Deputy McDonald has 15 minutes remaining.
Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
I believed I would have more, as I had 30 minutes yesterday and only used five. Anyway, I shall do my best to impart my wisdom in 15 minutes.
The Minister has extolled the virtues of the unwinding of the financial emergency legislation. The dark days are over and we are on the road to recovery, he says. That is what he would have us believe. The FEMPI legislation came about because of the catastrophic situation that the country found itself in as a result of the failed and disastrous policies of a Fianna Fáil Government, policies that were compounded by the current Government's response to the crisis. The current Government championed policies that led to further severe austerity measures that left those on lower incomes and the less fortunate reeling. While the catastrophe required a response, the cuts and policies were felt most acutely by those whom this Government specifically targeted. That was certainly the case for low-paid public sector workers.
Starting with Fianna Fáil and continuing with the current Administration, emergency legislation has been put in place that has left the public service with staff cuts, moratoriums on recruitment, cuts in pay, pension reductions, increment freezes and increased working hours. The legislation before the Dáil today aims to unwind aspects of the emergency Bills. As explained last night, it sets out the terms for a partial restoration of pension reductions and a restoration of some pay to public servants or, as the memorandum accompanying the Bill helpfully tells us, it will "reduce the reductions".
Sinn Féin has been very clear throughout this whole process. When agreements were negotiated and legislation was debated on where we stand in regard to these and other cuts, we were very consistent in arguing in the Dáil, the Seanad, the media and the public domain that we did not and do not support any measures that cut the pay of low- and middle-income public sector workers. We argued very strongly that any new deal must prioritise pay restoration for low-paid public servants. We have been consistent in the analysis that targeting low- and middle-income workers' pay is economically and socially unsound. In addition, Sinn Féin has consistently argued for a living wage. In its recent pre-budget submission to the Government, it provided for a living wage to be introduced across the public sector.
The truth is that long before there was ever a recession in this State, there was an enormous pay gap between the highest and lowest paid in the public service. If one examines wage inflation between 1997 and 2009 and compares the accumulation in income of a Secretary General by comparison with a clerical officer in that period, the yawning, enormous and indefensible pay gap becomes all the more evident. It is clear to us that lower-paid public servants not only were left behind by the Celtic tiger but, like other low-paid workers, took the brunt of the Government's austerity measures while the higher-paid public servants forged ahead and were cosseted, resulting in an ever-increasing pay gap. In negotiating the agreements and implementing the various emergency Bills at all the various stages, the Government had a golden opportunity to tackle once and for all the considerable pay inequity across the public service and Civil Service, yet it failed to do so. I must emphasise again for the purpose of clarity that those who are overpaid and over-pensioned in the public service and Civil Service comprise a tiny minority of the workforce.
At the conclusion of the talks that led to the Lansdowne Road agreement, we examined its measures in detail. We did not take the agreement in isolation. We met the trade unions and talked to various stakeholders. It became obvious that, while the Government wished to sell the agreement on the basis that it primarily or wholly targeted low- and middle-income workers, this was not the totality of the story. I wish to challenge directly the claim of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, last night in respect of this legislation. He said it was important to stress that the legislation is progressive and measured, with lower-paid public servants standing to gain most. That is not the truth, yet it has been the substance of the rhetoric on this legislation and the Lansdowne Road deal since it was struck. However, as with most things in life, the devil becomes evident in the detail. Section 5.2 of the Lansdowne Road agreement makes a commitment "to commence the process to reduce the pay reductions applied under the FEMPI Act 2013". In other words, it refers to the Haddington Road agreement. If the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform were here, I am sure he would recall that we have had conversations on this before. I put it to him before that it is not possible to consider both agreements separately or in isolation. To understand the impact on public pay and public sector workers, one needs to consider the agreements in the round. Both must be viewed as one complete whole.
Far from representing a measured and prudent unwinding of the FEMPI legislation, as the Minister claims, the provision before us is such that, although lower-paid public servants do receive some relief, the reliefs are proportionately far greater for those further up the scale. The Minister is aware of where our concerns lie. I believe this should be of concern to him. I will say more on this subject in a few moments.
If the Government is serious about the reform of the public sector, it should use every opportunity presented to it to eliminate runaway pay at the top, ensure greater pay parity and eradicate gold-plated pensions. Such opportunities presented themselves in the midst of the greatest financial catastrophe the State had faced, yet the Government wimped out of dealing with those issues. I have submitted amendments to FEMPI legislation that would have specifically and unapologetically targeted high-income earners and protected low- and middle-income workers and their increments. The amendments would have removed the ability of the Government to increase working hours at a whim, but all to no avail. Time and again, the legislation went through without amendment.
Not unlike others in society, public and civil servants at lower grades and on low pay struggle badly. The real question for them is whether there will be some relief in their pay packets and households. We have brought to the attention of the Minister previously the fact that many public sector workers rely on the family income supplement to make ends meet. It is a disgrace that anybody employed by the State would be reliant on that supplement.
While we welcome some amendments, such as the small provision that puts extra money in workers' pockets, we believe that no matter how much one tries to spin the legislation, it shows once again that the Government does not have in mind a fair recovery or restoration. Recovery and restoration are in mind for those on higher wages, admittedly, but if there were a fair recovery there would be greater pay parity. Low-income workers, who need full pay restoration the most, would receive it. Why are the only real beneficiaries of the two agreements, in substantive terms, those who need to benefit least? If it is the case that the focus is on those earning incomes of under €65,000, who will, let it be said, have an additional €1,000 per annum in their pockets, why is there such a sharp contrast with those earning over €65,000 and up to €110,000, who will see the full unwinding of the FEMPI cuts in respect of the higher portion of their wages? How could the Government argue that this represents a focus on the lower paid? Higher-income earners will have the cuts to their pay fully restored in two tranches. If one earns between €65,000 and €110,000, the first restoration is envisaged to apply in April 2017 and the second is to apply in January 2018. The real high rollers, on wages over €110,000, will receive a full restoration in respect of the income above €110,000 in three stages, beginning in April 2017 and ending in April 2019.
Where we see the full row-back on the cuts is for the higher proportion of income that higher income earners have. Full unwinding, therefore, only applies to a select few. This is a partial unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Act for those earning under €65,000 and a comprehensive and complete unwinding for high earnings thereafter. Where is the fairness in that?
When the Landsdowne Road agreement was reached, I was struck that trade union members and workers initially took the Minister on his word that the focus was on those on lower wages, certainly up to the €65,000 bracket. It was only after the fact that the full picture and consequences came to the attention of those workers and perhaps their trade unions. This is a matter we will return to on Committee Stage when we will submit amendments in that regard.
Can the Minister claim that this is a proportionate response? Can he tell those public sector workers that while the cuts hit those public sector workers on the lowest incomes hardest, they will have to stomach the prospect that restoration is unequally applied and favours high earnings and high earners? It is disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the Lansdowne Road agreement focuses entirely on the low paid. That is manifestly not the case in this legislation.
It is also a fact that front-line workers have been disproportionately hit. I refer to our nurses, gardaí, firefighters and doctors who are expected to deliver a 24 hours a day, seven days a week service to keep us safe and to look after our well-being. We must bear in mind that these are not just public sector workers. They are husbands, wives, mothers and fathers who have mortgages to pay, children to feed and rent to meet, and all from a very depleted pay packet. These workers, who have had their pay significantly reduced over the years, simply could give no more. They were squeezed until the very pips squeaked, and what is their reward for their pain? It is certainly not full restoration of pay or pension deductions. There may be the promise of that but that has not become clear.
Both the Lansdowne Road and Haddington Road agreements were implemented by a Government that saw no other strategy or option but to punish public services rather than invest in them and enhance them and there is no doubt that the standard of living of public sector workers has been damaged. I note in his contribution last night the Minister paid tribute to workers across the public and Civil Service. That is as it should be, but the actions of this Government would not lead any of those workers to believe they are valued. The truth is that within the sector we still do not have appropriate decent pay and working conditions for all of the workers, and we have the desperate spectacle of the chosen few and the rest. That is not a tolerable situation.
The Minister is also aware from previous debates that when benchmarked with other jurisdictions, the pay gap between those on low pay and those on very high pay within the Irish system is at odds with what would be considered to be normal, healthy, acceptable and equitable in an international context.
I want to comment on the requirement for the additional working hours. The Minister stated, almost as a boast, these additional hours that have accrued to the system because of the cuts. These additional hours have had a very detrimental impact on many workers. In particular, in my experience they have had a great impact on women or anyone who has a child care responsibility. All of us here know that the cost of child care is literally crippling for many families. It is a major issue facing any working parent but for those within the public and Civil Service who find themselves in the position of working additional hours, even if it is only a small parcel of time measured out over a working week, that additional time incurs often a disproportionate and very high cost in terms of additional child care. I know it was very disappointing for many that when the talk about unwinding FEMPI and giving back to public servants was being trumpeted by Government, the issue around these additional hours was not examined nor a cost-benefit analysis done in terms of productivity. What are we getting for these additional hours?
I understand that within the health service there may be a particular case in respect of the hours. I am open to hearing that. I hope we will discuss that on Committee Stage but I know that in many other scenarios - in the Civil Service, for instance - I would question the value of the additional time in productivity terms. I know from speaking directly to people that it has had a major cost.
Public sector workers are the backbone of social provision in this State. We all depend on them at critical moments so it is not appropriate that schemes like JobBridge are used to fill the gaps in creaking services. It is all very well to expect productivity but how are public sector workers expected to do more with fewer resources? The recruitment embargo must be lifted. That is one measure that will help rebuild confidence in our public services.
The Minister said last night that he is proud of the considerable improvements in terms of public service provision that have been delivered since 2011. I am not sure where the Minister is mixing or the services to which he was referring but from talking to public sector workers, and in general conversation with people in the real world, it is apparent that our services are stretched and sometimes that is the best case scenario. In other scenarios, they are literally fit to collapse.
We just had a very informative briefing from the ISPCC, which raised a range of issues that are directly attributable to lack of staff, lack of money, lack of investment and lack of understanding in terms of the services that vulnerable children require. I refer to social workers, for instance, and weekend and out of hours cover. We have a crisis in that particular service provision and something that goes to the heart of the safety, well-being and future of children. I cite that as only one example; I could cite many more. Let no Minister come in here and pretend that they are presiding over a golden era of building, modernising and revitalising public services. Far from it. They have presided over cutbacks, austerity, staff shortages and crises across multiple services.
It could be said that the public services in this State, taken in their totality, might be described as broken, at times ineffectual and certainly frustrating for all those dedicated individuals who are at the coal-face delivering services. It will take much more than an election-orientated budget to repair the years of neglect that are attributable not only to Fianna Fáil and the previous Administration but directly attributable to this Government.
We have to address the problems in our public services, repair the damage and invest and build them up. The scandal of the trolley crisis is probably the most immediate crisis that jumps into the minds of citizens. It is the clearest illustration of what can happen when we do not protect our services and implement the cuts and other measures that have occurred in recent years. There has been an ongoing failure on the part of this Government to deal in any meaningful way with the housing crisis and the homeless crisis or to address realistically the deterioration in our health service. While these crises exist we are not on the road to recovery, contrary to what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, claimed last evening.
The money going out on excessive wages, for instance, could be better spent improving services and contributing to the investment we need. An Taoiseach earns a salary of €185,000. Under this legislation, he will see reinstatement of his previous salary. It that not correct? I see no argument for paying the Taoiseach €185,000 and I certainly see no argument for paying the Taoiseach more than €185,000. It is a matter of equity and democratic credibility for senior Ministers, Government officials and senior politicians, who insist, to use the old L'Oréal cliché, that they are worth it and, moreover, that some are more equal and more deserving than others.
