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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Mar 2012

Vol. 761 No. 1

Topical Issue Debate

Emigrant Voting Rights

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for debate. In the recent past citizens of countries such as Russia, Latvia and Egypt have been given the right to exercise their franchise in national elections while living overseas. In many cases, voting is managed by overseas diplomatic facilities and embassies. Other countries have extended the franchise on a more limited basis. Paraguay held a referendum on the issue in 2011. Another country in which the question of the franchise is being discussed is the United States, which allows citizens to cast ballots while living overseas.

Unfortunately, many Irish citizens are once again emigrating due to economic difficulties but I hope their departure is shortlived. The CSO has indicated that a large proportion of those who emigrate are likely to return when economic conditions improve.

In the context of the Government's commitment to a constitutional convention, I hope to start a conversation about whether there is a desire to grant the franchise to those who live overseas and, if so, the extent to which it would be offered. As the constitutional convention is at an early stage perhaps provision could be made to include in its membership those who emigrated since the 1950s so that their voices can be heard. Irish people living in the UK, Australia and America are anxious to keep abreast of events in Ireland and to make sure the Government is not only governing on behalf of those who are resident in the State but also creating the conditions which would allow emigrants to return.

Articles 12 and 16 of the Constitution set out the eligibility of voters in presidential and Dáil elections. My understanding is - the Minister can correct me if I am wrong - constitutionally there is no geographic impediment to this because by law the franchise is extended overseas on a very limited basis to those working in diplomatic missions and members of our Defence Forces working overseas on behalf of the United Nations. So there is a mechanism by which it could be extended. There is reason to review the matter. We recently had a presidential election, including candidates who were not necessarily able to vote for themselves as they lived outside the jurisdiction - albeit in a different part of the island. While the text of the Topical Issue I submitted was fairly broad and I know the presidency is being reviewed as part of the constitutional convention committed to in the programme for Government, this might be something the Government could take on board.

The issue of Irish citizens abroad having a vote in our elections and referendums is an interesting topic for debate. I thank the Deputy for the opportunity it gives me to set out some of the issues involved and the Government's approach.

Electoral law in Ireland provides that in order to be able to vote at elections and referendums, a person's name must be entered in the register of electors for a constituency in the State in which the person ordinarily resides. In the normal course, this means that Irish people who have left home on a permanent basis do not have a vote in Irish elections. However, postal voting is provided for certain categories of persons who are entered in the register of electors but who may find themselves abroad at the time. Typically, this would include members of the Defence Forces and Irish diplomats.

The question of voting by Irish citizens other than those resident in a constituency is not new. It has been the subject of much consideration and deliberation over the years, both here in the House and more generally. The extension of voting rights would require careful consideration of a range of complex matters of principle and practicality. These include the question of which citizens should be entitled to vote from abroad. The Irish diaspora is extensive. Consideration would need to be given to the potential impact of many thousands of voters living outside the jurisdiction on the outcome of elections and referendums. More practical concerns about the costs of implementation and the integrity and secrecy of the ballot would also need to be considered to ensure that decisions on change are fully informed.

The Government is committed to reform. The programme for Government sets out a comprehensive range of constitutional reform measures including the establishment of a constitutional convention. One of the questions to be examined by the convention is giving citizens the right to vote at Irish embassies in presidential elections. Through the convention we will be best able to address all of the complex issues that arise. The Government will consider proposals for change to electoral law in the light of any recommendation for change that might arise from this process.

I thank the Minister. I concur with one of the points the Minister made on logistics. The Government should consider the British model which defines a timeframe. British citizens living abroad who have registered to vote in the past 15 years may apply to vote overseas unless they were too young at the time and if so they can register at the electoral registration office where their parent was registered. For instance, in Ireland it might be possible to allow a seven or ten-year period for the person to prove he or she was on the register of electors in Kilkenny, Carlow, Limerick or wherever and after a fixed period of five years, for example, their eligibility to vote in Irish elections would be established. I would not necessarily advocate extending the franchise for every election, but the presidency would be a starting point given that the President symbolises not only the citizens of the State who live here, but more important those citizens who, unfortunately, are not lucky enough to live here at the moment and the greater diaspora. I welcome the Minister's comments and the Government's commitment to establish the constitutional convention.

