Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of occasions on which the Cabinet sub-committee on health has met since the Easter recess. [25203/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of occasions on which the Economic Management Council has met since the Easter recess. [25204/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Economic Management Council plans to meet before budget 2014. [28692/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he attended any Cabinet sub-committee meeting in the month of May. [30043/13]

Timmy Dooley

Question:

5. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure has met since the Government took office; and if there has been any meeting of the committee in 2013. [31047/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub-committee on mortgages has met recently. [31472/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will detail the schedule of meetings of the Economic Management Council prior to budget 2014. [31856/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet sub Committee on Mortgages have taken place this year and the meetings scheduled for the rest of the year [33196/13]

Joe Higgins

Question:

9. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the various Cabinet sub-committees have met in the last two months. [35070/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on health has met three times since the Easter recess. The Economic Management Council, EMC, has met six times since the Easter recess, most recently on 4 July. Two of these meetings were in May and the council has met five times in the past two months. In general, the EMC meets weekly and will continue to meet in the coming months in advance of the budget.

The Cabinet committee on economic infrastructure has met on 14 occasions since the Government took office, including four meetings to date in 2013, of which one took place in May.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and jobs has met five times so far this year, including twice since the Easter recess and once in May. A sub-committee of this committee, dealing specifically with Pathways to Work, has met six times so far this year, including twice since the Easter recess and once in May.

The Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears and credit availability has met on four occasions in 2013. Its next meeting is scheduled for 22 July.

I also attended a Cabinet committee on European affairs in May. In June, I chaired meetings of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and jobs, social policy, economic infrastructure, public service reform and health.

I cannot ask what was discussed at these Cabinet meetings, which seems rather short-sighted. In terms of the ongoing economic situation, the main issue that has caught people's attention has been the leaking and drip-feeding of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes. The Taoiseach may be aware that, in response to a parliamentary question, it has been acknowledged that the Department of Finance was aware of the existence of these tapes, yet the Minister for Finance has stated that he was not told about them. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to make a full statement in the Dáil on this issue before the recess?

Are further meetings of the Cabinet sub-committee on mortgage arrears scheduled for the summer, given the reports that the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, has withdrawn from a Central Bank pilot scheme on mortgage arrears? This is a worrying development for the perhaps as many as 750 people who agreed to be a part of the process. Will the Taoiseach give us some sense of how the Government will act on this issue? Is this an accurate report of what is happening?

In terms of health, there is an ongoing concern about the failure to deal adequately with mental health issues.

Some €35 million was supposed to be set aside for recruiting 477 professionals to fill the gap, given that three people take their lives every day, while others self-harm and attempt suicide. It seems, however, that the money that was set aside is now at risk owing to overspending in the health sector. That is what happened last year. Will this be allowed to happen and will those 477 posts be left vacant? How many of the 414 posts which were promised in 2012 are in place?

The Minister for Finance answered questions quite recently in the House about the Anglo Irish Bank tapes. He confirmed that tapes were held in other banks as well. They came to light following the warrant issued by the Garda, and the tapes in question were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the preparation of books of evidence. There are 120 written questions down today to the Minister for Finance about a range of issues, including some reference to those matters.

I have noted the conversation concerning the withdrawal of the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, but this is a pilot scheme the Government and the Central Bank want to see continue. It is short of the formal legal arrangement but it is one we think could add greatly to the opportunity for people to get out of their mortgage difficulties and relieve the pressure and stress they are under.

I understand an article in one of today's newspapers suggests that the recruitment of mental health posts in 2013 is at risk due to a HSE overspend this year. As the Deputy is aware, the programme for Government contains a commitment to ring-fence €35 million annually from the health budget to develop community mental health teams and services, as outlined in the document, A Vision for Change. In that way, more appropriate services would be made available earlier for adults and children, and there would be far greater integration with primary care services. Part of that funding is to deal with the Reach Out programme, which is the national suicide prevention strategy, as referred to by Deputy Adams.

In 2012, a special allocation of €35 million was provided for mental health. That was used primarily to strengthen community mental health teams further, to advance activities in the area of suicide prevention, to initiate the provision of psychological and counselling services in primary care, and to facilitate the transfer of mental health service users from institutional to community-based care. A total of 414 posts were approved to implement the 2012 package of special measures. As of 30 June this year, 366 of the 414 posts have either been filled, are under offer or are awaiting clearance.

For 2013, a further €35 million has been approved and allocated, as per the commitment. A total 477 posts have been provided this year for the continued development of mental health services. As of 28 June 2013, 55 of those 477 posts have been accepted by candidates with clearances being processed. A further 147 posts have been offered to candidates to express an interest in accepting the positions.

The HSE is working hard ensure the remaining posts are filled as soon as possible from existing panels, or in the absence of panels, through competition at the earliest opportunity. In previous years, the HSE sought to wait until it had achieved other headcount reductions before proceeding with priority posts. This is one reason there were delays in 2012 in the commencement of recruitment for posts in line with Government priorities.

