Leaders’ Questions

The Tánaiste will be aware there has been a massive investment in the post office network for several years. I am sure she will acknowledge that this happened primarily during the lifetime of the previous Government. Yes, some of those running post offices took the decision when this upgrading was being carried out to take voluntary redundancy which resulted in closures.

Over 400 post offices were closed under the previous Government.

There are 1,150 post offices across the country in which 3,700 people are employed. What is happening is up to the Government and its policies. Post offices play a vital part in communities and are a serious focal point for the elderly and families living in rural areas.

How is the Deputy’s local post office going?

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, may I have the floor, please? I am raising a serious issue.

The Deputy has the floor.

Banks have closed in many smaller towns. Garda stations have also been closed and sold. Post offices have to be protected and enhanced. Department of Social Protection payments account for 30% of the business of the post office network. The spin-off value of people buying other items is as high as 50%. The contract for making social protection payments is worth €25 million per annum to post offices.

It is not; it is twice that amount.

If Deputy Robert Troy cannot get his figures right, it is not surprising that Fianna Fáil broke the country.

The Tánaiste will have an opportunity to respond. Whether it is accepted by her, there is genuine concern among postmasters that their businesses will end up being closed, mainly due to the fact that the Department of Social Protection is issuing forms instructing people to change their method of collection to their bank accounts.

(Interruptions).

One will not be even be able to buy a stamp soon.

The concerns of postmasters have been independently verified in a report commissioned from Grant Thornton in 2014. The Tánaiste has taken many policy decisions which have irked particular groups across the country.

Her decision, however, to send forms to people to select bank accounts in which to receive social protection payments threatens to lead to the closure of up to 400 post offices.

What about the 400 Fianna Fáil closed?

Postmasters are simply asking for a level playing field, but they are not getting it. The Tánaiste is undermining the future viability of post offices. Will she confirm that it is the Government’s intention to maintain the current network at 1,150 post offices? Will it invest the much needed funding to allow post offices to develop an electronic transaction account which will afford people the option of receiving and transacting social welfare payments in the post office, either electronically or by cash? Will she confirm that she will meet the Irish Postmasters Union as it has requested? Two months ago she said she would change the social welfare forms that requested social welfare recipients to change to bank accounts. Today the very same forms are on the Department’s website. Will she instruct her officials to take them down and ensure new forms are sent that will not recommend that people receive their social welfare payments electronically?

I did not think the Deputy had such neck.

I am aware that quite a number of Deputies and their families have an interest in post offices. I hope any Member who has a direct commercial interest in a post office will actually let us know.

The Deputy has declared it already.

It was declared in the register of Members’ interests and during the general election.

Is the Deputy also a postmaster?

The Tánaiste should answer the question.

It is disgraceful. She should answer the question.

I am just asking in the interests of debate.

Please, Deputies, this is Leaders’ Questions.

The Tánaiste is a disgrace.

I asked because I am aware that Deputy Robert Troy has a long-standing interest in post offices.

He has declared it in this House.

The Tánaiste is a disgrace.

I am just asking if there is a commercial interest.

(Interruptions).

Please stop, as we cannot hear the reply.

When Fianna Fáil was in government, it closed 197 post offices.

Tell the truth.

In fairness, Deputy Robert Troy said many were voluntary decisions made by postmasters because, for instance, a family member was retiring and no one else wanted to take on the job. Of the 25 closures during the Government’s tenure, almost all have been for that exact reason. Like other Deputies, I, too, was involved in my constituency in efforts to recruit a new postmaster or postmistress when one retired. That is a familiar story in the post office system, of which all Members will be aware. It might have escaped Deputy Robert Troy’s attention that the contract for services with the Department of Social Protection is worth €50 million per annum. He suggested it was only worth half of that amount.

The Tánaiste is trying to undermine them - sabotage.

The figure is €50 million and it is higher when other departmental services supplied through the post office network are taken into account. To suggest it is half that figure is pretty poor counting by somebody involved in the post office network. That is why I asked Deputy Robert Troy if he had a personal awareness and familiarity with the post office system. I would have expected him not just to have a researcher’s brief but also some personal knowledge. Post offices play an important role in urban and rural communities.

They provide important services, particularly for people who do not actually have a formal bank account. It is not just past Fianna Fáil taoisigh who do not have a formal bank account. It is actually quite a lot of other people in this country.