I reiterate my support for the principle of what the Deputy has outlined. This matter will be considered by the constitutional convention and I encourage the Deputy to make a submission along the lines he outlined today to that convention in due course.

Social Welfare Appeals

The social welfare appeals system was established in an office of the Department that is independently responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements. The mission statement of the appeals office is to "provide an independent, accessible and fair appeals service for entitlement to social welfare payments and to deliver that service in a prompt and courteous manner". It is vital therefore, that this system maintains its functions on an independent level. As a result, the office continues to operate separately from the Department of Social Protection with separate staff preserving impartiality and objectiveness.

The appeals procedure dictates that all appeals must be made to the chief appeals officer situated at D'Olier House, within 21 days of receipt of the deciding officer's decision in any given case. Relevant documentation in respect of each individual case is then requested from the Department along with relevant facts from the deciding officer involved. The chief appeals officer then refers the case to relevant appeals officers for consideration. The case goes for either oral hearing or summary hearing.

One would assume that this process is transparent and effective however since 2009, undoubtedly as a result of the downturn in our economy, there has been an enormous increase in the number of appeals received by the Department and a significant backlog has ensued. The length of time that appellants are forced to await a decision has become critical. Details emerged from the Department in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by my former party colleague, Deputy Broughan. According to the documentation, the average summary appeal period rose from just over 18 weeks in 2009 to more than 25 weeks last year. However, if an oral hearing was required, the average waiting time rose from 34 weeks in 2009 to more than 52 weeks last year.

In a statement to RTE, the Department of Social Protection said that between 2009 and 2011, the number of social welfare appeals had increased dramatically from 15,000 a year to 32,000, giving rise to a "catch-up" situation. To reduce the backlogs, the Department assigned 12 additional appeals officers and had retained retired appeals officers for a further 18 months. The Department also stated it was working more efficiently and finalised more than 34,000 decisions in 2011.

Before the current pressurised situation arose, the average processing time for a summary appeal was 14 weeks and 31 weeks for an oral hearing. Last year, the growing pressure increased average processing times to an unheard of 25 weeks for a summary decision and nearly 53 weeks for an oral hearing. It is placing great pressure on people and we are also finding that in cases where people have representation at oral hearings, their cases seem to be processed more quickly and in those cases the finding is more likely to be in favour of the applicant. In 2002 in Northern Ireland, 43% of applicants with representation were granted their claims compared with 25% without representation.

Apart from the inefficiency of this system, the remaining issue is that both the appeals officers and the deciding officers are required to act quasi-judicially. The question arises over just how independent this body can be. The UK appeals service ensures that tribunal members are independent of the relevant agencies against which the appeal is being made.

I ask the Deputy to conclude. She will have two further minutes to make a supplementary statement.

The situation is critical and needs to be reviewed urgently.

I thank Deputy Phelan for raising this important matter. Behind these numbers, there are people being affected by the appeal processing times. Unfortunately since the economic crash there has been an enormous increase in the numbers of appeals in the social welfare system. At the start of the year in 2008 - the year of the crash when things really began to bite - some 5,723 delayed appeals were in the system and the average processing time was time was 22 weeks. From early in 2008 the number of appeals received by that office began to increase dramatically and by 2011 had more than doubled from an average of 15,000 to 32,000.

Let us bear in mind that this has increased from an average of under 6,000 up to 32,000 in a short period. The pressure placed on the office by this rapid increase in workload has resulted in unacceptable delays for our customers.

As Deputy Phelan noted, in an effort to reduce processing times the Department appointed 12 additional appeals officers between 2010 and 2011. One of the first things I did when I became Minister was to sign in significantly more appeals officers. In addition, a further ten appeals officers formerly employed by the community welfare services, CWS, of the Health Service Executive joined the office as part of the integration of the CWS appeals services into the Social Welfare Appeals Office. This brought the total number of appeals officers to 39. In addition, the office has improved its business processes and information technology support.

