Leaders' Questions

Fáilte romhaibh ar ais. Guím athbhliain faoi mhaise do gach duine.

No doubt the Taoiseach is aware of the British Prime Minister's speech this morning on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. By any yardstick or assessment it constitutes an agenda for a very hard Brexit and very difficult negotiations ahead. Essentially Britain will be out of the Single Market and out of the customs union as we know it. No matter what gloss one puts on this, it can mean tariffs on goods and services between Britain and Ireland and between Britain and the European Union. The Prime Minister was very clear also it will be British courts that will adjudicate on all issues of British law and the European Court of Justice will have no remit. This clearly has implications for any successful trade agreement the Prime Minister is anxious to have and the ongoing relationship between the UK and the EU.

This changes the nature of our response to Brexit because it will have to change. Despite the reference to the common travel area between Ireland and Great Britain there was not much in the speech on the Irish perspective or the future of Ireland's relationship with the United Kingdom. From this perspective it is somewhat disappointing. There was no mention of any special status for Northern Ireland, for example. It went in the opposite direction. There was huge emphasis on strengthening the British union, notwithstanding the fact the largest majority of EU citizens residing in any state outside of the European Union will be in Northern Ireland. This is a key issue which must be a core part of the negotiations on the British exit from the European Union.

We know from Bord Bia's report that €600 million has already been lost by Irish agribusiness because of the fall in sterling. Enterprise Ireland has figures that in the context of a hard Brexit up to 25,000 jobs could be at risk. We know from the analysis by the Department of Finance with the ESRI that a significant drop in national income over a sustained period, loss of employment and loss of wages could follow a hard Brexit from the EU. I note the response from the Taoiseach's Department to the extent it identified the key issues but one issue was missing. Has the Taoiseach put on the table with his European colleagues the need for Ireland to make it very clear we want to retain some capacity for state aid for Irish-owned industry and the indigenous sector, particularly in the agribusiness and agrifood area?

There is no question but that the agribusiness food area will be at risk. We will need transitional state aid capacity to enable companies to survive the threat of Brexit by diversifying and so that they withstand the undoubted dislocation that exiting the Single Market and the customs union will have on trade between indigenous Irish companies and Britain. Have we put that on the table? Are we arguing cogently for it?

The referendum took place on 23 June. The Prime Minister was subsequently elected and she made it clear that it was her intention to move Article 50 by the end of March. In between those two points there was a lot of comment and discussion and there was lots of confusion because everybody wanted clarity on the British Government's intentions. I welcome the statement today in that it brings that clarity into a number of areas. The Prime Minister said that Britain intends to leave the Single Market and she made references to the customs union. I have spoken to the Prime Minister on two occasions in the recent past and I did so again yesterday evening when I mentioned the issues that were of priority to us in Ireland - our citizens, our economy, our trade with both Northern Ireland and Britain, the Border, the common travel area and our future within the European Union.

This is the start of the process and Europe will have to respond to the statement by the Prime Minister today. In her comments she included the issues of importance which we discussed last night, in particular the common travel area, and stated her willingness to look at the most effective practical outcome of the Border situation. Once Article 50 is triggered there is a two-year period and this may not be concluded in that time. If it is not concluded there will have to be a process of transition. I discussed the election process that is in place in Northern Ireland and we do not have an idea of what the outcome of that will be. We will have statements on that subject later in the day.

The Deputy asked about applications for assistance from Europe. A number of countries, including Ireland, mentioned these in the discussions we had at the European Councils but we could not make a definitive claim, application or proposition in this regard until the clarity that is now emerging was given by the British Prime Minister. Ireland will contribute strongly to these negotiations on the basis of being a member of the European Union and we will give the matter serious consideration because of the difficulties that will apply and the many economic reports that have indicated that Ireland will be one of the countries most adversely affected by a hard Brexit.

