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

Work is proceeding in my Department on the preparation of proposals for a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad and the setting up of a constitutional convention. When these proposals are ready, they will be considered by the Government. Once proposals for the setting up of a constitutional convention are approved by the Government, I propose that they be the subject of consultation with the Opposition parties and other appropriate stakeholders.

The proposal to abolish the Seanad was signalled by the Government parties prior to the general election. The programme for Government contains a commitment to put this question to the people in a referendum. The Dáil and the Seanad will, of course, have an opportunity to debate fully the necessary legislation when it is published.

The Taoiseach did not answer Question No. 7. Question No. 6 deals with constitutional amendments, while Question No. 7 relates to the establishment of the citizens' assembly.

What I said was that when the constitutional convention criteria are set out, there would be discussions with the Opposition parties. The same will apply to the citizens' assembly. We will discuss with Deputies Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams and other leaders the range, scale and intent of what is involved.

There are two separate questions. To deal with Question No. 6 first, there are three constitutional amendments to be voted on in October. While the Taoiseach seems to focus on the particular issue of the abolition of the Seanad, three constitutional amendments have been committed to. However, there has been no consultation on the principles or details with any party in the House, which is regrettable. The Taoiseach gave a commitment to engage in greater consultation, but he is actually providing for less consultation on these fundamental issues.

With regard to the public vote, the Taoiseach has said that the Referendum Commission should be given much more time to prepare information for the public. Again, however, he is providing less time in the context of the forthcoming referenda. Will he explain why the promised consultations have not taken place? When exactly is it intended to deal with the details of the three referenda?

They have not taken place because the Bills have not yet been drafted. They will give rise to thorough and comprehensive consultations. The Government has decided to hold a referendum in respect of the Abbeylara judgment and the issue of whistleblowers because I do not want to preside over an Oireachtas with toothless committees. We all share a view on the need for accountability, transparency and responsibility. One of the things that was sadly lacking in previous Dála in the past 25 years was the ability to provide for the compulsory attendance of and complete confidentiality for persons who brought to the notice of public representatives matters that should have been in the public domain. For that reason, the Government has decided as a priority to hold these two referenda on the same date as the Presidential election. I can confirm that work is proceeding seriously to have the Bills drafted. Deputy Micheál Martin and others will be consulted on them. The same applies in the case of the third referendum to be held on the question of judicial pay. The Deputy will be appropriately consulted, as will others, when that Bill has been drafted.

Actions speak louder than words.

We are not being consulted — that is the point. The Taoiseach stated in the programme for Government that as a matter of practice there would be consultations prior to the drafting of Bills and other legislation. However, there has been no attempt to do this. I would have thought that, in the context of a profound matter such as a constitutional amendment of the type the Taoiseach has outlined, consultation with political parties would be facilitated. When will the House deal with the three referenda? When does the Taoiseach expect to bring the Bills before the House? Will it be before the recess or in September?

To enable the referenda to be held, the Bills must be processed by a date in September. I hope they will be published as soon as possible and that there will be an opportunity to engage in a thorough discussion, a point on which I have been clear. When we come back in September, there will be changes to the structure of Dáil reform. There will be discussions about that either this week or next week with Opposition leaders to implement changes to make this place more efficient and professional but, in advance of that, in one or two cases, Ministers will refer the heads of Bills to the appropriate Oireachtas committee for political reaction and discussion. That has never happened. When heads of Bills are drafted and circulated, they stay inside the circle until the Bill is published. The Ceann Comhairle, in a previous existence, was always clear that there should be an opportunity for Oireachtas committees to give a reflection from a political perspective on the heads of Bills when they are drafted. That will happen from September in every case but it will happen in a number of cases before then. Oireachtas committees will be consulted and the Members can give their views — good bad or indifferent — about the proposals contained in the heads. In the next week, the Government Chief Whip will meet Opposition leaders and Whips about a range of changes in the way the Dáil works but, in advance of that, the heads of some Bills will be referred to Oireachtas committees for their consideration.

Sinn Féin supports political reform and I have listened over the years to what the Taoiseach has said on this issue. I have said on the record that I agree with a great deal of what he says, including that reform should be citizen-centred, accountable and transparent and it should be based on equality and fairness. It is important to step back every so often to figure out how these institutions and how we work in the interests of the people who send us here and also to reflect on the gulf that has been created between citizens and the political classes.