The HSE's director general designate has confirmed that this is not the case in 2013. He has assured the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that it is his clear intention to deliver on these mental health posts as set out in the 2013 service plan. The Minister of State has received assurances from the HSE that the recruitment process for the new posts being funded in 2013 and outstanding posts from the 414 which were approved in 2012, are receiving priority. That deals with the question of allocations.

Will the Taoiseach repeat those figures?

Yes. There were 414 posts approved to implement the 2012 package. As of 30 June, 366 of the 414 posts were either filled or are under offer or are awaiting clearance. As regards 2013, a further €35 million was allocated. A total of 477 posts were provided for the continued development of mental health services. As of 28 June 2013, of those 477 positions, 55 have been accepted by candidates and 147 are being processed with clearances. They have been offered to candidates to express an interest. Of the 2013 allocation, 55 have been accepted and 147 have been asked to express an interest. The HSE's director general designate has confirmed that there will be no delay, as happened previously, in the continued recruitment of the remainder of the 477 posts for 2013, and any of the outstanding ones of the 414 for 2012. I hope that by the end of this year, there will be 891 new posts filled to provide community and enhanced mental health services. By any standard, that should bring about a much more connected service for those who need it.

I have three questions in this group. I do not think the Taoiseach said how many times the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure met. The question was tabled by Deputy Timmy Dooley in addition to my three.

It met 14 times.

Capital investment is a significant issue and for the past two years there has been under-investment in the capital programme. It fell short of its budget target last year. The Government is looking at fresh capital investment. There is a key need to change policy and accelerate the level of capital investment in the economy to create some sort of domestic stimulus.

As regards the mortgage arrears issue, the Taoiseach indicated that the sub-committee met on four occasions in 2013. By any yardstick, mortgage arrears form one of the more fundamental issues currently affecting the economy. It concerns thousands of people. Some 94,000 people have been in arrears for over 90 days, which is causing huge anxiety. I thought we would have seen more activity by the Cabinet on behalf of those in mortgage arrears. There should have been more meetings to deal with the crisis as it unfolds. There is a sense that MABS is being significantly sidelined by the Ministers concerned. Will the Taoiseach review the situation and check it out to ensure MABS has a far more significant role than has been allocated to it, to date, concerning this crisis?

The banks have, in essence, been given free rein in recent months to act unchecked concerning people in arrears. The existing protections in the older code of conduct have been diluted and greater leeway and facilitation have been given to banks in the new code of conduct and also in the new Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill.

The Economic Management Council is the core Government entity dealing with the formulation of economic policy. The council seems to meet in parallel to, or independent of, the Cabinet.

Last year, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, articulated considerable concern about the degree to which they were being excluded from economic decision making. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, also articulated concern about the degree to which economic management is in the hands of a few Ministers, namely, those who are members of the Economic Management Council, to the exclusion of the remainder of the Cabinet. The Taoiseach might confirm if the concerns and complaints articulated by the Ministers, Deputies Varadkar and Coveney, have been addressed and if he has spoken to them, in the context of Economic Management Council meetings this year, regarding their level of participation in economic policy making.

In terms of the health agenda, the Taoiseach said earlier that there were three meetings on health this year. Approximately six weeks ago, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy White, gave a commitment to the publication of legislation regarding eligibility for primary care. I have not yet had sight of that legislation or any proposal designed to fulfil the commitment in the programme for Government on free access to primary care for those with long-term chronic illnesses. Despite this solemn commitment we have not yet in the last week of this session had sight of this. The Government has missed deadline after deadline. Despite the many commitments of various Ministers in the past two and a half years in this regard nothing has happened. The former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, was essentially shafted by the Government when she tried to pursue this agenda. I note the Taoiseach is smiling. That is what happened. The Minister of State, Deputy White, and the Taoiseach gave a commitment to the House that the legislation would be published by the end of this session. We are still awaiting publication of the legislation or, at least, the proposals.

The Deputy has raised a number of issues. First, every Minister is as a matter of course consulted about issues which affect his or her Department or Estimates. As the Deputy is aware, the Economic Management Council comprises me, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. In many ways, it is an opportunity for cohesive conversation on major issues arising prior to their going to the Cabinet for full discussion by members of the Cabinet. In other words, it does away with the necessity for full Cabinet meetings on every issue. In that sense, it allows for a streamlining of issues that are reflected upon by the EMC and later brought to the Cabinet as part of the process of Government decision making on issues.

