Leaders' Questions

I beg the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence to wish the Taoiseach a happy birthday. Is it the Tánaiste's birthday as well?

The birthdays are about the only thing that unite both of them at the moment but the Taoiseach should enjoy the day nonetheless.

I raise the issue of the aftermath of the Croke Park II deal and the vote by public sector workers to reject the deal presented to them by Government - a deal we said was unfair and had a disproportionate impact on front-line workers, in particular. I also criticised the strategy deployed to get this deal through which was a combination of dividing and conquering workers, a bit of bribery at the end and when all else failed, old-fashioned intimidation and threats, which ended in abject failure.

When we raised this issue last week, the Taoiseach said the Government was going to take time out to reflect on the vote. It seems the reflection did not really last more than 24 hours because the Estimates were rammed through committee and included the savings earmarked in the pay deal. In essence, the Estimates on which we will be asked to vote today contain the €300 million the Government expected to realise as a result of the deal the workers rejected last week.

While the Minister has asked the chair of the Labour Relations Commission-----

The Government. Sorry, I thought the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was leading the charge on this. In any event, the Government asked the chair of the LRC to reconsider while at the same time throwing it out there yesterday - of course, it may take it back again - that there could be compulsory job losses in the public sector. The Taoiseach said there really is only a fortnight and people must come back to the table but meanwhile the Estimates are being rammed through. We do not know of what the €300 million will be made up.

Sources close to the Government have said the legislation the Minister, Deputy Howlin, promised in regard to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the Pensions Act and the Payment of Wages Act will be brought in. That is what the Taoiseach seems to be confirming. In essence, there seems to be a pretence that we really want to enter into renegotiation but in reality that will not happen. Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House that it is the Government's real position to force the pay deal through and bring in the legislation, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, promised some weeks ago in this context of this deal and that the legislation is actually ready to go?

I thank Deputy Martin for his good wishes. I will pass on the same to the Tánaiste.

He will be delighted.

The House might indulge me for a moment as this is job shadow day and young people are working with various public representatives through the Irish Association of Supported Employment. Two young men, Michael Dunleavey and John Hynes, are shadowing me today and they are in the Visitors Gallery. I just wanted to recognise that.

In respect of Deputy Martin's question, the position is that the unions held their ballot and made their decision. The Government reflected on this and has asked the LRC to engage with the 21 unions to see if there is a basis for negotiations because, as I said before and as has been very clearly confirmed by the Minister, the bottom line is that the requirement for €300 million must come from the payroll package this year, rising to €1 billion by 2015. The LRC will engage genuinely with the unions to see if there is a basis for that. That is the first step Government instructed following the announcement of the vote by the unions.

It is not true for Deputy Martin to say the Estimates are being rammed through. For whatever reason, his people walked out of the committee dealing with the Estimates yesterday. I remind the Deputy that in his pre-budget submission, the cuts he was looking for this year were of the order of €350 million, which was more extensive and deeper than what was negotiated.

It is very necessary for the Government to produce its Estimates without gaps or brackets around numbers because it is important that it be able to continue to do its work and carry out its duties. The Estimates before the Dáil do not comprise the entire range of Estimates; they have been apportioned across Departments. As the discussions take place on these Estimates, there may be little adjustments here and there.

Some €300 million.

The Estimate before the House is the Estimate for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The 130 people who work in shared services need to be paid this week. That is why it is important that the Estimate for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform go through today in order that the people concerned can continue their work and be paid for it. In that sense, a very genuine process is being followed. We have to achieve the savings that have been set out.

The Deputy referred to the threat of compulsory redundancies. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said that if this were a private company, there would be redundancies in train. With regard to the public sector and the Labour Relations Commission's negotiations on Croke Park II, protection was an inherent part. However, if there is no agreement, there is no protection; that is the point. Obviously, the trade unions will now engage with the Labour Relations Commission to determine whether there is a basis for negotiations on the savings of €300 million required to be made this year.

That is why workers really get fed up with the mixed messages that flow from the Government. What the Taoiseach has said is really a threat to workers. He is basically saying that if there is no agreement, there will be no protection. He did this about two months ago also. Again, it was not followed through. The Government is reaching out on the one hand, while saying that if one does not play ball, there will be no protection in terms of employment.

