Leaders' Questions

The revelations in last Sunday's edition of Sunday Independent relating to the transcript of a conversation between Deputy Michael Lowry and Mr. Kevin Phelan are quite dramatic and startling. Deputy Michael Lowry has made his statement and I do not propose to deal with that issue today. What concerns me most, as one of many Members who set up the Moriarty tribunal, is whether the tribunal was continually undermined in its efforts to get to the full truth of the issues it was investigating.

I want to refer to documentation Senator Diarmuid Wilson received from Mr. Phelan, providing detail of approximately 60 meetings attended by Deputy Michael Lowry in connection with the so-called Doncaster deal. The Senator has forwarded the material to the chairman of the tribunal and understands there are other related issues that will come down the tracks and has undertaken to send any material he receives directly to the chairman of the tribunal.

Taking this material together - the material the Senator received and the transcript of the conversation - one is left with an uneasy feeling that the tribunal was not told the full truth or that groups of people - witnesses - were meeting, telephoning and engaging with each other before giving evidence to the tribunal. I suggest, at a minimum, that that is both unhealthy and disturbing. Clear contradictions are emerging between what was said at the tribunal and what is now emerging in the material to which I have referred. These contradictions are very difficult to reconcile.

The tribunal was established by and is a creature of the Oireachtas. All of us have a solemn duty and obligation to stand by it and its chairperson and ensure it was enabled to go about its work unhindered and unobstructed, receiving truthful evidence and the fullest co-operation from all concerned. On behalf of the House, will the Taoiseach facilitate a re-examination of these issues by the tribunal? It is in his gift to do so.

Will the Deputy repeat his question please?

Will the Taoiseach facilitate a re-examination of these issues by the tribunal of inquiry by way of a motion in the House or whatever.

This is not a laughing matter, Deputy Rabbitte.

The Deputy should know well about obfuscating before a tribunal. All he need do is consult his former leader.

We are dealing with Leaders' Questions.

What is the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, so worried about? What is he so het up about?

If the Taoiseach wishes to reply, he should do so. Deputy Micheál Martin should resume his seat and we will see what happens.

It is a legitimate question. It concerns an Oireachtas inquiry, which is why I am asking it. We are all involved in this issue. The Government could bring a motion to the House.

The Deputy is clear on the fact that when a tribunal is set up by the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Oireachtas has no further function in the matter. The report of the Moriarty tribunal has already been made. The allegations or comments made by the Deputy could have been applied to a number of other personalities in other tribunals also. The Moriarty tribunal made recommendations on breaking the link between big money and politics and this was achieved through the enactment on 28 July last year of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill which effectively banned corporate donations.

The Government also supported a motion of censure against Deputy Lowry in 2011. The Government is working to prepare comprehensive legislation dealing with whistleblowers - an issue that was raised by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, many years ago - and with the registration of lobbyists. The Government is well advanced in that work. Fundamentally, Mr. Justice Moriarty said he was making his recommendations to break the links between politics and big business. The programme for Government made clear the views of both parties in government. As I have said, the legislation was enacted last year. As Deputy Martin is aware, the Act imposes a ban on the acceptance of donations of more than €200 for political purposes from a corporate donor unless the donor has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission. In addition, it establishes a register of corporate donors and reduces the maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by a political party from €6,300 to €2,500 and the maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by an individual elected representative or election candidate from €2,500 to €1,000. If any further relevant information about the transcript that was handed in comes to light, I agree that it should be forwarded to the appropriate authorities. It is not for me to judge whether there is validity or veracity in all of what was contained in the transcript. This House set up the Moriarty tribunal to deal with a number of specific issues. As the Deputy is aware, the House has no function in determining the outcome of a tribunal after it has been set up. In this case, Mr. Justice Moriarty produced his report two years ago.

No one has denied the veracity of the transcript. It seems to me that it stands as a bona fide transcript of a conversation between Deputy Lowry and Mr. Kevin Phelan. I have already referred to the documentation received by Senator Diarmuid Wilson, which details over 60 meetings between Deputy Lowry, Mr. Phelan and others in relation to the Doncaster deal. It is not for us to judge that particular documentation, but suffice to say there is enough new material for this House to revisit the issue. The tribunal was established by means of a motion proposed in this House by the then Government. That motion was subject to amendments from across the House. The Taoiseach knows what I am saying when I ask him whether he would facilitate a re-examination of this matter by Mr. Justice Moriarty. His comments about other cases may be valid. Will he bring a motion to the House on this specific issue? Does this not concern him? It concerns me.

You did not say that when he was supporting your Government.