The role of the Economic Management Council is to manage the Government's programme in respect of economic, planning and budgetary matters; the economic recovery programme, including the representation of Ireland internationally in negotiations with the EU, the IMF and the ECB; the integration of the work of Departments and agencies in these matters; and the co-ordination of banking policy. The EMC has the status of a Cabinet committee, comprises only four members and has the broad remit I have just outlined. It provides a forum for discussion by those who may have a differing view on strategic issues prior to their presentation to the Government for decision. This means there is a more streamlined and cohesive approach to issues. It does not replace the whole Government, whereby all Ministers have an opportunity to contribute to decision making and where all Ministers, whose Departments are involved, are consulted individually. It is good practice in terms of our needing to learn from experiences of the past and provide a forum where relevant Ministers and, where necessary, officials and advisers can consider the economic strategy based on the best available advice. For instance, in terms of preparation of the budget for 15 October, the forum allows for strategic discussion on issues prior to their being presented to the Government. Obviously, the budget must be discussed and agreed by the Cabinet in due course. The Economic Management Council has met 43 times so far this year.

On the Deputy's other question, the Minister of State, Deputy White, will shortly bring his proposals in respect of general practitioner care to Government. On mortgage arrears and credit availability, the committee was established in March to oversee the effective implementation on a cross-departmental basis of the Government's response to the issue of mortgage arrears. We have previously discussed this issue in the House. As such, the Deputy will be aware of the progress on implementation of the specific reports in this area, including the setting of targets by the Central Bank in regard to engagement by lenders with distressed mortgage holders, which targets will increase into the future not only for engagement purposes but in regard to the putting in place of sustainable solutions for people who are caught in this bind.

The review of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, CCMA, is part of the Central Bank's wider response to the growing problem of mortgage arrears and is intended to provide protection to borrowers from unfair lending practises and to ensure there is a strong process in place for the delivery of solutions for borrowers. The three main objectives are to strengthen existing protections where necessary, to ensure transparency and fairness for borrowers and facilitation of resolution of arrears. A number of changes were made in this regard, including the replacement of the current restrictions in terms of the number of unsolicited contacts allowed with contact policies set out by lenders and approved by the boards of those lenders; amendment of the definition of a non-co-operative borrower such that key protections are extended only to borrowers who engage constructively with lenders within a specific period and in a manner that is consistent with addressing their arrears; and consideration of amendments to permitting modifications of the interest rate setting mechanism where the lender has offered an alternative arrangement which is advantageous to the borrower in the longer term - in other words, a debt write-off. As with other offers, the borrower may accept or reject this offer. A further change for co-operating borrowers is replacement of the current 12 month moratorium with a three month notice period, subject to an overriding minimum period of eight months from the commencement of arrears. All of these are significant changes.

While concern was expressed that implementation of the Dunne judgment would lead to a rash of repossessions, the Deputy will be aware that the judgment had the unintended consequence in certain cases of restricting lending institutions from exercising certain of their repossession options via the courts. This lacuna in the law is addressed by the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2013, the primary purpose of which is to confirm that the law in force prior to the commencement of the 2009 Act should continue to apply to mortgages created prior to that date. The Government's strategy is to, where appropriate and possible, keep people in their homes. Accordingly, the Bill provides the court with an option as it may consider appropriate to adjourn repossession proceedings to allow the parties involved to explore whether a personal insolvency arrangement under the Personal Insolvency Act might be more appropriate and provide a more acceptable alternative to repossession. As I have previously stated on many occasions, homes are exceptionally important to people in this country and repossession should be seen as the absolute last resort.

Deputy Martin asked about the position in so far as mortgage arrears are concerned. The most recent Central Bank arrears statistics published on 21 June 2013 show that while there has been a decline in the formation of PDH arrears in recent months, the number of borrowers in long term arrears continues to rise. For this reason, the Government welcomes the publication by the Central Bank of specific time-bound targets for the main banks, which will ensure they take resolute and sustainable action in regard to those in long term arrears. In addition, people can avail of the debt restructuring arrangements offered by the Insolvency Service of Ireland. This is a pilot project operated by the Central Bank and supported by the Government. The Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, has a different view of what its involvement might be in this regard, which is short of the formal legal position under the insolvency process.

The Deputy also asked about the availability of credit to SMEs.

The results from the recent Department of Finance and RED C credit demand survey show that SME credit demand, while remaining low, continues on a gradual upward trend. This is to be welcomed as a sign of what could be described as creeping confidence in the right direction. It has been helped by a backdrop of continued stabilisation in the marketplace, which has been driven by improved trading conditions for larger SMEs. From speaking to business people, I get the sense that they believe things have improved and there are opportunities ahead.

The overall rate of decline remains unchanged at the levels that were recorded in December 2012. On the positive side, more loan applications are being approved in full, rather than partially. We also extended the remit of the Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears to include credit availability. Deputies will be aware of the investment by the National Pensions Reserve Fund of €500 million in three new funds for small and medium enterprises. This will result in up to €850 million being made available for SMEs through equity, credit and restructuring investment from the NPRF. A ten point tax reform plan has been introduced with the aim of improving the cash position of small and medium enterprises.

Last Monday week, I visited Waterford with the Tánaiste and the Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection to announce the JobsPlus programme, which will deliver a cash injection and improvement in cashflow for employers who take on persons who have been on the live register for 12 months or more. When the TalkTalk facility closed in Waterford with the loss of many hundreds of jobs a new company, Eishtec, emerged from its ashes. Run by three experienced operators, the new company has taken 60% of its employment force from the live register and currently employs 400 people. The sense of optimism and determination to make this work was palpable during our visit.