When taken in the round and considering the struggle that public sector workers have endured and continue to endure to this day, the question of the treatment by the State of its low and middle-income employees arises. What does it say about the State as an employer? I imagine any impartial observer would suggest that it reflects the State as not being a good or fair employer. If there is to be a fair recovery and equitable restoration of pay and pension cuts, and if the Government is really serious about doing something, especially for low-income public sector workers, then those in government must cast their gaze to the bottom rung, where they reside, as well as cast their eyes upwards. The Government should cut the excessive pay of the tiny minority of the overpaid. The Government should act to restore fully the cuts to low-income workers. They deserve more than what is offered in this package.
I believe the Government's commitment to the investment in public sector services generally will also be reflected in the commitment - if the Government has any - to investing in the pockets and pay packets of those on low and middle incomes, those who essentially and by virtue of their numbers drive, run and produce all the positivity that public services can bring to bear in our society.
I understand Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputy Clare Daly and Deputy Ruth Coppinger. Is that correct?
I am. We will take ten minutes each. The financial emergency measures legislation was used to cut the pay of public servants. It was an instance of the utterly savage and unjust gouging of the incomes of those who are, for the most part, low-paid or middle-earning public servants. They were asked to pay a cruel price for the crimes of others. This was accompanied, of course, with a horrendous wave of hysteria and demonisation directed at civil and public servants. They were scapegoated for the crimes of others. At the time, it was a rather Orwellian turn in the political narrative because public and civil servants were vilified as somehow responsible for the unprecedented economic crash when, with the exception of a few of the mandarins at the top, the vast majority had no responsibility whatsoever for the crash. In fact, that crash resulted from the naked greed of bankers, developers and bondholders, ably accompanied by the mandarins at the top of the Civil Service and facilitated by the political establishment in this country and throughout Europe.
The scale of the assault on pay and conditions was really rather savage. It is important to emphasise that it was pay and conditions and this point will be relevant when we try to assess the value of this legislation. Before looking at the facts of that assault and the extent to which this legislation does or does not move towards the restoration of pay and conditions for the majority of public and civil servants in any meaningful way, it is worth giving an illustrative example of what it has meant. It also serves to make the point to the Minister that this legislation does not do half enough and does not go anywhere near restoring pay and conditions for the majority of civil and public servants. In fact, it is another instance of the pathetic pre-election crumbs being thrown back to people who have been savaged when, in fact, the bakery has been taken off them. The Government steals the bakery and then throws back some crumbs and expects people to be grateful.
Anyway, the human reality of the situation was summed up for me in recent weeks by a case that came to my constituency office. It involves a low-paid civil servant who is facing eviction because his landlord has jacked the rent up from €1,000, which was already a difficult matter for this worker to manage, to €1,300. He is now facing eviction. He is married, he has two children and he is in receipt of the family income supplement. With the family income supplement, his total monthly income is €2,054 before tax. He and his family are now faced with a rent of €1,300. How can he do that? How can he pay €1,300 in monthly rent when his income, including the family income supplement, is €2,000? It simply cannot be done, especially given all the other bills and looking after the children and so on. They are going to be homeless. Then, he will go down to the community welfare officer to see if there is any chance he can get rent allowance, but he will be told that he cannot, because he is working and therefore he is not entitled to rent allowance. This is now widespread.
I offer another example of civil servants caught in this sort of trap. Let us suppose a man happens to be a low-paid civil or public servant who is married and owns a house. Then, he becomes separated. Usually, in separation proceedings the mother and child will get to keep the house, and rightly so. However, the man has nowhere to live but he cannot get rent allowance because he owns a house, although he cannot live in that house. This is happening to large numbers of low-paid civil servants.
I remind the Minister of State and the Government that these people were in no way responsible for the economic crisis. Indeed, they were low-paid even before the crash and the assault on their wages and conditions. Is it not extraordinary that the group who were vilified to this extent are actually suffering in this way? They have nowhere to turn. Aside from this legislation, the Minister and the Government might think about what I am supposed to tell this man and his family or others like him when it comes to how they are supposed to pay the rent.
These are the low-paid civil and public servants who keep the State functioning. Perhaps the Minister of State could riddle me that one.
The situation such people find themselves in is as a result of the extent of the assault on their wages and conditions. People earning €30,000 in 2009, before the attacks started, had €16,500 taken off them between 2009 and 2015. At the end of the period covered by the Bill and so-called pay restoration, they will receive €4,351 back. Let us not forget that these figures do not include the universal social charge, which is a further attack on income.
People earning €40,000 in 2009 lost up to €27,400 by 2015. Their annual income was reduced from €40,000 to €35,000. Having had €27,400 gouged from them over those years, they will get €4,000 back by 2018. People earning €50,000 had €38,000 gouged from them up until this year and will only get €4,000 back by 2018 when the programme is completed, which is a tiny fraction of what was gouged from them. The overwhelming majority of the extra hours agreed, the flexitime that was taken away, the new sick leave scheme and so on have made it more difficult for families, along with all the other conditions which have been attacked and will not be unwound at all.
Let us sum it up in very simple terms. At the end of the period covered by this Bill, which is supposed to be about pay restoration, low-paid public servants will still be earning less than they did in 2009 when the assault took place. What sort of pay restoration is that? In 2018 low-paid civil servants will be earning less than they did in 2009. It is an absolute shocker.
For the Government and the troika, this Bill was always about what Naomi Klein called the shock doctrine, that is, never to waste the opportunity of a crisis by assaulting the share that goes to wages and workers and boosting the share that goes to profits. I do not have time to go through the details, but a fantastic paper produced by economist Paul Sweeney demonstrates this point. I do not know if the Minister of State can see the graph but it shows the collapse in wage share across Europe since the 1970s. Ireland is the worst in Europe. In 1970, wage share was 67% as a proportion of GDP in this country; it is now 50%. The European average wage share is currently 58%. We are way below the average share that goes to wages. Profits during that period have rocketed, in a direct transfer from the working people to the rich. That is what the Government has done, and it has used the opportunity of the economic crisis to accelerate it.
Why do we need this emergency Bill and to unwind it in phases? There is no emergency any more, as the Government tells us. Everything is getting better. There is an emergency in housing but the Government will not declare that to be so. However, it wants to retain emergency legislation to make sure workers do not get back what the Government stole and gouged from them over recent years. Why does the Government not focus on the real emergencies and give workers back what it stole from them?
It obviously goes without saying that some restoration of public service pay is undoubtedly better than none. I would imagine that public sector workers have experienced a certain degree of relief that after five years of the Government being in office, during which time it has consistently pilfered large sums of money from their pockets, this year it has thrown a partial amount of that back. The reality is that what we should be discussing is the abolition of the FEMPI Acts. They should no longer be in place.
The Bill may partially restore some elements of pay in the public sector but the number of hours public servants will have to work with still be longer and they will have fewer holidays and far fewer conditions than they had before we bailed out the banks. That is the reality of the Bill. In fact, the small pay increases in the Bill negotiated as part of the Lansdowne Road agreement are even smaller than the headline rates flagged by the Government.
The TUI - fair play to it - has been incredibly vocal about the Bill and the agreement. It has labelled them as unfair and heavy-handed, and I agree. They give the Government the power to withhold about €1,600 for supervision and substitution duties by teachers due to be paid in two tranches, starting in September next year, and the power to refuse to pay incremental pay rises for members of unions which are seen to have repudiated the Lansdowne Road agreement.
This gun to the head, mob movie-type union busting extremism gives the lie to the Government's propaganda that it is confident that the people believe the lies it is peddling about a recovery and its brilliant economic stewardship. If it were so confident, why would it need to have such vicious tactics in the Bill? It is because it has lost the hearts and minds of public sector workers and knows the only way it can get an agreement is by viciously attempting to ram it through. The TUI correctly pointed out that the pay increases from 2016 will have little if any impact on part-time workers, the most vulnerable sector of in the public sector as it is. I am so annoyed about this Bill I am almost struck dumb.
We are talking about FEMPI remaining in place until 2016. In other words, the Government is retaining the right to cut public service pay unilaterally for at least another three years. That in effect is what it is saying. It makes a mockery of the recovery and the ending of the emergency. It exposes its propaganda. The real agenda is precisely as Deputy Boyd Barrett pointed out, namely, why waste a good crisis.
What this is about is a race to the bottom dressed up as reform. For neoliberalism that means an all-out assault on the terms and conditions and pay of workers which were fought for by the trade union movement over decades. It has resulted in longer hours, shorter holidays and poorer working conditions, to name but a few. Precarious and casual labour is now part and parcel of the public service. There are now JobBridge jobs in the public service. It is a disgrace and stands on its head what was once something which was not an unreasonable expectation for citizens, namely, that we might aspire to the idea of a secure, permanent, pensionable job that would allow us to put a roof over our heads for our families, give us access to health care when we were sick, access to education for children to achieve their full potential and so on. All these things have been under attack.
I do not have time to discuss all the points, but the casualisation of labour, which once it sets its stall in the public sector is repeated in the private sector, is being further entrenched as part of this Bill. The TUI stated that one third of its members at second level and up to half of those aged under 35 years are in temporary or part-time employment. How in God's name can they buy or rent a house in our economy given those conditions?
Many university lecturers, the people one might think are the elite of academia, are on hourly contracts with very limited hours. Some 66% of university staff are now casual workers. We know about the figures on the overall shrinking of the public sector and the massive reduction in numbers. The consequences of that can be seen in front-line services such as the closure of Garda stations, the people on hospital trolleys and the largest class sizes in the eurozone even after so-called reform in that area. Members of the Defence Forces are surviving on subsistence, supplementary payments from family income supplement and so on.
It should be pointed out that there are two categories of workers.
The first of these consists of women. The public sector was one area where women held their own, and there was more of a chance of getting equal pay in the public sector than in the private sector. Not only this, it was an environment which marketed itself on the idea of being family-friendly and encouraging women in this regard. Women in the public sector earned 5% more than their private-sector counterparts, and at the lower end of the scale, in the most vulnerable sectors, public sector wages for women were 15% higher. This is an attack because what happens in the public sector is followed by the private sector. We know many of the family-friendly working arrangements have been stood on their head in the name of austerity, and none of these things will be protected after the passage of the Bill. In this sense I see it as a specific attack on women workers because of their prevalence in the public sector.
The second group of workers being particularly targeted and not having their needs addressed is pensioners. It is great that there is some restoration of public sector State pensions. This is brilliant, given the butchery the Government carried out on the livelihoods of pensioners. However, it is doing nothing in the legislation to deal with occupational pension schemes such as the Irish airlines superannuation scheme, IASS. IASS pensioners will find themselves in exactly the same position after the Bill is passed as they did before, despite the fact that these workers spent most decades of their working lives building up pensionable service in a State-owned company. It is a pretty big kick in the teeth, to be honest.
By next week, when the cuts from their pockets are taken for October, €5 million will have been robbed from the people on a pension in this scheme, who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, to pay off a section 50 debt they did not even know they had. This section 50 debt was unilaterally passed over to Aer Lingus and DAA pensioners, who had it deducted at source from their monthly income without their agreement, without consultation, without compensation and without being party to any debt resolution process. It is a debt they did not even know they had. Absolutely no compensation or relief has been provided to these workers, who worked in State employment all their lives. There has been no recognition either for deferred pensioners, whose long service leaves them less well off. A cut in retirement pension of up to 58% for long-service deferred pensioners with decades of work behind them, 42 years in one instance, is absolutely and utterly disgraceful. The Government had an opportunity to use some of the money from the sale of Aer Lingus to address the shortfall. It has another opportunity with this legislation. Given that the Bill allows for variation of the amount payable or rate of payment out of money provided by the Oireachtas, the Central Fund or the growing produce of that fund to certain persons for certain services to or on behalf of the State, and the Central Fund being one into which the IASS pensioners have paid €35 million to date via the stamp duty pension levy, could this not be diverted to restore some of the savage cutbacks in their living standards which were imposed on them in the same name of austerity? The Government has not done nearly enough for public sector workers, but it has absolutely ignored pensioners who gave their full working lives in this regard. The Government is due to face court cases which will ensure it will have to foot the bill by trampling on the rights of these people and taking their pensionable retirement from them. The Bill is not even too little, too late. We should be discussing the abolition of this repressive emergency legislation, and the Government should not be attempting to pat itself on the back because it has thrown back a few crumbs.
