Leaders’ Questions

The Taoiseach and other Members are well aware that many companies across Ireland have made workers redundant in the light of the broader economic context and owing to the collapse of the economy. In recent weeks everyone has become familiar with the cases of two high profile companies, Lagan Brick in Drumgill and Vita Cortex in Cork. Some 29 workers at Lagan Brick were not even given 30 days notice in December when they were made redundant. I understand these individuals have agreed to go to the Labour Court and it is to be hoped this process will have a successful outcome. However, the Vita Cortex workers are completely in limbo and experiencing considerable difficulties. The Taoiseach met them last Friday, for which they are very grateful. There is cross-party agreement in the House that the workers in this company have been treated in an appalling manner by their employer. In total, they have given Vita Cortex over 847 years of loyal service and they were bluntly informed in December that they would not be receiving ex gratia redundancy payments. This was despite the fact that they had been promised such payments in September.

The workers at Vita Cortex have been involved in a sit-in since 16 December. I am sure everyone agrees that, in essence, they have been deserted by their employer. The net amount outstanding at this stage is approximately €372,000. If this money was paid, the matter would be resolved. I accept that there are complications in the relationship involving the company, its owner and NAMA. It is clear, however, that moral responsibility lies with the owner. I am sure everyone would agree with me in that regard. Unfortunately, the initial intervention in the matter by the Labour Relations Commission was unsuccessful and suspended. The fact that they could potentially face legal action by their employer as a result of their sit-in is particularly worrying for the workers and their families.

In the spirit of the cross-party agreement on this matter and not withstanding all of the interventions which have taken place to date, will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation consider meeting the owner of the company in order to convey the view of the Oireachtas that the behaviour engaged in up to now has been unacceptable? Such a meeting might also be of assistance in trying to discover whether it might be possible to arrive at a resolution of the matter that would be in the interests of all concerned. It could also be used to reinitiate the Labour Relations Commission's intervention or convey to the owner the absolute disgust of the Executive and the Parliament at what is happening.

Before I respond to the Deputy, I pay tribute to the life and work of the late Mr. John Cunningham, a native of Tuam, who was editor of The Connacht Tribune for many years. He understood the changing face of Ireland and articulated what he had observed with great truth and courage. I called to see him some time ago and spent some time in his presence. He was a gentleman who loved his job as an editor and the responsibilities that went with it.

Deputy Micheál Martin's question raises many issues in respect of moral responsibility and the law in the context of the rights of workers and the position of firms. As he is aware, I met Ms Eager, the union representative, and a number of workers in Cork last week. As he pointed out, the Vita Cortex workers have given several hundred years of cumulative service to the company. They have informed me that they want to be shown respect and treated fairly in comparison with all other Vita Cortex workers who left the company's various plants throughout the country who all received 2.9 weeks pay per year of service, whereas those in Cork are being offered two weeks pay per year. The workers in Cork engaged in a sit-in during the Christmas period and have been in occupation of the plant for over 50 days. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, made his officials available to talk to the trade union representatives in order to clarify a number of matters. He also invited the Labour Relations Commission to become involved. Two meetings took place with both sides, but matters did not proceed beyond that point.

The Director of Corporate Enforcement has informed the Minister that he has considered the information in his possession - the Deputy may have received the relevant correspondence - regarding the claims made about the capacity of the company to make available the additional €374,000 required to resolve the matter, taken legal advice in respect of it and is satisfied that there are insufficient grounds on which to take a formal action against the company at this time. That was on the basis of his assessment of the claim that Vita Cortex and its owner were in a position to provide the extra €374,000 necessary to bring redundancy payments up to the level of 2.9 weeks pay per year of service.

Many are following the case with a degree of interest. I feel for the workers involved because they are very decent people. What annoys me is that they facilitated the company in the removal of specialist and sophisticated equipment from the plant, allegedly in order that it could be overhauled and repaired. They did so on the specific understanding that when the process was concluded, they would be properly compensated, namely, that they would receive the equivalent of what everyone else had obtained.

