Leaders' Questions

It is good to see the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, in the Chamber today rather than pirouetting on the plinth or giving a press conference. Yesterday, Deputy Martin raised the issue of how property tax reductions will be applied across the country. It now seems that many councils will not be in a position to pass on reductions because of a cut in their grants under the Central Government Fund. When the Taoiseach dismissed these reports yesterday, he advised Deputy Martin not to be "proceeding on the basis of a gospel belief in what he reads in the newspapers". I understand the Irish Independent was not the only source of this story. It seems that a document was prepared for a meeting of the famous Economic Management Council. We understand that the meeting in question did not proceed because there is no agreement between the Labour Party and Fine Gael on the issue. Fine Gael wants councils to take in as much property tax as possible. It seems that the more tax the councils take in, the greater the reduction in the central Government grant Fine Gael wants to provide for. It appears that the Labour Party does not agree with this position. The Tánaiste said this morning that he is very concerned by reports of plans to claw back the proceeds of the property tax from the delivery of local services in certain areas. He suggested that if these situations were to develop, it would be a "fundamental breach" of the political understanding that was reached at the time the property tax was agreed to. He said he would be "strongly opposed" to such a development. That is what the Tánaiste, who is on his way out the door as leader of the Labour Party, had to say this morning.

He is in opposition now.

It appears that Fine Gael wants to cut the central Government grant and prevent councils from cutting the local property tax. It seems that the Labour Party wants the opposite. We will not have much of an opportunity to discuss the issue in this House, unfortunately, given that councils have to decide on it before the end of September. What is the Minister's personal belief? He joined his Labour Party colleagues yesterday and supported the rebels' stance on allowing for a tax reduction of up to 15%. Can he clarify what exactly the Government policy is at present?

I thank Deputy Calleary for his kind remarks. I always realised that I had bipartisan support in this House.

The Minister does not have the support of some people on his side of the House.

Regardless of Deputy Calleary's morning time reading, the position on the local property tax has not changed. The situation is as announced, in terms of the 80:20 divide and the variability clause that allows individual authorities to make their own decisions. I happened to be in the House when my colleagues on the Labour Party benched raised this as a Topical Issue. They stated no more than the obvious, and no more than the position as it stands. That continues to be the position. If there are any changes in it, they have not come to the Government.

I accept the Minister's word that the position is as he has outlined, but the difficulty is that when the Taoiseach was challenged yesterday to state explicitly that this is the position, he declined to do so. According to a report in this morning's Irish Independent, a document that was prepared for the Economic Management Council suggests that councils in a number of local authority areas, including Dublin city, south Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Louth, Meath, Galway city, Kerry, Clare, Cork city and Cork county, would have been in a position to reduce the property tax but are now not in a position to do so because of the projected decrease in the central Government grant. People in those areas are going to lose out because of a squabble between the current Labour Party and Fine Gael.

That is speculation.

It is speculation at Economic Management Council level. Deputy Stagg might be better off if he could control his own rebels.

Fianna Fáil has a few rebels of its own.

Can the Minister give the House a guarantee that councils which want to reduce the rate of property tax in their areas by 15% will be in a position to do so? If their property tax collections are higher than anticipated, they should not be penalised by the Government implementing a massive reduction in their central Government grant.

Deputy Calleary's difficulty is his propensity to believe gossip, speculation and mischief-making.

The Minister has traded in those things for fair money as well.

The fact of the matter is that there is no change in the 80:20 division.

It changed last year.

The arrangements in the solidarity fund, which we put in place and fully support as a Government, continue to obtain. The story about the Economic Management Council is completely misleading. A meeting of the council did not take place purely because the personnel comprising the council were not able to attend the meeting. There is no squabble in the Government about this issue.

The Tánaiste is not too sure about that.

The purpose of the local property tax is to broaden the tax base in this country and to give local authorities an element of autonomy and sovereignty they did not have heretofore. This was supported by Deputy Calleary's party at the time. If Deputies from any particular local authority are asserting their understanding of that policy, that does not constitute a squabble. There is no squabble. The position is as I have stated it to be. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is required-----

He is leaving too.

-----to give guidelines to local authorities by September-----

He will be gone by then.