Up to 200,000 people in this country do not have a formal bank account.

Wonder Woman is back today.

Leave Bertie out of it.

Wonder Woman is back.

Stop breaking the peace. Be quiet.

Let me say as Minister for Social Protection that, in that context, the Department of Social Protection relies on the post office system to make payments to the people who do not have bank accounts, and we will continue to rely on it.

The Tánaiste is telling them all to take their money away.

We also require the post office to be available for people-----

The Tánaiste is undermining post offices.

-----to collect their social welfare jobseeker's payments through the post office and turn up in person to collect them. It is for that reason that the post office has a very large and very valuable contract with the Department of Social Protection, worth more than €50 million. Fianna Fáil seems unable to count because it is suggesting that it is worth less than half of that. So let us get our facts right.

The Government is not able to count regarding Irish Water.

What about the form?

They are the first few facts-----

What about Deputy Troy's question?

-----that I would like to give to Deputy Troy.

Deputy Troy can ask a supplementary question. He has one minute.

It ill behoves the Tánaiste to try to take cheap shots at me.

It is a matter of fact that I have a post office in my constituency.

(Interruptions).

I declared it on the list of Members' interests. I have declared it umpteen times on the floor of this House.

I was just questioning why the Deputy's facts were so wrong.

No. What the Tánaiste is trying to do is make it personal.

When you are explaining, you are losing.

Post office staff are listening to this debate.

The Tánaiste made it personal for lone parents.

Those staff want answers. I want answers on behalf of the 3,700 people employed in the post office network across the country.

Not cheap shots.

I have asked a number of questions this morning, but the Tánaiste has not answered one.

In her typical style-----

The Deputy was factually incorrect with his questions.

-----she has come in and tried to talk the topic down.

This is supposed to be a supplementary question.

(Interruptions).

It does not do her justice that she does not answer the questions.

The minute is up.

We are asking questions on behalf of the people whom we represent.

We are representatives to Dáil Éireann.

I will ask the questions again. Will the Government commit to maintaining the current network of 1,150 post offices?

A simple question.

It is a simple "Yes" or "No" question. Will the Tánaiste commit to meeting the Irish Postmasters Union-----

It is too bad Fianna Fáil closed them all.

-----to work through its six-point plan-----

What about lone parents?

Fianna Fáil is the crowd that closed all of the post offices.

-----to save the post office network, yes or no?

What about the lone parents?

What about lone parents?

Withdraw the letters.

Will the Tánaiste-----

I am sorry, but will Deputies please lower the noise level?

Deputy Stagg is having a go.

Will the Government commit to investing in the development of the post office-based electronic transaction account, yes or no?

What about the form?

Finally, will the Tánaiste honour her commitment of two months ago when she said that the forms would be taken down and replaced? That has not happened. As of this morning, the old forms are still on the Department's website. I am aware of this because I am a postmaster and sent back to the Tánaiste and her Department the old forms that every post office across the length and breadth of this country still had.

Special delivery.

Those forms request, direct and recommend that people change from having their payments made through post offices to through banks. Will the Tánaiste live up to her commitment and ensure that those promises are maintained?

The Tánaiste to reply.

I am happy to say that-----

Answer the questions today.

-----my Department provides over €50 million worth of business to the post office system in Ireland.

We heard that already. Answer the question.

There are more than 1,100 post offices.

It is its largest single customer.

(Interruptions).

Answer the questions.

Normally, when entities have a significant and important customer-----

The Tánaiste is not going to answer the questions, as usual.

-----I expect the people who are being paid-----

It is not just on the "Late Late Show" that she does not answer questions. It is in here as well.

-----for the service to give a good service to the people who use the post offices. That is what the people who use the post offices want. The biggest problem is the fact that so few people who use post offices have a full bank account. The purpose of the recent report by Mr. Bobby Kerr and the recent examination under the auspices of the Minister of State for rural affairs was, in fact, to find a pathway that would provide an efficient and a profitable service, both for the customers and for the people-----

The Tánaiste will be getting her pathway in the next few days.

What about the forms?

-----who run and who work in the post offices.

She will get a P45.

You must be getting all of the shouts out today because you are worried that you will miss them for the next few weeks,-----

What about the forms? Come on.

Deputies, please stop.

Will the Tánaiste answer the questions that I asked her, please?