I met the Minister yesterday to discuss this difficult problem. We should continue to exhaust all of the mechanisms at our disposal. It is not nice that the workers are sitting in the plant and feel very aggrieved as a result of what has happened. The Department of Social Protection has processed the statutory redundancy payments which I understand will be paid next Monday. Obviously, the State has moved to do this for the workers. I intend to give a report to the Labour Relations Commission, arising from the meeting with the workers and their union representatives, and invite it to become involved again before I consider taking further action arising from the Deputy's request. I feel for the workers. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, there is a moral responsibility. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement has informed the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that he has insufficient grounds to take action against the company.

I also pay tribute to the late John Cunningham and convey our sympathy to his wife, Nuala, and family. We will pay him a full tribute later.

I welcome the Taoiseach's response. The Deputies of all the parties in the Cork region met the workers on Monday and there is a uniform view of support for their position and the need to have the matter resolved. I welcome the initiative to ak the Labour Relations Commission to become involved again. I am conscious that not all workers achieve the same profile, but what has happened at Vita Cortex and Lagan Bricks in Kingscourt illustrates a growing development and phenomenon in terms of lay-offs. Perhaps it highlights the need to review the mechanisms in place to see whether they are fit for purpose, particularly where there is the added complication of there being a NAMA dimension. This issue is worth reviewing in the broader extent.

With regard to the immediate problem at Vita Cortex, will the Taoiseach keep in his frame of reference the possibility of direct intervention by the Minister at some stage to convey on behalf of the political community-----

-----our anger at what has happened and our strong sense that the situation in the workers find themselves is unacceptable? Many are watching this as an illustration of what will inform other cases that may develop and wehat has informed others which have occurred in which people have been in a position to maintain a campaign of the type that has been maintained in this instance in the past 50 days. We all agree that this is not an acceptable way to treat workers and that we expect better. The Taoiseach is anxious that all existing mechanisms be used to bring about a resolution, which is fair enough. However, over and above this, all other possibilities should be borne in mind.

In respect of the statutory redundancy payments, the Department of Social Protection and the Minister moved because of the claim that the employer was not able to pay. Obviously, where an employer has funds available, he or she is duty bound to meet employees' statutory entitlements. There is no question of the State making them and the employer coming back to make a top-up payment. For the information of the House, the dispute relates to the non-payment of 0.9% of a week's pay per year of service. As the Deputy pointed out, the total sum involved amounts to €372,000. Where workers have supplied bank account details, the money will be lodged to their account in the week commencing 13 February, having been processed by the Department of Social Protection. Where bank account details have not been provided, payment will be made by cheque. Cheque payments should also issue during the week commencing 13 February.

I understand from the Labour Relations Commission that the solicitors acting on behalf of Vita Cortex have in recent days written to SIPTU indicating they may look at the question of taking out an injunction against the workers who continue to occupy the factory. As I stated, I would like to see this matter being brought to a successful conclusion. Reputation is very important to everybody. Of all the workers I have met during the years I have found the workers involved in this instance to be very understanding; they realise they are in a difficult position, but they have a very deep feeling that they deserve respect from their employer. In some cases they have given up to 47 years loyal, dedicated and committed service to the business. I have informed the Labour Relations Commission about my meeting with the workers and their trade union representatives and its outcome and asked it to become involved again. I have taken note of what the Deputy said.

Before I call Deputy Gerry Adams, I join in the expression of sympathy to the Cunningham family on the death of John Cunningham who wrote under the pen name "The Deputy" in The Connacht Tribune.

Ní raibh aithne maith agam ar John Cunningham, ach tá a fhios agam gur eagarthóir an-mhaith ab ea é. Tá mé libhse ar an maidin brónach seo. Tá ár smaointe le muintir Cunningham inniu.

Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil an ghéarchéim sna seirbhísí poiblí ag dul i ndonas de bharr an beart gátair seo. Tá sé thar am don Rialtas a bhád a chasadh agus polasaí eile a chur i bhfeidhm. Ba chóir go mbeadh an polasaí sin ar mhaithe pobal na hÉireann, seachas ar mhaithe na boic mhóra agus Frankfurt.

