Leaders' Questions

Yesterday's drama in London, with the resignation of two senior Cabinet Ministers from the UK Government, should not distract from the key message that has emanated from, as well as the key importance of, the UK Government's Chequers statement on the evolution of negotiations on the UK-EU relationship and Brexit. In essence, the Chequers statement represents a pathway and a platform on which serious negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union to determine their future relationship can progress. The resignations of David Davis, MP, and Boris Johnson, MP, confirm this reality. The Chequers statement is much more in line with the economic reality from the perspective of the United Kingdom and reveals a new Brexit realism that rendered it impossible for the hardl-ine Brexiteers to continue in office. Hard-line Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis never produced a blueprint and a coherent alternative. The outgoing Foreign Secretary said it was the beginning of the end of the dream. However, dreams rarely correspond with reality. Credit should be given to the British Prime Minister for navigating this new direction in very difficult political circumstances, as we all know.

I have been very critical of the Brexit decision, but the British people took that decision. I was particularly critical of the absence of any coherent blueprint to be put before the electorate in advance. It was fuelled by certain racist tendencies, anti-immigration sentiment and so on. That said, as a country, we export hugely to the United Kingdom. The studies undertaken in Ireland, including the Economic and Social Research Institute's study and those conducted by the Department of Finance, have predicted negative outcomes, depending on the nature of Brexit, for the small and medium enterprise sector. That is particularly the case for the agrifood sector and the Border, west and north-west regions which will be very badly hit by a hard Brexit. We must avoid any such outcome.

We are still facing into very difficult negotiations. Time is short and politics in the United Kingdom are very volatile. Clearly, the negotiations between the UK and EU will be particularly difficult and complex. As a country, we must maintain a key focus on what is optimal for the entire island of Ireland while preserving the integrity of the European Union and its mission and rules. Does the Taoiseach accept that a positive UK-EU agreement on their future relationship is the optimal outcome for Ireland? In light of this country's significant market presence in the United Kingdom, particularly in the agrifood and SME sectors, does he accept that the east-west relationship between the UK and Ireland is critical to the island's economic growth and well-being? Does he accept that the Chequers statement from the UK Government represents a credible basis for the progression of the next phase of EU-UK negotiations on Brexit?

I thank the Deputy. All of us are noting very closely the political events that are unfolding at Westminster. I note the resignation of the former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Johnson, and former Brexit Secretary, Mr. Davis. I also note that the Prime Minister did not waste too much time in replacing them. Of course, these are internal matters for the UK Government and the Conservative Party. As far as the Irish Government is concerned, the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister. Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and when she speaks, she does so on behalf of the UK Government.

I spoke to Prime Minister May by phone for approximately half an hour on Saturday and she briefed me on the statement released from Chequers on Friday. We had a very good conversation. It was an opportunity for her to explain to me what the statement meant and what the next steps will be. She explained that the first of those steps will be the publication of a White Paper later this week. That White Paper will be approximately 100 pages long and will give us a lot more detail than the three-page statement released on Friday. I specifically asked her what will be the process and she explained that the White Paper will have to be approved by the British Cabinet and not just the Department for Exiting the European Union. We look forward to seeing that White Paper. Deputy Darragh O’Brien, a member of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench, suggested at the weekend that we should read that White Paper and consider it in full - in consultation with the task force and the EU 27 - before producing a definitive response to it. That is exactly what I intend to do. Contact is being kept, on a regular and close basis, between Government Buildings and Downing Street. I am in touch with the Prime Minister - we are in contact sherpa to sherpa and chief adviser to chief adviser. The Tánaiste is in close contact with his opposite number, David Lidington, as is, of course, the Minister for Finance with Philip Hammond.