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act was misnamed, because the financial emergency measures were not in the public interest but in the bondholders' interest. With undue haste, the legislation was rammed through the Dáil in 2013 in a particular effort to pressure and blackmail public sector workers who were gearing up to resist the attacks from the Government. It was also in the interest of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the billionaire-owned media to try to pretend that public servants were somehow responsible for the recession and for the economic collapse. If one had to choose a single group that paid extremely dearly in the recession, it would have to be public sector workers, who had imposed on them pay cuts, a so-called pension levy, which was punishing, longer hours and more work.
What we see in the Bill is not pay restoration; it is partial and it is phased. It was disgraceful, particularly if we consider the presence of the Labour Party in the Government, that the FEMPI legislation was rushed through the Dáil. It gave the public sector employer more powers than even private bosses have in this country to cut pay and pensions and change working conditions unilaterally without any reference to or agreement from the workers involved. It is absolutely disgraceful legislation that should have been met with a general strike, but unfortunately we have a trade union leadership that is in collaboration with sections of the Government and that accepted the idea that there was no alternative to austerity or to the market or capitalism itself, and have capitulated completely to this idea. Of course, many of them have very close connections with the leadership of the Labour Party. No resistance was put up by the trade union leadership to the legislation at the time.
Why is FEMPI not being removed? If we are in recovery, why are the punitive measures taken against public sector workers being left in place? The point has been made that the cost of living has increased dramatically, particularly the cost of renting. In Dublin, rents have increased by approximately €150 per month over the past two years, and a survey shows that rents in my constituency increased by €241 per month. However, public sector workers and all workers have had their incomes dramatically cut despite the fact that rents have returned to 2007 levels in cities. If the restoration continued at the pace of this Bill, it would take six to nine years for public sector workers to regain what they lost at the time of the recession. There is a recovery all right for the rich; the top 300 have seen their wealth increase by €34 billion while the rest of us have been going through these swingeing cuts.
We have continued tax evasion by corporations. The Government has decided to create another lucrative loophole with the knowledge development box, and it is taking a case to prevent Apple, the biggest corporation on the planet, from paying tax back to this country, which is incredible. This level of tax evasion dwarfs the pay restoration taking place in the Bill. The conditions imposed on workers are being left in place, including the longer hours and many other conditions that the Government forced workers to undertake, including a lack of resources. The FEMPI legislation has done the damage and the resources are not being restored.
We will continue to see a two-tiered public service, whereby new teachers and nurses will earn 14% less than those in existing jobs. This is completely disgraceful. What a legacy to hand young people who have studied and worked hard to attain the qualifications. Will this be restored or will it be left in place? We have also seen casualisation and part-time work throughout the public service. In my sector, approximately one quarter to one third of teachers do not have full-time or permanent jobs. Many of them work in Aldi and Lidl and do babysitting and other part-time jobs at the weekend to supplement their incomes. This will do nothing for them. They will still be left doing this. I totally welcome and understand the rejection by teachers of this. Essentially, they see it for what it is because they know the reality. They are still expected to give extra productivity, drive-by inspections are taking place and there are the new curriculums and syllabi.
There are larger classes and special needs assistants and resource hours have been lost. Large amounts of money have been taken out of schools, etc. There is a similar story with nurses and other public servants, who have all seen their workloads increase dramatically.
It is no surprise that nurses and train drivers are balloting and discussing industrial action for the next few weeks as they have been listening to the guff from the Government about a recovery and correctly stating that if there is a recovery, they should have a piece of it; 63% of people have said they do not feel any recovery, although they may see or hear about it. The Labour Party, in particular, is trying to save the public sector worker vote that it got in 2011, when many public servants looked to the party to protect them from the Tories of Fine Gael. Instead, Labour put people into the Department that would implement the cuts, including the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, which was incredible. In many other Departments, Labour was swinging the axe against workers, having bought their votes on the basis that the workers would be protected.
This Bill will not in any way save the Labour Party and the budget will not do so either. Public sector workers have long memories because for the past seven or eight years, they have been apportioned the blame. They were the victims, in many cases, of a very divisive media campaign, which they had to listen to on a daily basis as they got up to do their jobs. The insinuation was they were somehow to blame for the recession, when it was the bondholders who were repaid, the speculators and the private sector which largely caused the problem. I wonder why the Minister of State expects public servants to be happy that some of their pay is being restored but the Government is leaving in all the savage conditions it imposed, using the recession and crisis to dramatically drive down the conditions and numbers in the workforce. The numbers in the public service were dramatically reduced, leaving much strain on those who worked in hospitals and key services in the country.
It is time to stop the war on public sector workers. The pension levy should be completely removed, as it and the universal social charge was meant to be a temporary measure. It should be taken out and all public servants should be restored to the same rates of pay. We should not have a two-tier position, which is extremely insulting for everybody working with a similar qualification. Young people are being expected to work for less but they will not and should not put up with that.
I firmly believe that when the history of this and the last decade comes to be written by social and economic historians, perhaps with postgraduate students applying their minds to it, the fascinating element to which they will commit most writing and thinking is how we maintained social cohesion throughout this period and how society kept its solidarity. They will consider how we did not have civil disobedience or, effectively, have trouble on our streets. In so far as we had a revolution, it was at the ballot box in 2011. It was a revolution of the people with their pencils in the quiet of the ballot box.
The Deputy must not have seen the water charge demonstrations.
The conclusion can only be that we have a very deep-rooted democracy, with fundamental solidarity among citizens.
The Government of the day managed the issue in a very fair and reasonable way and I suspect that great tribute will also have to be paid to our public servants and trade unionists, who put the good of the society and the country, along with potential job creation, ahead of their immediate self-interest. That was illustrated in the number of agreements made with the trade union movement in this period, culminating in the Lansdowne Road agreement. The public servants who exercised such restraint and the workers who maintained social solidarity in our country are true patriots who should be celebrated in this country. All of these people should be remembered and held up as heroes for what they did. As we rebuild a proper and normal society in reconstructing the country, it is important that they feel the benefits and get recognition for the sacrifices they made.
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015 is an attempt to start that process, effectively implementing the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement, which was a very patriotic, selfless agreement on the part of the public service workers who were inspired by a Government that knew what it was about. The legislation involves partial and phased restoration of cuts to public servant salaries and pensions put in place between 2009 and 2013. As I stated, the legislation arises from the Lansdowne Road agreement, which recognised the contribution of public servants and gave expression to their contribution to the recovery. It was accepted by the majority of unions. Part 2 of the Bill proposes the partial and phased restoration of public servants' remuneration. It is well laid out but I will make reference to the text because there were attempts to misconstrue how this will operate.
A salary of up to €24,000 will see an increase of 2.5%, with effect from 1 January 2016, or immediately, one could say. A salary of between €24,000 and €31,000 will see an increase of 1% on 1 January 2016, with a salary of up to €65,000 seeing an increase of €1,000 on 1 September 2017. One can see the logic and fairness in an incremental process, despite the earlier attempts by Opposition speakers to distort the message. They would love to create the erroneous impression that in some way there is an unfairness in the process; there is an absence of unfairness but there is patriotism, fairness and a democratic buy-in by everybody. People with annual remuneration of between €65,000 and €110,000 will see a 50% restoration of the 2013 reduction on 1 April 2017. It goes on in a similar vein. I read this into the record so people will accept it. It is terrible and sad that in the absence of positive proposals, people have attempted to distort the message.
Section 3 of the Bill deals with increasing salaries as I outlined. During the fiscal consolidation and the restoration of public finances, the amount deducted for pensions from salaries increased and the amount paid in pensions decreased. This is being rectified. The exemption threshold for pension-related deductions in 2015 will increase from €15,000 to €17,500. This is at the bottom end of the scale. From 1 January 2016, the exemption threshold for the pension-related deduction will increase to €26,083 and so on. The point is the process is designed to favour those in the more difficult position. The Bill seeks to restore the status quo of pay and pensions.
The Bill is effectively restoring the fortunes of our public servants, who so patriotically took those cuts. The effect of our public servants taking those cuts was to restore public finances to order.
That might sound abstract. To a person with their back against the wall, living in quite difficult circumstances, talk about restoring public finances is very abstract. In fact, it makes us competitive, so that we can bring in jobs. It reduces costs in the country and it attracts inward investment. In fact, it gives jobs to our children and brings home our emigrants. That is what this Government is about. It is not abstract economics; it is about getting jobless people work. Every time somebody gets work, €20,000 goes back to the Exchequer. However, there is far more at stake. There is the dignity of the person, their full participation in society and all that goes with it.
I am extraordinarily proud that as a result of all the sacrifices by our people, some of which have been so satisfactorily and fairly redressed and restored in this legislation, we are now creating 1,300 new jobs a week. Great credit must go to the Government and, in particular, to the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, for the extraordinary achievement that we are now creating 1,300 jobs a week and that we have created 125,000 jobs since the beginning of the Action Plan for Jobs. It is a phenomenal achievement against a backdrop of the sickening spectacle of lengthening dole queues and emigration. That is the backdrop and that is what has been reversed. I am so proud of that; this is what politics is about. We are all in politics because we want our people to have the dignity of work; to have quality of life; to raise families, if they wish, in good circumstances; and to live in dignity.
Some emigrants left by choice and with a particular ambition to travel, and that is fair game, but many, tragically, left because they were forced out of this country and we want those economic migrants to have the option to come home. Thankfully, the statistics would suggest that they are coming home and that the trend is now reversing itself. Thank God we are seeing the day, and what a wonderful day it is, that somebody who was unhappily exiled in Melbourne, Sydney, New York, London, or wherever, will now be back in their own parish for Christmas. Many people who come home this Christmas to their families will not be returning abroad. We can be collectively proud of that. That is the backdrop and that is what has been achieved by the public servants and by our people. That is what is being restored and sorted out in this legislation.
It is horrific to hear the harping on from Opposition spokespeople earlier, erroneously suggesting an unfairness. What is unfair about putting 50 cent on the minimum wage, as per the recommended rate? What is unfair about a €5 increase in the family income supplement? What is unfair about a phased, graduated and lower income-oriented reduction in the universal social charge? What is unfair about a 75% restoration of the Christmas bonus? What is unfair about giving children preschool education until they go into primary school? What is unfair about a €5 increase in child benefit, which is the most socially equalising and fairest way of distributing income, as is supported by all empirical findings? What is unfair about all of that? What is fair about it is that it creates more jobs, because the budget measures that have been taken stimulate the domestic economy.
Lower paid people who have been affected and social welfare recipients, the people who get the Christmas bonuses, spend that money immediately on domestic products. They spend that money on products locally. A multiplier effect takes hold in the local economy. They go into the shops to buy gifts for their grandchildren or to buy food, the necessary things, in the local shops. They buy goods; they do not spend it on exotic imported materials. It goes into the economy the next morning or the next hour. It goes into the economy the minute they get it. It has a multiplier effect. More money is generated, more jobs are created, more savings are effected in the social protection budget, and there are more implications for the good of our society. More socially reforming measures can be taken in the subsequent budget as less is paid out in jobseeker's allowance. Those are the implications of this budget. That is the strategy on which it is predicated. That is the whole thinking behind the budget.