The Taoiseach is an intelligent person and must know his policies are not working. The social consequences for citizens are clear. Austerity is not working in the interests of citizens, as is evident in the impending crisis in the health service. What really infuriates people when they are not spluttering into their pint and going mad about the place is that while they have to endure the pain, their money is being used to pay the debts of criminal banks. A total of 3,800 staff will have left the health service between September 2011 and the end of February, almost half of whom have already left. A total of 1,000 nurses and more than 80 doctors and dentists are set to leave. The embargo on the recruitment of staff is part of the Government's austerity policy. This prevents it from hiring replacement staff. Why is the Government sticking to this policy?

In the almost 12 months it has been in office the Government has given €20 billion to the banks. Will the Taoiseach change tack? Will the Government put the people's money into providing public services and creating jobs, particularly into hiring nurses and doctors to replace those who have left or are about to leave the health service, or will it continue with its policy of bank bailouts and paying off the bankers at the expense of health services and those citizens dependent on them?

Ní raibh a fhios agam ar dtús céard a bhí i gceist ag an Teachta nuair a rinne sé a ráiteas i nGaeilge. Níor thuig mé go díreach céard a bhí i gceist aige.

Tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach go soiléir.

Austerity programmes on their own cannot work. We have a problem, which is to close the gap in the public finances. Whether there is a problem in the eurozone or anywhere else, this issue must be dealt with by us alone. The Government was given the option of pursuing either a non-aggressive or an aggressive policy to subordinated bondholders and the banks. We took an aggressive line and made a serious saving for the taxpayer. The same result was achieved in the follow-through by the Government in achieving an interest rate reduction - there was a saving of approximately €10 billion for the taxpayer. What we must do is trim our cloth according to our measure, but at the same time the Government must introduce initiatives to stimulate growth and promote job creation where opportunities can be created.

I have pointed out previously that between 1991 and 2000 our annual debt increased from €36 billion to €40 billion, but in the same period the debt to GDP ratio declined from 95% to 35%. The reason this happened was not that there was an austerity programme but that there was growth. When the problem with the public finances is sorted out and one closes the gap, the money spent on paying interest on borrowed money can be put into education, social protection, health and job creation measures. It is not a case of every person leaving the public service not being replaced, and the Minister for Health has pointed that out clearly. There will be targeted investment and recruitment, and some key vacancies will be filled. For instance, in the clinical programme, funding of €23.4 million has been made available. In the primary care area, €20 million has been put in to enable the replacement of key front-line primary care staff. In mental health, €35 million has been made available for the recruitment of an additional 414 whole-time equivalents, and in both the mental health and disability area, €5 million has been allocated for innovative practices and service modernisation. It is not a case of everyone leaving and no one being replaced. The Minister for Health has pointed out clearly that where key front-line services apply, the moratorium is lifted and recruitment takes place in those cases, but not in every case.

What we are doing is effectively managing the movement out of the public service, which happens every year to the tune of several thousand and which has been signalled for quite a long time. As I said yesterday, in recent years we had programmes and commentators repeatedly talking about the bloated extent of the public service, and when a system is put in place to reduce that overall number and cost, we get a different reaction. What is involved now is managing that effectively in the public interest. That is the reason these moneys have been made available for recruitment of key front-line staff. It is not true to say that all these people will leave and no replacements will be found. That is not the case. What is involved is proper, effective management and provision of the health service in this case for our people. When I talk about the health service, it is about patients, in so far as hospitals are concerned, good quality opportunities for people to live a healthy lifestyle in their communities, the availability of strong primary care teams and, if they must go to hospital, that the effective service is in place for them. That is what is involved.