Nurses, health care workers and public servants felt the deal was fundamentally unclear. There was a divide and conquer approach at the time and it is continuing. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said yesterday that he would work with the trade unions that would work with him. That old tradition of number counting is what got the deal into trouble from day one. The Government was looking at the electoral college set-up and counting the numbers and it got it wrong. It tried to isolate certain workers, particularly in the health care sector. We know that gardaí were isolated much earlier. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board in terms of how the deal was constructed and the composition of the pay cuts for specific workers.

The Taoiseach has confirmed that there will be only little adjustments. Government sources said yesterday there could only be a tweaking of the deal. In reality, the laws that must be enacted to give effect to the pay deal are ready. While informed industrial relations correspondents are saying the Government has bought a little time for itself, it seems it has bought time to try to get the numbers right here by getting Labour Party backbenchers to vote for the necessary legislation to get the deal through. That is what is on the agenda for the next fortnight. Deep down, the Government knows there is no room for the kind of substantive renegotiation of the deal that those representing the workers are saying is required. The Government's position is that only a tweaking of the deal can occur. The real agenda is to get everybody on board to vote through the pay deal in the context of legislation that is ready to go and which the Minister has drawn up.

That is not a question. Let me remind the Deputy of the truth. The Government must deal with the truth and the facts. The trade unions rejected the proposals from the Labour Relations Commission which were negotiated in full and open consultation in a very comprehensive way. This is unlike the circumstances in which legislation was simply rammed through without consultation or engagement with the public sector in the first place.

What about Croke Park I?

That is after the Deputy's party made cuts.

That was repeated on two separate occasions. It is also true that in the negotiations between the Labour Relations Commission and the trade unions on Croke Park II, employment was protected. It is absolutely true to say that if there is no agreement, there will be no such inherent protection. In the beginning all of the trade unions were invited to participate and engage. They can now all participate and engage again. It is fundamental to getting the public finances right that the saving of €300 million be achieved this year and, as has been pointed out, that up to €1 billion be saved by 2015.

The Deputy's assertion that the Estimates are being rammed through is also untrue. The Estimate is for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

There was no debate last week on the Estimates.

The Deputy's people walked out of a meeting yesterday and would not engage on it. The reason the Estimate must go through this morning is to ensure workers can be paid at the end of the week. They are engaged in public service and public duties.

A process is in train whereby the Labour Relations Commission can engage with the trade unions, all of which can come back in and give their views to the commission. The savings must be achieved. As I stated, the door of the Government is always open to the ideas and expressions of the trade unions. There is an important process in place, as the Government has recognised. It has asked the commission to engage with the trade unions to determine how best this might be achieved. It has to be achieved.

I wish the Taoiseach and his terrible twin in the Labour Party a happy birthday.

Since yesterday the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, sought to ram Estimates for his Department through the committee. The Taoiseach has stated correctly the Estimates are apportioned Department by Department. Hardwired into each of them are the Croke Park agreement cuts. The Taoiseach has asked the Labour Relations Commission to re-engage with the trade unions to find some accommodation. Despite this, he will bring the same Estimates in front of the Dáil this morning, snubbing his nose at the decision of workers in the civil and public service. He congratulates himself and contrasts his approach with that of the last Government which acted unilaterally on pay cuts. I suppose the distinction is really one of choreography because, whereas the current Government will go through the motions of engaging in consultation and pretending to have a listening ear, it has indicated that, like Fianna Fáil, it is ultimately prepared to act unilaterally. The Taoiseach is playing games with public sector workers. I am not talking about those at the top such as himself, the Tánaiste and their special advisers but about workers on the front line, including gardaí, nurses, teachers and emergency personnel.

The Taoiseach continues his sabre rattling this morning and draws a parallel with the private sector. I suggest that in the private sector the first one to get the chop would be the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who would very smartly be followed by the rest of the members of the Government. To add insult to injury, as the Taoiseach throws shapes at public sector workers, he protects the pay of Richie Boucher. If ever somebody was correctly named, it is the bould Richie.

Will the Deputy, please, refrain from dealing with personal issues?

He is on a salary – sorry, a remuneration package – of €843,000. That is €70,000 per month or over €16,000 per week.

Which topic are we debating?

Richie takes home in a fortnight what an average nurse earns in an entire year. How does the Taoiseach look public and civil servants in the eye, despite telling us that many of them are struggling just to get by? How does he look them in the eye when his approach is so heavy-handed with them? He demands that nurses, gardaí and emergency personnel take cuts to their wages and accept a decrease in the standard of their working lives, while at the same time being so gentle and generous with Richie Boucher.