In the words of one columnist and commentator, the criticism of the budget is a selfish kind of a proposition. There are people saying that the economy has reached a point where it is all right and it needs no further stimulus. They say we should let well enough alone and make no further investment in it, that we should selfishly keep the status quo for those of us who have jobs, who have a stake in society and have ownership of something. That selfish view, sadly, permeates fairly well and it is contributed to by some significant commentators in our country who should know better. The truth is that while we have made mammoth, massive, unprecedented, unexpected and unheralded successes in bringing jobs to our people, while we have created thousands of jobs - 125,000 - while our emigrants are starting to come home, and while all that is true, tragically, over 9% of our people remain unemployed. While that tragic reality remains, we need to continue to stimulate our economy. It is wrong and terribly selfish of people to say: "Let's sit on the eggs now. Let's forget about the unemployed." We cannot forget about the unemployed.
The Minister, Deputy Noonan, constructed an outstanding, socially progressive budget - the public is very well aware of that and the reaction substantiates it - which will stimulate the domestic economy further, create jobs in retail, create jobs in services, and create jobs for our returning emigrants. As well as the various measures he took in regard to taxation for our farmers, a wonderful measure in this budget, and one I am particularly proud of, relates to hauliers. We do not have railways in the part of the country that I and the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, represent. The part of Ireland that we represent and that the Acting Chairman represents is not well served in transport terms and the small local haulier is central to the domestic and local economy there. The local haulier is needed to transport goods from A to B. It is the lifeblood of society there and now, as a consequence of this budget, a haulier with ten lorries - a very small haulier, as most of them have in excess of that - will have an effective saving of €40,000 a year in road tax. The maximum tax per vehicle will be €900 when it was in excess of €5,000. This is the social and economic engineering in this budget to get our people back to work. That haulier is not going to put that in the Cayman Islands or buy a yacht with it. He is going to buy another lorry or employ another worker. It will reduce costs for local businesses and the effect of that provision in the budget, which will be implemented by the Finance Act, will be more jobs in the haulage sector and in every sector, as the cost of moving goods around reduces. It is a wonderful idea and well done to the Minister and the Government. I am so proud to stand here as a Government Deputy and to reference that achievement and its implications.
Just as that will mean job creation, so too will the taxation measures for farmers. There are many important and implicit changes here. For example, it will now become financially attractive for a farmer to form a partnership with his son or his favourite nephew or niece - thank God we have reached that point - or with his favourite relative, to hand over the farm.
We have a wrong age structure in agriculture in Ireland. We have too old a sector still farming, in many instances, out of economic necessity. This will make it a financially attractive option to hand over the farm and that will stimulate production and on-farm and off-farm employment. That is another job-creating measure of the budget and it tallies nicely with this Bill, which is giving back and is the reconstruction of a normal society.
The Bill gives back in a graduated way the income that public servants lost. It is only right. It is their own income returned. They made the big patriotic selfless step and they will be rewarded for it, or rather given back what is just. Those public servants, because of what they did, will have now have two years' preschool for their children up to the age of five. Those public servants may have youngsters working in initial employment where the minimum wage is all they can get, and that minimum wage will increase. Public servants at the lower end of the public service in terms of salary may be recipients of the family income supplement and they will get a €5 increase. Public servants who have children will get a €5 increase in child benefit. In essence, the leap of faith that those public servants made in the Haddington Road agreement, in the Lansdowne Road agreement and in previous agreements was justified and they are now being rewarded for it. That income is going back into their pocket. Their society has been reconstructed and they are now the beneficiaries of their own act of patriotism, their investment in their future and their investment in their children's future.
The alternative was to allow the country to go into the abyss and down a serious road. As a result of the public servants who wrote the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements, because of the various social welfare recipients who exercised restraint and because of the general patriotism, selflessness and democratic-rootedness of our people, we will not have the kind of sad and tragic circumstances that apply in other countries. In Ireland, there will not be a Syriza that will lead the people to the top of the mountain and back down again. That is the kind of situation we avoided here.
This legislation is fair and equitable. It targets the lower paid initially. It is graduated and it restores the income of our public servants. It restores the previous rate of deduction of pension and, ultimately, it brings up pension rates. It also brings back collective bargaining and within the legislation is the potential for increased incomes as society normalises. It is a good day's work and we should be happy to ungrudgingly and unanimously adopt it in this House.
Deputy Joe O'Reilly is somebody for whom I have great respect. He was one of the first Deputies who extended a hand of friendship to me and he has continued to do so since 2011. I do not want to single out Deputy O'Reilly's speech, but a significant emphasis has been placed here today on fairness. I do not hear about fairness, however, for the cancer patient who is receiving chemotherapy in an accident and emergency unit in a public area. I do not hear about fairness for the 2,000 families who turned up for food parcels at the Capuchin centre this morning. I do not hear about fairness for the 1,500 children who regard their hotel rooms as their home and are ashamed to say at school that their address is a hotel. I do not hear about fairness for the 431 patients who languish as we speak in accident and emergency units and on trolleys. I do not hear about those with profound disability who were waiting to see the adaption and mobility grant restored in the budget, and it simply did not happen.
I am aware of emigrants who want to return to Ireland but refuse to do so because of the chaotic existing public services, particularly the health service. I write to the Minister on a weekly basis about an 18 month old baby who is the daughter of Irish citizens working in Melbourne who are highly qualified, technically superior and required in this economy. They want to return home but cannot do so because the HSE system will not provide support to keep their daughter on necessary drugs. We can cherry-pick about the type of recovery we are having.
Before the last election Deputy Ruairí Quinn boasted that only the Labour Party could be trusted with the public service because he claimed that it was the only party that would protect the public service's interests in government. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Deputy Quinn's utterances on this matter should be placed alongside his commitment with respect to the introduction of the registration charge that was committed to publicly in Trinity. I suppose all we have to do is look at all the other claims that were made in a so-called Tesco advertisement. When we look at the 40 cuts that took place under the stewardship of the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, only two of them have been restored, yet there is a perception, as we heard today from Government backbenchers, that this is a fair budget. Let us look at the fairness.
Under this Bill, newly recruited public servants are being left at a disadvantage relative to staff who were hired before 2011. The ladder has been firmly pulled up on a generation of young people in this country. An essential feature of a republic is that there should be equality before the law. Unjust differentials should not remain, and there is little sign of any future intent to remove them, particularly in the context of improving economic outlooks.
From time to time, Fine Gael, when not suffering from the strange cultural cringe that lurks in its subconscious, likes to remember that it passed the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. That might be so, but they have little idea of what a republic looks like because it does not mean that a country attacks its young people, it does not mean that the State tolerates tens of thousands of citizens being caught up in a housing or homeless crisis, and it does not mean that a country continues to fail to secure the rights of persons with a disability in the participation of the broader society.
All of this is part of a pattern that was initiated by the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, who specifically targeted young people for special treatment. Their welfare payments were slashed, from €188 per week to €100 per week. It was as if the Minister thought that young people require less money to feed themselves, clothe themselves and pay the rent. It was a bizarre decision that young people who were homeless could survive on €100 a week.
During the recent referendum on marriage, many of the Deputies on the Fine Gael and Labour benches preened themselves under the banner, "Yes to Equality", but what they meant was, "Equality for some". As ever, they will grant equality where there is no cost involved but once any form of economic inequality is challenged, something that actually costs the Exchequer, the Government runs away. I regard this type of equality or argument around it as hypocrisy. Frankly, it is nauseating. Nobody would expect anything better from the Fine Gael Party - in fairness, at least it is honest about its position - but the Labour Party has promoted itself on the basis of social democracy values. Alas, all of that was too easily compromised in Labour's wish to be part of a right-wing Government. As ever, the consequences of that inequality are many and its effects run beyond the individuals directly impacted by those odious and horrific decisions.
In terms of inequality, there are now longer waiting times for public services, changes to duration of employment, slashes to pensions and yellow-pack nurses. In the past three years graduate nurses and midwives have had a starting salary that was slashed from €28,000 to €20,000. I do not hear too many of the backbenchers looking at the fairness of that. The Ministers, Deputies Brendan Howlin and James Reilly, were accused by graduate nurses at the time of instigating the disparagement of the nursing profession and seeking to create yellow-pack nursing. The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has done nothing to challenge that view. The attack on nursing is suggestive of an attitude of a mind that disparages professions dominated by women.
Would any of the three Ministers involved have countenanced such an attack on a male-dominated profession? The undermining of the pay and working conditions of nurses and the effects beyond young graduate nurses has driven thousands of these young graduates to foreign employers. With so many young nurses leaving our shores, the health service is struggling to fill vacant posts. Taken alongside the continuing obstinate refusal to lift the moratorium on public service recruitment, it has led to a continuing degradation of the quality of outcome of our services for the most vulnerable people.
We have diminished our expectations of public services. It is now okay to deliver chemotherapy to an immuno-compromised patient in a public accident and emergency unit and nobody lifts an eyebrow. Nobody is concerned about the delivery of a social wage. When we discuss fairness, let us remember fairness for the 1,500 children whose address is a hotel somewhere in Dublin and the 431 vulnerable people who are lying on trolleys as we speak. When I returned home last week, I met a senior citizen who said he did not want €3 extra in his pension but wanted to know whether his wife would get the orthopaedic appointment for which she had been waiting three years. I want to know if there will be a restoration of the millions of home help hours that were cut. This is the type of fairness and social wage I want.
Taken alongside the continuing refusal to recognise the situation in the economy, particularly for younger employees such as nurses, agency staff are being used to fill the gaps. This practice has been identified as more expensive than hiring staff and contrary to the welfare of the patient consistently having somebody who understands the location and specialty. Why would the Government continue to adopt a strategy of hiring agency staff at a greater cost to the Exchequer? It does so because it does not want to have a permanent relationship with people. The constant churning of personnel undermines the consistency of care, love and attention delivered by front-line staff in the public health service.
Education has also suffered from the moratorium on recruitment and an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio. The Government seems to take the view that education is solely an instrument for preparing children to be workers. The broader view of education that includes character development, social and emotional well-being and the formation of what it means to be a citizen has been completely abandoned in our education system. Nowhere is that more evident than in the decision to remove guidance counsellors. Some 500 citizens die by suicide every year and we cut €60 million from a €700 million budget for mental health last year. Then we attacked children by taking away their guidance counsellors. If we are to repair the damage done to our society by the economic crisis, which has been magnified by the Government’s choices, concentrated and committed action is required to rebuild a broken society and it must begin with public services. Public services, alongside social protection payments, form the main part of the social wage which we discuss within the community as a key element in challenging economic inequality.
The debate on the future of public services, the division that underpins them and the ambition we have for their role in society should be the centre of this discussion in the context of a forthcoming general election. However, we continue to narrow the debate to the economy, taxation and growth. Last Sunday, a tweet from Fine Gael headquarters stated that if Ireland's economy were a rugby team, it would be accelerating fast in terms of 6.5% to 9% growth. The significant majority of people I speak to want core issues, such as supports for children, to be addressed. Some 20,000 children have been waiting more than two years for speech and language therapy, audiology services and occupational therapy. This is a core part of what we talk about in terms of protecting the most vulnerable people.
While there are aspects of the Bill that I welcome, there is a significant volume missing from it. There is little evidence in the Bill of any conviction apart from a self-serving objective of ticking a box coming into the forthcoming general election. In many of my early speeches to the House, I cautioned that we should not buy an economic recovery at the cost of damaging the social fabric, and I very much fear that this is what has happened. While I appreciate that it would be the ethos of one political party in government, the absent party has let it happen. The continued attack on public services and the contraction of public services has gone some way to subsidising what is considered to be an election budget. The challenge for the next Dáil should not be primarily around a language of taxation and the economy. We do not live in an economy; we are citizens of a society. There must be a discussion about the fabric of our social structures.