-----so give it a rest.

(Interruptions).

I will shout any day and give you a piece of my mind. That will be your pathway.

Your pathway is the P45 pathway.

We know you.

We know you.

(Interruptions).

In relation to-----

The Tánaiste might answer the questions that were asked of her.

(Interruptions).

Calm down, Mattie.

The Tánaiste to conclude. Quiet, please.

Regarding the standard bank account,-----

Did you use the post office to pay the court fines, Mattie?

What did you say?

-----we have put forward detailed-----

Did you use the post office to pay the courts?

You do not have a clue.

------proposals to the Minister for Finance. So has the Kerr report.

The answer must be "No", then.

I broadly support the recommendations made in the Kerr report.

Will the Government make the investment, yes or no?

I think they make a lot of sense.

Deputy Troy spoke a few moments ago as a postmaster. Maybe he will tell us what the postmasters are going to bring to the table,-----

Deputies

Hear, hear.

They have-----

-----seeing as how he is standing-----

What about the form being withdrawn?

I am asking the Tánaiste to meet them.

-----here speaking on behalf of them.

(Interruptions).

Will the Tánaiste meet them?

So, in relation to-----

I will meet them with the Tánaiste.

-----the forms, this is another issue-----

Will the Tánaiste meet them, yes or no?

Will the Tánaiste meet them, yes or no?

I am sorry, but the Tánaiste has the floor.

-----that the Deputy is extremely familiar with, which is, all of the forms that relate to social welfare payments are designed and redesigned with a couple of objectives in mind, which is why they take quite a time to design and redesign.

Take a long time?

Paid consultants.

One is to prevent fraud and the other is to ensure accuracy and simplicity in so far as a long form for a pension application-----

It would be very simple.

-----can be made as simple as possible.

It did not take the Labour Party too long to take defected members down from its website, so-----

That is actually being done at the moment.

-----why will the Tánaiste not take the form down from the Department's website?

As a postmaster, Deputy Troy seems to be taking an attitude whereby he does not want people who have bank accounts to actually-----

No, he wants choice.

-----be able to use their bank account.

He wants fair choice.

He wants them, because he is a business owner in a post office,-----

I want choice.

------to only be allowed to queue up at the post office.

The Tánaiste told them to go to the banks.

That is not right, Deputy Troy.

The Tánaiste is not playing-----

Stop making a cause for the banks.

(Interruptions).

One actually has to provide a bank account system that the post offices can use.

Will the Tánaiste meet them?

(Interruptions).

As a postmaster, Deputy Troy will have to co-operate with that.

Thank you. I now call Deputy McDonald.

Is the Tánaiste going to meet them?

As a postmaster, Deputy Troy is going to have to co-operate.

She is a complete bluffer. She never answers a question.

Is Deputy Mattie McGrath going to be a Fianna Fáil candidate?

(Interruptions).

One cannot even buy a stamp these days.

Please, Deputy McDonald has the floor.

Yesterday, Irish Water was forced to admit that fewer than half of householders were paying the Government's water tax. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, the Tánaiste's deputy leader,-----

Who wants to be leader.

-----has insisted that the €30.5 million collected to date of a projected income of €66.8 million was "a good start". I do not know what planet the Minister is living on, but his delusional response to the overwhelming rejection of water charges further discredits the Government. We learned today that, with the failure of the Government's intimidation and threats, Irish Water has proposed a campaign of direct harassment of struggling families. It proposes to bombard thousands of households-----

Sinn Féin would know about that.

-----by telephone in a desperate, last ditch attempt-----

(Interruptions).

-----to get them to sign up to water charges. This move is pathetic.

I raised with the Taoiseach yesterday all of these issues. How does Irish Water expect to attract investment with such a derisory level of compliance with the Government's charge? According to one economist, at least 80% of householders would need to pay if the company were to borrow at competitive rates. That is not going to happen. The Government's water tax has been roundly and comprehensively rejected. The Tánaiste has heard what people are saying. Now, it is time to act. Abolish the charges. Abolish Irish Water.

This morning in Dublin Castle, the Tánaiste claimed, mar dhea, that she wanted to listen to people's views regarding the direction of economic policy. I do not know if that was some sort of joke, but if it was, no one is laughing. Clearly, she has no intention of listening to anyone outside the Government about its discredited and shambolic water policy. The people have spoken loudly, repeatedly and clearly. They have flatly rejected its water tax.