I am not sure where the Deputy’s question was. Let me deal with her assertion on the Estimates.

It is necessary that the work of government continue and that the Estimates being produced are clear. It may well be that in the discussions that will take place at committee suggested changes or adjustments will be made to the Estimates set out. What is before the Dáil is one Estimate for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is necessary that this Estimate be passed if public sector workers are to be paid. I am sure even Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, with her ability to turn this way and that-----

As distinct from the Taoiseach.

-----recognises that workers in the public service who perform their duties are entitled to be paid. The Deputy walked out of a meeting yesterday at which this could have been arranged. The Government has set out in its fiscal plan the savings required to be achieved this year. These savings, as set out in the Revised Estimates for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, are apportioned across all Departments. That is the reason the Estimate is before the House. This is normal procedure in the workings of government. The discussions and negotiations that took place were the most extensive, comprehensive, open and - I dare say - truthful expression of the facts of financial life in this country. From a Government perspective, the proposals on the table as put forward by the Minister through the Labour Relations Commission are fair and equitable. The core salaries of 87% of public sector workers earning below €65,000 per annum are not touched. It is important that the Deputy understand we are borrowing more than €1 billion every month to pay salaries in the public sector.

The Deputy mentioned individuals in the banks. I remind her that the contract for the bank in question was negotiated by a Fianna Fáil-led Government and that this Administration on taking office put in place a cap on bankers' salaries, which nobody has since breached. I further remind her that the Government, as part of its programme for Government, asked that an analysis be carried out of bankers' pay. This analysis was conducted by Mercer and the findings were reported to the Government. The Government, in its engagement with the banks, recommended a reduction in banks' pay and pension scales of between 6% and 10%. The Minister for Finance expects that this recommendation from the Government will be responded to by the banks in the next two weeks. My understanding is that it will include a substantial contribution from the leadership of the banks on pay and pensions.

I am well aware that not only did Fianna Fáil set this remuneration package of €16,000 per week but also that the former Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mr. Joe Walsh, is chairman of the remuneration committee of the bank in question.

Can we avoid dealing with individuals, please?

I am fully conversant with the facts. The Taoiseach spoke about the need for clarity. In this episode there is absolute clarity: the outrageous remuneration package of a banker is not to be touched. The Minister for Finance, rather than register a protest in this regard, will abstain and allow this obscenity to go through on the nod. At the same time, the Government is eye-balling nurses, gardaí and front-line staff, telling them that they have to take more pain.

A question, please.

The Taoiseach may claim and may have been brainwashed by his colleagues into believing 87% of public and civil servants are untouched by the deal.

The Deputy is over time.

When workers did the sums in respect of their households and families, they took a different view.

Will the Deputy put her question, please?

Will the Taoiseach explain to public and civil servants such as clerical officers why the Government is being so aggressive with them and so gentle with Richie Boucher? I ask the Taoiseach to answer that straightforward question.

I remind Deputies that we are fortunate to enjoy absolute privilege in this House and ask them to refrain from using this opportunity to raise individual matters.

The names are in the public domain.

The Deputy is quite prepared to name people on some occasions but not on others. That has been a trait of the Sinn Féin Party for many years.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, on behalf of the Government, put in place the process of independent analysis of the pay scales and pension packages of bankers. As I said, this issue was reported on to the Government by Mercer. The Minister has also made a recommendation on behalf of the Government that banks reduce their cost base by between 6% and 10%. He expects to receive a response in this regard in the next couple of weeks. As I said, it is expected that it will include a substantial contribution from the leadership of the banks. It is important that everybody understand the banks are an important part of Ireland's financial economy. They are not making money and would not be in existence but for the taxpayer. It is important that the Government squeeze the banks and require them to reduce their cost base.

Everybody understands the difficulties all of the people the Deputy mentioned have to deal with every day of the week. We are borrowing over €1 billion per month to pay salaries.

Has the Taoiseach told Richie that?

We will never have the country we want until we get the public finances in order.

The Taoiseach should sing that song to him.

As part of this process, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan-----

Will abstain on the payment of a €843,000 salary.

-----made a recommendation following receipt of the Mercer report to the Government that banks reduce their cost base by between 6% and 10%. The Minister expects to receive a response from the banks to this recommendation in the next two weeks which will include a substantial contribution from the bank leadership on pay and pensions.