Let us have a substantive debate about the reality of people’s circumstances, such as the 140,000 people on waiting lists for public housing, the hundreds of thousands of people in chronic pain awaiting an appointment in the public health system, the millions of hours that have been cut from home help services, the most vulnerable people in society, and the homeless people sleeping in turf sheds, even in my constituency. We need to start talking about delivering the social wage. We live in a society, not an economy. We can have the debate side by side. The Government is intent on driving society and the equality and fairness it delivers further down the agenda. During the past four to five years, it has diminished public expectation about entitlements, rights and equality in public services.
I welcome the legislation, as did most of the previous speakers. The FEMPI Acts were introduced during a time of economic crisis to try to deal with some of the crises as they emerged. It is right and fitting that this Bill, the first piece of rowing back on some of those harsh adjustments, would take place now. There have been five or six FEMPI Acts during the emergency period. As a result of the public service pay talks which concluded earlier this year, a series of proposals were put forward which led to the Lansdowne Road agreement, which is the main reason we are discussing the Bill. I welcome the pay restoration proposals for reducing the pension levy on former public servants, which was an especially draconian measure. Some people who had been retired for many years and had an expectation of an income into the future were severely adversely affected. This was the situation in which the country found itself.
I was alarmed by the comments of the previous speaker, Deputy Keaveney, who has left. He said the primary debate in the next Dáil should not be on the economy and taxation. Fianna Fáil has learned nothing if it believes the primary debate in the next Dáil should not be about the economy and taxation. The economy should always be part of the primary discussion that takes place here and everywhere else. The improvement in public services about which he spoke is contingent on having an economy that works and not one that has been driven over the cliff, as it was by his new party.
I have not spoken previously about his position, but I find it interesting that he seems to come in here whenever he contributes to a debate to lash the Labour Party. I am no particular lover of the Labour Party, but it took an extraordinary neck for the Deputy in question to spend 15 minutes speaking in the Chamber in condemnation of the FEMPI legislation given that virtually all of it was introduced by the party to which he now belongs. It took an extreme degree of ignorance for him to have a go at the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. Obviously, he does not know the difference between a reduction and an increase in the ratio. The pupil-teacher ratio was increased some years ago by his friends in Fianna Fáil, but it was reduced in the recent budget. Perhaps Deputy Keaveney could go back to school to learn that this was a positive move. Rather incongruously, the Deputy had the cheek to speak about the public service recruitment moratorium. He might have missed the life of the last Oireachtas - maybe he was having debates about things other than taxation and the economy at the time - so I will remind him that the moratorium was introduced by his colleagues in the party of which he is now a member. Who knows for how long he will be a member of that party? He is entitled to join whatever party will have him. They are welcome to him, particularly in light of his contribution this evening and on previous occasions.
My primary reason for speaking on this legislation was not to get annoyed with Deputy Keaveney; it was to welcome the fact that the Government is in a position to start rectifying some of the draconian measures that were necessary in recent years. The measures in question imposed a great deal of hardship on serving and retired public servants and people who might have found themselves in public service positions if the economy had not gone off the cliff. Of course Deputy Keaveney does not want to talk about the economy. Obviously, I am a public servant. In a previous life, I was a maths teacher. A great deal of younger teachers, in particular, find themselves in temporary and part-time positions. I refer to people who are younger than me. I am getting old. I am positively middle-aged at this stage.
Many younger teachers, like their colleagues in other walks of life, are not in the country any more precisely because Fianna Fáil and its friends decided not to talk about the economy during the Celtic tiger period. They did not reflect on the fact that the economy was built on sand. I suppose I agree with Deputy Keaveney in one respect, which is that debates on public services should be held in conjunction with debates on the economy. It seems to me, in light of what has happened in this country over the past decade, that the suggestion by a Member of this House that we should not be having debates on the economy and on taxation is living proof that the party to which the Member in question now belongs has not learned one thing from the hardship it has caused for public servants and private sector workers here and for thousands of people who live in all parts of the world as a result of the mess that party made of our economy.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this evening's debate. When this Government took office in 2011, this country was in dire straits. The previous Government, which was led by Fianna Fáil, had run the country into the ground to such a degree that we had to rely on bailouts to pay our bills, including the public sector wages of nurses, teachers and gardaí. It should not be forgotten that this was just four and a half years ago. Fine Gael in government had to take many difficult and unpopular decisions to restore the public finances and rid the country of the troika. For example, the public sector suffered average pay cuts of 14% and was reduced by 10% at a time of growing demand for public services. As the economy is now growing as a result of Government policies and the sacrifices of the people, it is right that we should provide for a sustainable system of pay recovery for public servants that is linked to continuing reforms that help to make the public sector more efficient and effective. I am particularly pleased that the new deal will target lower-income and middle-income public servants.
Although austerity is now over, we must be mindful of how we got into this financial mess in the first place. We can never go back to the Fianna Fáil approach of making unsustainable and populist pay awards. These awards, which were not linked to productivity and competitiveness, had to be reversed at great cost to the taxpayer. The approach pursued by Fianna Fáil in the past to buy votes is now being pursued by Sinn Féin to buy votes in the future. Budget 2016 benefits public and private sector workers. It provides for a marginal rate of tax of less than 50% for anyone earning under €70,000. These tax cuts will help to sustain affordable pay growth and secure economic recovery. The sensible budget that has been announced for next year is designed to keep the recovery going, to reduce the deficit to 2.1% of GDP in 2015 and to 1.2% of GDP in 2016 and to eliminate all Government borrowing by 2018. Tax revenues will increase by 15%, whereas spending will increase by just 4%. I acknowledge that the Government is continuing to borrow money, but I suggest that this borrowing is manageable because it is at historically low interest rates. If this Government is re-elected, it will be able to avail of the situation it has created to implement moderate expansionary budgets every year until 2020. I suggest this should be compared to the situation we faced when we took office in 2011. Does anyone really want to go back to this? A vote for Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil will make this nightmare a reality.
Our €27 billion capital investment plan is affordable and responsible. In my own constituency of Louth, we are seeing the benefits of the growing economy and the increased investment in services. In Dundalk, the Marist secondary school is being completely rebuilt, St. Joseph's national school is getting a major new extension and Coláiste Rís has recently opened a new extension. Elsewhere, the new extension to the CBS primary school, the new Educate Together primary school in Ardee and the new extension at Scoil Uí Mhuirí in Dunleer are all projects that have benefited from the capital programme being implemented by the Government. We are making real progress in job creation in the region. Unemployment in the north east has fallen by almost 30%, as evidenced by the many new jobs announced over the recent past, including hundreds of jobs in the likes of PayPal, eBay, National Pen and SalesSense. As I have said previously in this House, the economic recovery did not happen by chance; it came from the policies implemented by the Fine Gael-led Government and the sacrifices of the people. Even though we now have the fastest growing economy in western Europe, we cannot take it for granted. It is still a fragile recovery. In my opinion, unemployment is still too high. The choice for the people at the next general election is simple. They must choose between stability and economic progress, and between chaos and uncertainty. It will be as simple as that. I welcome the Government's decision to restore the pay and services of many public servants. After four and a half very difficult years, I am pleased that we are now seeing the benefits of the Government's policies and that the sacrifices made by the people are now being rewarded.
I wish to share time with Deputies Tom Fleming and Michael Fitzmaurice. I will keep going until they arrive.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
First and foremost, this Bill is about the partial restoration of pay. It is not about pay increases. While the Social Democrats would honour the Lansdowne Road agreement, we believe its inclusion in the budgetary arithmetic is a failure of negotiation on the part of the Government. We believe that as the agreement involves the restoration of existing public sector commitments, it constitutes existing public sector expenditure obligations and as such falls outside the parameters of the fiscal compact, including both the expenditure benchmark and the structural deficit adjustment. If we are looking at this as a partial adjustment, further pay restoration will depend on the buoyancy of future budgets.
Had the other approach been taken, there would have been a greater degree of certainty around pay restoration under what is a legal agreement. That comes down to the way it was negotiated.
When the crash happened and in order to deflect blame, workers were pitched against one another - public sector versus private sector - which was very destructive. In any future scenario, we must analyse in a wider sense what we mean by reform. There was a legitimate expectation that the reforms promised would include institutional reforms so that people would see that public service provision was being done differently, was more citizen centred and was delivering the best possible services in the context of the limited money that was available. In fact, the word reform just became a code word for cuts. We need to start taking stock now, look to the future and ask what kind of public services we want. I acknowledge that there were some parts of the budget that went a small way towards improving matters.
In the context of class sizes, one sees excellent people who are totally demoralised. Teachers are standing in front of classes of up to 35 children in some cases, many of which are in my local area. Teachers say that their work is more like crowd control than teaching. The situation is worse in some parts of the country because of the historical model used for calculating the teacher needs of a school. Children have to arrive in a school before the Department will determine that the need is growing, even if it is in an area that has a pattern of growth not just over recent years, but over recent decades. There was an expectation that this would change and that there would be equality in terms of how the pain was felt, for example. People expected that there would not be disproportionate numbers of children awaiting speech and language therapy in certain parts of the country. In some parts, there are long waiting lists while in others, the lists are relatively short.
I have been highly critical of the way gardaí are deployed and have called for reform in this area. A policing plan is produced every year and is supposed to take account of demographic shifts and shifts in crime rates. We have just recently seen an initiative where Garda resources were moved to a part of the country where there is a serious problem. However, if one looks at the ratio of gardaí to the general population in County Louth and the robbery and burglary rates in that county, it is clear that it should not have taken the recent awful event, the murder of Garda Golden, for Garda resources to be increased in Louth. If one looks at the statistics for fuel laundering, robberies, theft and so forth, the numbers for County Louth jump off the page. It is one of the areas where, had there been a normal institutional response to the policing plan in terms of crime rates and demographic shifts, sufficient cover would have been provided before the situation became so acute. I am very familiar with the issue of Garda numbers because the lowest ratio of gardaí to population is in County Kildare, by quite a distance. Furthermore, there is a growing burglary rate in the same county, which should not come as a surprise. The burglary rate in Kildare is one of the highest in the country.
When the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, talks about reform of the public service, he may well have a different vision to that of the public. When the public hears about reform of public services, they tend to look at it from the point of view of better outcomes. Real reform delivers better outcomes. I met a man in my office recently who applied for his pension 12 months ago. However, because he worked in different parts of the country during his 40 year long working life, some records are in Waterford, others are in Donegal and so forth. He is being sent from Billy to Jack while trying to get something to which he is entitled. He has been asked to provide information himself and to catalogue where he worked at different points in time even though he worked in the PAYE sector throughout his working life. That is not the fault of public servants but of the dysfunctional way in which the data is held, which results in a very poor outcome for those seeking a service.
We must develop a vision of the kind of public services we want, services that will put the citizen at the centre. We would make the argument that we must look to really good practice in countries like Denmark and Sweden, where a different value is placed on public services. If one does it right, one actually puts money back into peoples' pockets. For example, if we were to provide really free primary education, parents would not be asked for voluntary contributions or would not have to pay for transport if they do not live near a school. We would be factoring those costs in, which Barnardos estimate would run to €103 million. Imagine a scenario where, in June and July, parents would not be worrying about how they would get their children back to school in September. This would particularly favour people on low to middle incomes and would be as valuable to them as a few extra coins in their pockets. In fact, it would be more valuable because it would give a greater degree of certainty around family budgets.
I welcome the fact that there will be a partial restoration of pay but it is very precarious because it has not been factored into the budgetary arithmetic. The Landsdowne Road agreement is a legal agreement. I would like the Minister to explain why it was not factored in and why he has taken this particular approach. Further pay restoration can only happen if there is buoyancy in the public finances but none of us can say that there will not be another recession in one or two years' time. I hope not but the signs are not too good, in terms of the figures that have been floating around in recent weeks regarding fairly significant economies. A degree of certainty around pay restoration can only happen if it is included within the budgetary arithmetic. At the moment, there is no certainty.
