Leaders’ Questions

Before we begin, I remind Deputies, once again, that during Leaders' Questions the Member asking the question has two minutes, the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste has three minutes to reply, there is one minute to ask a supplementary question and one minute to reply. I ask Deputies to keep to this schedule as far as possible.

I hope the Ceann Comhairle is not trying to cramp my style.

No, I am not. I welcome the Deputy.

I will start by wishing everybody a happy International Women's Day. I hope it is a productive day with some good outcomes.

Gabh mo leithscéal, as Gaeilge.

This morning it was reported that AIB, the Government-owned bank, was planning to announce some 2,500 redundancies today. In fact, the majority of workers heard this on Bloomberg TV this morning. As the Government is the dominant shareholder in the bank, will the Tánaiste confirm that number and tell us when an announcement will be made? When was he informed of this announcement and what actions has the Government taken since to minimise the number of job losses? When we add this figure to the 750 redundancies in Bank of Ireland, 950 in Aviva and 950 in Ulster Bank, the losses completely obliterate all of the gains achieved by IDA Ireland this year and all of the gains the Taoiseach highlighted in the quarterly household survey yesterday. It is clear that we there is a crisis in the financial sector.

They are only discovering that now.

What plans does the Government have-----

Has the Deputy been away?

Please, Deputies.

Will the Deputies opposite listen to the comments of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, about political frivolities? This is in the context of 2,500 redundancies. What plans are in place to address the issue?

We know about it well.

The Deputy's party is out celebrating today. It should get a grip.

Will the Deputy, please, allow the speaker to continue?

They were like giddy junior certificate students with their examination results yesterday.

A bit like Fianna Fáil last week with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, was it?

Deputy Buttimer, did you not hear me the first time?

Out you come, Jerry, if you want.

Just like Gerry Collins last week.

They should take the spring out of that jack-in-the-box.

I have been informed that the management of AIB will be communicating with its employees this morning to the effect that there will be 2,500 redundancies which it hopes to achieve on a voluntary and early retirement basis. My first concern is for the employees of AIB because obviously this is upsetting news for all those who work in the bank. I understand there is a process in place whereby management will be communicating directly with them. There were meetings early this morning between management and the union representing the bank staff, the IBOA, and between the Department of Finance and the IBOA.

Clearly, the announcement of redundancies will have a major impact on those who work in the bank and our immediate concern must be for them. However, we must also examine - this will be the Government's priority - how to create new jobs in the banking and financial services industry. In the Government's jobs action plan, announced some weeks ago, we have set a target of 10,000 new jobs in banking and financial services. We need to work on attracting investment into the banking and financial services industry in order to create these jobs. In addition, we must consider the fact that there will be a large number of people with banking skills and experience who will be available for such employment. As Deputies know, the Government has revised its whole approach to what happens when people become redundant, with the introduction of the Pathways to Work system. What we envisage is that work will be done on how to adapt the skills and experience of those who are losing jobs in the banking system in order that they will be available and ready for new opportunities that will arise in the financial services sector.

In response to the Deputy's question, our concern today is for the employees of AIB who are receiving this bad news, but the Government's focus is on what can be done to create new jobs and attract new investment into the financial services sector in order to provide new employment opportunities for those who are losing their jobs in the bank and for those who have lost jobs in other banks.

The news has just been confirmed as the Tánaiste was on his feet. AIB is stating that if it cannot achieve voluntary redundancies, it will seek enforced redundancies. When was the Government informed of the figure and what action did it take? I share the Tánaiste's aspirations that the people concerned will be taken care of, but we have had this information on a crisis in the financial industry since October. These are skilled personnel. Unfortunately, the workers on the front line have taken the brunt. What strategies are in place for them and on what strategies has the Government been working since October? Why did the people concerned have to hear about the redundancies on Bloomberg TV? It is completely inappropriate that workers who have given their best should hear about redundancies in this way. As the chief shareholder in the bank, will the Government stand over enforced redundancies if this has to happen?

Everybody understands that as a result of the restructuring required in the banking sector - on a day like today I do not want to get into where the fault lies for what happened in the sector; that is a matter for another day - there will have to be reductions in the numbers working in Irish banks. The Deputy mentioned October and since October the Government has been working on what we need to do in order to generate new employment in the banking and financial services sector. That is why when we drew up the jobs actions plan, we targeted in particular the financial services industry as an area where we need to create additional jobs. The strategy we are pursuing is one of attracting investment into that sector. That is why we have been talking so much about the necessity for stability not only in our economy but around the euro and in the eurozone in order that new jobs can be created in that sector here.

The Tánaiste was not supporting that policy 18 months ago.

As far as the people who are losing their jobs are concerned, as we said when we launched the Pathways to Work initiative, the approach the Government is taking in respect of people who lose their jobs is that the first day a person is out work is the first day on that person's way back into work. That is why we will work with people who have lost and who are losing their jobs. In the area of education and training, for example, we will examine the needs of the people who are losing their jobs and how the skills and experience they have can be adapted to take up new job opportunities.