One of the most critical issues is that of the trade links between Britain and Ireland and the impact on Irish-owned businesses, particularly in agrifood and services across the regions, which will be impacted negatively as a result of Britain's decision to leave the Single Market and the customs union, its decision not to accept the remit of the European Court of Justice any longer and the fact that it is bringing in a controlled migration regime. All of those things have very clear implications and while it is one thing to welcome clarity, we should not be welcoming a negative clarity but that is in the essence of today's speech by the Prime Minister. We needed more than clarity and were hoping for real signs of sensible, logical engagement with Europe, rather than saying, "We want our cake and we want to eat it as well." It is very clear that the needs of Britain are her number one priority. She will speak softly to the Taoiseach, and Britain is speaking softly, but they will behave and act differently. It will act in its own interests, first and foremost, and I do not get the sense that we are up there as high as some people might diplomatically like to articulate.

I get a real sense that we are heading down a very difficult road, hence the need for Ireland to start arguing robustly to protect our interests, jobs and companies and give them the capacity to move beyond a post-Brexit scenario.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied that we have the resources in place to negotiate effectively on this issue? I am not satisfied that we have.

The Deputy's time is up.

I do not think we have strengthened our team sufficiently across all areas to take this issue on with the capacity we should.

We are at the start of this process. From a European perspective everybody, including myself, has constantly repeated that it would be important for Britain to set out what kind of relationship it wanted with the future European Union. We now have further clarification as to what that means from a British point of view. The British Government was never going to look for anything other than the best deal it could get. The European Union with 27 countries and a population of almost 500 million, has got to look to its own future and decide what decisions it wants to make for the future of the Union for next ten, 15 or 20 years, including where our future lies.

In her statement today, the British Prime Minister refers specifically to the friendship and ties over many generations between Ireland and Britain. She refers specifically to the retention of the common travel area and Border issues. These are things that I have mentioned specifically to her and her officials. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has also mentioned them in our discussions with Britain at a European level. We have demanded clarity from Britain and have now got a clearer idea of the kind of relationship they want. Europe must now focus on the commencement of the negotiations once Article 50 is triggered.

Britain remains a member of the European Union until it leaves. It must and will accept its responsibility in all phases of that process. This is the start of the process. Currency fluctuations have clearly hit An Bord Bia as well as other food agencies and exporters to Britain. These are sources of concern to us and to other European countries. They are also sources of concern to the British.

The negotiations will start inside a relatively short time and that is where the serious issues of the outcomes of the Prime Minister's statement today will be dealt with in minute detail. We will argue vociferously for our country.

I want to deal with the crisis in the North which also includes the consequences of Brexit. First, I want to commend the outgoing Deputy First Minister, my friend Martin McGuinness, MLA, particularly as he battles with serious health issues at this time. In his role as Deputy First Minister in the past ten years and as Minister of Education before that, Martin's time in office has at all times been guided by the principles of mutual respect and equality that underpin the Good Friday Agreement. He reached out the hand of friendship to Unionists in the spirit of reconciliation and at times republicans and nationalists have been discommoded by his efforts. Nonetheless these initiatives were entirely correct.

A number of Teachtaí and Seanadoirí from all parties and none have sent good wishes to Martin. He, his wife Bernie and his clan appreciate all the messages of support that he is receiving. Ar son Sinn Féin, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Martin ón Dáil seo inniu.

It was the Democratic Unionist Party, and in particular its handling of the renewable heat incentive scheme, that led to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly collapsing. The refusal by Arlene Foster, MLA, to support a robust and independent investigation into the potential loss of £500 million of taxpayers' money was the tipping point. That is neither an orange nor a green issue. The cost will be borne by Unionists and Nationalists alike. Yet we are told by our leaders here - by those who ignored our warnings over some time, and those who ignored our appeals as the crisis developed - that Martin McGuinness's resignation was unnecessary and that this election is unnecessary. Of course there are other issues at play but Sinn Féin will not tolerate allegations of corruption, which must be robustly and independently investigated.

There is nothing surprising in the remarks of the British Prime Minister today. There was never going to be a soft Brexit. As such, the Taoiseach has a huge job of work to do for the people of this entire island. Of course, that has not been helped by the refusal of Arlene Foster and the DUP to accept and uphold the "Remain" vote in the North in the Brexit referendum.