The Taoiseach made a number of commitments. He committed to a citizens' assembly but there has been no consultation whatsoever. I do not even know how consultation will work. In the programme for Government he also called on citizens to be involved in this. There needs to be a debate about these institutions. Political reform cannot be reduced to whether we retain or abolish the Seanad. As a relative newcomer, I can see clearly how stultifying this place is and how a Government, particularly one with such a large majority, despite its best intentions, could just go ahead and ignore what is being said by the Opposition. When will there be a process of consultation? What form will it take? Can citizens, Opposition Members and even Government backbenchers have some ownership of that process?

If not ownership, certainly participation. There will be consultation directly with the Deputy and other leaders when the structure is put in place. I would like this to happen quickly and I will see to it that it happens. I do not want to give the Deputy an exact date for this but he can take it that he will be invited to participate fully in those discussions and to debate them in the House in due course. Why would I not do so? Every Deputy is sent to the House on the same basis and they are fully entitled to participate. I want this Chamber to move away from the rigid structures of the past and to allow people to give of their views about the kind of country we live in now, the changes evolving before our eyes and the kind of country our children will have to manage and take responsibility for over the next 20 years. A Dáil that does not appreciate that it must change the way it does its business to reflect a more modern Ireland will fail in its duty and that is why I have referred to, for instance, the change to send heads of Bills to committees in advance to help make the legislative process more effective, meaningful and consultative.

I hope we do not get back to these questions without progress being made on my behalf. That is my responsibility and I will revert to both party leaders shortly.

Question No. 7 concerns the citizens' assembly. Given consultation is its core purpose, the fact that we have had no consultation is remarkable. It is supposed to be legislated for over the next four weeks. Does the Taoiseach accept that will not happen? Can he explain what will be done before the legislation is published or passed to ensure the assembly is properly established and has appropriate terms of reference?

Before I draft the final structure and terms of reference for the assembly and it becomes enshrined anywhere, party leaders will be consulted for their views on them. That will happen quickly.

National Partnership Agreement

Micheál Martin

Question:

8 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail efforts undertaken in his Department in relation to implementing the Croke Park agreement’s terms in its operations. [16288/11]

My Department's action plan under the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014 was submitted late last year to the Department of Finance and subsequently formed part of the overall Civil Service and State agency sector action plan. Specific actions in the action plan include a further reduction in staff numbers, reduced budgets, redeployment of staff, increased flexibility and better business processes. My Department has reduced its core staff numbers by more than 19% and total staff — core and contract — by 10% since January 2008. The reduction in staff numbers last year will give rise to a saving of more than €293,500 annually. Between 2007 and 2010, the total budget was reduced by 18.2%.

In the period 2011 to 2014, significant further reductions will be achieved. My Department is on course to achieve these savings, although once off payments have to be taken into account this year, including costs associated with the recent visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama and severance payments to contract staff. Both the departmental action plan and the action plan for the Civil Service and State agency sector are available on my Department's website.

I welcome the Taoiseach's comments last week where he praised the implementation of the Croke Park agreement. The evidence is that public servants are actively engaging in the process of delivering reforms and efficiencies. It is time that the rhetoric acknowledged this rather than being the empty tough talking some Ministers have engaged in regarding the agreement. Given the Taoiseach has praised the agreement's implementation, will he now have the courtesy to withdraw his statement that it was not being implemented? It is important that people are not left with the notion that he was simply playing politics on this issue. It would be a welcome acknowledgement if the Taoiseach confirmed that he no longer believes the agreement is being ignored.

The position is that the Government received a report in respect of the implementation of the agreement. The findings are that the agreement and all involved in it are measuring up but, clearly, as the Minister without Portfolio pointed out, there is a need for acceleration in the implementation of further elements of the agreement. As the Deputy will be aware, if the agreement is not implemented, there will be other consequences. I intend, along with the Minister without Portfolio, Deputy Howlin, to meet the representatives of the bodies associated with the accelerated implementation of the agreement and to give every assistance I can to see that this happens. It is in everybody's interest that it does and I have experienced nothing but goodwill from public servants who want to demonstrate that they are willingly and voluntarily contributing to this.