All these initiatives, from the micro-finance scheme to the improvement in availability of finance from the European Investment Bank, European Investment Fund, Silicon Valley Bank and National Pensions Reserve Fund partnership, are targeted at the innovation sector. Combined, they provide opportunities for new credit which will bring about innovation and jobs. We are always open to ideas on that front.

I am trying to tease out the figures provided for the recruitment of staff in the mental health service. As with every other Member of the House, the Taoiseach will have personal experience of people who have taken their lives. Without exaggerating the position, suicide has reached almost tsunami proportions.

I took note of some of the figures cited by the Taoiseach, including that provision was made for 477 posts and 55 candidates accepted positions. This means only 55 of 477 positions have been filled, while a further 177 posts are being processed. Even if these posts are all successfully processed, we will have a grand total of 202 of the 477 new positions - less than half - filled. I am being contacted by people who cannot get an appointment to see the appropriate expert for dealing with the issues they are experiencing. Sometimes we can be befuddled by figures but halfway through the year, not even half of the 477 positions have been filled. Will the Taoiseach provide an explanation? Has the Cabinet committee on health addressed this issue?

To return to my earlier question, the Taoiseach is correct that the Minister for Finance made a statement in the House about the Anglo Irish Bank tapes. However, his initial response was that he had no knowledge of the existence of the tapes. He now states he was aware of them. In response to a parliamentary question, the Department of Finance also indicated it was aware of the tapes but did not state when it became aware of them. The Minister has not told the House when he became aware of them. He also indicated the Central Bank was not aware of the tapes, whereas Mr. Alan Dukes has indicated the Central Bank should have been aware of them. I am not making accusations but simply asking whether the questions raised in this regard provide sufficient grounds for the Minister to make a statement in the House.

Eliciting information on this matter is like drawing teeth. Deputy Doherty and others have tabled approximately 100 parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests on these matters. The Taoiseach promised a democratic revolution and new way of working but, without wishing to blame the Minister, the answers we are receiving are evasive. One asks a straight question but it seems the old adage that if one does not ask the right question, one will not get the right answer applies. I invite the Minister to make a statement clearing up the matter before the recess.

This all happened four and a half or five years ago. When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, went into the Department of Finance, he did not know of the existence of the tapes. While the Department would have known there were tapes, it would not have known of their content. It was only when the activities of the bank in question were brought to public attention that the warrants were served by the Garda and the tapes confiscated and made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions as part of its preparation of the books of evidence.

The Minister has answered this question umpteen times already. The Department of Finance would have known there were tapes in existence but would not have known their content as it only came to light because the tapes were made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Persons involved may have received tapes relevant to themselves or whatever and some of them have come into the public domain. It is four and a half or five years since the conversations on the tapes took place.

On the programme to recruit persons to deliver enhanced mental health services in the community, in all my years in the House the entire mental health area has been treated as some kind of Cinderella outfit and was effectively treated as if it were not part of the health system. The Government decided to make mental health services part of the mainstream structure of the health system. Previously, when moneys were allocated to mental health services by means of parliamentary Vote, the funds were diverted to make up for funds that were draining away in other areas and it became virtually impossible to trace where they had gone. Once they were disbursed, it became difficult to ascertain to where X amount, which had originally been allocated for mental health services, had been allocated. I am not saying the money was misappropriated but it was directed all over the place. In the past two years, €70 million was specifically allocated and ring-fenced for mental health services and it is now clear that more than 800 professionals will be recruited to deliver enhanced mental health services in the community. This is a very progressive development which will have beneficial consequences for those who experience mental health challenges from time to time as well as those who need to avail of mental health services on a regular basis.

I pointed out to the Deputy that the reason for delays in 2012 was that the Health Service Executive used to wait until it had a sufficient headcount to start the recruitment process. This took a long time, which resulted in matters being backed up and the required number of people were not appointed. However, the HSE director general designate has confirmed that this will not apply in 2013 and the posts are moving through the system.

Some 55 have accepted positions; 147 have been offered positions and the remainder of the 444, or whatever the number is, will be pursued as effectively and quickly as possible. I hope this stands up and that by the back end of the year we can all say that as distinct from two years ago there are now nearly 900 extra professional people working in the delivery of mental health services for people who need them in communities throughout the country. I think that is good. Government made its decision to say that instead of this being some sort of end of a Vote or the Cinderella of the health services, it is now a central part of it. The figures show that one in four or one in three people face mental health challenges of one degree or another during the course of their normal lives. I hope that these 900 professional people will bring their skills, enthusiasm and service to those who need it most and that will be good for the country.