Sinn Féin is completely committed to the restoration of the political institutions and the Government has a key role to play in this regard as have others here. It is the Taoiseach's responsibility, as it has always been, to ensure that agreements are upheld and implemented. However, his Government has in recent years consigned itself to the role of spectator and occasional neutral commentator, which is a fundamental mistake. I have made that point repeatedly to the Taoiseach in private and in public. The British Government has refused, for example, to honour commitments on a bill of rights, dealing with legacy issues and an Acht na Gaeilge. It will not honour these commitments unless the Taoiseach holds it to account. In the aftermath of the election, a sea change in attitudes from all sides is needed, not least from the Government. Will the Taoiseach commit to a meaningful, ongoing, consistent and strategic engagement with the North and London? I appeal to him publicly to do that in the time ahead, not just in times of crisis.

I will and I do. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has been more than active in his activities in Northern Ireland in dealing with all the parliamentary parties, the leaders and so on. I called the deputy First Minister myself, as Deputy Adams is aware, to have a conversation and express the hope that he will recover his full health. I have always recognised that Martin McGuinness has come on a long journey from being a member of the army council of the IRA to someone who became a pragmatist and who has held out on many occasions to drive the peace process and the institutions forward. It is our co-responsibility to ensure that all of that is implemented. Deputy Adams should believe me that our interest is that the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements will work in the interests of all the peoples of Northern Ireland.

The outcome of the election on 3 March is a matter for the electorate in Northern Ireland and I hope that when it is concluded it will be possible to put together an executive and assembly that will continue to work through the institutions. Last summer, the deputy First Minister and the First Minister signed a joint letter which they sent to the Prime Minister to indicate their initial thoughts on Brexit. They commented on the necessity to eliminate smuggling and criminality, to work in the interests of the economies North and South and the many people who cross the Border and the need to avoid a return to the Border of the past and so on. In that regard, the former deputy First Minister is very clear on my own view in this regard.

It is our job and it is the Government's response to keep all parties here informed on the issues about Brexit and in so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. Take my word for it. We will have a very active, energetic and enthusiastic dialogue with the next administration of the assembly and the Executive of Northern Ireland in respect of the fulfilment of all of the conditions of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. I have made that point to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions. She is due to visit Government Buildings in the near future and I intend to take up those discussions about that aspect of it but also about the analysis of her comments today in Lancaster House on Britain's decision to exit and leave the European Union.

In so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the people will make their decision in respect of the election, which I hope is conducted on a reasonably civil basis. I also hope that the issues to be argued, discussed and conversed about up there will bring about a situation where we can have an assembly and Executive after 3 March.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will continue to be very closely associated with Secretary Brokenshire in terms of the conversations they must have, and the civic dialogue which is already in place will continue. I understand the next meeting is on 17 February. Many other connections are ongoing.

At the last North-South Ministerial Council a very good and constructive set of propositions was put together. As the Deputy knows, the Government has contributed to many cross-Border activities in Northern Ireland and will continue to do so. Our job, as one co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, is to see that we work through the assembly and Executive to make sure the institutions are enabled to work on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. That is where our political priority and imprimatur lie. Obviously, we do not want to see a return to what happened in the past.

I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks, but let us make sure that it is not a case of too little, too late. The parties in the North are not the only consideration; there is an international and intergovernmental element to all this. We want the Taoiseach to implement the agreements he has already made and which are in place. Time and again over the past five or six years when I appealed to the Taoiseach and Government to play a consistent and strategic leadership role in facing up to the British Government as an equal, they failed to do so.

I make this point not in recrimination, but rather in the hope that the Taoiseach will change the way he does business with London. He is an equal co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements. It is not enough to say this. It is the duty of the Taoiseach to represent all the people of the island of Ireland.

I wish to make a general point to other Teachtaí Dála. Republicans and nationalists in the North look towards Dublin more often than not. In the past ten years or so, in the absence of positive and consistent leadership from Dublin, that connectivity and sense of togetherness has been eroded. That affects many Unionists as well.

If the parties in the State are serious about co-operation and unity, it is not enough just to talk about it; let us act on it. Ná habair é, a Thaoisigh, déan é. Sinn Féin is prepared to co-operate with those from all parties and none to try to bring that about.

In the same way as I have asked the Taoiseach and others to have an all-island view of Brexit, I appeal to him to have the same approach to upholding and implementing the equality principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is true to say that this is an international agreement backed by the United States and Europe. At the commencement of our Presidency of the European Union in 2013 we were able to secure continuing peace funds until 2020, a further €3.5 billion, which is an important factor.