-----so that they are clear about their remit.

What about the Tánaiste?

The question of how the variability clause that has been built into the law should be operated will be a matter for the councillors of the future.

The Minister made a number of appointments to the board of Bord na Móna last week. It is widely recognised that at least two of those appointments were influenced by the political affiliations of the individuals involved.

In addition, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, recently appointed a long-serving Fine Gael activist to the board of NAMA. Even the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, got in on the act when he appointed a failed Labour Party councillor to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. In yet another betrayal of the electorate, both Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers are blatantly and unashamedly engaging in acts of cronyism by way of their appointments to State boards.

When this Government took office, we were promised a new way of doing politics that would be open, transparent and accountable. In fact, we were promised no less than a democratic revolution. In reality, what we are seeing with these appointments, none of which was done through the Public Appointments Service, is the same old tired politics of this Administration's predecessors. This is true not only in the area of appointments to State boards but also in the way Ministers have favoured funding for their own constituencies and how the establishment of the banking inquiry was handled, with the Government making sure it had a majority. All of this goes to show that nothing has changed since the previous Government.

The strategy is more finessed.

That is true. When will the Government cease flouting its own rules on filling publicly funded appointments to State boards by adhering to the public appointments system?

This Government, for the first time in the history of the State, has created an expressions of interest facility to invite people in the public domain who consider themselves to be suitably qualified to apply for appointment to a particular State board. Many people have done so and have been subsequently appointed. The proposition from Deputy O'Brien that somebody ought to be automatically disqualified because he or she may have some political allegiance is a proposition I utterly reject. I would have expected the Deputy to reject it too given that in the short time his party has been in government in Northern Ireland, it nominated Lynn Boylan as chair of safefood.

Deputy O'Brien might wish now to move on to the next question.

In my constituency, Ms Boylan campaigned in the European Parliament election on the basis of that chairmanship being her contribution to the public interest.

Will Deputy O'Brien be calling for her resignation?

I am surprised that Deputy O'Brien is taking this position. I have been very happy to make appointments to the range of State companies and agencies under my aegis. The persons occupying those positions are outstandingly suited and I have reappointed a number of people not of my political persuasion. Having had the privilege of dealing with them for three years, I reappointed the chairs of several major companies, including the ESB, Sustainable Energy Ireland and Bord Gáis Éireann, because I saw they had acquired experience and were best suited to continue to oversee the work of those commercial bodies.

I do not accept the Deputy's point about the banking inquiry. The proposed membership comprised a Government majority of 5:4 because that reflects the position in this House. I am damned if I can understand how 5:4 differs from 6:5; the latter is still a Government majority. I do know that this controversy provided an opportunity for an attention-seeking Deputy to duck out when he saw the quantum of work that would have to be done and that it would divert him from his extracurricular duties.

That is an outrageous statement.

I am glad, however, to see Deputy Joe Higgins replacing him. The least one can say about Deputy Higgins is that he is not afraid of a bit of work.

The arrogance and sense of self-importance evident in the Minister's reply are indicative of everything that is rotten at the heart of this Government. Let us speak about Lynn Boylan.

How was she appointed?

The Minister knows as well as I do, or perhaps he does not know because he does not have much-----

Does the Deputy have a supplementary question? This is Leaders' Questions.

I am asking a supplementary question. The position in regard to appointments to North-South implementation bodies - the Minister knows this well and should stop trying to deflect from the issue of his cronyism - is that appointees are nominated and agreed by all parties mandated to the North-South Ministerial Council, including the Labour Party.

Ms Boylan's appointment was proposed by Sinn Féin.

It is like austerity - okay in the North but not in this State.

Members must allow Deputy O'Brien to put his supplementary question.

The cronyism displayed by this Government in recent weeks in stacking State boards is clear for all to see. Perhaps it is one of the Minister's last acts in Government-----

The Deputy is over time. Will he put a supplementary question?

My supplementary question is the same as my original question, which was not answered. When will this Government adhere to its own policy in regard to appointments to State boards?

What about appointments to state boards in the North?

When will Ministers stop engaging in the Fianna Fáil-style politics of cronyism?

A Deputy

At least Fianna Fáil members do not go around shooting people.