Last year 76,000 people emigrated from this State, which is roughly 1,400 a week. Some 210 people have emigrated every single day of this Administration so far. Some 12,000 were wrapped around the RDS in Dublin in a queue last weekend in a effort to leave this country to obtain work. We saw thousands of people queueing from early hours in Cork yesterday morning to do the same. The curse of emigration we saw in the 1950s and 1980s and that ravaged this country is back with a vengeance due to this Government's policies.

That is rubbish.

It is absolute rubbish.

Children are being pulled out of schools. Grandparents are not getting a chance to see their grandchildren.

(Interruptions).

Could we have silence for the speaker?

Families are currently fire-selling their houses and the GAA generation is being deleted from communities throughout this country. The Government has let go 9,000 people from the public service in the past six weeks and, as far as I can remember this is the largest private sector job losses ever to hit the country.

Where has the Deputy been in recent years?

As has been said, other banks are up back behind that at present. The majority of these people feel like they are falling off a cliff. If one contrasts this desperately sad situation with the back-slapping fest that went on yesterday within Government, it was unbelievable to see. Will the Tánaiste admit at this stage that in many way he has become the Minister for emigration and that emigration is now a central policy platform of the Government to tackle unemployment?

The reverse is true.

The answer to emigration is to create jobs here and that is what the Government's entire strategy is about. The strategy involves, first, attracting investment into the country. That means we have had to restore the country's reputation to get investment back into the country. We are seeing some signs of new jobs being announced and investment being generated and returning to this country. That is why we have published a strategy for the creation of the jobs here - the jobs action plan announced by the Government. That is why later this morning we will announce a further initiative which is aimed at attracting more jobs into this country. Every single day this Government is working at trying to get investment into the country and jobs generated here.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

There is not going to be an overnight success here and there was no back-slapping fest yesterday.

There will not be one today.

Both the Taoiseach and I made it very clear that we have made progress, we have stabilised the economy and we are seeing some growth return to the economy. In the last quarter of last year we saw an increase, for the first time since 2007, in the number of people at work, but we are not going to exaggerate that. There is a great deal more to do to get the jobs we need in order that people do not have to emigrate and those who have can return. I assure Deputy Tóibín and the House that this is the Government's focus. Now that we have stabilised the economic situation and the very difficult set of economic circumstances we inherited a year ago, we are working on recovery for this country and on getting employment and investment back into it. That is why we need to assure investors that there is stability in Ireland, Europe and the eurozone.

The edifice of spin comes falling down when one looks at the facts. The Government has decided to pay €3.1 billion into a promissory note at the end of this month-----

That was the work of the last Government. What about the bank guarantee scheme?

-----into a bank that has no customers. This is a completely jobs-----

(Interruptions).

Hold on a second, Deputy. We live in a parliamentary democracy. A person is entitled to ask a question and a person is entitled to answer it. Will Deputies please cut out the shouting? Deputy Tóibín, please ask your question.

(Interruptions).

That also applies to the Deputy.

This is a completely jobs free investment. The Government is spending seven times more money on this promissory note than all the money it will spend in the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development and the county enterprise boards for one year in total. That shows us directly where the priorities of the Government lie. It is time the Government started investing in and fixing the real economy. Does the Tánaiste not agree that the money going into the promissory note would be better spent reducing unemployment, ending emigration, creating competitiveness and tackling disadvantage? It is time to go beyond the argument that we have no other choice and that it is the fault of the previous Government.

A Deputy

What would you do with the promissory notes?

We need to find out why jobs and emigration are not the priority and why they are secondary.

That is tea party rubbish.

Silence, please.

It is a great pity that the Sinn Féin party did not think of that three years ago when it voted for the bank guarantee which has caused us to have to pay the promissory note.

The Tánaiste should check the record.

The Deputy's party was here at the time.

Let us concentrate on what has to be done. We all know there is a huge and unacceptable level of unemployment in this country and that there is a huge level of emigration of young people in particular from this country. We have to create jobs and attract investment in Ireland. I do not want to exaggerate what we have done and what we are doing but since this Government was formed this time last year, almost to the day, the country's economy has returned to growth for the first time in four years, we have seen in the last quarter an increase in the number of people who are at work for the first time since 2007, and we have stabilised the economic situation in the country. What we now have to do is to move on from that to bring in investment to get jobs created, and we have set out our strategy for that.

It is not a case that we are operating in hope. We have set down a very clear strategy about how we are going to do that. It is contained in the action plan for jobs that we published. In respect of people who have lost or are losing work, we have set down a strategy about how we will move people who are out of work back into employment through education and training, job experience and so on through the Pathways to Work initiative. We have announced repeatedly a range of measure which are aimed at ensuring funding and credit are available to small and medium-sized businesses in order that they can create jobs.