In respect of dealing with the people of Northern Ireland, Deputy Adams is aware that I met people from Ballymurphy, Kingsmill, Omagh, Enniskillen and other areas, as have Ministers on the North-South Ministerial Council. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has focused on his duties in the North, which is something we want to continue.

The election is under way and the people will have their decision on 3 March. Out of that, I hope we can have an assembly and executive that will work within the institutions that are in place, which were established under the international agreement lodged with the United Nations, and which will have the support of Europe and the continuing support of the United States. We will work with the British Government as a co-guarantor of the Agreement to see that these things are implemented.

Obviously, the Fresh Start agreement of just over a year ago contains opportunities to deal with elements that are still outstanding, namely, the legacies of the past, as Deputy Adams is well aware. I take his point that the Sinn Féin Party will work with all other parties in the interests of clearing the slate, as it were, in terms of many issues that have arisen over the years.

Deputy Adams can take it from me, on the assumption that we will have an assembly and executive, that we will continue to work diligently with all the parties, specifically the British Government, to see that the institutions and conditions of the Good Friday Agreement, including those the Deputy mentioned, such as Acht na Gaeilge, are implemented.

I did mention to the former First Minister the issue of the deontas dóibh siúd a bhí fonn orthu an Ghaeilge a labhairt agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé sin ar fáil arís.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, spoke again to Secretary of State, Mr. James Brokenshire, last night. Believe me that we will keep a very close watch on the issues.

I wish the Taoiseach and all his colleagues a happy new year.

For many months last year I argued in this House that the Taoiseach needed to get a handle on the issue of public sector pay and, more important, to set out his plan on public sector pay restoration to the House. I argued for earlier talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement, for the establishment of meaningful social dialogue that would involve public servants in discussing not only pay but the services they provide and for the establishment of an employer labour conference which could help prevent some industrial disputes escalating.

For his own reasons, the Taoiseach chose to ignore those calls, which is his prerogative. However, it means that the Taoiseach must take responsibility for the 14,000 workdays lost during the last quarter of last year, which compares to not a single workday lost in the same period in the previous year. We know what we are talking about. We put forward practical solutions, but the Government chose not to listen.

This morning Members had yet again to turn to the media for an indication on the direction of public sector pay policy. We learn that, on top of the €50 million to be allocated to improve the pay of An Garda Síochána, a further sum will be spent this year to bring forward pay restoration to other public servants. The media estimate the cost associated with today's announcement to be of the order of €175 million. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, states that it will be €128 million.

I do not argue against the acceleration of pay restoration. I have advocated for it through direct talks for the past six months. However, I would like to know where the money is coming from. A trite line that it will come from unspecified efficiencies or savings is not good enough for the House.

When the Labour Court recommendation relating to An Garda Síochána came through late last year, the Government fudged how it would be paid for. We were told that half of it would come from elsewhere within the Justice Vote, even though we know that there is no secret sum. I do not think the Tánaiste has a hidden sum somewhere for it. We are told the other half will come from savings in other Departments.

It might have been possible for €50 million to come from underspend in profiled expenditure, but we are now speaking about a sum in excess of €200 million. I do not believe that can be found from savings to be made in the Estimates that we just recently agreed. Will the Taoiseach tell the House where the €200 million plus announced today will come from?

This is a sensitive and important issue because the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has been involved in discussions with the trade unions for some time. Deputy Howlin is well aware of the recommendation made by the Labour Court regarding the Garda associations on 3 November 2016. Its consequence was that the Government approved a two-phase approach in regard to securing the future of collective pay agreements. In this case it is the Lansdowne Road agreement, in which the Deputy when he was Minister played an important part, and which is such an important element of collective pay situations in the country.

The first phase was to address the anomalies arising from the recommendations of the Labour Court. The second was to negotiate a successive phase to the Lansdowne Road agreement. The rationale was to restore the structure to the process and to support industrial peace while allowing more difficult issues, such as pension benefits, to be on the table as part of the later negotiations in respect of the Lansdowne Road agreement.