Caithfidh mé a rá go sílim gur thuig an Taoiseach go breá an méid a dúirt mé i nGaeilge. Tá sé ag magadh fúm, ach sin scéal eile. It is difficult to know which Taoiseach to believe. Is it the Taoiseach who said on RTE radio on Sunday that the transition teams are in place or the one who told us yesterday that they are not in place? These are the transition teams to deal with this crisis, but listening to what the Taoiseach has just said, one would think there was no crisis. We will lose 500 staff in mental health services. Will they be replaced? We decry all the time the fact that mental health is the Cinderella of our health services. Does the Taoiseach not accept that the loss of all these senior experienced staff, the embargo, the closure of hospital beds and the continuing gaps in emergency departments are creating a perfect storm in our health services? The reality is that there is no dynamic plan to manage that, and this is bedded in the Taoiseach's austerity policy. I will come back to that issue.

The Deputy should ask a supplementary question.

I asked the Taoiseach if he would consider changing tack and setting aside this austerity policy. He said in his response, if I am quoting him properly, that austerity policies on their own cannot work, but that is all he is giving us. There are no initiatives for job creation. There are no initiatives to deal with any of these matters. Will the Taoiseach lift the recruitment embargo? Will he reopen the 2,000 closed public hospital beds? Will he tell the House how many of the 3,800 will be replaced and will he stop paying the people's money into the bad banks?

Bíodh a fhios ag an Teachta nach raibh mé ag magadh faoi ar chor ar bith. Tá mé ag rá i nGaeilge nár thuig mé an bhéim a chuir sé ar na focail sin. Sin a bhí i gceist agam. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil an fhuaim ró-shoiléir ar an taobh seo ach ní raibh sé soiléir cad a bhí i gceist ag an Teachta. The Deputy did not listen to me. With respect, I think the Deputy is afraid that the effective management of this transition period will work.

(Interruptions).

He is afraid it will work, and it will work. The Deputy did not listen to the response I gave him. As he is aware, the Government made available to the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, working in the mental health area, ring-fenced money, €35 million, which will allow for the appointment of an additional 414 whole-time equivalent workers in this area.

Having lost 500-----

As Deputy Adams is aware, with the number of retirements from the psychiatric nursing service, a different kind of worker, carer and professional is needed now. Not all of those will be replaced but under the allocation for mental health, which is ring-fenced, those 414 whole-time equivalents will be recruited, although many of them not in the traditional sense of the psychiatric nurse as the Deputy and I would have known them over the years.

When the Deputy spoke about the austerity programme, he did not mention, for instance, the 700 jobs announced last week by the Minister for Education and Skills in IT conversion at no cost to people, nor did he mention any of the announcements made by investors here which are creating-----

Any on the north side?

There are 800 jobs in Sky, 300 in Allergen Pharmaceuticals and others to follow. The Finance Bill to be published later today by the Minister for Finance will provide opportunities-----

I welcomed that at the time.

-----for further expansion for business.

(Interruptions).

In case the Deputy has any doubt about it I will make it as clear for him as I can. A great deal of intensive work has been going on in the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive for the last period. It was not clear how many and from what categories people would leave the health service. We now know that. The structure is that the assistant secretary in the Department of Health is in charge of the line management of this nationally with the Health Service Executive, the regional directors and, at the bottom of that scale, the planners in each individual hospital. They met again yesterday evening and will attend at the Cabinet sub-committee on health next Tuesday. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will have a similar structure in the other areas I mentioned by next Tuesday, namely, line management with the Department and the agencies involved in justice, education, the Civil Service and, obviously, in heath. That will apply right through this process with intensive discussions taking place. Obviously, in the health area we must also take into account weekend and late night activities where urgent medical attention and services might be required. That is what is going on. I am sure the Deputy agrees with me that we want to make this work. It is not compulsory removal from the public service that is involved here. People are leaving by choice and it is the responsibility to have a structure that fills those vacancies effectively where they should be filled. That is the reason I have given the figures for recruitment in order that the service can continue in the interests of the public and the patients where that is required.

Last night, more than 700 people packed into the Tower Hotel in Waterford to demand withdrawal of this Government's household and related taxes. The local media will confirm the details as they will for the 400 in Carlow on Monday night and similar meetings held from Wexford to Donegal on other nights. Last night, a very dignified pensioner asked me at the meeting if it was true that the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, had one time condemned tax on the home as wrong, and I said that I would have the opportunity to ask him directly this morning. Does the Taoiseach recognise-----

The Deputy will not be laughing when people will not pay.