I am advised that the changes in 2010 and 2011 have dramatically increased the capacity of the office to finalise decisions. The amount of appeals finalised has increased from 13,500 in 2010 to 34,027 in 2011, more than a doubling of the numbers. However, the time taken to build the capacity to deal with the inflows has resulted in a catch-up situation. As the new information technology system has begun to work its way in, there has been a deterioration in processing times while the office clears through the backlog.

Before the current pressures on the office the average processing time was approximately 14 weeks for a summary decision and 31 weeks for an oral hearing. This peaked last year at 25 weeks for a summary hearing and 52.5 weeks for an oral hearing. By February this year the processing time had reduced to 22.4 weeks for summary decisions and 38 weeks for an oral hearing, evidence that the backlog is being progressively reduced and that appeals officers are now working on more current cases. This applies especially to new cases.

By its nature and because it is a quasi-judicial process the processing of appeals takes time. Once an appeal is received there is a statutory requirement for a response to that appeal by a deciding officer which addresses the conditions raised in the appeal. If new evidence is submitted a review of the decision will be undertaken by the Department and this may involve a further medical examination or a re-investigation of the applicant's circumstances. Once the submission is received from the Department if it is considered that there is a need to conduct an oral hearing of the appeal, the process will require the booking of a venue at a location convenient to the appellant, arranging the attendance of witnesses, notifying appellants and handling cancellations.

While figures published in recent days show long delays in individual categories in the processing of appeals, some of these figures may be based on a small sample and delays may be the result of exceptional circumstances in these particular appeals. However, the average processing times for all appeals are being significantly reduced, especially in the case of new appeals going directly into the new and improved information technology system.

Appeals are scheduled and dealt with in strict chronological order. However, as a payment of last resort, appeals in regard to supplementary welfare allowance are given priority status and are dealt with urgently by the office. In these cases, the average time to process summary cases in 2011 was six weeks. This increased to 17 weeks for those requiring an oral hearing. I thank Deputy Phelan for raising this matter. I am in constant contact with the chief appeals officer. She is keeping the methods of operation and business under constant review with a view to improving them further.

We welcome the Minister's reassurances. I realise that it can be almost impossible to try to book a room for an oral hearing. Perhaps the local authorities could come to our aid in these cases. Often, they have unused offices which could be used for oral hearings. This might prove to be more efficient.

I will conclude by giving the Minister an example the type of case we must deal with. One particular claim relates to a man in County Carlow. His rent allowance ceased in July 2011 following an investigation. This person had recently separated from his wife and had three children to support. He appealed the decision at the beginning of August but the oral hearing took place only two weeks ago, that is to say, some eight months later. In the meantime, the man incurred arrears of up to €2,500 owed to his landlord. I realise the Minister is in constant contact with the office but this is what is occurring and we must address the situation. I thank the Minister and I appreciate her reply.

I have stated previously in the House that reform of the information technology and business structures is relevant to Deputies of all parties throughout the House. I would prefer to see fewer appeals and more determinations at the initial presentation of cases. If better information were available and a better presentation was made at the beginning we could reduce the volume of appeals significantly. I understand we have worked through most of the information technology changes and transfers to the new system. The new system applies to new applicants and this is why their times are improving significantly. However, we must transfer the backlog and get through it as well. If we could arrange for a case to be presented in as much detail as possible with all the relevant evidence at the initial stage, I believe it would lead to better decisions which, in turn, would result in fewer appeals.

Rent Supplement

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this Topical Issue matter to be raised. The reason for it is simple. There is a need to recognise the lack of one and two-bedroom apartments in rural areas and, therefore, the fact that tenants cannot be over-accommodated for the purposes of rent supplement and should not be ordered out of their accommodation for that reason.