That is the Taoiseach's answer to the nurses.

I, too, wish the Taoiseach a happy birthday. I hope his colleagues will help him to cut the cake. There is, however, little on which I can compliment him. More than two years ago Fine Gael received a mandate, one of the finest ever given to a Government, to deal with the situation in the country, in respect of which it has been an abject failure.

Today we will witness the annual charade that is the Bank of Ireland AGM, a charade in which shareholder power is held up to mockery and the real power of the vultures and the board will once again be asserted over the interests of small shareholders. Also present will be the Bank of Ireland's chief executive, Mr. Richie Boucher, who continues to be paid an obscene salary of €843,000 per annum, despite the sense of disgust and outrage among people across the country.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach's response to Deputy Mary Lou McDonald was just idle words because we know nothing is happening. This annual salary package is only €157,000 short of the €1 million the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, announced yesterday would be provided to assist farmers in the fodder crisis. This puts things in perspective in terms what is being done for ordinary people, whom the Taoiseach, coming from a rural constituency, should know well. We have heard today that the new governor of the Bank of Ireland, Mr. Archie Kane, will receive a package of €500,000 per annum or €10,000 per week. At the same time, the Government is trying to cut the salaries of public servants, jobseekers are being paid €188 per week, young people are being paid €100 per week, while front-line workers, including gardaí, nurses and council workers, are being penalised, threatened and bullied. Five Labour Party Deputies appealed to the Minister in the House yesterday to do something about this issue. How long more are they expected to sit idly by?

Fianna Fáil signed off on it.

It is a separate party.

Do not get me stuck on the banks issue. Deputy Arthur Spring was there himself.

(Interruptions).

It is welcome that the Deputy is concerned about pay now.

Deputy Arthur Spring could tell us about Anglo-Irish Bank.

(Interruptions).

The AGM presents the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, with an opportunity to stand up on behalf of taxpayers on the issue of bankers' outrageous salaries.

They have a brass neck.

However, the Minister bottled it. He could have used the Government's 15% shareholding to vote against the proposal which is certain to be passed now.

The Deputy is over time.

Is the Taoiseach prepared to defend the cowardice and inaction of the Minister? The Minister will vote in favour of every other resolution, including those on the re-election of Mr. Boucher, Mr. Archie Kane and all of the other directors. We all know that Mr. Boucher was an enthusiast of the property boom.

(Interruptions).

Can we, please, have some respect for Deputy Mattie McGrath?

Deputy Mattie McGrath is over time.

He is unable to speak because of the interruptions.

I have told Deputy Mattie McGrath that he is over time. What is his question?

I will put my question, if I am allowed to do so.

The Deputy is making a speech.

Does the Taoiseach intend to stand over the cowardice on the part of the Minister? The then Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, God be good to him, said that if they would not do it themselves, he would legislate for it.

Thank you, Deputy. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat as he is a minute over time.

Will he legislate for it or stop this outrageous charade that is going on in the Burlington Hotel today and all over our country? Have we become a refuge for failed bankers from other countries?

Before the Taoiseach replies I want to put on the record that under Standing Order 59 it is not allowed to name people in this House unless the Deputy gives prior notice to the Ceann Comhairle of the day and a good reason for doing so. I ask Deputies to respect the Standing Orders. This is not a Chamber where people's reputations are taken asunder. I will not sit here and allow people's reputations to be taken away, irrespective of who they are. My job is to ensure that we adhere to the Standing Orders of this House, and there is a good reason there is a Standing Order which protects the reputation of individuals. I will not allow Deputies to use this Chamber, under the cover of privilege, to make allegations against members of the public who are not here to defend themselves. It is up to other people outside this Chamber to deal with this issue, or else the Members can change Standing Orders but I apply Standing Orders.

I understand the Ceann Comhairle's ruling. Deputy McGrath's Second Stage speech outside the church gate sounds very well-----

The Taoiseach is good at it himself.

-----but he refuses to accept or recognise that he, Deputy Mattie McGrath, was party to a proposition and a Government which left this country with the highest deficit on the planet of 32.5% of GDP when it was thrown out of office.

(Interruptions).

That is the legacy we have.

Deputy McGrath has the temerity to come in here and to accuse the Minister, Deputy Noonan, of cowardice.

What else is it?