I asked about the role Economic Management Council has in terms of the wider Cabinet. The Taoiseach seems to have confirmed that the wider Cabinet is excluded from many key decisions. I was somewhat struck by his remark in saying that it provides a forum for those with a different view to discuss issues before they get to the Cabinet. Who are the "those"?

Some people had the view that this was the Government.

Who are the people?

Okay, I will get that information for the Deputy.

We are talking about four senior Ministers and it seems that even officials could have a stronger role in strategic decision making than members of the Cabinet. The Taoiseach used the phrase: "it does away with the necessity for full Cabinet meetings on every issue."

Is that constitutionally sound? We are not talking about everything; we are talking about economic management issues. The Taoiseach has more or less confirmed today that a separate Cabinet sub-committee has evolved and it takes all the essential strategic decisions, argues the toss on various angles, wraps them up and then goes to the rest of the Government with the outcome. I am not sure that is constitutionally sound or wise.

I will clear that for the Deputy - he is jumping the gun a bit.

I am only quoting the Taoiseach's use of language.

We will get a reply in a moment.

We certainly will and I hope it is not as lengthy as the previous reply.

It is a very important issue because other Ministers have been complaining about this. They feel excluded from the Cabinet's economic and financial decision making. Ministers have been leaking this, articulating this and querying this.

The Deputy's question is a good one.

I get worried when the Taoiseach says my question is a good one.

I do not agree with the Taoiseach that mental health service has been a Cinderella area in the past ten years. In fact there was very significant concrete investment in health from 1998 or 1999 onwards with additional funding and staff. We know that numbers in the health services expanded significantly. The key point is the Taoiseach's last point that the posts are net posts to the mental health services. As we know, in the past three years there has been a significant reduction in overall public service numbers and particularly in the health service. We are hearing many stories from people in maternity services and so on who are really experiencing great difficulty on the front line in terms of having sufficient staff to provide an adequate care pathway for patients. I am hearing from nurses in particular that patient care is being jeopardised on a daily basis because of the lack of staff on hospital wards.

In recent years there seems to have been a suppression of any articulation of dissent or concern by HSE staff. People on the front line are no longer allowed to speak out on issues in the health service. There is a fear across the health service that it may not be good for people's careers to speak out about these things and so they are better off saying nothing.

We might get back to questions, please.

The Taoiseach took huge latitude in his reply to me. He went all over the place.

I cannot interfere with replies, but I can certainly interfere with the questions.

I have noticed that.

I cannot interfere with replies.

I know you cannot.

I recently met representatives of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation who told me they were banned from articulating concerns they have about patient care and patients under their care. That is unhealthy and the Taoiseach should be concerned about it. He should make it clear to the HSE that healthy articulation of the needs of the health service is a good thing from those who are practising and involved in it. People should not be penalised for speaking their minds on reduced services, and services that are under strain and causing difficulties for patients in many hospitals.

The Taoiseach read out a long reply and went through the presentation as we had it on mortgage arrears. He must realise that this is one of the central crises affecting many families. There is an alternative way. I put it to the Taoiseach that the code of conduct is wrong because it has removed protections for people in mortgage arrears. The changed legislation arising from the Dunne judgment has put the banks in the driving seat regarding people in mortgage arrears. That is essentially what has happened and people are concerned and anxious.

We need long-term sustainable mortgage solutions - split mortgages, shared equity, permanent interest rate reductions and so on. We have not been getting that to date. Despite the fact that the Cabinet sub-committee has met on four occasions on this topic, there is no sign of any framework or model of sustainable mortgage resolutions coming. It has got worse in the past two years. The numbers in arrears have doubled. The number of Cabinet meetings has not doubled but I suggest it should double in order to get some meaningful intervention by Government to ensure there is a pathway out of the crisis for people in arrears individually with knock-on consequences in the wider economy. We have lacked an imaginative and creative response to date and there is no sign of such a response coming. Regardless of whether it is right, there is a sense that the next six months will be very difficult for people in mortgage arrears. People are fearful of the number of repossessions that will arise in the next six to eight months. The Cabinet committee on mortgages needs to pull up its socks, meet more often and adopt a more interventionist response to ensure the protection of those in mortgage arrears.

Let me put the Deputy at ease. The Economic Management Council does not go through each of the items that apply in a normal Cabinet meeting because there is no point in going through all of that again. If issues of a broader nature need to be discussed, these are obviously political personnel dealing with the strategy to be followed. We do not go into the detail of each individual Minister's requirements. Every decision taken has to be discussed and endorsed by the Cabinet to make things constitutionally proper. Even if the Economic Management Council were to decide on position X or Y, obviously if individual Ministers are involved in that sort of area, that is discussed with them, but it also goes before the entire Cabinet for discussion, questioning, analysis and decision. There was a time when Cabinet meetings lasted ten or 15 hours or more. It is important for the smooth running of government to have an effective system of arriving at, discussing and making decisions.