The material that is before us now has emerged into the public domain. At a minimum, it casts doubt on the level of co-operation that was afforded to the tribunal and on the truthfulness of the evidence that was provided to the tribunal. The chairman of the tribunal did not see this material before he came to his conclusions. Does it not concern the Taoiseach that a tribunal established by the Oireachtas may have been hindered or fatally undermined? Is he not concerned that people were having discussions in advance? Does it not concern him that people knew who would or would not be turning up or giving evidence and what they would be saying? These fundamental issues go to the heart of what we should be about in this Chamber and in this Oireachtas. The Government has a huge majority in this House. I do not doubt that he will get the full co-operation of the House in this regard.

Could you put a question please, Deputy?

I have a very basic question. Will the Taoiseach bring a motion to the House inviting the chairman of the tribunal to examine the new material that has come into the public domain and to re-examine this issue?

I have no intention of reopening the Moriarty tribunal or any other tribunal that has reported to the House. I did not realise that the Deputy seems to be amnesiac in some respects. Claims have been made about the extent and veracity of information and knowledge given to other tribunals. When someone goes before a tribunal, he or she takes an oath to tell the truth. If people have access to information, I suggest they should bring it to the appropriate authorities.

It is in the public domain now.

I remind Deputy Martin that the same Deputy Lowry kept his Government in office.

When questions were asked about this secret deal on a weekly basis-----

That has nothing to do with anything.

When we called for the publication of-----

The Taoiseach obfuscates in this manner all the time-----

Hold on a second now.

-----to avoid answering questions.

The Deputy cannot have it every way.

The Taoiseach is not answering.

The Deputy's Government signed a secret deal with Deputy Lowry and a number of others.

The Taoiseach offered him membership of Fine Gael on many occasions. That is not the point anyway.

It would not publish any of the details of the deal-----

It was not a secret.

-----in the interests of transparency and accountability-----

The Taoiseach sat at the Cabinet table with him.

-----regarding the use of taxpayers' money to deal with various issues.

What is the Taoiseach's view of the tribunal?

That is the same person the Deputy is speaking about.

Does it worry the Taoiseach?

The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, was on the high stool.

He never got off it.

I have no intention of reopening the Moriarty tribunal.

Is the Taoiseach concerned about the degree to which it has been undermined?

It went on for long enough.

There was no secret deal in my case.

The high moral ground.

The chairman dealt with the report and reported to the House.

What about the people who are close to the Taoiseach?

The House passed a motion of censure against Deputy Lowry and enacted many of the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal. We are preparing legislation to support whistleblowers and provide for the registration of lobbyists.

The Moriarty tribunal was quite critical of the Minister, Deputy Hogan.

If Deputy Martin, Deputy Kelleher or anybody else over there has information, they should bring it to the appropriate authorities so it can be dealt with.

It is obvious that the Taoiseach does not want to reopen this can of worms.

I would expect them to do that.

It is clear from the briefing from the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on the Croke Park proposal that it is not a fair deal for front-line workers. The proposal that the Government is seeking to force workers into accepting, under threat of a worse outcome if it is left to the Government to legislate, heaps pain on low and middle-income workers. It does little more than tinker with excessive pay at the top. The Labour Party, which is the party of the smirkers and the party of Connolly and Larkin, is attacking workers in the centenary year of the Lock-out. A Labour Party Minister has split the trade union movement and torn up the Croke Park agreement.

The Deputy should tell that to his teddy bear.

The Government is now set to force through pay cuts across the public sector.

It will not answer back anyway.

The Labour Party has failed to protect those on low and middle incomes in the private or public sectors. Those who provide a 24-hour, seven-day emergency service to keep citizens safe and well, including nurses, gardaí and firefighters, are being hit hardest. Firefighters believe they will see a cut of 10%. The Taoiseach understands that these people have to pay mortgages, feed and clothe their children, buy schoolbooks and pay their bills. None of their outgoings is being cut, only their incomes. Their pay has been significantly reduced over recent years under this Government and its predecessor. The Taoiseach appreciates that front-line workers did not cause this crisis. It was caused by Fianna Fáil, the golden circles and the elites. Why are front-line workers being left to pick up the tab?

Why does the Deputy not use their services when he needs them?

Yes, instead of going to America.

These negotiations have been among the most fundamental to have taken place in this country in many years. One of the reasons the Government was elected was to deal with the problems faced by our national finances. We must get our deficit to a level at which this challenge can be dealt with comprehensively. The target that has been set involves reducing the deficit to 3% by 2015. That requires serious savings of €300 million this year, and an additional €1 billion over the period to 2015, to be found. Given that pay and pensions account for 35% of expenditure, one third of the savings will have to come from these negotiations. I commend everybody who has played a part in this. The unions have to receive the Labour Relations Commission's document, which will be published later this afternoon. Each union will have to deal with that in its own way, for example by engaging in discussions with and balloting its members.