The Government was in a position to save more than this cost. What the Minister negotiated - I am very glad to hear today that it has the support of ICTU - is that agreement has been reached on the measures required to support the continuation of the Lansdowne Road agreement until a successor agreement can be negotiated under phase two. The substance of the deal is an increase in annualised salaries of €1,000 for the period from 1 April to 31 August this year and the Lansdowne Road agreement will kick in subsequent to that. The deal refers specifically to those on annualised salaries up to €65,000 who are parties to the Lansdowne Road agreement and do not stand to benefit from the Labour Court recommendations made on 3 November last, which were issued in respect of the Garda associations. Approximately 250,000 public servants earning below €65,000 will benefit from this approach.

The Revised Estimates for 2017 proposed total gross Vote expenditure of €58.072 billion in line with commitments made in budget 2017 last October. Of this, €53.53 billion of current funding is for the day-to-day delivery of public services, while €4.541 billion is for capital investment. About 31% of current spending or €16.474 billion is allocated for public service pay.

There was a serious matter of perceived presentation of this today, as this being a lump sum payment for all of these public servants earning under €65,000. It is not a lump sum payment but the equivalent of an increase in annualised salaries of €1,000. It applies from 1 April to 31 August this year and the Lansdowne Road agreement kicks in from that point.

This is clarification in respect of what was announced this morning. It is not actually an increase of €1,000 but an increase of €1,000 annualised from April to August because the measure was provided for in the Estimates as commencing in September. The Taoiseach did not indicate from where the money was coming or whether the cost would be €128 million or €175 million.

This was clearly an attempt to placate public sector workers who are genuinely annoyed that one individual union was able to do a bespoke deal. Will there be further bespoke deals if other groups, for example, nurses, make a similar demand on government? Is the solution not the one I set out many months ago, namely, to open proper negotiations with all public sector workers to ensure everybody is treated exactly the same?

The cost is €120 million, as I recall from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The second phase of Government strategy is to put in place the negotiations and conditions that will allow for a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement.

When will that happen?

That will start later in the year. This is not a lump sum payment. It is the annualised equivalent of €1,000 which will apply from 1 April to the end of August, after which the Lansdowne Road agreement will kick in.

It is less than one quarter of what gardaí got.

Six days ago, we learned that a consultancy firm had recommended to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that Bus Éireann's Expressway operations be shut down. We know the report recommends the axing of more than 500 jobs and the closure of ten bus depots. However, there is much that we do not know. For example, we do not know which bus depots Grant Thornton recommends shutting. Does the hit list include Tralee, Wexford, Ennis, Clonmel or Ballina? Does it include Sligo, Cavan, Letterkenny, Athlone or Waterford?

I am challenging the Taoiseach to put this information before the House and to say that he will publish the report. It is no secret that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, thinks himself rather good at his job. I sometimes think Otto the bus driver from "The Simpsons" would have more of a clue. The Minister was very alert to the rights of rural communities when he issued a call to arms to save the Stepaside Garda station. Why does he not show the same concern when rural communities outside of his constituency face abandonment by his Department? The unions have requested a meeting with the Department, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Bus Éireann to tackle this crisis. Why does the Minister continue to ignore such a reasonable request?

Has the Minister made the Taoiseach aware of the reports from credible sources of a private operator, licensed for significant routes, paying drivers cash in hand, a practice which is against the law of the land? If he has not, why not? Does he even know? Other operators pay the minimum wage, a little above the minimum wage and in all other cases below Bus Éireann trade union rates. There should be a threshold of decency. They should be required to pay the Bus Éireann rates. Why does the Government not enforce minimum standards of this type? Is it the game plan of the Cabinet to leave the highly lucrative intercity routes to be run by private operators while the State operates run-down services on other non-profitable routes?

The Government has bailed out the banks to the tune of scores of billions but it refuses to bail out Bus Éireann to the tune of even a few million. The State invests in health and education but it refuses to invest seriously in public transport. This Government has three options. First, it can shut down Expressway immediately. Second, it can shut down Expressway slowly - death by a thousand cuts - by hammering the services or the workers, or a combination of both. The Government should be aware that it will meet serious resistance should it choose any of these options. The third option, which is the option that would be chosen by a left government, recognising that this is a country consistently ranked among the 20 wealthiest countries in the world and that it deserves a word class public transport service, the Government should invest seriously in public transport. Does the Taoiseach accept that the time has come for Government to choose the third option?