-----this quote:

It is morally unjust and unfair to tax a person's home, and by so doing grind him into the ground.

It reminds me of a vampire tax in that it drives a stake through the heart of home ownership, through enthusiasm and initiative, and sucks the life blood of people who want to own their own home and better their position.

Those in the Labour Party should be ashamed of themselves.

A Deputy

We are not ashamed-----

Was it the then Deputy Enda Kenny who said that in this Dáil on-----

(Interruptions).

The Deputy will get his answer next week. There will be about ten of those Members opposite left over there. They will go like the PDs, and rightly so.

A Deputy

The Deputies opposite do not want to hear the truth.

It is a case of no taxes, no services.

Order, please. Deputy Higgins to continue.

Finian is keeping his powder dry. He does not know which way to go. Which way will you go, Finian?

The Minister should ask the Taoiseach which way will he go.

I am backing Finian.

Joe will be very disappointed if-----

Deputy Durkan, please.

I have a related question for you people later.

(Interruptions).

Remember Killarney-----

Deputy Stagg, please.

Taoiseach, was it Deputy Enda Kenny who talked in Dáil Éireann on 2 February 1994, the same Deputy Kenny who is now Prime Minister-----

Prime Minister. He is Taoiseach of Ireland.

-----about ramming household and related taxes through? Are Fine Gael Deputies bringing to his attention the growing anger of ordinary people right around this country that after three and half years of having the salvaging of the European financial market system placed on their shoulders, he is now placing further burdens on them that they know will be a €1,000 and beyond in home tax, septic tank taxes and water levies, if they do not stop him?

What is the Deputy's solution?

Does the Taoiseach not see that the ordinary people understand, even if condescending political pundits and the editorial writers in the billionaire press do not understand-----

(Interruptions).

They are all in Deputy Higgins's pocket.

-----that, apart from not being able to bear any more burdens themselves, the Taoiseach's austerity and the troika's austerity is bleeding our society and the economy dry-----

Is this a question?

A question, please, Deputy Higgins.

-----and that the mass boycott, which the household and other new taxes are now facing is a demand for a fundamental change in policy?

The Deputy is over his time.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Higgins, do not be looking over his shoulder.

A Deputy

He is having some injury time.

The boycott and the mass non-registration and mass refusal to pay these taxes that the Taoiseach will face by St. Patrick's Day is the ordinary people's self-made referendum on the Taoiseach's austerity policy.

Organised by the Deputy using the people.

The Deputies opposite are fooling the people. They told them lies. They are being found out now throughout the country.

The same crowd are doing that.

What about the Christmas cards?

A Deputy

You will not be getting too many.

Are the Labour Deputies reminding the Taoiseach of its party's very expensive ads in the national newspapers during the election campaign, namely, "Fine Gael - Every Little Hurts" and outlining the burdens to which they object that are less even than the household tax?

Thank you, Deputy.

Are they bringing this to the Taoiseach's attention? Can I ask him if they are all-----

-----out of touch?

The Deputy is over his time.

Does the Taoiseach understand that he now faces a mass movement of opposition? He has an opportunity to change course and he must do that.

I call the Taoiseach. Can I have order, please? I ask Members to respect the person who is speaking.

I am glad to see that Deputy Higgins goes back over the records and takes quotations as he finds them for use on occasions like this.

The Taoiseach's quotations.

We had the Deputy and his work rate yesterday.

I am busier than you.

The Deputy's mouth is busier anyway.

Deputy Boyd Barrett's record of productivity is quite enormous; he has probably organised more protest marches than anybody in this House with the combined service.

And there will be more.

Deputy Higgins seems to have a philosophy that nobody should do anything or pay for anything in this country. Every socialist party in Europe with the exception of himself, as the leader of whatever group he has over there-----

(Interruptions).

-----wants and is agreeable to some form of property tax. That is what every socialist party in Europe, with the exception of his good self, wants.