This deal is proportionate right across the board. It is designed to ensure front-line services will not be diminished or reduced. That is why the changes that have been recommended here, and accepted by the Labour Relations Commission in presenting the document to the unions, are in the interests of everybody who is putting their shoulder to the wheel so we can deal with our national financial problem.

It runs from 1 July until the end of 2016. Over the course of the agreement, the overall savings target will be achieved. There are direct pay reductions for those on remuneration higher than €65,000 and there is an increments freeze of varying lengths at different pay ranges that is designed to protect those at the lower level. There is additional productivity for extra hours from most public servants, whereby those currently working under 35 hours will in future work a minimum of 37 hours and those working between 35 and 39 hours will work 39 hours. There are a whole range of issues, for example, the elimination of twilight payments and the elimination of supervision and substitution payments.

These are negotiations that have been very intensively conducted over the past period. The Government will reduce the pay of those earning over €65,000 progressively, with a 5.5% reduction on the first €80,000 of salary and allowances, 8% between €80,000 and €150,000, 9% between €150,000 and €185,000 and 10% above €185,000. Across the board, this has been a fair and equitable negotiation. As I said, there is an opportunity now, when the unions receive the document from the Labour Relations Commission this afternoon, to discuss and ballot their members, each in accordance with its own democratic tradition. As I said, the issue here will greatly help the Government's programme to bring our deficit into order so it is sustainable and the country can thrive and prosper in the times ahead.

This is challenging for everybody. Nobody likes to announce that things have to be reduced or cut back. However, the trade unions which stayed in at the discussions actually did make significant improvements and alterations to the initial proposals. In that, they have protected the front-line services by making adjustments in the negotiations that took place.

I am not talking about what the trade unions should do - that is work for another day. I am talking about what the Government should do, and I am talking about fairness. There is nothing fair in what we know about this proposal. We also have to talk about the social consequences of the Government's decisions because there are alternatives. It could have really tackled the pay of those at the top. It could also have brought in a wealth tax but it choose not to do so.

The Taoiseach should think of his own position. We take 10% off those on high pay like himself but he still ends up earning more than the British Prime Minister or the French President. To take the example of a nurse in an overcrowded hospital who works anti-social hours and has reduced Sunday pay and increments frozen, a cut of 8% means such a nurse on €35,000 will lose €2,800. Sin an difríocht. There is nothing fair about that whatsoever.

What about Bill Flynn?

I ask the Taoiseach very clearly to re-look at this. Why all the time attack those on lower and middle incomes? The Government has a totally different attitude to the elites and those at the high level. If I can coin a phrase from the words of a former leader of the party to my left, there is nothing fair about telling workers to tighten their belts while those at the top can get on very easily with their lives.

While Bill Flynn is funding Deputy Adams.

How are the Deputy's Westminster buddies doing?

What is fair about that?

I am glad to see Deputy Adams is in robust, good and strong health.

Thank you. My teddy bear is great too, thanks.

The point is that Deputy Adams chooses deliberately not to deal with our front-line service workers here in Ireland. He chooses to fly to greener pastures.

Answer the question.

The Taoiseach has his hand in their pockets.

I am glad he is in robust good health. I remind Deputy Adams of the Sinn Féin proposal to cut take-home pay for public and private sector workers - front-line and back office - earning €35,000 or more.

He kept that a secret.

Teddy did not tell us about that.

They wanted to tax the pension levy.

He should not come in here with his proposals about safeguarding the lower paid.

Is that the Workers Party proposal?

I point out to him that in the budget the Government set out a higher rate of property tax for those who earn more, with extra PRSI on unearned income, an increase in capital gains tax and DIRT tax and an increase in the capping of pensions above €60,000 from 2014.

What about special advisers?

What is the relevance of this?

That is part of a €500 million package which will impact progressively more on those who earn more.

And on nurses.

As I said, in respect of the agreement being put to the trade unions by the Labour Relations Commission, it is now a matter for the unions, in their own way. Those who stayed in at the talks did achieve significant alterations and progressive elements of change to what was originally proposed. I do not have any time for the blather Deputy Adams goes on with in here about protecting all the low-paid workers or front-line workers, who he himself chooses to-----

-----bypass.

Bypass. Well prompted, Pat.

As the details of the new Croke Park deal become clear, it is evident this Government is going to continue its vendetta against low and middle income public sector workers, who have seen between 15% and 20% of their income cut over recent years. With levies and the universal social charge, they have given up €1.5 billion in savings, shed thousands of public sector jobs and seen their pensions cut. Now, in the form of cuts to premium payments and extended working hours which amount to pay cuts, these workers are to see further devastating cuts to their income. The Taoiseach seems to have a particular vendetta against shift workers and other front-line workers who work unsocial hours, many of whom will no longer be able to pay their mortgages and, if they could just about manage to do that, come this summer when the Taoiseach imposes the property tax on them, they certainly will not be able to pay their mortgages or their bills.

