Leaders’ Questions

Earlier this year, the deputy leader of Fine Gael wrote a series of public letters, giving direct guarantees concerning services in hospitals throughout the country. I have one such letter from February, which is an open letter from Deputy James Reilly to the people of Roscommon. He stated that "Fine Gael undertakes to retain the emergency surgical, medical and other health services at Roscommon Hospital." On 22 March, Deputy Naughten — Fine Gael's new chairman of the Oireachtas health committee — announced that the party had firmly "put a halt to any plans by the HSE to withdraw services from smaller hospitals", and that would not only protect, but would enhance and develop these services.

In yesterday's visit to Roscommon to open Deputy Naughten's local office, the Taoiseach told concerned families and local media that while there may be changes, the future of the hospital was secure. However, it has been revealed today that arrangements are being made to end all emergency admissions and convert Roscommon County Hospital into a basic day-case facility. This process is due to start in a few weeks.

What is your question?

Two months ago, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, fired the expert board of the HSE and took direct personal charge of the health service, so I presume the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues are fully informed of what has been going on.

I have two questions. Why are crystal clear commitments, made only a few months ago, now being abandoned? Why did the Taoiseach personally claim yesterday that the future of Roscommon County Hospital is secure, when the evidence shows this is not true?

I met a number of concerned people yesterday, at the occasion of an opening of an office for Deputy Naughten outside Athlone. We have always held the view that small hospitals have a real future in a restructured and revamped health system, and Roscommon is no different from that. HIQA has stated it is unsafe to continue the accident and emergency unit in its current form. For that reason, compounded by the difficulties in recruiting non-consultant hospital doctors, this system will change after 11 July. There are several implications arising from this, which the Minister for Health has set out.

The Government's priority on acute hospitals is to ensure there is safe, high quality care for patients, provided at the most appropriate location. As the Deputy knows, there is not 24 hour cover for anaesthetics in Roscommon and the medical evidence now available is that trauma patients being attended to by paramedics on site and then transferred to a high volume hospital have an increased chance of living, which is the major consideration for every person here. Those are the reasons.

The reason is that the election is over.

The Minister for Health has had direct contact with the HSE, HIQA and the clinicians in the hospital, who have put forward their own proposals. From that perspective the future of Roscommon is safe. It will not conduct its business as it did previously but there are elements within the hospital that will increase in activity and scale.

That is an extraordinary response. The Taoiseach had complete knowledge of all of that before the election, as did the Minister for Health. He was fully aware of the facts but the Taoiseach made those promises to Roscommon and to other hospitals throughout the country and he should explain now why he is breaking them. His colleague, the Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Naughten, launched his election campaign by telling the community that a Fine Gael Government would take Roscommon Hospital off the political agenda once and for all.

It is doing it now.

Who could have known the Government would seek to do it by closing the hospital as we know it?

I want an answer from the Taoiseach. Why did he and the Minister for Health make those clear promises? In advance of the election as Opposition spokesman, the Minister for Health wrote to the clinical director of operations in the HSE and told him to stop the configuration plans because he would be Minister in a month and would sort this out. That might have appeared a great political stroke at the time but why did he make those promises? Why did he reassure people about the future of Roscommon Hospital when he knew it was about to be closed as an accident and emergency facility?

Fianna Fáil made plenty of promises. What about the hospital in Waterford in 2007? Those promises are well documented.

Deputy Martin knows as well as I do——

That it was just an election promise.

—— that when the Minister for Health was contesting the general election he was not in possession of the information about the difficulties surrounding the recruitment of non-consultant hospital doctors.

He is a medical doctor; he knew full well what was happening.

Deputy Martin created and presided over the mess.

It is easy for Deputy Martin to come in here and have all the answers.

The Taoiseach had all the answers before the election.

The Taoiseach made a promise.

It was Deputy Martin who sat on this side of the House and claimed he had no responsibility when matters came his way.

Let us get back to the Taoiseach's responsibilities. He made the promises.

He did not even read his brief at the time, which cost almost €1 billion.

He never lied to anyone.

The Taoiseach made those promises falsely.

The Taoiseach read them and we see what he did.

The Deputy is not interested in Punch and Judy shows and neither am I, I want every patient to have the best level of care in the most appropriate location convenient to them.