When I joined a local authority many years ago people paid rates and they paid for water and refuse services but all of those things went their own way because of political considerations. The vampire that the Deputy speaks of was reckless Government that sucked the lifeblood out of the Irish economy-----

Deputies

Hear, hear.

-----and it has left us in a very different position than we have ever been before-----

The Taoiseach stole the clothes.

-----and that has to be restored. This household charge is €100 and some 72,000 people have already registered for this payment. I thought that the Tower Hotel held 500 and not 700. There must have been 200-----

(Interruptions).

I wonder how many of the Deputy's people were in Dundrum House the other night to hear the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government deal effectively with the septic tank issue raised so effectively by my friend over here.

Codding the people.

A Deputy

You would not let Mattie speak.

(Interruptions).

I would also like to say to Deputy Higgins, clearly, there are exemptions built into this process. Properties that are part of a trading stock of a business do not need to declare. Local authority properties used for social housing, voluntary or co-operative properties, old properties owned by charities where commercial rates apply and where a person is forced to face home due to long-term mental or physical infirmity or elderly people who have moved into a nursing home - these are all examples of the thousands of exemptions that apply. As the Deputy is aware, the €2 per week goes to provide essential services such as footpaths, lighting, libraries and other facilities.

The price of a medium.

Surely even the Deputy in his capacity as leader of the socialist group over there understands that there is nothing free in this world anymore and that somebody is being asked to make a contribution here.

Pay more and get less.

There is no increase in income tax. Some 330,000 were taken out of being liable to the universal social charge.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

-----and 40,000 had the minimum wage restored to them. What the Government is focusing on is not austerity, but sorting out public finances and providing every opportunity for one job or 1,000 jobs to be created, and I hope the Deputy supports that.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Thank you, Taoiseach. Deputy Higgins has one minute.

You tell the 500,000 people out there-----

Is the Deputy wagging his finger?

-----in the enforced idleness of the dole and those who are having their living standards savaged that you are not enforcing austerity. Get real, Taoiseach.

Has the Deputy a solution?

You say that we say we do not want-----

(Interruptions).

-----people to pay anything for anything. On the contrary, Taoiseach, it is the big bulk of the ordinary 4.5 million in this State who are paying for everything, including not only our services here but the bail outs of the vulture financial institutions in the European financial markets and their bad gambles. That is what we are paying for and that is what we object to.

The Taoiseach says that every socialist party-----

A question please, Deputy.

I have news for the Taoiseach, the social democratic and labour parties all over Europe have long since joined the capitalist establishment.

(Interruptions).

They do not speak for the working class any more.

Joe and Bertie are the only socialists left.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Higgins cannot take the heat.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Buttimer, please. Deputy Higgins to continue.

(Interruptions).

Order, please. Deputy Higgins to put a question please.

Can I ask the Taoiseach-----

The Deputy should stand for the tea party-----

(Interruptions).

He could go around with the tea party.

Deputy Stagg, please. This is Leaders' Questions.

-----to see that there are alternatives, for example, on the septic tank issue? A public investment remediation scheme-----

That would need more money.

The Deputy will need more money for that.

-----that would put similar amounts of public funds, as went into the urban areas to take our sewage away, into rural areas-----

The Deputy will have to give up his leader's allowance.

-----would not only resolve the problem but create thousands of jobs for construction workers, drainage engineers and others and begin to regenerate the economy that austerity-----

The Deputy is raising a different topic and he is over his time.

-----the troika and the gamblers have wrecked. A simple alternative-----

The Deputy is over his time and I ask him to conclude. A question, please.

Can I ask the Taoiseach to understand as well-----

On a point of order-----

There is no point of order. Resume your seat, Deputy, please.

Is there any procedure in this House-----

Please resume your seat.

-----for Members of this House to report lies?

I am not taking a point of order.

(Interruptions).

It is unfair that he cannot continue.

I am asking Deputy Higgins to conclude.

This is outrageous.

Outrageous. The same old stuff every day.