There are many problems with the rent allowance system. These are mainly related to the maximum rent limits set and the attendant problems they have generated. There is also a problem with the obligation to be in private rented accommodation for six months before one is entitled to claim rent assistance and the need to be on the local authority housing list. This is especially problematic in rural areas. It has arisen more often in recent months and I imagine the problem applies throughout the country. In our small rural towns and villages there are simply no one or two-bedroom apartments available. Thankfully, we did not have the rampant development that occurred elsewhere during the so-called Celtic tiger years resulting in the building of so many blocks of apartments. However, in small towns such as Ardara, Killibegs and Donegal town in south-west Donegal, people who require rent allowance must apply for and take the available properties.

There have been some notable cases recently. One example involved an elderly lady who had a severe heart condition and who could not enter a premises with stairs. She rented a bungalow. However, the only bungalow available in the area had three bedrooms and she was refused rent allowance because she was over-accommodated. That was a bad decision by the community welfare officers and the Department. Thankfully on appeal the circumstances were accepted and she received her rent allowance. However, the process put that person through considerable delays, nervousness and concern about whether she could afford to live anywhere. Another case involved a single man who had been in a two-bedroom apartment which was put on the market by the landlord, who wanted vacant possession of it. The man discussed the matter with the community welfare officer, who advised him to get another property and indicated that the rent allowance would transfer. The only place available was a three-bedroomed bungalow in the same village, but subsequently, when the community welfare officer visited, the man was told he would have to leave and that he would not qualify for rent allowance for the property because it was too large. The system needs to recognise that in many areas around the country one and two-bedroomed apartments are not available.

The people dependent on rent allowance need a sense of security and need to know that if they find a property to rent, the system will be able to accommodate them. The rigid application of the rules and the law does not work in rural areas. I urge the Minister to inform community welfare services and superintendents that they need to be flexible with the system. People are not looking for accommodation that is too large for them, but availing of the only accommodation available in the area.

I thank Deputy Pringle for raising this issue. The purpose of rent supplement is to provide short-term income support to eligible tenants living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short-term assistance and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. Since 2007, rent supplement spending has increased from €391 million to a provisional outturn of €503 million in 2011. The number of people claiming the allowance increased from just under 60,000 people to over 96,800 at end 2011, a 62% increase.

The Department's staff administering the rent supplement scheme assess each application based on the individual circumstances of the case. The Department must be satisfied that the residence is reasonably suited to the residential and other needs of the claimant. The Department must also be satisfied that the rent payable is reasonable, having regard to the nature, character and location of the residence. Individuals cannot be provided with financial assistance for accommodation that is in excess of their needs. The objective is to ensure that rent supplement is not paid in respect of overly expensive accommodation, having regard to the size of the household and market conditions. It should also be borne in mind that the Department is responsible for renting approximately 40% of rental properties in the country. If we over pay, we drive up rents for workers on low income and students who pay privately for accommodation. Therefore, there is an issue of balance. However, in determining whether a particular property is reasonably suited to the residential and other needs of the claimant, the question of availability of accommodation is taken into consideration. It is accepted that there may be limited availability of apartments and smaller properties in some rural areas.

It is the Department's intention to return the rent supplement scheme to its original purpose of a short-term income support. The Government has effectively two initiatives to deal with long-term reliance on rent supplement, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, in operation since 2004, and the new housing policy initiative. Both initiatives give the local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the long-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement. These initiatives will result in a long-term solution for those with a housing need. I am working closely with my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to have responsibility for rent supplement transferred to local authorities as these will have a housing department with the detailed knowledge of availability of and cost of accommodation.

One of the cases mentioned by Deputy Pringle concerned an elderly lady. I put it to the Deputy that if we wish to reform the system, that lady should receive long-term accommodation suitable for somebody of her age and physical condition. That is the objective towards which we should work.

I thank the Minister for her response. I agree our objective should be a long-term solution for people in these situations. It would be great if we could see a time down the road when that would happen. Unfortunately, housing lists are getting longer, the amount of accommodation available to councils is extremely limited and people remain on the housing lists for extremely long periods. I agree we should be providing social housing and for those who require it, but that is not what is happening. People are dependent on rent allowance and this problem will continue.