I do not accept that this is the lesson at all. The lesson is that Sinn Féin considers cronyism all right in Northern Ireland but not in the Republic of Ireland.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It is a bad day for Sinn Féin's research office.

I wish to raise an issue that was raised last week by my colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, and by me the week before that in the course of the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2014. It relates to the industrial dispute at the Greyhound facility in Clondalkin. Following the decision by the High Court on Tuesday, there is now an official lock-out of 70 workers at the depot. Household waste disposal services across Dublin city are being provided by a company which has locked out its workforce and is now operating with scab labour.

At a meeting between representatives of workers and the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, on Monday, which was facilitated by the Taoiseach, serious health and safety concerns were raised. It is alleged that there is zero maintenance of the fleet of bin trucks, which is a matter of concern for both the Garda, the Road Safety Authority and the Health and Safety Authority. There are serious health and safety concerns regarding the employment of casual staff without proper training on safety procedures and the use of protective clothing. Bin trucks are dangerous pieces of machinery and the handling of waste can involve hazardous materials. In addition, Greyhound has been brought to court by the Environmental Protection Agency on a number of occasions and fined for breaches of the law relating to the protection of the environment.

These issues are arising as a consequence of the privatisation of bin services across the State. Local authorities have effectively washed their hands of the service and there is no effective oversight and regulation of a private waste collection sector that has a deplorable record of illegal dumping and breaking environmental regulations down through the years. A race to the bottom is taking place among the various companies, which can only lead to an increased casualisation of the workforce, minimum wage rates, poor training on health and safety procedures, dangerous vehicles operating in built-up areas and outsourcing of routes. In the case of Greyhound, casual workers are being collected from the local Woodie's carpark by subcontractors. Somewhere along the line there will be very serious injuries or deaths.

We are over time. Will the Deputy put a question?

This issue must be examined in a thorough and joined-up way. The EPA, RSA, HSA, Garda, local authorities and unions are all separate entities. Will the Minister give serious consideration to setting up a task force, perhaps comprising members of the environment committee and with an independent chair, to examine the whole industry? There are Sopranos-style operations going on here.

From the little I know of the sector, I agree with the Deputy that it is a tough industry. There is no doubt about that.

In regard to the issues raised here, the Taoiseach undertook to ask NERA to intervene in terms of assessing some of the claims made in the House. I do not know the outcome of that but if they are as the Deputy said, it is a serious matter. It is a matter that I would have hoped would have been capable of being resolved by resort to the conciliation machinery of the State, which is normally the case and which normally has a very high rate of settlement, no matter what kind of dispute is afoot.

I hear what the Deputy is saying about the wider issue of the industry itself being required to be examined and I would be very happy to speak to my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton.

I thank the Minister. On Monday, NERA said it could take up some of the issues but not all of them. That is why I raise the need for an overall review of the waste industry. It is highly unregulated. It is almost a snake pit from the point of view of how workers are treated. Some 70 workers were told on 17 June that unless they signed a contract reducing their wages by 30%, they should go home. Workers were being picked up at Woodies, given 15 minutes training and sent out on the routes. I am sure many Members will know from reports from their constituencies that Greyhound is collecting waste at 11 p.m., 12 a.m. and even 1 a.m. Seemingly, this waste is being collected by the workers who are being picked up at Woodies by these subcontractors. What is going on is unbelievable. Permanent workers with decent pay and conditions are being locked out of their workplace. I appeal to the Cabinet to consider setting up an independent task force to look into the whole industry, the waste incinerator in Ringsend and the Covanta deal because it is all linked.

I entirely accept the Deputy's bona fides in this matter. I have not seen any report from NERA and I would like to see precisely what conclusions it has come to. It is not desirable for any category of workers to be required to work in the circumstances the Deputy described. I have to say I am very old fashioned about it. I preferred the situation where refuse was collected by direct labour in the local authorities. Unfortunately, the campaign against the refuse charges drove them towards privatisation.

That is a joke.

Some of the companies operate a very tough regime. The issues raised by the Deputy warrant further study and I will be very glad to sit down with the Minister with responsibility, Deputy Bruton, and press these issues with him.