One of the biggest difficulties we have had in recent times in regard to attracting investment - I know this to be the case because in the course of my work as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I talk to people who are contemplating investing in this country - is not uncertainty about the future of the Irish economy but uncertainty about the future of the European economy. That is why we on this side of the House and in government say that we need to pass the fiscal stability treaty in order that-----

The emigration treaty; the unemployment treaty.

When is the Deputy's party going to stop encouraging people to pollute our rivers?

We are over time.

The Deputy's party is promoting the pollution of the rivers in County Meath.

Political slagging and slogans are not going to get people back to work. What is going to get them back to work is the Government pursuing strategies to grow the economy and attract investment to provide some hope for them.

Sinn Féin is doing exactly the same in Northern Ireland. Its Deputies should cop on. They are gamekeepers up there and poachers down here. People are not stupid.

Please, Deputy. I call Deputy Finian McGrath.

(Interruptions).

Deputy McGrath, can you hear me?

When is Sinn Féin going to give back the cartridges?

(Interruptions).

Will Deputy McGrath, please, proceed?

In fairness, I will not until Members stop talking.

The very ones who are complaining about others shouting are now doing the same.

Exactly. Thank you for restoring order.

I would like to raise an important issue, gangland crime, shootings and murders and the destruction and intimidation of entire communities across the country. In the past 24 hours two men have been shot dead in County Kildare and in recent weeks a young woman was shot in Dublin. The spiral of violence continues. There is massive intimidation which occurs under the radar in our communities every day, yet society seems to move to the next issue. These murders would have caused an outcry 20 years ago. Why is there this great silence from the Government and the policing establishment today? Why are disadvantaged communities being left on their own to deal with this issue every single day? What are the Tánaiste and his Government colleagues going to do to stop gangland killings? Do we have to wait for the deaths of more innocent people before there is a real response to the issue? Will the Tánaiste speak out about the huge demand in wealthier parts of the country for drugs that is creating this problem? What is the Government going to do to prevent such crimes? Does the Tánaiste think closing Garda stations is going to assist the prevention of crime?

I agree with the Deputy on the issue of gangland killings and intimidation in communities. They have to be condemned and rejected by every right thinking person in the country. That is certainly the view of the Government which is supporting the Garda Síochána in its work in detecting and bringing to justice those responsible for gangland crime. It is also trying to ensure communities work with and support the Garda in detecting those responsible for such crimes in order that, wherever possible, they can be prevented.

I do not agree that the closure of Garda stations is responsible for gangland crime. In this modern society we need gardaí out in communities working closely with them to ensure they have the necessary information and evidence to charge and bring those responsible before the courts in order that they can be dealt with. I agree with the Deputy on the shootings reported. As far as the Government is concerned, it is most certainly not a case of moving on when such appalling murders are committed. Our priority is to support the Garda Síochána and we call on others to do the same in order that gardaí will be able to do their job and bring those responsible to justice.

I did not say the closing of stations was responsible for gangland crime, rather I said we needed prevention to be part of the strategy, for which we need Garda stations. There are towns with a populatin of 20,000 to 30,000 who only have access to eight gardaí. I do not accept we can have an effective policing force in such cases. We need action on this issue. We need policing action, but we also need a community response. Does the Tánaiste accept that part of the solution to the problem of drugs and gangland crime is to deal with groups like the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign which has great experience of dealing with the drugs issue in communities? How many gangland members have been arrested under the new legislation in the past six months?

Will the Tánaiste look at issues such as the jailing of the former IFA leader John Dillon over the use of a stupid sign on the side of the road? The resources of the State are being used to jail a man and waste Garda time, while others are intimidating communities. I know people on the north side of Dublin who are afraid to speak out because they are under threat from gangs. Young mothers are coming to me, afraid that their sons are being sucked into gangs, selling drugs and then being intimidated to carry out robberies. This is what is happening in the real world and I urge the Government to take action. I urge the Minister for Justice and Equality to wake up and act on the issue, as he is asleep at the wheel.

We deal with gangland crime through providing support for the police service. We will not deal with it by attempting to turn it into a political football. The Minister for Justice and Equality is very much on top of what is happening in respect of crimes being committed.

The people do not believe that.

(Interruptions).

It is the gun criminals who are committing the crimes. The Government is providing support for the Garda. One of the things we have done - for the first time since the 1920s - is to change the way gardaí are deployed in operations. We hope this will prove successful. In this day and age, we need gardaí working with communities in order that they can assemble the evidence needed. I understand very well what is happening in many communities and the fear some people have in providing information for the Garda.

The Labour Party opposed the Bill dealing with this issue last year. The only brave man was Deputy Tommy Broughan.

That is why we are working in support of the Garda in order that those committing such crimes can be brought to justice. That is why we are changing the way gardaí are deployed in order that there will be a better police presence on the ground in communities. Many of the crimes are drug related, which is why the Government's strategy deals with the drugs problem on two levels. The objectives are to cut off the supply of drugs and support voluntary bodies and drugs task forces to reduce the demand for them.