Did Deputy McDonald pay?

The Government's figures for the Irish Water quango do not add up. It is time that she face this reality. The water tax is finished. Will the Tánaiste and the Labour Party heed this message?

When I spoke this morning in Dublin Castle to a very wide group of people from the trade union movement, from the business movement and from the voluntary and advocacy organisations in Ireland, big and small, I talked about a future that we would all put together for Ireland that would give us a good outlook for people who were older and retired, for younger people and for families with children.

The feedback was very strong and it is a vision people in Ireland wanted, with everyone back at work-----

On slave wages.

-----the country investing in schools and hospitals and a water system that produces safe clean water. I cannot understand why Sinn Féin's policy is to bankrupt Irish Water and to potentially seek to bankrupt the Irish State, as it advocated some six or seven years ago when it wanted this country to default and do what some countries have, unfortunately, experienced in recent times. If we are to fulfil the vision of this morning in Dublin Castle, of getting our people back to work and building infrastructure, clean water is critical to that. Whether Sinn Féin likes it or not we have taken the water supply away from over 30 councils-----

To privatise it.

-----who all dealt with it in a different way and we have brought it together into a national utility, like the ESB or Bord Gáis, identifying leaks and lead pipes, issues which county councils around the country had sat on for years and not addressed. We have already begun to bring to an end to the scandal of boil water notices in County Roscommon, which is an enormous achievement that was not achievable by a local authority on its own.

If the Government had given €500 million to local authorities they would have done it.

We want to build a tourism industry, to attract foreign direct investment and build local Irish businesses. Above all, we want our farmers and our agriculture industry to prosper and we need good clean water for all those things, as well as for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Sinn Féin's vision is to pretend that instead of a functioning utility, we can load €800 million onto income tax and taxes on workers this year.

The Government is both subsidising and charging and it is still not fixing the leaks.

What we are proposing in the budget is to give workers tax relief, particularly in terms of the USC, and to have a separate system for paying for water at a very moderate rate of €60 net for a single person household and €160 for two adults or more. This has been an extremely difficult debate and I acknowledge that there are people vehemently opposed to the development of Irish Water but there are many people who have paid the charges. I congratulate the hundreds of thousands of families, individuals and households who have done so.

The Government bullied them into paying.

The Government intimidated them.

The billing cycle started relatively recently and I am very confident that people will pay for clean, reliable drinking water that serves their needs from industry to hospital to private home.

I am struck by the extent to which the Tánaiste has morphed into a Fine Gael mouthpiece. There is not a sliver of difference between her answer-----

At least I am not the mouthpiece of Deputy Adams.

The Tánaiste is admitting, then, that she is the mouthpiece of Fine Gael.

The Labour Party, led by the Tánaiste, which came to office on a platform of opposition to water charges for some very obvious reasons, not least that people had suffered so much by way of cutbacks and were struggling to get by, now staunchly defends the indefensible. The Labour Party and the Tánaiste stand shoulder to shoulder with the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny and tells people they really do not care what their view is, what their struggles are or what their difficulties are - they are going to stick with this unfair charge in any event. The financing model for this utility is now utterly undermined but the Tánaiste is in cloud cuckoo land on that score as well.

The subvention for Irish Water on the State balance sheet in 2015 is €810 million. Fewer than 50% of households have paid up and if the Tánaiste thinks that is going to improve she is wrong as it is not going to happen. Many people will not pay as a matter of principle, as they pay already and oppose moves towards privatisation, but a huge number of people simply cannot pay. This is not about whether or not Sinn Féin likes it, as the Tánaiste would have it. This opposition is beyond any political party or anything we have seen in recent times in this State.

Sinn Féin is like Syriza.

New Democracy is the Fine Gael crowd in Greece.

The Tánaiste should listen to the people as she has promised to do and scrap this scheme. It is not working for the people or for the State's balance sheet. Would the Tánaiste prefer to blindly follow where Deputy Enda Kenny and his Blueshirt colleagues lead her, and insist on a policy that is clearly failing? She disregards lone parents, pickpockets them and leaves them struggling. She then delivers a homily in which she says it is only €3 per week but that does not add up for people who have to run their households. She is persisting with this even though she knows the damage it will do to individuals and families.