I would like to think that we try to put that into practice. For example, the Economic Management Council examines and reflects on the overall strategy and the point we are at in terms of its implementation. The council moves on to recommend decisions for the Cabinet that make that happen. It is not a case of others having different views. Some people seem to believe the EMC is a separate government and that people are excluded. It is merely a streamlining forum that allows for clarity about what needs to be decided. Obviously, decisions go before the full Cabinet for discussion and decision as required by the Constitution and so on.

Deputy Martin referred to the changes taking place to the structure of health. As the Deputy knows, it is a massive juggernaut. I was pleased to see the approval of the Haddington Road agreement. I am pleased to note the acceptance of hospital groupings whereby contracts are to the group rather than isolated individual hospitals, small or large, operating in separate tunnels. I share the view that if people have something to say about the workings of the health system or individual hospitals, there is a facility for them to do so. It is not a case of being afraid to speak out or being afraid to make a case that needs to be made.

Does the Taoiseach believe they should be allowed to speak out?

Yes, of course. As Deputy Martin knows, they have many facilities for doing so. The hospital groupings and the acceptance of the Haddington Road agreement are important.

I put it to Deputy Adams that I hope the document, A Vision for Change, can be implemented, and the appointment and approval of the professional people who know what they are talking about will be an important element of this also.

The Dunne judgment left a lacuna in the law. This has now been addressed under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2013. What does that do? It merely restores the position that applied before 2009. Deputy Martin was a member of the Government at the time and the previous Governments which dealt with that. There is a genuine interest not only in having the banks engage with mortgage holders and persons in distress but in working out solutions that are sustainable and that will allow those people to get out of the difficulties they have been in. That does not mean applying interest-only arrangements, because the principal is never reduced in those cases.

It comes back again. The answer is an improvement in the economic condition of the country. That is why the Minister for Finance was very active during the EU Presidency in working out the progress towards a banking union. Jobs are the answer to confidence and to growth in the economy. That is why where the Government can act, it will act to provide opportunities for employers to have access to credit, for banks and lenders to meet their targets as set out by the Central Bank, and to ensure we avail of every facility at home and abroad to inject stimulus into the economy to provide opportunities for jobs, growth and economic development. That brings confidence in itself and it also means those in mortgage distress can see things beginning to improve and, one hopes, get into a more sustainable position.

I believe I have given Deputy Martin these figures before. At the end of March this year, a total of 79,689 principal dwelling house mortgage accounts were categorised as having been restructured. That meant bank officials engaging with all those people. Some 53% of that cohort were not in arrears at the end of the first quarter. As a percentage of the total stock in arrears, both early arrears or 90 days plus, a total of 26% or 37,454 were classified as restructured. New data collected this quarter indicate that 76% of those with restructured principal dwelling house accounts were deemed to be meeting the terms of their arrangement. That would have meant bank personnel discussing the situation directly with those people and what they could do to work out a solution with the customers to allow them to get on with their lives and, at the same time, to be able to meet the requirements under the mortgage over an extended period or by different circumstances.

Last month, the Government noted the publication by the Central Bank of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, to which Deputy Martin referred. The code provides protection for consumers in mortgage difficulties. It specifies the concrete actions lenders must take in their fair treatment of customers and to deal with their arrears as part of a resolution. For example, to provide a practical roadmap for borrowers in distress, the code ensures that, at a minimum, eight months will have passed between arrears arising and any legal action that may be taken on repossession. Of course, a longer period is allowed if it is necessary to complete the mortgage arrears resolution process, MARP. For the first time, lenders are obliged to give three months notice before they are allowed to commence any legal action on crisis arrears cases, and they can only take this course if they have exhausted all other options. The revised code requires both lender and borrower to engage in activities during the vital first 12 months of mortgage arrears to facilitate the process rather than allowing it to deteriorate to the point where it is unworkable, as has happened in the past.

The Government is keen for borrowers in difficulties to fully engage. Independent research by the Central Bank shows that more than 70% of borrowers who undertook MARP were broadly positive. The code of conduct is focused on ensuring early engagement with customers to prevent the problem getting out of control. Tools are now in place and there is a broad framework of support to help borrowers towards a sustainable solution of their mortgage difficulties. I hope the targets set for the end of June and which increase in number for the end of the year will be realised by the banks. It is not simply a case of making a contract and suggesting it has been dealt with. Who would wish to see 100,000 families locked out, in limbo economically or excluded as whatever progress we can make as a Government passes them by? Clearly, there is an onus for direct engagement. Naturally, there is a difference between those who cannot pay and those who will not pay. This is why so many measures have been put in place for persons who find themselves in those difficulties. I hope it works. The Economic Management Council and the Cabinet committee dealing with mortgage arrears and credit availability will engage on a systematic basis with the banks to assess how they are measuring up to the conditions and targets set for them by the Central Bank.

Deputy Adams, very quickly. I am keen to get on with the other questions. I think we have exhausted this one.

I wish to tease out another issue. Before I do so, I congratulate the new Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe, on his elevation to the post. I also welcome his distinguished visitors to the House. I presume they are not part of his local cumann. Anyway, céad míle fáilte.