I appeal to the Minister to talk to officials and ask them for some flexibility in this regard. They must recognise that the type of accommodation that may be suitable to a person's long-term needs is not available, rather than create problems for people by cutting off the rent allowance and forcing them to move out of accommodation and go through an appeals process. As we mentioned in a previous debate, appeals can take an inordinate length of time. We must use a common sense approach, although I recognise and agree we should work towards the long-term gains. However, in the meantime, many people will be impacted detrimentally due to the current policy.

I have met with county managers and the Minister to discuss this issue. Yesterday, at Cabinet, we got the agreement to further the policy of transferring responsibility for the rent allowance to local authorities, keeping the rent allowance scheme as a short-term scheme. However, it seems that the lady and the gentleman about whom the Deputy spoke have a long-term rental requirement and they should get social housing, either through a traditional tenancy, through the rental accommodation scheme or through a housing allocation process towards which we will move. That budget would go to the local authorities. One of the issues with regard to the local authorities is that they want to be sure that they will continue to receive the income. Significant work on moving to a new system has been done by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and my Department and the Ministers involved. As mentioned, currently we pay €500 million a year, mostly to private landlords. While that is fine, we need to get good value for money and some long-term security for the kind of people mentioned by the Deputy. I will take into account what Deputy Pringle has said about those cases.

Job Protection

All of us are familiar with the dreadful news regarding the outsourcing of jobs from Vodafone in Dundalk and Dublin to the Teleperformance company. This move will result in the export of over 300 jobs to Northern Ireland and my constituents in Louth will bear the brunt of this action. I urge the Minister to take practical steps to persuade Vodafone to review its decision in this case.

I also urge the Minister to undertake a review of the call centre and support sector in general in order to identify at risk jobs in this area and to prevent further such actions in the future. It is not acceptable to anybody here that a worker be told on a local radio station that his or her job is about to be transferred, yet this is what happened in Dundalk last week. The company has not been up-front with its staff in Dundalk or Dublin about its intentions. For a company at the cutting edge of communications, it has been remarkably reticent when it comes to communicating directly and supplying clear information to its employees. It asked for the trust and patience of its employees, but its actions to date suggest it is not deserving of such trust. The Vodafone company's record in other countries is littered with stories of tax avoidance and far from being a responsible member of the corporate community, it acts more like an international highwayman bullying governments and workers alike.

Ireland provides very generous terms to companies investing here. At the same time, we should provide stricter conditions to those terms and police and enforce them more rigorously. We should also look at the awarding of State contracts. The State has power not just as a legislator and enforcer, but also as a customer. Vodafone has been the beneficiary of several huge State contracts in recent years. Who, for example, knows that most of the parking meters here have a Vodafone SIM card installed, generating huge revenue for the company? These contracts and other business with the State should be reviewed in light of the company's recent decision in respect of the jobs in Dundalk and Dublin and the decision relating to jobs in Dundalk last June. We have options open to us and I urge the Minister to examine all the options at his disposal with regard to how to deal with this not just for now, but for the future also.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this most important issue. Like Deputy Nash and Deputy Kirk, I am shocked and appalled by Vodafone Ireland's announcement last Thursday, 22 March, to move a further 300 Irish customer service jobs from Dublin and Dundalk to another jurisdiction. This comes on the back of 140 jobs lost last May when Vodafone decided to move call centres from Ireland to Egypt and India. In total up to 440 jobs will be lost at Vodafone Ireland.

We know from last week's announcement that 300 jobs in customer care in both Dublin and Dundalk are being moved to Northern Ireland without proper consultation and which will result in significant job losses. This, in turn, will have an adverse effect on the quality of life of workers' families and the local economies in Dublin and Dundalk. It is quite obvious to senior Vodafone management that workers who are currently based in Dublin and Dundalk will not be a position to relocate to Newry. According to Mr. Terry Delany, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, who is making strenuous efforts to help save these jobs, this decision made by Vodafone has been callous and he has accused Vodafone of "exporting jobs in the blind pursuit of an increased bottom line".