The Minister, Deputy Ross, briefed the Cabinet on this matter this morning. He has not received or had sight of the report and, therefore, he could not have read it. I understand that-----

Every journalist in the Gallery has a copy of the report. What the Taoiseach said is not credible.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, must have made a very revealing presentation.

It was a short Cabinet meeting.

(Interruptions).

Order, please.

The Minister has not received it. I understand the company has commenced discussions on proposals designed to restore the company to profitability. I hope that the trade unions and management involved can engage in realistic and constructive discussions about the serious challenges Bus Éireann now faces.

I understand the commercial arm of Bus Éireann - Expressway - loses approximately €6 million per annum. These losses threaten the company as a whole. It is important to note that these losses are not as a result of Government funding.

Subvention cuts.

Bus Éireann's PSO network is performing well, financially and operationally. Contrary to Deputy Mick Barry's statement, last year, it received almost €40 million in PSO funding, which is approximately 17% more than it received in 2015 and the PSO services carried almost 32 million people, which is a 5% increase on the previous year. The losses are related to Expressway services which compete with other operators. There has been strong growth in the commercial bus sector, with almost 23 million people using commercial buses in 2015. This passenger growth is not being experienced in Expressway. Contrary to some reports, there has not been a glut of new licences issued in recent years, with only eight licences having been issued since 2011 and 11 applications having been rejected. These changes to the bus market have resulted in the loss of services to some towns and villages. I understand that in recent years some areas have lost commercial services but that these have been replaced with PSO services by the National Transport Authority to ensure continued connectivity. The NTA will continue to use its statutory powers to ensure the continuation of public transport connectivity for local communities across rural Ireland.

The Minister has commented on that in the context of whatever outcome to the discussions between management and unions applies, and a rural transport service will continue to be provided. This is not a problem of policy but it is a commercial problem that requires a commercial response. I urge both sides to engage constructively in the coming weeks on this issue, which is difficult but important for the people of the country given the figures I have mentioned to Deputy Barry already.

I find it quite incredible that The Irish Times could publish the Grant Thornton report on its front page, not one or two days ago but six days ago, and that the Taoiseach's Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has not read a copy of it six days on.

He has not received it.

Has he read a copy of it?

He cannot get his hands on it.

He should use some of his journalist contacts.

He cannot get his hands on it. He has searched high and he has searched low. He has searched the highways and the byways for the Grant Thornton report. The poor old Minister cannot get his hands on a copy of it. Who does the Taoiseach think he is codding?

I thought the Deputy was going to say-----

I note that reports have emerged this morning on an internal Government report of 2014 that recommended a €50 annual charge for the free travel pass. We are told that the report was shelved. I just wonder how it found its way onto the front page of The Irish Times this morning. Unless the Taoiseach wants a repeat of the great medical card revolt of 2008, he would do well to make sure that report stays on the shelf. I suggest that he tell his Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to get his hands on the Grant Thornton report. It is not that difficult. Maybe he could then come into the House and answer some of the questions being put to him.

I did answer the Deputy's question, and I did say the Minister briefed the Cabinet this morning.

(Interruptions).

On his dinner last night.

He had not received the report.

Could we have order, please?

He could not have read the report and therefore was not going to go into detail on it. He did point out this is a matter between management and the unions.

Was it on a synopsis of his next book that he briefed us? A bestseller for next Christmas.

I hope they engage in constructive debate on what is a serious issue. Deputy Mick Barry said no money was being provided by the State. Some €40 million of public money was allocated to the PSO last year. The company carried almost 32 million people-----

The Taoiseach said that already.

-----representing a 5% increase on the year before. It is not a case of Government policy; it is a case of the commercial response. This is now a matter between the unions and the management, and I hope they engage on constructive propositions.

I will remind the Minister, Deputy Ross, that if he goes out to wherever Deputy Barry indicated, he might suddenly find the Grant Thornton report coming at him but it is not available to him at the moment. In an indirect way, the Deputy is complimenting The Irish Times on being able to publish it on the front page.