Let me preface what I wish to tease out. If 900 posts have been filled by professionals to deal with mental health issues, I would be the first to congratulate the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is well intended on the issue. However, the posts were not filled last year. What happened to the funding allocated for those posts not filled? That is the difficulty I have in coming to terms with the figures the Taoiseach has given to me. The fact is that we have filled fewer than half the posts. Money was allocated last year. Was it reserved? Is it still in the kitty? Has it been spent on something else?

Yes, I would assume that, as the money was ring-fenced last year and this year - last year 414 posts were approved and at the end of June this year, 366 of those were filled, are under offer or are awaiting clearance. I believe this means that 48 posts were not filled out of the aforementioned 414 posts. However, I assume that the money approved for those posts would be carried forward this year and the same would apply this year, were any of the 477 unfilled by the end of this year. I will have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform confirm that to the Deputy.

The Deputy has asked a legitimate question on what has happened to the money in respect of the positions that were unfilled and I assume that as the process is still under way to fill those remaining posts-----

It was used to balance the budget last year.

-----this money will be carried through.

It was fresh money this year. The money was used to balance it last year.

However, I will have the Minister confirm this.

I believe it was used for the deficit in the health budget.

It was used to reduce the deficit.

We will move on to Question No. 10, which will be our last question to the Taoiseach this session.

Official Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed with the Greek Prime Minister at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26615/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Chancellor Angela Merkel recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26616/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, on 23 May 2013. [26619/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he attended any bilaterals while attending the May EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26620/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if any papers were circulated by him or any other Prime Minister at the May EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26623/13]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

15. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach if he has been involved in discussions to nominate an individual to run as a candidate to succeed the current President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, in 2014. [26627/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

16. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Rome on 10 June 2013. [28680/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

17. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister, Jyrki Katainen, in Helsinki on 7 June 2013. [28681/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

18. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the use of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, to retrospectively recapitalise banks during his meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister, Jyrki Katainen, in Helsinki on 7 June 2013. [28682/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

19. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the possibility of the ESM taking a stake in the Irish pillar banks, during his meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen in Helsinki on 7 June 2013. [28683/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

20. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visits to Lithuania and Latvia. [28684/13]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

21. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach if he will recommend new proposals to the European Council, before the end of the Irish Presidency of the European Union, to address the high unemployment levels in the eurozone and the European Union, which pose a threat to the sustainability of the eurozone and the wider European project. [28690/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

22. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the issue of youth unemployment in his recent discussions with the Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta. [28881/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

23. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had on the EU budget during his recent meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta. [28882/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the recent discussions he has had with Chancellor Angela Merkel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33195/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he discussed in his recent meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33197/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

26. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the issues he raised at the recent European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33198/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

27. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions at the EU Council on Europe's deepening unemployment crisis and the views he expressed on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33199/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

28. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has had any recent discussions with the Portuguese Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33201/13]

Joe Higgins

Question:

29. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with other Heads of State during the last EU Council. [35071/13]

Joe Higgins

Question:

30. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has met with the Greek Prime Minister; and if they discussed the issue of unemployment in Greece and the European Union. [35072/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 30, inclusive, together.

I met Prime Minister Samaras of Greece on Thursday, 23 May. We discussed economic developments in Greece and in Ireland, as well as our respective efforts to secure economic recovery; the Irish EU Presidency; preparations for the Greek EU Presidency; and the outcome of the May European Council, which we had both attended the previous day. While in Athens, I also attended a meeting with representatives of Greek businesses and SMEs.

I visited Vilnius on 6 June for meetings with President Dalia Grybauskait and Prime Minister Algirdas Butkeviius. Later that day I travelled to Riga, where I met Prime Minister Dombrovkis and President Andris Brziš. On 7 June, I travelled to Helsinki for meetings with President Niinistö and Prime Minister Katainen. I also met Prime Minister Letta in Rome on 10 June. During each of these meetings, discussions focused on economic matters, including Ireland's economic recovery, preparations for the June European Council, the multiannual financial framework, the ambitions for the remaining part of the Irish Presidency, the proposed EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership and bilateral relations.

As Members are aware, I wrote to each of my colleagues in the European Council ahead of the May meeting. I expressed my appreciation for the excellent level of co-operation we had received as Presidency and highlighted a number of areas on which we were seeking further support. I spoke with a number of my colleagues in the margins of the May European Council meeting in this context.

I have spoken to Chancellor Merkel on a number of occasions, both in person and on the telephone, including at the May and June European Council meetings. I also travelled to Berlin on 3 July for a conference on youth employment, chaired by Chancellor Merkel. While I have not formally met with Prime Minister Coelho since my meeting with him on 28 April in Lisbon, I did see him and all my European Council colleagues at the meetings of the European Council in May and June.

The European Council has not engaged in discussions on nominating a candidate to succeed the current President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, as yet.