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2014 proposes to amend previous FEMPI legislation to restore on a partial and phased basis, the reductions made to public sector pay and pensions since 2009. This Bill gives effect to pay restoration measures agreed under the Landsdowne Road agreement on 29 May 2015.
According to its Long Title, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 provided for the reduction of the remuneration of certain public servants, including members of the Judiciary, a reduction of the amount of the payment of pension or other benefits, other than lump sums, payable to or in respect of certain persons who are or were in the public service under an occupational pension scheme or pension arrangement and the alteration of the operation of scales of pay for public servants, including the suspension of the awarding, for a certain period, of increments under those scales, as well as providing for related matters.
The Act placed a freeze on increments for public servants on incremental pay scales commencing in July 2013. It allowed for modification of the increment freeze, as agreed under the Haddington Road agreement, such that increments were delayed for short periods. Under section 4 of the Bill before us, the increment freeze under the 2013 Act will be extended to July 2018 consistent with the extension of the Haddington Road agreement by the terms of that particular agreement.
As a consequence of the emergency measures, Irish people have shouldered a disproportionate amount of the burden created by a reckless financial sector and the subsequent collapse in incomes and property prices. Many public servants had their pay and conditions changed repeatedly under the terms of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. One hears a plethora of stories concerning the hardship endured by public servants across the board, for example, teachers and gardaí.
New entrants to the Garda and newly qualified teachers are barely able to make ends meet. This is particularly relevant in light of spiralling rents in Dublin and elsewhere. Poor rates of pay are forcing new Garda recruits and teaching graduates out of their local communities and ever further from their places of work. The Government removed the annual rent allowance of €4,115 from gardaí graduating from Templemore who will be paid only €23,171 in their first year of service. New recruits will struggle to exist on such a basic wage and will find it difficult to secure accommodation near the station to which they have been posted, especially in cities and large urban areas. The Government should follow the lead of the authorities in London and Paris which provide central accommodation for essential workers such as police officers, firefighters and nurses. Gardaí who do a ten-hour shift may have to drive two hours each way to and from work. This will cause fatigue and could mean they are unable to perform their duties in a satisfactory manner.
The first batch of Garda recruits to be affected by the cut in the rent allowance have completed training and are being posted to stations nationwide. The approximately 200 gardaí who were recently deployed face soaring rents and a rising housing market that are pricing some of these essential workers out of their communities. If a decent and fair wage is not established soon, new gardaí will be caught in a poverty trap and key workers will be excluded from the communities they serve. While Ireland would not be the first country to encounter this problem, we should learn from other jurisdictions where it has arisen by avoiding it at all costs. It is discriminatory, to say the least, that new recruits are being treated differently from other gardaí and that different wage structures will apply to them. It is also wrong for us to expect gardaí to put their lives on the line, as they do daily, in such circumstances. Unequal pay structures make matters worse.
The rent supplement for gardaí was introduced not as a housing supplement but to ensure police officers had a living wage. A living wage is the minimum we can strive to achieve for gardaí. The current anomalies must be addressed as soon as possible.
Newly qualified teachers will be paid €1,538 less than teachers who qualified last year as a result of the review of allowances under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act. New entrants to teaching are also losing the qualification allowance, which is worth approximately €5,000 per annum. To provide partial compensation for this measure, they will now start at the fourth rather than the first point on the payscale, which translates to a starting salary of approximately €30,700, plus an additional €1,592 for those who sign up for supervision and substitution duties, giving a total of €32,292. To qualify for the supervision and substitution allowance, new entrants will have to provide 12 additional per hours per annum over and above the existing requirement. They will also lose the Gaeltacht, island and teaching through Irish allowances, three allowances with which the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, will be acquainted. These are worth €3,063, €1,842 and €1,583, respectively.
All of us are aware that people enter the public service from a sense of civic duty as opposed to the pay on offer. The cuts made under the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation have made it very difficult to attract young graduates, many of whom are drawn to professions that provide a living wage, career prospects and job security for themselves and their families. A further side effect of the cuts has been the haemorrhaging of Irish doctors and nurses to foreign shores in search of better terms and conditions for difficult and highly skilled work.
The majority of trade unions voted to accept the Lansdowne Road agreement, which proposes the restoration of pay and pensions and the resumption of hiring to fill vacant posts. However, the agreement did not gain universal acceptance with a number of unions voting to reject it.
The financial crisis has placed a heavy burden on citizens. The number of people working in the public service has declined by 30,000 in recent years. I give credit and thanks to public servants for their hard work across the public sector in striving to keep Ireland moving through tough times. I hope the unwinding of the FEMPI measures will give them their extended families some extra money.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. I am probably in a unique position in the House in believing that the proposed measures are not the correct course of action for the Government, the State and its citizens. It is unfortunate that a Member of the Oireachtas or, for that matter, anyone else who questions the almost automatic decision of the Government to reverse the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation and introduce so-called pay restoration, will be pilloried for being anti-public sector.
I do not regard myself as being anti-public-sector in any way, shape or form. I have huge respect for the men and women who serve this country and our citizens in the line of duty, whether it is as members of An Garda Síochána, members of the Defence Forces, nurses or those who provide assistance to children with special needs, teachers, doctors or anything else. Right across the board, our departmental civil servants do very important work. I want hard-working public and civil servants to have the prospect of better pay and conditions and pay increases, but I do not believe everybody should expect a pay rise. I do not believe that, irrespective of how good or bad one is at one's job, one should be entitled to expect the same reward as a person who may be better at the job and work harder. We are taught throughout our education that hard work, enterprise and effort should be rewarded, but we introduce blanket pay deals by way of insider negotiation with certain vested interests. Many groups are not represented at the table; it is select groups or friends of the Government, if one likes, who get to sit at the table. It is not democratic or transparent and it is not right. It has resulted in a really bad culture throughout our public service. It has led to a bad culture in, for example, the HSE, because people are demotivated and demoralised. Whether they work hard or not, they can expect the same treatment under our system. That is fundamentally wrong.
When we talk about so-called "pay restoration", we should reflect on that phrase. What is pay restoration and what are we restoring? What is this restoration all about? It is ironic that today is "Back to the Future" day. It is the day Marty McFly was supposed to jump into the future. We were supposed to have shoelaces that tied themselves and all sorts of things that were predicted in the movie. I feel like it is "Back to the Future" when we are having this debate, albeit not much of one, on pay restoration. What do we want to restore? Are we going back to the Celtic tiger era? That is certainly the direction in which we are headed. There was such a scandal and outcry after the benchmarking experience, although not during it because, as many have commented, everyone wanted to be part of it. Who is going to turn down a pay increase, particularly one that is not predicated on any particular performance but is given automatically? That is what we are returning to. We are saying that we want these blanket pay deals. There is not even a pretence at benchmarking any longer; rather, we want to start spending what is not, unfortunately, anything other than borrowed money at this point. We want to do it, coincidentally, just before an election.
The FEMPI legislation was predicated on an emergency state in the national finances, and it is very convenient for the Government to announce that the emergency is over. While we have growth in the economy and are on the road to recovery, it is premature to declare the emergency over when we still have a deficit and continue to borrow to pay for all of our public services. The decision on the part of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to suddenly declare the emergency over is very much a subjective one, and it does not stand up to scrutiny when the State is still borrowing to pay for its day-to-day current costs. Social partnership was renounced by the larger coalition partner. It was renounced because it was a ready-up. I do not need to name the now-serving Ministers who attacked benchmarking and social partnership from the Opposition benches where I sat with them. Now in government and in a position to hand out money to curry favour with the unions and the other organisations sitting around the table, it is suddenly convenient for them to forget that rhetoric and leave it behind. Unfortunately, we have discovered that it was rhetoric rather than anything meaningful or substantive. It certainly does not appear to have been driven by any conviction. That is a real pity.
We had, and still have, an opportunity to change our attitude and approach to expenditure and the budgetary process. There is an opportunity to avoid the traps that previous Fianna Fáil Governments fell into, but the Government is, unfortunately, falling into them anyway. Last night, I was at a public meeting on the economy and the aftermath of the budget. One person pointed out that Fianna Fáil was really angry last week, kicking itself and put out by the budget because it wanted to have delivered it itself. It was a Fianna Fáil budget. It was a little bit of this and a little bit of that for everybody. That characterises the Lansdowne Road agreement, which is a little bit of something for everyone without any real strategic vision as to how the economy should be. It is a missed opportunity. We are back to election-driven spending patterns. We saw increases in spending, piecemeal tax cuts across the board and the announcement of the capital spending plan a couple of weeks before the budget, all of which was targeted at particular constituencies. It was designed to create a little offering, if not a whole lot, for everybody rather than to take tough or strategic decisions about what is best for our country.
What we should have had was a fully engaged budgetary process involving all members of the Oireachtas. We should have had a build-up to the budget and the capital programme over a period of months, with input from Ministers, of course, and their civil servants, naturally, as well as the other political parties and Opposition Deputies. That input should have been scrutinised and different options should have been teased out. Different priorities should have been suggested and there should have been a genuine and meaningful debate with expert input through the sectoral committees. Instead, we had Ministers come to the House to announce that certain groups would benefit from the lucky-bag approach with which we became so familiar under Fianna Fáil. It is a real shame.
We need to see real reform through this legislation, Government policy and the setting out of a new vision for the country. Unfortunately, we have not seen that. In fact, putting the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, into a Department entitled "Public Expenditure and Reform" was something of an ironic step. It is clear that the task of the Minister was to ensure that there would be no reform. While there have been cuts, some of them swingeing, hugely regressive and damaging, there has been no real reform. One need only look at the much-feted review of public service allowances and premium payments. That process was an absolute disgrace and a waste of time. Of 1,100 allowances across the public sector included in the review, virtually none was removed or abolished. It is a significant indictment of the Minister and his Department. It proves beyond any doubt that there was never any intention to reform public services. We must remember in the House that public services are actually about delivering high-quality services to the public.
If we are serious about that, why are we intent on pumping our limited, borrowed resources into pay at the first glimmer of hope and recovery instead of into services that everyone claims he or she wants to improve? This is extraordinary when queues of older people, sick people and, often, dying people are lying on hospital trolleys. Those numbers will increase as the winter months pass, yet the Government has prioritised pumping €1 billion into pay and pensions through the Lansdowne Road agreement. That is wrong, and it divides workers in the public sector from those in the private sector.
I agree that people are taxed too much and that they do not have enough autonomy over how they spend their wages and provide for their families, but driving up wages through secretive pay deals like the Lansdowne Road agreement is not the way to solve that, rather, the way to achieve better quality of life and greater access to disposable income is through reductions in the personal tax burden. This would result in benefits for all workers, not merely public sector ones. Many of the latter have taken large hits in the past seven years, but so have private sector workers. People lost their jobs, took 40% or 50% pay cuts or had their weeks reduced to two days. Even worse, some were forced to emigrate. Increasing wages in the public sector will do nothing for these people. It will drive up wages in the private sector, which will only return us to the uncompetitive position of the mid-2000s. What sort of bananas economic agenda is that? Why is the Government intent on dividing the workforce, pitching the public sector against the private sector, when the obvious approach is to take steps that would benefit all workers?
Why has the Government refused to grasp the nettle of genuine reform of the public service? Performance reviews were much feted under the Croke Park agreement. After a few months, however, public servants pronounced that less than 1% of them needed to improve their performances. I believe the figure was 0.85%. What utter nonsense. What Deputy could claim not to need to improve his or her performance? In what workplace could one find that 99.15% of workers were performing fine? These reviews are shambolic, meaningless and a cosmetic exercise designed, as per usual, to tick a box instead of driving the sort of reforms, efficiencies and performances that we need in our public services. Why is the Government happy to go along with this charade? In particular, why is Fine Gael prepared to do this? Since the Labour Party is funded by the trade unions, we understand the incentive and the relationship on that side, but I am at a loss as to how the Fine Gael Party could go along with this.