I have the promises here in black and white.

The Minister for Health met with the personnel in Roscommon Hospital last Friday and pointed out his activity to ensure the people in Roscommon have a decent health service.

It is an open letter.

I have respect, as I have always had, for the doctors, nurses and others who provide care in Roscommon Hospital.

It is a promise to reinstate accident and emergency services.

When the clinicians meet the Minister and tell him their proposals are designed to put in place a proper structure in Roscommon to deliver what it can do best, it is not the Government's wish to close down any accident and emergency unit. I will not have a situation, however, where patients' safety is at risk in any hospital in the country. We had enough of that with Fianna Fáil for long enough and we must change it.

The Taoiseach should have told the truth before the election like we did. We told the people the truth before the election but the Taoiseach did not.

The Taoiseach was committed to a 24/7 service.

Patients will be at risk if the accident and emergency ward is closed, as is intended, and the Minister is yet to make a statement on that matter.

I commend the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on facing down Dublin Airport Authority as it attempted to make a huge bonus payment. This morning, however, we heard Bord Gáis paid €1.9 million in bonuses last year, while the Dublin Airport Authority paid €2.1 million, exactly the amount needed to reverse the cutbacks this Government will impose on rural school transport schemes, which will affect people across the State.

Other semi-State bodies, such as Bord na Móna, the Irish Aviation Authority and An Post, also paid bonuses but they will not tell us how much. These are State-owned companies and there is incredible anger, as the Taoiseach saw in Roscommon, and it exists from Sligo to Drogheda, but these companies are paying millions of taxpayers' money in bonus payments and big pensions, not on Fianna Fáil's watch but on the Taoiseach's watch. The Minister for Finance was quick to bring in legislation to increase the pension age for ordinary workers. What steps will he take to end the abuse of the bonus culture in these State companies? How much did Bord na Móna, the Irish Aviation Authority and An Post pay out in bonuses?

I cannot answer that question because I do not have that information. The Government has made it perfectly clear that it expects leadership from the top when it comes to adjusting to the economic reality. People will be asked to make further sacrifices and in that context we must have a situation where leadership comes from the front. There cannot be a situation where large bonuses are paid to State CEOs when serious adjustments must be made to the economy. The Government has set that out clearly, and we have clearly said that no bonuses should be paid to people who are already very well paid to do a particular job.

Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform set out the pay ceilings for CEOs of commercial semi-State bodies and the wider public sector. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources wrote to the chairman of each State company on 13 May, following consultation with the Minister for Finance, stating he is firmly of the view that bonuses are inappropriate and that payments should cease immediately. He instructed civil servants attending remuneration committees to reaffirm this position clearly and he asked the chairman of each body to copy his letter to the full board and the board to provide confirmation that payments would cease immediately. Following the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's comments, the DAA board will comply with Government wishes.

So far, not all of the chairmen have replied to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources but RTE, TG4, ESB, OSI and An Post responded that no further bonus payments will be made and he expects the other three bodies, Eirgrid, Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna, will confirm the same position shortly. In those cases formal confirmation may be necessary by the relevant remuneration committees and their boards.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will continue to engage on any outstanding issues and will reaffirm the position that in the current financial circumstances, performance-related bonuses are utterly inappropriate and his clear position is that no bonus payments should be made. In saying this, he has been equally clear this position is no reflection on the performance of any individual but a necessary measure in the light of current economic circumstances.

It is not good enough that the Minister should send "Dear John" letters to the semi-State bodies. As the Taoiseach knows, deep suffering is being caused by the awful bailout deal the Government has bought into for every cent. He has yet to secure a cut in interest rates while the Minister for Finance is reduced to imploring people to go shopping. I do not know if he understands how offensive that is to those who do not have any money.

We are looking for a commitment that the Government will bring forward legislation to stop the bonus culture. I said to the Taoiseach before that this could be done very quickly. The Labour Party Members should bow their heads in shame when it affects the small people in this State. The Taoiseach cannot give us a clear indication of the number of bonuses that have been paid out by these semi-State companies. Does he intend to bring forward legislation to stop that?