In the forthcoming budget the Government will have room for spending of between €1.2 billion and €1.5 billion. Given where the country has come from, the improvements in both last year's and next year's budget offer us an opportunity to assist everybody in this country.

Did the Government assist lone parents?

More important, it will help us get more people back to work because the key to economic recovery is to get people back to work, either in jobs or in self-employment. There are some 4,000 involved in working directly or indirectly in the area of water services. Sinn Féin's proposal for water services is to throw those people out of a job and to bankrupt the provision of proper water services in this country.

Rubbish. This is Alice in Wonderland economics.

In the forthcoming budget the important thing is to see a shift in favour of people at work or in self-employment with low or middle incomes and to use that for the economic growth that everybody in this country has worked so hard to create. The people have worked so hard to get the country out of the economic difficulties they have borne. We want a recovery dividend and an easing in income taxes on labour so that people, especially families with children, can work and have a lower burden.

We also want a well-structured service sector that provides for absolute essentials. I note that Deputy McDonald did not disagree with me that a good quality water service is essential in a modern economy, as is a good quality sewerage service. Deputy McDonald did not say this could be provided for nothing or magicked out of thin air.

We have a strategy in the Labour Party.

I am suggesting that the Government should stop screwing struggling families. That is my proposition to the Tánaiste.

We have a strategy in the forthcoming budget to put money back in the pockets of workers while building quality services.

What about parents who work less than 19 hours?

Sinn Féin does not even seem to have an economic policy.

(Interruptions).

It does not have a water policy and it does not have a policy which will put money in workers' pockets and help them go back to work.

The only policies the Tánaiste has are Fine Gael policies.

What does Sinn Féin want? It seems only to care about soundbites.

(Interruptions).

The Government certainly is no friend of the Greeks. It never even tried to help them.

Sinn Féin has nothing of substance to say in this debate or any other debate.

(Interruptions).

The Fine Gael Deputies are smiling over there. Their policies were implemented. It is only the Fine Gaelers who are smiling.

(Interruptions).

Order for Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, please.

Over the past seven years, the people have struggled in many ways to come through the recession. Throughout Ireland, people struggle with mortgages. They are raising families in difficult situations. I saw a report which states grocery prices have gone up approximately 70%. People are struggling to send their kids to college. We have property tax. Elderly people will get 45 minutes of home help to get out of bed. County councils cannot take on new employees even though the number of employees they have has been decimated. We all know the state of the health service. Each one of us in this Dáil gets calls every day about the distress families are suffering. The Tánaiste told us earlier to look at where we have come from. She is right. Look at it. The kick in the teeth to the people is to be found in the reports in the media telling us that top politicians and former taoisigh will now get a couple of grand extra. They will end up with €136,000 to look out the window at home and smile at Ireland. Former Ministers will be looked after. Just imagine it. The rise they will get in their pensions equates to extra home care for three people. Some of them, including the Tánaiste, have said they will not accept it, which I acknowledge. However, that is not the way to go forward. Some of these people will give the State the two fingers. They will run for the hills with the money in their pockets. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has been asked about this situation. What did he do? He put his hands in the air and asked what could he do.

When crises hit this country, the Government was prepared to bring in emergency legislation. We are legislators. We are here to solve the problems of the country. We cannot have a family home being repossessed. We cannot have banks closing in on families throughout the country and at the same time give €2,000 to the fat cats. I am not long a Member of the Dáil but I will ask the Tánaiste one thing. Will she answer me straight? I do not need an epitaph. I want straight answers. Does she agree with those increases in pensions? Will her Government legislate to stop this immediately? When will she bring in that legislation?

The answer is never.

I thank the Deputy. First of all, in relation to the issue of local authorities hiring staff-----

We do not want to know about them.

Answer the question.

Answer the question.

-----I am sure the Deputy is aware that his own county council in Galway, along with all the other county councils, have been sanctioned to hire more than 300 additional staff.

We have not got one in Tipperary. Not one.

Deputy McGrath needs to speak to his county manager.

It is up to the county manager to apply. Some 300 additional staff have been sanctioned to provide for the planning, building and development of new homes and houses in all counties throughout Ireland-----

Answer the question.

-----as part of the Government's €3.5 billion investment in housing in this country. In case Deputy Fitzmaurice is not aware of the fact-----

Answer the question.