Is it not the case that not only are these cuts to public sector workers cruel and unfair attacks on hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and their families, but they are also a further devastating blow to the rest of the economy, including private sector workers? In all the narrative we get about this from the media and elsewhere, there is a suggestion that, somehow, the private sector will benefit from the axe being taken to the public sector. Will the Taoiseach admit the truth, which is that for every euro that is taken from a firefighter, a nurse, a teacher or a council worker, that is a euro less that will be spent in shops and businesses in towns, villages and cities across this country, leading to more job losses in the private sector and to further contraction in economic growth? Is that not the truth about these cuts, namely, they are anti-worker, anti-job, anti-growth, are bad for the entire economy and are completely unjustifiable?

Thank you, Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach back off and impose the burden of this crisis on the corporations on which he will not even impose a slight extra bit of tax, or on the very wealthy earning in excess of €100,000 year?

Deputy Boyd Barrett will not even pay an extra charge of €100.

Go after those who can afford it, not the same targets again and again.

I have pointed out to Deputy Adams the decisions that are already in train and will be in train from 2014 for those who earn most and earn more in this country. I do not accept Deputy Boyd Barrett's premise at all. In all of this, it is important to say that we have to borrow €12 billion this year. The deficit we have is not going to fix itself unless we all contribute. One third of the requirement comes from the public sector. I commend all of those who were involved in these discussions and negotiations.

The document from the Labour Relations Commission will be published this afternoon. The unions will discuss that and ballot in accordance with their own traditions. Front-line staff did say that they were specifically targeted but when one looks at the range of the agreement, one can see that is not the case. Saturday premia have been retained and the unions who stayed at the talks successfully mitigated the proposed reduction in Sunday premia from a reduction in double time to time and three-quarters - one and one-half times that which was tabled by management. It is fair to say that other sections have made proportionate contributions to the overall savings. I speak here of the teaching profession and prison officers. This is an issue where everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel and makes a contribution. Insofar as is humanly possible, this is a fair and proportionate contribution across the board where those who pay the most earn the most. This is very clearly outlined in the recent budget and for next year.

As part of the discussions, the Government indicated that it intends to bring forward proposals for reductions for higher levels of pension as a contribution to the overall savings sought there. Those reductions will be commensurate with the pay reductions set out in the LRC proposals. The commission will publish the paper this afternoon and unions will have the opportunity to debate, discuss and vote on that with their members. From the perspective of getting our deficit down to levels where we can manage our economy effectively, this is a fundamental contribution across the board from the public sector that will make our country more competitive and allow for interest rates to fall further, banks to get back to the business in which they are supposed to be engaged and flexibility in access to and the lending of credit for businesses to do business and for jobs to be created. I understand that this is a difficult time for many people, as does everybody else, but it is a case of Ireland responding to this challenge. The negotiations were based on a fair and equitable contribution from the public sector across the boards. Obviously, the unions will now have the opportunity to debate, discuss and vote on that.

Is it not the oldest negotiating trick in the world to start negotiations by demanding the absolutely unmanageable and then falling back with a few concessions and trying to present them as palatable? No doubt, that is a negotiating trick that the former union officials such as the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Tánaiste taught the Taoiseach from their days in the trade union movement. Is it not the reality that nurses, firefighters and other front-line public sector workers will lose up to 8% of their pay? How are they expected to sustain that?

Will the Taoiseach tell the truth about why these cuts are being imposed? When he says we have to borrow €12 billion this year, will he inform the public that €9 billion of that is in interest repayments on debts that are not ours? These cuts are being imposed on public sector workers and the economy to pay back the gambling debts of bankers and bondholders. What does the Taoiseach have to say to the question I put to him about the damaging effect this will have on the rest of the economy? How can he possibly say that this will help recovery when it will take €1 billion out of the pockets of workers who spend that money in the economy? How can that do anything else but inflict a further devastating blow on our economy as a whole?

The Deputy is over time.

This agreement will last until June 2016. The truth is in what I told the Deputy, namely, that it is absolutely fundamental that we bring our deficit down to manageable proportions. This is critical if we are to have economic growth and job creation. The truth is that the pay and pensions bill accounts for 35% of public spending. In the context of the additional €3 billion in spending cuts required by 2015, this is a contribution from that payroll that is fair and equitable. It is in that context that these most extensive negotiations took place over the past number of months. It was not just over last weekend that they came to a head and conclusion. The only alternative would be to cut services and investment even more deeply and this is simply not acceptable.

What about taxing corporations?

As the Deputy is aware, the Government did not increase income tax and public sector workers fully understand the necessity to protect front-line services. The changes made by the unions that remained at the talks have resulted in very progressive changes to what was originally tabled. A document will be published in detail later this afternoon.