We need independent performance reviews within our public service. We need to link pay to performance. People have been discussing this for 25 years or more. For the past seven years, the perfect opportunity has existed to do it, to recognise those outstanding public servants who do their best, come to work energised and want to contribute and see the best for their country. We could cherish their work and reward them for it while the person next to them who did not work hard or make the same commitment to the job would not be rewarded in the same way. This is the culture that we need to drive in our public service. This is the culture that the majority of hard-working public servants want, as they would have nothing to fear from it. Rather, they would be rewarded for their efforts.
Instead, we have despicable box-ticking exercises that allow Ministers to squander taxpayers' money in attempts to buy votes at election time. We saw it with Bertie, who has had a bit of a resurrection in the media in the past 24 hours. We saw the destruction that such policies wreaked in our economy and society. I am ashamed that the Government is essentially following the same course and seems to show no interest in learning from the mistakes of the past. This is disgraceful.
On a positive note, there are obvious and simple solutions that could transform our country, economy and society. One is to get rid of our dysfunctional and deliberately Byzantine tax system. Renua Ireland has proposed the most radical tax policy of any political party of the past 100 years. We advocate a flat tax. This would transform the country by encouraging and driving innovation and entrepreneurialism and, importantly, by rewarding work for all people who want to contribute and provide for their families.
Currently, there are many anomalies, for example, the multiple USC and PRSI rates and the two income tax bands. These anomalies create a complex system that disincentivises work. We have a large range of tax breaks that are primarily availed of by the very wealthy. Disincentives and traps in social welfare and the minimum wage prevent people from taking on additional hours and earning extra money. In many cases, these are disincentives to people seeking pay rises. If someone on the minimum wage gets a rise of €10 per week, he or she will pay more tax and actually lose net pay. What a bizarre situation for a country that claims that it wants to incentivise work. It must change, and Renua Ireland has a clear plan as to how to do that. Our way would be better than a return to the good old days of throwing money at problems, which is what Fianna Fáil-led Administrations did. They increased health spending threefold in a 15-year period, yet our health system is shambolic. I have a great deal of direct experience of this, personally through family as well as through the many constituents who contact me seeking help. Every other Deputy has had similar experiences.
If we want to change this situation, we must change the culture, reform the delivery of public services, stop throwing money at problems, start innovating and treat all of our workers fairly and equally. The best way to do this is through lower taxation that does not penalise work and that values all workers equally regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.
Deputy Mattie McGrath has the next speaking slot. I understand that he is sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am glad to speak on this motion. If this were next week, it would be more appropriate, as it would be Hallowe'en.
We could all come in wearing masks and have the phony war and phony games. One would think we were out of recession. Admittedly, the troika is gone — we banished it in time — but we are not out of recession, or anything like it. We are sick and tired of hearing about economic focus and talk of the boom in Dublin, but the recovery has not extended far beyond Newlands Cross and has not been felt by many in rural areas. The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, is keenly aware of that from his constituency in Donegal, just as the Taoiseach should be aware of it in Castlebar. The economy is on its knees but the Taoiseach is in here in a cocoon believing that he is going to visit multinationals, schools or whatever he decides to visit. He is running from pillar to post, but he will not engage with anyone or listen to any of the people who are suffering and have suffered because of the FEMPI legislation. We have scampi one day and FEMPI the next. It is just a mixed bag; it is hit and miss. What is now going on is farcical.
The night before the budget, there were Supplementary Estimates worth €1.5 million. The health budget is to overrun by €600 million this year. The figures are totally contrived to give the impression that there is a rise in funding for health services. I heard Sara Burke going through those figures on my way home on Thursday evening and she implied there was less money in the kitty. It is a trick-o-the-loop by spin doctors. All these people are set to gain more from the FEMPI cuts reversal than anybody else because they are in the higher tax bracket. For too long there has been a cosy cartel. I have said throughout my eight years as a Member that the spin doctors and officials have their hands around the handlebars of power. They will not let go to get their hands around them. A hammer and chisel or jackhammer would not get their fingers off the handlebars such is their grip. It causes such paralysis in the country. Most of these officials could not run a shop, farm or any business. I have said time and again that many of the public officials at senior level should be asked to run a shop or business and see how hard it is to open one, pay rates, generate turnover, pay for light and heat and pay rent, staff, taxes and everything else. Self-employed people have little for themselves.
There are hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers who did not gain all along, even though SIPTU is attached to and in unison with the Labour Party. We know that, but the other unions are in cahoots also. The higher one's wage, the greater one's increase every time because of collective bargaining and everything else. We are told that what is occurring now must happen because of the Lansdowne Road agreement. I wonder whether any staff from the troika are looking in now to see what is going on. They were in a merry dance. There was a merry dance, Hallowe'en tricks and a trick-o-the-loop, and those concerned got blindfolded. I met the staff eight or nine times and I challenged them and it was a joke. They told me two and a half or three years ago at a meeting that there would be a focus on and growth in the country. I asked them who told them that but they looked at one another and would not answer. There were language barriers and everything else. I might not be the clearest always but I know what I want to say anyway and I know what is going down in the countryside because I listen to the people. I am a Teachta Dála, a messenger boy for the people, in this House and I will not forget that while I have the honour and privilege of being here. Eventually I had to get the facts out of the officials and I learned they were told what they were told by the senior civil servants. I asked them why they did not go down to any rural town outside the Pale. They did not go outside the Pale. I refer to places such as Dún Laoghaire. I hear on shows such as Joe Duffy's about the demise of villages and the heartlands of towns because of exorbitant rates and various schemes and because the authorities have been in bed with the big supermarkets and have allowed the latter to build outside all the town centres, thus killing off the towns. This is because they fund the political parties. The system stinks. The people to whom I was talking said they were told what they were told by the senior officials. These are the same senior officials who told Mr. Brian Lenihan — Lord have mercy on him — what he had to do. He told us we had to come up and vote-----
The Deputy should speak to the Bill.
I am speaking to the FEMPI legislation.
Not in my opinion.
That is funny. That is the Acting Chairman's opinion but in my opinion I am speaking on the Bill. I am talking about the FEMPI cuts being reversed. One would think we were in a honeymoon period again, but we are not. More important, the people do not believe we are either. The Government is in a state of indecision over when to cut and run and have the election. When people get their pay packets in January, they will know what they have and what they got.
The troika did not deal with the massive, exorbitant waste at the top, the consultants, Uisce Éireann and all the other bodies. It is as if we did not have enough experience of the monstrosity of the HSE which was created by amalgamating the health boards through centralisation. We set up Irish Water and a bonus culture was built into it. We paid consultants €90 million to design it. It is a merry game of fat cats rubbing butter into fat cats' you-know-where to make them fatter and more prosperous. Four kids from kindergarten would not have designed Irish Water any worse than what they have done. The organisation has a bonus culture. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, said there would not be a penny paid in bonuses while he was in charge but he had to crawl away from this again. This is another battle he lost because the machinery of State decided the staff would have to get their bonuses, even if they were not earned.
I am not talking about ordinary public servants or front-line staff and their commitment over the years. I am not referring to HSE front-line nurses, community nurses, doctors, caterers, county council workers and ordinary people who have to deliver the services with less and less resources. Senior people get all the money. Former Minister Brian Lenihan introduced a cut for the senior civil servants. When I challenged him, he was told there were only 186 people affected. I tabled a motion at the time — I was in the Fianna Fáil Party — and the Minister thanked me for it. When he went to research it, he found out there were almost 1,000 affected. Is that not trickery and hoodwinking? The cut was reversed and those concerned got out under the wire. Everybody else had to take the medicine. This was at the beginning of the FEMPI arrangement. The staff in question got it reversed because they are in the cars and offices with the Ministers and have their hands on the handlebars of power and will not take them off them. Successive Governments have backed off from dealing with this.
I listened to Deputy Lucinda Creighton attentively. She was correct that those in the current Government were railing against these issues when I sat on the other side of the House. I was railing against them when I was a member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party because I knew it could not last. Now the Government is all for what is happening just to buy an election. I am surprised by the backbenchers, especially the few self-employed ones, who should understand the madness of engaging in auction politics to get back into power, especially since we are still borrowing massively to run the show every day of the week and to meet the cost of current spending.
The outdoor staff and front-line staff I mentioned, the ambulance drivers and members of An Garda Síochána were reduced to enslavement because of the cuts to their wages. Now we are recruiting gardaí, which I am delighted to see, but we are not paying them half the money - they cannot live on it. Where are we going to get the morale and the respect among low-level gardaí, low-level teachers and those at other levels? We have to have a level playing field and we must respect, honour and praise work. Any man who goes to work must be rewarded always. We must look after people who are genuinely unemployed and genuinely sick as well.
The cuts imposed on the disabled and marginalised under FEMPI have been merciless. Again, these are the people who will gain least from the budget. The higher earners will benefit from the higher tax cuts and the lower earners and unemployed will get less. The pensioners are to get €3 a week; that is a lot of good to them.
Take general practitioners: I am not a spokesperson for them but they are at the coalface. They have a contract that is 40 years old but the Government refuses to renegotiate it so it will be relevant to the work they are expected to do. The general practitioners swear the Hippocratic oath to help and save people and treat the sick. Especially in rural areas but also in urban areas, the vast majority are self-employed. They answer calls at all times of the night and day. They employ other doctors, nurses and psychiatrists, the lot. They are businesspeople and may have 20 people working for them. They have been cut. The figures, which are accurate, show general practitioners have been forced to let staff go. A spokesperson for the National Association of General Practitioners has warned that the walls are caving in on family doctors, yet the Government engages in folly in respect of children under six. It is another folly project of the last Minister. Someone else got contaminated with it this time — I do not use that word in any bad way — with regard to the provision of free general practitioner care for children of 11 and under. They are the healthiest people in our society. Day in day out, Deputy Kelleher, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, and I encounter people who are sick and in need, awaiting operations in pain and agony and on trolleys, yet their medical cards are removed unceremoniously from them. The HSE system that I deal with is so bureaucratic. Those people have experienced savage cuts. A survey of 72% of general practitioners' practices, carried out by the National Association of General Practitioners, found that as many as 8% of general practitioners have to close up and go.
They will not even be negotiated with in terms of a decent contract. It is not right. Self-employed people will drive the economy. They were driving it until the Construction Industry Federation and others got involved in collective bargaining and negotiated rates for themselves. It was all about the big people. We forgot about the little people and the small farmer, who is still struggling and who got less from the budget than anybody else. We forgot about the small and medium enterprises, SMEs, which each employ between one and 20 people. If all the SMEs employed one extra person, no one would be unemployed. We know that but we have strangled them with quango after quango. The mother of all quangos is Irish Water, whose employees cannot fix a washer in a tap. They have no employees who are capable of doing anything. It is all consultants and agents, who are good people, but anything that has to be done must be done by local authorities. Now we cannot phone the local authorities. If somebody has a problem, he or she must phone Irish Water first. We have layers of red tape to reward retired county and city managers, senior officials and some Deputies here whose wives retired from other public service jobs and were pushed into Irish Water. It is disgusting and disgraceful.
We were led a merry dance by the troika. Shame on the troika for not getting into the veins of rural Ireland - and urban Ireland also - to see what was really going on and how the people were being affected by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Act. We are now back to FEMPI. It is like Hallowe'en, when children play trick-o-the-loop or trick or treat. It is a case of "Come out Enda and give us a treat". He will get some treat when he goes back to Castlebar, where the only business park in the town closed down. The position is the same in every other town and village. Business has become too costly because we have appointed quango after quango.