-----I know from visiting Galway that Galway County Council has taken on more staff. Those extra staff are in addition to the 1,800 or so additional teachers and the 600 additional special needs assistants who have been taken on throughout the country. The Deputy's suggestion that a recovery dividend is not being paid in terms of additional staff is wrong. While it is a few counties away from him, Deputy Fitzmaurice will probably know that Templemore, which was shuttered by the previous Government, is now home at any one time to 500 or 600 gardaí in training.

What has this got to do with the question he asked about the pensions? This is unreal. A specific question was asked but we cannot get an answer.

I have had enough. I am going to leave.

Peter has had enough.

Peter could not take it any more. Even Peter walked out.

On the Lansdowne Road agreement and the emergency financial measures in the FEMPI legislation, the advice to the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has been that the FEMPI measures should be unwound as the Lansdowne Road deal comes to an end.

The Government can cut the lone parent's payment but it cannot cut payments to the fat cats.

Take it easy, Mattie.

I will not take it easy. It is a fact.

As the House will be aware, a new deal is currently being negotiated and finalised with the trade unions. People on pensions in excess of €100,000 have rightly taken a pension deduction of 20% in the special levy on high level pensions. There is a significant deduction in existence at the moment, in respect of FEMPI, imposed on people who have very high pensions at more than €100,000.

Deputy Fitzmaurice referenced my personal view. If the Taoiseach of this country earns less than €200,000 and therefore might be in line for a pension of somewhat less than half of that, and the Taoiseach now earns significantly less than €200,000, I do not see why anyone in this country-----

One Minister living in America for the past five years is still getting his pension. He is not even living in Ireland.

-----who was paid out of public funds should earn a pension in excess of €100,000.

What is the Tánaiste going to do about it?

However, the principal people in receipt of these sums are medical consultants who are very highly paid following a move initiated by the previous Government.

It has been endorsed by this Government.

I have said it publicly and I will say it again. We have been legally advised that now that the financial emergency is over, thankfully, the FEMPI legislation should be unwound in line with the restoration of, in particular, low-paid public servants' pay in respect of the cuts they took in terms of both actual cuts to their wages and additional levies in relation to pensions.

Can we see that advice?

The same applied to low-earning retired civil servants on pensions. I have made a suggestion-----

Cut the lone parent's payment.

-----to the people involved who are fortunate enough. Some of these former Ministers and taoisigh earn more than serving Ministers and taoisigh or almost as much nowadays.

Which is why they do not need it.

As I said, one is living in America. He is not even living in Ireland. Martin Cullen is living in America. He has been living there five years.

I think they should have the decency to offer-----

-----to refund that pension increase to the State.

They should not get it.

They should do it on a voluntary basis and they should acknowledge the strong level of pension they receive.

They can claim it after a year or two. It will come back to them.

I do not see why they would need it. It would be an honourable gesture-----

Like burning the bondholders.

-----to the State they served.

The Tánaiste is asking them to give it back but will not take it off them.

The State now contributes significantly to their pensions and comfort in retirement. They should refrain from accepting it.

I am not long in the Dáil but after listening to that waffle a person would lose the will to be here. The same ding-dong goes on every day. I look around me and no one answers a question straight. The fact is those politicians who are gone have given the two fingers to the State. We need to do something as legislators to stop what is going on. Go out on the ground and listen to the people. This is a problem with many politicians. The Government should listen to its backbenchers. In fairness to the backbenchers of all parties and none, behind the scenes they will say what is going on is a disgrace.

Why does the Tánaiste not listen to the people on the ground who have made the sacrifices in the past six or seven years? Why does she not show an example as a leader or a deputy leader of a country, show the people and give them the hope they need? They need to know there is someone at the top who will show the light, show the way and not keep with the same ding-dong with the fat cats of this country.

The Tánaiste should go around Ireland to the small and medium-sized businesses. She has talked about where we are now. We are €208 billion in debt. We are not out of the woods. The Tánaiste should go into every small town in this country. Small and medium-sized businesses are struggling and on their knees. They are keeping the door open and the light lit but I can tell the Tánaiste they will not have a holiday.

These people who have absconded and gone include ex-taoisigh and ex-ministers. Some of them are living outside the State. They do not give a damn. They are not worried about small business. The small businesses are what will bring Ireland back and make an Ireland of the future, not these people who have headed for the hills.