Deputy Higgins, without interruption. A question, please, Deputy, and you are over time.

Is it any wonder, in fairness? Some of these Deputies have had their training in the Ballymagash district council, judging by their behaviour this morning.

Where did the Deputy get his?

He told lies about the €50 charge at public meetings throughout the country.

Can I ask the Taoiseach to understand also that as an alternative to further crushing burdens on working people and poor people-----

He should be suspended from this House.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

-----he could implement progressive wealth taxation on the top 5%, for example, which at 1% would bring in €2 billion a year? Why does he not look there instead of imposing further burdens on our people?

Lastly, the Taoiseach mentioned Vita Cortex earlier.

Deputy, that is another issue.

Is it not disgraceful that his Government provides maximum fines-----

(Interruptions).

Deputy, please resume your seat.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if the baying mob keeps going I cannot finish my question. It is quite simple.

You will have to finish now.

I must be allowed to put my question and the Taoiseach must be allowed to answer.

Sorry, Deputy-----

Ask a question.

Deputy, resume your seat. I want to explain. There is one minute for a supplementary question and one minute for the Taoiseach to reply.

But these guys are shouting-----

Please conclude. You are way over time.

Let me round off, so.

Take another minute.

Does the Taoiseach not think it is a disgrace that his Government is providing for maximum fines of €2,500 and €5,000 for decent people who are objecting to its taxes-----

Is the Deputy going to pay the fines?

-----when the Vita Cortex multi-millionaires can walk away-----

On a point of order-----

-----leaving workers in massive distress, with not a single sanction? The Taoiseach had better listen to what the people are saying or the Government will flounder on this. That will be clear in seven weeks time.

On a point of order-----

Five or six percent of the wealthiest may have registered; the vast majority will not. The Government will face this boycott-----

Deputy, please resume your seat. I am calling the Taoiseach.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order, how many minutes have we left?

I am not taking a point of order on Leaders' Questions.

If the Deputies stopped interrupting, we would not take so long.

This is a point of order under Standing Orders.

Are we in order or are we not?

Deputies

The Deputy is not in order.

This House has been out of order for the last ten minutes.

The Deputy has been out of it all his life.

We have a problem getting messages across other than Deputy Higgins's negative ones.

Thank you, Deputy.

Everyone understands the difficulties and challenges that many people face in this country today, including those under pressure due to distressed mortgages, negative equity, bills and personal debt. This is a challenging time for everyone-----

Except the bankers.

-----and I understand this because people who are under pressure come to me regularly. The entire country must band together to deal with this problem because it will not go away.

There are 200,000 households exempt from the household charge. The Deputy talks about disgraceful activity. I understand that at these socialist group meetings they have-----

That is outrageous.

Stop it, Deputy. Order, please.

-----they actively collect a €50 charge for a fighting fund in case there are any legalities involved. Is it €5 or €50 they collect for the fighting fund?

It is a flat rate.

The best antidote to social welfare is a job, because a job can transform a life. The Government is trying to sort out our public finances. I understand and commend people on their patience in dealing with this. We are putting whatever resources we can into the creation of jobs and opportunities.

Last Thursday, I attended a ceremony organised by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter - one of the many he has organised - at which 2,500 people over four days stood to attention to our national anthem while they received their citizenship. The joy and excitement on their faces was a sight to behold. If their conviction and belief in this country had been replicated by those in positions of power, influence and prestige a number of years ago, this country would not be in the mess it is in today.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Deputy Higgins can continue with his socialist rant in here every week.

Answer the question.

As far as we are concerned, the Government is focused on implementing its plan and the job announcements that will come because of people's confidence in our country both abroad and at home. We will shift the blockages to business and job creation and give people in the Deputy's own constituency the opportunity to go to work and have a career, so that he will not be coming in here ranting about Bram Stoker and austerity and 700 people down in the Tower Hotel.

The Government is killing people.

I understand that challenge, and it is the job of the Government to sort it out. There might come a day when Deputy Higgins comes in here and says something of a positive nature.

Deputies

Hear, hear.