The Taoiseach is on record as saying the agreement was being ignored and so on. He has changed his tune in this regard and that is welcome but he should be clear about that.

The Taoiseach's Department has a great deal of expertise in the handling of social partnership agreements and so on. Has he any remaining involvement in the partnership process and reform following the restructuring of the Department?

I spoke to the National Economic & Social Council, which has representatives of all the pillars, recently. While social partnership is notin situ in the way it was previously, I have stated that it has a role on a continuous basis and I am happy to participate where I can. As Taoiseach, it is my responsibility and duty to assist in seeing that the Croke Park agreement is implemented and I apply myself to that with individual Ministers and groups that are involved in seeing that the agreement happens.

I commend those who have brought about savings to the extent they have, and commend them for their willingness and co-operation in achieving progress thus far. I share the view of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that there is a clear need for an accelerated timeframe to implement the remaining elements of the Croke Park agreement. I will apply myself to that with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, the other Ministers and all the sectors involved to ensure it becomes a reality. It is in everybody's interest.

We agree there needs to be an effective, efficient and economic delivery of public services. An aontaíonn an Taoiseach gurb iad saoránaigh atá ag lorg agus ag fáil na seirbhísí cearta? An é sin an cheist mhór faoi na seirbhísí seo?

There is also a social consequence to all these matters. We can see this in the health services and the cutbacks to special needs assistants in schools. Would the Taoiseach agree that the moratorium on recruitment in the public sector is having a devastating effect on the delivery of front-line services? Can that be rectified as part of this programme?

The Croke Park agreement allows for redeployment and opportunities to get more done with less. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will shortly introduce a series of proposals about the next phase. To that end we wish to encourage and motivate everybody to continue the good work on this path so the highest level possible of service delivery is achieved. This means, of course, deciding on priorities with constrained budgets. Choices must and will be made. The moratorium was introduced for a very good reason and, therefore, positions to be filled should be of priority and absolutely required. Given the constraints on the country, we are going to have to do more with less and that applies to everybody.

We must get more with less. Is there no way the Government might consider equality proofing some of these decisions? Of their nature, public services serve citizens. The Taoiseach knows the root of the word "public" relates to "people". Many times it is the most vulnerable people, those who are in trauma or ill, are young or have disabilities who are affected. Would the Government consider bringing in a system to equality proof its decisions as part of its reform package in order that we can look at the social consequences and guard the most vulnerable of our citizens?

The Deputy can take it this is an inherent part of the work of good government. That is why we made a decision to reverse the cut in the minimum wage in order to give a level of protection to people at the lower end of the scale. Those who are in vulnerable positions or who need particular attention or provision of levels of service and facilities clearly must be a priority for any Government that has social justice and conscience at its heart. I would like to think that Government is not just about statistics and numbers. Essentially, it is about people and their lives. The Government must make choices. We do not have the flúirse airgid, about which the Deputy and I have spoken. Therefore, choices must be made and there must be a sense of equity and fair play for people. What went on in this country for very many years was far removed from fair play. We must now rectify that situation and we will.

We need more clarity on the Taoiseach's reply to the question on social partnership in his Department. The essence of that reply was that the central role the Department of the Taoiseach had in social partnership no longer holds. Yesterday, I asked questions in the House about filling the vacant position of secretary general in the Taoiseach's Department. I regret to state I got more information about that inThe Irish Times this morning, from an article by the newspaper’s political correspondent who was obviously well briefed by Government sources, that I got from the Taoiseach’s replies in the House. That goes to the very heart of the lack of accountability in this House — the withholding of information and reluctance to reveal what is happening. The reason, of course, is that the Secretary General in question had a key role in the whole social partnership process and its evolution. Has responsibility for social partnership moved, in essence, from the Taoiseach’s Department?

I did not see the article the Deputy mentioned but am not sure the writer could have information about positions that are not yet filled. These are responsible positions and although there is a process to be put in place people can comment about any particular process. However, accountability lies in respect of decisions made and that would, of course, apply. In this case, the positions which are not yet filled will be filled. I will be accountable for the completion of that process and for seeing that the best people are appointed to responsible positions in order to deliver hefty programmes, as the Deputy is well aware.

What about social partnership?