This is an appalling situation and it flies against the spirit of the Government's jobs strategy which is to create and retain jobs in the Republic. This is clearly a strategy of corporate greed being adopted by Vodafone Ireland in moving these jobs from the Republic when one considers the amount of profit Vodafone is making here. My research indicates that Vodafone is Ireland's leading communications provider with 2.45 million customers across mobile, fixed line and DSL. At 30 September 2011, Vodafone Ireland's mobile telecoms base was 2.22 million. The company continues to benefit from a profitable market in Ireland and has repatriated €2.2 billion in profits on its Irish operations to its parent group over the past decade. Vodafone Ireland also continues to enjoy one of the lowest corporation tax rates on company profits available anywhere in the world so I ask why it is taking this course of action.

I ask both the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to intervene urgently and to meet senior management with a view to saving the 300 jobs currently under threat.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this most important matter to the significant workforce in Dundalk and in Dublin. A total of 193 employees, both part-time and full-time, in Dundalk will be directly affected by this proposal to move employees to Teleperformance. It has been suggested they may go to Newry or to Dublin but the fear is that they may be moved to Newry. The local economy benefits to the tune of approximately €4.5 million annually from the salaries and payments coming from Vodafone in Dundalk. This equates to some €90,000 a week coming into the local economy. Jobs in the services sector will also be affected because of the reduced spending power of employees at a time when the domestic economy is quite flat. The employees comprise of married and single people and many have mortgage responsibilities. I refer to a letter from one employee, Mr. Pickering, who stated he had bills to pay and he planned to be married soon. He has been informed his team is moving to Dublin but he does not drive and it is 50 miles to Dublin from Dundalk. He has been working in Vodafone for nearly ten years and he now faces a dilemma. The workers have been told that in September or October of this year, there will be nobody left in the building.

Dundalk town has already been devastated by job losses. I welcome the news that PayPal will create significant employment in Dundalk but Vodafone has provided invaluable employment in the town. I appeal to the Minister of State to take a serious look at the underlying reasons for the proposal to move either to Newry or to an alternative location. This has profound implications for the local Dundalk economy and it will undermine the confidence of those who might be contemplating setting up in the town. I ask the Minister of State to meet with the union representatives and also the public representatives in the constituency to discuss the details of this issue to impress on Vodafone the necessity to reconsider the decision and to ensure it does not happen again.

I thank Deputies Nash, Terence Flanagan and Kirk for raising this matter. This is the second time in the space of a year that Vodafone and its operations have become the subject of a Topical Issue Debate in this House.

I am very conscious of the anxiety that the proposed transfer of the 290 agency posts and 27 direct Vodafone posts to Teleperformance creates for the workers and their families, as well as the local communities.

Vodafone Ireland announced on Thursday, 22 March that it had completed a review of the company's current contracted mobile call-centre operations. The company has stated that following this review, it will be adopting a new model for its mobile customer care, resulting in a move to a new provider, Teleperformance, which is headquartered in Newry. Rigney Dolphin was the previous provider of this service at Vodafone's offices in Dundalk. I am informed that Teleperformance currently provides a variety of care and support services to the Vodafone Group in a range of other markets, including the UK. I understand that this change has arisen out of Vodafone's ongoing review of customer care. As part of the changes, 27 Vodafone roles and 290 contract roles currently provided by Rigney Dolphin, will transfer to Teleperformance. I am informed that the transfer will be under a transfer of undertakings, protection of employment arrangement. I understand that Vodafone Ireland and Rigney Dolphin are currently entering a six-week consultation process with employee representatives, prior to the new arrangements taking effect. and that at the end of this period, Vodafone envisages there will be a direct transfer to Teleperformance of these employees within their current roles. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this point. Rigney Dolphin will remain a provider to Vodafone Ireland for its call centre sales and fixed care functions. I hope that the parties concerned will use this period to ensure there is meaningful dialogue about the company's proposals.