I do not accept that we could ask someone if they might give it back to us. That day is gone. As legislators, we need to sit down. Whatever the way, legally it can be done.

Of course it can.

If we say it cannot be done, then we are giving up as a country.

I am appealing to the Tánaiste. Altogether, I think there would be support right around the House. We could work together and make sure this will not go on. There are senior civil servants who have retired on massive pensions as well. This cannot go on, when we see people struggling on €20,000, €30,000 and €40,000. They cannot send their children to college. They are the people who have pulled Ireland out of the coals, out of the fire. I appeal to the Tánaiste to reconsider what she is doing. We would work with the Government. I believe everyone in the House is disgusted with what has been said. I put it to the Tánaiste that legislation has to come in: if we need to come in during the holidays, let us do it. Let us go forward, show example and let the people see that there is some decency in politicians before they give up on us once and for all.

When this Government came into office the first thing we did was abolish a series of privileges which applied to politicians, in particular, to officeholders who served in government. We abolished all of the transition payments relating to retiring Ministers. Not only that, but Ministers and others who would serve henceforth received and took significant cuts in their salaries and in their future pension entitlements. In fact, for ordinary Deputies the future pension entitlements of those who came to serve recently apply from the age of 65 years. By the way, at the time, I did not see the Independent Members offering the €41,000 allowance that each of them gets on a tax-free basis.

It is €40,000 a year.

I did not see them offering that.

The Government parties get it as well.

I did not see them offering that.

They get €200,000 over five years.

The Government parties get millions.

They get €200,000 over five years.

Government Members get €25 million.

Excuse me, can we have order, please?

They get it free into their pockets.

They get €200,000.

(Interruptions).

Can we have order, please?

Will they give it back? Will they give back the €40,000?

(Interruptions).

I will swap Deputy Kehoe my €40,000 for his €25 million.

I have called the Tánaiste, please.

(Interruptions).

Perhaps Deputy Fitzmaurice might lead by example. Perhaps he does not take that particular payment.

(Interruptions).

Perhaps Deputy Fitzmaurice would lead or, in terms of his fellow Independent Deputies, address-----

(Interruptions).

Sorry. This is Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice's question. Can we have order, please? Deputy Donnelly, please.

(Interruptions).

What is the Tánaiste going to do about it? The former Minister is off living in America. What is the Tánaiste going to do about the former Minister living in America who brought this country to its knees? He is laughing at this State in America.

(Interruptions).

I have asked the Tánaiste to reply.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Halligan, this is Deputy Fitzmaurice's question, please. Deputy Fitzmaurice asked the question.

Deputy Fitzmaurice-----

He is on a golf course in America with a huge pension after wrecking this country. The pension is being sent out to America to him.

Deputy Halligan, I do not know what you are talking about. I am going to have to suspend the House if we cannot have Deputy Fitzmaurice's question addressed.

Deputy Fitzmaurice said that he would support moves that "can legally be done" - that was the phrase he used. In that, he has used a very wise phrase, one with which I concur. This is because it is the same constitutional advice as has been given to the Government.

Can we see the advice?

It is related to the financial emergency measures. The financial emergency period, thankfully, is over and is beginning to recede.

We are €208 billion in debt.

That is because of the sacrifices the people in Ireland have made. The legal advice to us, whether or not Deputies like it, is relevant. Deputy Fitzmaurice talked about what can be legally done. I accept the spirit in which he is making his proposal. However, he asked that we could see what can legally be done.

I will certainly take it up again with the Attorney General. However, a range of legal advice suggests that a pension right is a particular right people have. It was reduced in the emergency for people on over €100,000 by 20% and upwards. It was reduced even more by this Government when we came into office for current and future officeholders and Members. That was agreed and it was legally okay.

Why not leave it reduced?

(Interruptions).

This is Leaders' Questions, please.

At the moment according to the legal advice that is available to us, the recourse is that the people involved, whether they are in America sunning themselves, as Deputy Halligan has suggested-----

They are in America. He is in America.

Then, it behoves them and perhaps their former party members in the House - I am referring to the former party of government - to advise them that in the public interest they should actually not take what would be, in effect, some reduction in the level of reduction they are currently taking.

That concludes Leaders' Questions. I hope Deputy Fitzmaurice heard all that was said there; I could not.