I want to tell the Deputy one thing; he can accuse the Minister of many things but he can never accuse him of cowardice.

He is the Minister who, on behalf of Government, put in place the process to try to do something about a situation which was inherited by the Government because contracts were approved and signed off by the previous Fianna Fáil Administration and because of that process, the Government commissioned a report into bankers' pay, conditions, salaries, pensions and so on. That report was conducted by Mercer and it reported to Government. The Government made its recommendation through engaging with the Minister, the Department of Finance and the banks and because he has that process in train, he expects to have the recommendation responded to in the next two weeks. My understanding is that there will be a substantial and significant contribution from the leadership of banks in respect of pay and pensions. That is something that everybody here would welcome. These banks are only in existence because of the taxpayer and it is right and proper that Government would force and require banks to reduce their cost base in order that they can become solvent again and play a part that they should be able to play in the development of our economy for the times ahead.

The Taoiseach has a short memory. I remember he and his party voting-----

(Interruptions).

Deputy McGrath supported the bank guarantee.

Can I speak? I have always acknowledged that I made a mistake in voting for the bank guarantee but the Taoiseach voted for-----

On the next occasion the Deputy will say sorry and it will all be okay; that is great then.

It does not make it okay.

Will the Deputy put his supplementary question?

I am; I am just correcting the record and stating the facts. The Taoiseach and all those on his Front Bench and his backbenchers or those who were Members at the time, voted for it.

Will the Deputy put his question? This is Leaders' Questions.

Unlike his colleagues, the sheep on the Labour Party benches are making noises, but what will they do? What action will they take?

(Interruptions).

How can the Taoiseach or the Minister, Deputy Noonan, possibly retain any shred of credibility? The Minister has a 15% shareholding in the bank on behalf taxpayers and he had the opportunity to do something today. We have once again put the fox in charge of the chickens. We have once again exposed ourselves to the charge that we are not really serious about banking reform. It is indefensible.

Just because the Deputy says he is sorry does not make it okay.

Will Deputy McGrath put his question?

I have one question. Is the Government beholden to Mr. Boucher?

Thank you, Deputy.

He gave the Government a dig out last year in regard to the promissory notes. Is the Government totally beholden to him? Is the Government to be beholden to him or to the troika, our European colleagues?

The Deputy is an embarrassment.

The Government members are embarrassing themselves. Are they beholden to Mr. Boucher to the extent that they allow him to have a reckless-----

Did the Deputy totally ignore what I asked him to do, namely, not to mention names?

I did not. This matter is being discussed at the moment down in the Burlington Hotel.

But not in this Chamber under my chairmanship.

It is covered in every newspaper. Are we going to be silenced in here and let the bankers ravage our country?

I call the Taoiseach to reply but I do not know to what question he is to reply.

First, I want to confirm that it was not because of the bleatings of Deputy Mattie McGrath that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was able to put €1 million extra on the table yesterday to deal with the fodder shortage for hard pressed farmers.

Second, when the Deputy speaks of courage, he did not have the courage to put his name behind the Fianna Fáil banner and stand before the people. He ran because he was afraid to face the people with that brand on his forehead.

He got off the sinking ship.

He was afraid-----

I stood up for what I felt was wrong.

-----to knock on doors in Tipperary and say "I represent the Fianna Fáil Party".

They are waiting for the Taoiseach to come back with Deputy Hayes.

He showed absolute cowardice and lack of courage and far be it from him to come in here and preach about others. The Deputy proved it himself; he did not have the gumption to say "I was selected by the party, I represent the party".

Answer the question.

The Deputy fled in the face of the people because of the brand image that the party carried with it at the time.

What happened in the case of the lady the Taoiseach brought into the bank who wanted to take out a mortgage?

The Minister, Deputy Noonan, put in place the process for attempting to deal-----

What about the lady the Taoiseach brought into the bank in Meath to get a mortgage? What did she get?

-----with banking contracts that were signed before this Administration's time and that process is in place. The Minister will attend at the AGM, I understand, but because it is his understanding that the response to the recommendation he made arising out of the Mercer report to Government is that there will be a substantial and significant contribution from bank leadership, he has made a decision in that regard. I expect that to be a significant and major contribution-----

Live horse and you will get grass.

-----and it is right that it should be because these are extraordinary salaries.

He had his chance this morning at the AGM.

That completes Leaders' Questions.