It is a core priority of the Government to retain and create the maximum number of jobs in the State. I would strongly encourage the parties in this case to explore to the fullest extent, whatever possibilities remain to retain jobs in the State. If there is anything that the Government or its agencies can meaningfully do to assist in this regard, there will be no hesitation on our part. Notwithstanding the ongoing efforts on minimising the impact of the Vodafone decision, I wish to assure the House that the State enterprise agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and Louth County Enterprise Board, will continue to make every effort possible to develop new employee opportunities for Dundalk.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I know he is very familiar with this issue, having first discussed it with me and other Deputies in Louth last summer, in respect of the announcement by Vodafone at that stage regarding jobs in Dundalk. If workers are to transfer to Newry, there will be personal taxation and PRSI implications for them and for the State. My understanding is that their tax liabilities will be paid in that jurisdiction. I have been working on this issue for the past week. Most, if not all, the workers would prefer to see their taxation going towards the provision of local schools, hospitals and other services. I implore the Minister of State to closely examine the call and support centre sector which is at risk. By its very nature this is a footloose industry and an industry which has tended to look to lower cost economies in recent years. A significant number of people are employed in the call and support centre sector and it is incumbent on us to support them as best we can. In a globalised economy companies will make decisions based on their own bottom line. We have an obligation to our citizens to protect their jobs, their terms and conditions and to ensure they and their companies have a future in this State. I ask the Minister of State to take on that challenge with other relevant Ministers and carry out a comprehensive review, looking at the underlying factors, in order to ensure this does not happen again.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is obvious that Vodafone is taking advantage of the recession. It stripped away 140 jobs last May that went to India and Egypt. Now there the announcment of 22 March and this 300 staff. Coming down the track is the threat of the loss of another 200 jobs, concerning which the union has not got assurances. Perhaps the Minister of State can follow this up and meet the management, if he has not already done so. What is going on is very serious. It sets a very bad precedent, or example, for other companies. It strips away staff while at the same time taking advantage of the market and the low corporation taxes in the Republic.

All in all, this is extremely worrying. The company has a moral duty to retain as many staff as it can in the Republic, given its profit centre in this country and the amount of moneys it has achieved here. In regard to Teleperformance, will the Minister of State find out whether the company is receiving any grant aid from the Newry Chamber of Commerce? Perhaps that issue can be raised with his counterpart there.

I exhort the Minister of State to request a meeting with the management of Vodafone to discuss the details of this matter. As other speakers indicated, this is the second time there have been such job losses in Dundalk, as there were previously in Dublin. The mobility and flexibility concerned have profound implications for people who have to make mortgage arrangements and have normal family expenses to meet, week in, week out. They need some sense of security. We must address this issue, even now when there are very high levels of unemployment and the creation of jobs is clearly difficult. Those in employment are entitled to have a sense of security in that employment. Given the volatility that apparently applies in the call centre area in general, there is a need to look at this issue and to sit down with management, anticipate any problems that may be coming down the tracks and exhort and encourage companies to reverse decisions such as this one.

A number of issues have been raised. I have no problem in principle with the Members from counties Louth and Dublin seeking a meeting with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, about this matter. In the first instance, there are national and strategic issues in regard to the precarious nature of call centre jobs. There is the issue of the transfer of undertakings from one company to another operating on behalf of Vodafone - as a global corporate entity, one might say. There is the issue of corporate social responsibility and there is the actual worry people have. Deputy Kirk referred to Mr. Pickering and whether the issue of mobility arises in his particular circumstances.

I will relay this message to the Minister. My instinct is that if the Members present who have a concern were to seek a meeting with him these issues might be teased out further.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister. If the Minister of State were to set the arrangements in train, I am sure the Members involved and other Members in the constituencies would go along.

Perhaps the Minister could meet with the management as a matter of urgency to try to progress this issue.

The Minister of State has given his reply so we must move on.

If the Members present who raised the issue are willing to meet the Minister, I will make that request of him. Let us see where we go from there. I thank the Ceann Comhairle.