The name of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, should be changed to the "national employers' supports agency". People with briefcases are calling to self-employed people and harassing them by telling them their daughter or son should not be working in a premises after 9 p.m. on a Saturday or Sunday and so on. I am all for workers' rights - I have been an employer for the past 32 years - but we do not need these people marching in and flashing their identification cards. We have inspectors, all of whom are on expenses, going around the country persecuting people when they should be supporting them, particularly in a time of recession, and allowing them to breathe. They should work with those to whom I refer and try to understand the problems and the issues they face and assist them in dealing with them. They should not create bureaucratic messes.
What cuts were introduced through FEMPI for senior officers in the courts and the sheriffs who act for the courts? Scandalously, they were allowed to go around and evict people and make fortunes in the process. In certain cases, the senior court clerk and the receiver were one and the same person. It is disgusting. It is corrupt, and I hate using that word. Ordinary people-----
The Deputy cannot make charges against an individual. He is perfectly aware of that.
I have made that charge. A corrupt system has developed. A book was written-----
No. The Deputy was referring to individuals. He should please refrain from doing so.
I did not name any individuals.
No, but the Deputy made inferences.
I just referred to the system that has been created for them.
The Deputy inferred-----
A book about that matter was published recently. It is entitled Waiting for the Sheriff. Ninety Members on the Government side of this House voted for the so-called Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act. When Mr. Justice Dunne ruled that these homes could not be repossessed, the Government introduced legislation to reverse that and 90 Members voted for it.
I refer to the eviction Bill and people who are waiting to be evicted. The charges sheriffs and their agents impose on people are obscene and we expect gardaí to go out and protect sheriffs. It is not that anyone wanted to hurt them but people were not going to be put out of their homes. They stood up to protect their property. The Black and Tans did not do it. The Peep o'Day Boys did not do it. It did not happen under Cromwell but it has happened under this Government. The process started under the previous Government. It is ill-treatment, bullying and intimidation of citizens.
I do not see my colleague-----
Neither do I.
-----so the Chair will have to bear with me for another five minutes.
I will survive.
What about a text?
The Minister has the text system. Ministers have all these officials to operate their systems as Gaeilge agus as Béarla agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire Stáit mar gheall ar a chuid Gaeilge.
Go raibh maith agat.
It is beyond belief the way people have suffered and are still suffering. That is the most annoying aspect. They are still waiting for hospital appointments for two or three years. They are waiting for brain scans, knee operations and so on. Government Members are living in a bubble if they do not realise that.
We had the charade in terms of what the banks were allowed to do in the absence of banking legislation and we know that what caused the need for FEMPI to be introduced was the collapse of the banks. The rhetoric from the Labour Party in opposition at the time was that they would burn the bondholders. Hell's fire would not be as hot as the fire for the bondholders. What did those in the Labour Party do, however? They rubbed more of the butter into the fat bankers' "you know where". It was Labour's way or Frankfurt's way. Then the Fine Gael-led Government got in the mood to implement cut after cut. However, most of those cuts affected ordinary people in the public service and their counterparts in the private sector also.
If we are ever to have an equilibrium or fair play, we will have to treat the self-employed as entrepreneurs and support them. We will have to make Enterprise Ireland help them. We had the county enterprise boards but the Minister abolished them. The Leader programmes, which were the models, were also abolished. Europa recognised the Leader programme in Ireland as a flagship for the rest of Europe but what did the former Minister, Phil Hogan, do? He attacked it and put it under the county councils.
Under Better Local Government, the Government said it would amalgamate and banish local democracy. The Government has abandoned the people. It brought forward a document, Putting People First. That was passed here but I stood up and opposed it. I brought a challenge to it in the High Court and served a summons on the former Minister, Phil Hogan, in this premises. We will go to Europe with that.
In my county, and the Government bulldozed north Tipperary and south Tipperary together, the county manager and others put all this in place before the enabling legislation was passed in this House. I have the day and dates on which it was passed. All the work was done beforehand, including the amalgamations. Processes were put in place before the legislation was passed. That is an indication of the arrogance of very senior officials in county councils and in government.
We are only rubber stamping measures in this House. It is a case of getting this legislation and being expected to vote it through. The Government has the numbers. Its Deputies will vote for it and we are cannon fodder. That is why I got speaking time tonight. I was told I would have it but then told it would be tomorrow or whenever. However, the Government speakers did not take up the slots tonight because they know they cannot talk about something that repulses them. It repulsed them when they were in opposition. They railed against what the former taoisigh, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, and their Governments did at the time, particularly in the context of public spending. However, those in this Administration have learned the tricks, as I have said many times in the past five years. It almost seems that since they came to power, they have sought to punish the people for keeping them out of office for 14 years. They have a gravy train for their friends and advisers. The Government has stuffed the Judiciary with its own appointees. Openness and transparency, how are you? The Government has allowed the receivers get richer and fatter and allowed the sheriffs plunder people's homes and terrorise them.
I said last week in the debate on the budget that all our people want to do is live. They are proud people. They go out and do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, but they want fairness. When they see what is happening with the front-line services and at the top of their own organisations, why would they not have low morale? Why is morale so low in my own county council? Why is morale so low in many parts of the public service? It is because they see that if one is a nice boy and plays ball with the system, one might get promoted. It should be about public service and productivity but it is not. It is who one knows, what one knows and a case of "Two bags full, Sir".
The Government has been a sad failure. It got one of the finest mandates any Government ever received but it has abandoned that. It is now afraid, and it cannot make a decision on when to face the people. We had the spectacle for the past three or four weeks of the Taoiseach becoming a dummy. He would not answer anybody but was finally forced to go on an RTE programme. His handlers let him out but he said the wrong thing; he was not supposed to say what he said. They meant him to say he would have the election but he does not know what he will do now. It is a pitch-and-putt or a lucky-dip job. When Joan allows it, the election will happen.
When the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, came out tonight for the third time and announced that he is buying in prefab homes for the homeless, he said he will fast-track planning laws. How does he intend to do that? He never served on a county or local council. If he had, he would understand that planning legislation cannot be fast-tracked unless the intention is to bring us in here and pass enabling legislation. He cannot do it next week because the Houses are not sitting. He will have to do it before the election, but he says he has bought 500 of these premises. This is more blunder and bluster from a Government that is big on spin. It is spinning so fast that it will spin off into the abyss one of these days.
Please take your seat, Deputy. Your time has expired. The next speaker is Deputy Kelleher.
I thank the Acting Chairman. We welcome the conclusion of the public sector pay talks known as the Lansdowne Road talks. When we discuss the matter we should do so it the context of where we were when we initially introduced the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation and where we find ourselves today as a people. In that difficult journey extraordinarily difficult decisions had to be made in this House which had a direct and immediate impact on people's lives. We have to acknowledge that a great many people shared serious burdens to ensure a readjustment of the public finances and to ensure the economy would be able to build itself back towards a sustainable funding model. We still have a challenging situation. This is evident from the budget last week and the fact we are still borrowing large sums of money to fund current expenditure. All in all, major sacrifices were made by many people. Obviously, the public service carried its fair burden with cuts to take-home pay, the imposition of the pension levy and increases in productivity and efficiencies. There is no doubt this made a major contribution to addressing the damaged public finances and the situation we found ourselves in between 2007 and 2012. All in all, they made a remarkable contribution.
When we refer to damage to individuals in terms of take-home pay, we should acknowledge that at one stage we had unemployment levels of between 15% and 16% and probably higher. However, due to changes in qualification criteria, particularly for the self-employed, many people found themselves without any support from the State. This included self-employed people who found themselves without business any more. In all that happened with the downturn in the economy, their plight was almost forgotten. These self-employed people found themselves without a business or any form of work. The State was miserable and underhand in dealing with them. Many of these people had worked extraordinarily hard. They had built up small businesses, made their contributions, paid their taxes and employed other people. When they found themselves gone, as it were, they were forgotten.
We often talk about the public service, the Civil Service in particular, in terms of bringing forward, defining, implementing and overseeing the development of policy. Those involved may not always understand the serious pressures on self-employed people. The self-employed must consider whether they will have enough money for themselves, enough cashflow to pay their employees' wages and all the continual pressures on self-employed people. They were another group of people who made a major contribution to the development of the economy, but when the economy went south, they were hit the hardest. Many of them still languish among the statistics without necessarily having good or reasonable supports or a floor on which they can tread when they find themselves in these difficulties. This group certainly played and continues to play its part as well.
Let us consider the stabilisation of the finances. Pay increases will be awarded under the Lansdowne Road talks. However, we need to be continually vigilant of the fact that at issue is public money. We need to ensure continual efficiencies. We need to ensure the progressive implementation of technology and new ideas. We need to ensure new thought processes are consistently brought into the Civil Service and the public service. I have found in opposition and in government that while we have the most professional and efficient Civil Service and people with remarkable integrity, at times we are reluctant and slow to embrace new ideas or look outside the capacity of the Civil Service for new ideas, innovation and technology.
One thing sprang to mind when I was reading some notes earlier. The Revenue Commissioners is definitely the most efficient organisation in this country in terms of embracing technology and doing what it is meant to do. Of course, the reason is that the Revenue is collecting money for the State. However, we are not as good in terms of efficiencies when we are trying to deliver services to citizens in areas that cost the State money. Often, we are slow and ponderous with applications for people seeking medical cards or social welfare or in cases of people who are languishing on hospital waiting lists. This also applies in general interaction between the State and the citizen. When the State is obliged to give something to the citizen, those responsible can be slow and reluctant to embrace the best ideas to ensure the services are delivered. Home care packages serve as an example. All these languish in a lethargic system of assessment to see whether people qualify and then subsequently in the awarding of the qualification. At times, we can be very efficient in one way but elsewhere we are not as good.
Let us consider the example of crime in rural Ireland. People get annoyed when they see no gardaí available to protect citizens from criminality. At the same time, they see what they believe to be considerable resources being used to collect debt for private companies, for example. These things are important when we are discussing the FEMPI legislation, the sacrifice of the citizen, the obligation of the State and the interaction of the State and citizen through the various State agencies.
I believe that as we progress as an economy, we must progress as a society as well. One of the key obligations is to ensure the State upholds its side of the bargain. We ask our citizens to carry the major difficulties and to pay taxes, but when the State has an obligation to ensure services are provided, it can be rather slow. That system grinds slower as resources dwindle. There is an intentional slowdown of assessment of people's rights and entitlements when they are looking for something from the State. We need to be mindful of that as we progress.
Overall, this legislation is welcome. It signifies that the endurance of many people over many years has been steadfast and highlights the sacrifices they have made. Some of these sacrifices had a major impact. Some public servants on take-home pay of €700 per week lost more than €100 in take-home pay between the FEMPI cuts and tax increases. That had an extraordinary impact on individuals, their quality of life, aspirations, dreams and their hopes for themselves and their children and families. Many people have gone through serious upheaval. This point must be a key acknowledgement in terms of celebrating and applauding ourselves from time to time in this Chamber for all the great work we have done. It is the case that we did extraordinarily difficult things, but it was in the context of passing legislation to stabilise the finances. However, the extraordinarily difficult things were carried by many citizens for long periods. We owe it to those people to ensure that when we start to award pay increases, we consider those who were disproportionately affected, those who were asked to carry most and who, perhaps, were incapable of carrying most, including the low-paid, clerical officers in the public service and the Civil Service, gardaí, teachers and nurses. These groups had a major imposition on their take-home pay and quality of life.
For all these reasons this legislation is welcome. As we try to return to where we were, I hope we will return having learned the lessons of the past. I trust we will reward those who carried most for the longest period. Primarily, they include the lower-paid in the public sector and the Civil Service. Certainly, those among the higher grades took pain as well, but there is no comparison between asking a public servant on €120,000 or €130,000 to take a cut of 10% and asking a clerical officer, a nurse or a garda to take a cut of 7% in pay. The impact is disproportionate for the lower-paid. We must acknowledge that in any further roll-out. I would like to expand on the point at another time.
I ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate. He will have ten minutes remaining when the debate commences.
When will it be taken again?