The Government has made perfectly clear its view about bonus payments. People in these positions are very well paid to do a job. Bonus payments are inappropriate, and the Government has made that statement very clearly. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, was informing the chairs of the boards officially by letter to ensure there would be under no misunderstanding about what is involved in respect of bonuses. What the Minister, Deputy Noonan, pointed out is in the context of what the Government is doing in this respect, which is making decisions that will enable us to be in charge again of our own economic affairs and deal with the underlying problems in the Irish economy, make decisions about the banks and about creating a jobs stimulus and a jobs initiative, and deal with finding out the truth of the scale of what must be done in respect of closing this country's deficit.

People throughout Ireland want this issue to be concluded, and every one of them is prepared to contribute. In that sense they want to see that there is fairness in the system. The Government is setting out its position in so far as fairness is concerned where exceptionally large bonuses have been paid to well-paid people while at the other end of the scale it has had to resort to renegotiating the troika agreement to reverse the cut in the minimum wage brought about by the previous Government affecting the lowest paid workers in our society.

I too welcome the decision of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to eyeball the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, over the weekend and the successful way he has forced it to back down in this situation. However, the Taoiseach should recognise that one victory of this sort does not sort out the problem. The semi-State sector has gone walkabout for many years, which predates his tenure in power, and we need a lot more than one victory. What Deputy Adams referred to as the bonus culture is eking out by the day as the annual reports are coming out that other semi-State companies are intending to pay similar bonuses. That is unacceptable.

When we look at the DAA we see a real example of abuse of power and a semi-State body having detached itself from the Government. We must consider the fact that this man, Mr. Collier, was being awarded a bonus of €100,000 in the same year that junior staff on €30,000 were being forced to take a cut in pay.

That is the culture in which the semi-State companies are living and it is repeated in other areas. That is not acceptable. This is in a company which last year saw passenger numbers drop by 13%, its debt downgraded twice by Standard & Poor's, and is spending money on the biggest white elephant in the history of the State which will never show a commercial return.

A question please.

Will the Taoiseach go further than simply claiming a victory over the weekend and stop this culture whereby insiders are rewarding insiders? There is one way he could do that. Will he consider the position of Mr. Collier? Mr. Collier, not by coincidence, and he is not the Taoiseach's appointee——

Thank you, Deputy.

——is an appointee to the board of AIB but not only is he a public interest appointee to the board of AIB he is also a member of the remuneration committee of AIB.

We are over time, Deputy.

Is it not absurd that somebody who is involved in a controversy of this sort for his own remuneration should be deciding on the remuneration of those in the banks for which the State has responsibility?

The Deputy has made the case eloquently in respect of overstepping the mark, in my view, by semi-States and their boards in the case of bonus payments. I agree with that, and that is the reason the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has already set out his intention to initiate a review of the current performance related awards scheme for chief executive officers of commercial State companies and in the interim the boards have been requested not to pay bonuses.

I find it beyond any normal common sense that persons who are exceptionally well paid are paid bonuses for performance beyond that. These things should not apply in my view, and in the context of where we are as an economy and as a society the point the Deputy makes in respect of lower paid workers is patently obvious.

The Deputy can take it that the review which is now being set out by the Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Howlin, will examine the system of performance related award schemes for CEOs and in conjunction with other Ministers where semi-State companies apply, will consider more direct input and oversight by Ministers to ensure this situation does not continue to apply. I do not know what authority the Minister for Finance has in respect of any other appointments beyond CEO of the semi-State body the Deputy mentions.

If the Taoiseach will not give a commitment about any immediate changes, and I believe he should fulfil a commitment the Government made earlier to sack virtually all the boards of every quango because of the political appointees and the nature of them, could he comment on the appropriateness of someone like Mr. Collier who is involved in this remuneration controversy being a public interest director in charge of remuneration on the board of a State owned bank?

I find it not good practice. I do not want to appear to be in any way vindictive about this but in my view we cannot have a situation such as the one the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, was confronted with last week which was resolved. I also accept that this should not be seen as some sort of individual incident of victory. Everybody in the country, from the highest person down, must understand that we face a challenging time as a country, and we are meeting that challenge, but the message does not seem to have got through to some people yet. I hope the Deputy's own contribution is helpful in getting that message through to them directly.

To the board of theIrish Independent.