The agenda for the June meeting of the European Council was prepared in the normal way. President Van Rompuy prepared an annotated draft agenda, which was considered by the General Affairs Council on 21 May, which was chaired by the Tánaiste. President Van Rompuy then circulated draft conclusions for the June European Council, which were discussed by ambassadors in Brussels and were discussed by Ministers at the meeting of the General Affairs Council on 25 June, which the Tánaiste again chaired. In the usual manner, at each step in the process, Ireland contributed views, as appropriate.

As I already made a statement on last month's meeting of the European Council, I will confine myself to a summary overview at this time. The focus of the meeting was on economic issues, with leaders agreeing a comprehensive approach to combat youth unemployment and a new investment plan for Europe. These are developments that I welcome, as they will contribute to addressing key challenges we face. The Heads of State or Government also concluded the 2013 European semester by endorsing country-specific recommendations for reform. Last month's European Council also welcomed the agreement reached on the next multiannual financial framework, MFF, and called for rapid formal adoption of the MFF regulation and associated inter-institutional agreement. One year after its adoption, leaders reviewed the implementation of the compact for growth and jobs, acknowledging that while considerable progress had been made, more remained to be done. The meeting also discussed completion of the economic and monetary union, EMU, including banking union, enlargement and the European Union's relations with its strategic partners. The European Council expressed its sympathy with those affected by the recent flooding in central Europe and called for the appropriate financial resources to be mobilised to support relief and reconstruction efforts, as well as future preventive actions. Leaders welcomed Croatia as a new member of the European Union as of 1 July and congratulated Latvia on fulfilling the convergence criteria to allow it to adopt the euro from the beginning of 2014.

As one minute remains, I suggest that Deputies Martin and Adams put their questions and that will be it.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Within that minute, I also wish to congratulate Deputy Donohoe and welcome his family to the Chamber for what is a significant and privileged day for him and his family. I congratulate him and wish him the best of success in the discharge of his duties.

I have one straightforward question for the Taoiseach. I am aware he met the Portuguese and Greek Prime Ministers, both of which countries, and Portugal in particular, are still having significant difficulties and challenges. As for Ireland and the ongoing issue pertaining to the retrospective recapitalisation of its banks, I asked whether papers were circulated by the Taoiseach in his bilateral meetings or to the summit meeting. What specifically does Ireland seek in terms of retrospective recapitalisation? This really is a core question. I note the Minister for Finance last year asked whether we really wished to sell the shares the Government has in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland to the European Stability Mechanism, ESM. Does the Taoiseach consider the ESM fundamentally to be about future recapitalisations or is there a retrospective element to it and what exactly do we seek?

May I say that in my short time here, I have never seen a Deputy as chuffed looking as is Teachta Donohoe? He has put me in good form.

He is always chuffed.

He is more chuffed than Deputy Peadar Tóibín.

My question relates specifically to Questions Nos. 17 and 18, which pertain to the retrospective recapitalisation of the pillar banks. I noted the chairperson of the Eurogroup last week stated there was no political support in the Eurogroup for retroactive recapitalisation of the banks. Does the Taoiseach agree this is a hammer blow? At the time, Sinn Féin warned that the spin from the Government, which was to describe the initial Eurogroup statement as a game changer or, as the Taoiseach described it, as a seismic shift, was overselling it. Does the Taoiseach have a plan - a cunning plan - to ensure this issue does not effectively fall off the European agenda?

The Deputy is one of the best at devising his memories as to what it was about which he warned the Government and so on. He said the same about the promissory notes and the extension of loan maturities, namely, these things would never happen. In respect of the questions of both Deputy Adams and Deputy Martin, the Government seeks to get the best outcome to be able to deal with our debt in a sustainable fashion.

On 29 June 2012, the Council did decide to break the link between sovereign and bank debt. The Council did decide that Ireland would receive particular treatment because of what it called its well-performing programme. This was recognised further in public statements by the French President and the German Chancellor. The work that followed in respect of putting together the architecture for the single supervisory mechanism, the capital requirements directive IV, the approach towards banking union and the issue of recovery and resolution concluded with it being written into the decision that the possibility, as was envisaged on 29 June 2012, still applies for retrospection. The position of the Minister for Finance, on behalf of the Government, has been to set out in a clear fashion that the Government seeks an outcome that will benefit the Irish taxpayer and the Irish people and which will allow Ireland and its people to deal with the extent of our debt in a sustainable fashion.

We can certainly work towards that from a variety of points of view.

We were pleased with the outcome. Views abound in different ways in different countries. I met principals, many of whom spoke in public about the particular and specific circumstances which applied in the case of Ireland when our economic crash occurred. The tools and mechanisms have now changed following the decision taken in respect of Cyprus. I was happy to see the outcome of the Ministers for Finance, as endorsed by the European Counsel. That gives us the opportunity to continue to negotiate creatively and imaginatively in the time ahead so that the principle of the decision of 29 June last year can be achieved and the outcome of that is a more sustainable debt position for our country.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.