The Chequers statement is welcome. It can have an input to talks in respect of the future relationship, although we would like to see the White Paper first. As already stated, the statement from Chequers is three pages long and the White Paper will be more than 100 pages long. I imagine there will be lot more in 100-page White Paper than there was in the three-page statement. I hope the White Paper will still be published this week. It will give us the opportunity to consider what is proposed in consultation with Michel Barnier, the task force and the EU 27. On the face of what we see, it can have an input to the talks on the future relationship. It is welcome and, as we have always said in the past, if the United Kingdom was able to relax its position regarding some of its red-line issues, then the European Union could also be flexible. Perhaps we are now entering into that space.

To answer the Deputy's question, I have always said that the best option and the best way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is through what we have been calling for quite some time, namely, option A, which is the future relationship, rather than option C, which is the backstop. It has always been our view that the best solution is one that would be all-encompassing in nature and that would involve the United Kingdom staying very close to the European Union and, therefore, Ireland and thereby negating the need or even possibility of a hard border on our island. Nonetheless we will still need a backstop. It will not be possible to negotiate the final stages treaty, that is the new treaty between the UK and the EU, by October. At best we will have a political declaration. That treaty will have to be ratified not just by this Parliament but by the parliaments of all the member states of the European Union.

There is a risk that even if we agree a future relationship treaty, any one parliament in the European Union could reject it, which is why the withdrawal agreement must include a backstop and give us that insurance policy. Should we fail to conclude successfully and to our satisfaction a UK-EU final state treaty, we must have a backstop on which to fall back.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He has said these are internal matters for the British Government, but they are also of relevance to and have a profound impact on Ireland. Put simply, the pathway being pursued by hard-line Brexiters such as Mr. Boris Johnson and Mr. David Davis, if they had succeeded and if they succeed in the future - hard-line Brexiters are still there in numbers within the British Tory Party - would lead to a significantly negative impact on our economic well-being, particularly on the west coast, in the north west and the midlands, as documented by the Economic and Social Research Institute. At times there has not been an adequate focus on the potential economic damage and the downside to a less than optimal east-west relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland. It affects the island in its entirety in terms of exports to the British market which cannot easily be replaced quickly through diversification and other channels. Does the Taoiseach believe the Chequers statement represents a credible pathway to negotiations? It represents a departure and a significant change in direction, with greater coherence than we have seen to date from the British Government. Therefore, it requires a proximate and proportionate response from the European Union that should be distanced immediately from some of the comments that have emanated from some hidden sources in the Union, with talk of rats deserting sinking ships. Such crowing over-eggs the discussion. It is time to get down to serious negotiations, to find the optimal resolution for the European Union, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The statement produced at Chequers is a valuable input into the negotiations on the final status. It may produce a credible pathway towards further negotiations, but we need to study the White Paper first. On its own, it is not a solution and nobody is claiming that it is. As we have said so many times in the past, if the United Kingdom is willing to modify and evolve some of its red lines, the European Union should be flexible also. In the period ahead it is a space we can be in. It is two years since the referendum occurred in the United Kingdom and for two years we have not known what Brexit means. There has not been a united position in the British Government. I firmly hope what we saw emanating from Chequers on Friday and what we will see in the White Paper later this week will at long last represent an agreed UK Government position on what it wants the future relationship to look like. We have always known what we want it to look like. First, it should protect the common travel area; second, it should allow continued free trade between Britain and Ireland; and, third, it should avoid a hard border on the island. These are and have been our objectives for two years. They are ones I believe we can achieve.

Over the weekend we watched as yet another calamitous chapter in the Tory Brexit debacle unfolded. Two years on from the Brexit referendum, the British Government produced a three-page document. The world was told that it represented a unified approach to Brexit in the British Cabinet. As we now know, that narrative began to unravel on Sunday evening with the resignation of Mr. David Davis as Brexit Secretary. His departure from office was followed yesterday afternoon by the resignation of the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson. A chief architect of Brexit, he has decided to run away from the mess he helped to create. I dare say a man who equated the Border in Ireland with boundaries between boroughs in London will be no great loss.

Despite all the drama and the toing and froing in London in the past couple of days, we should make no mistake that the problems for Ireland remain. They are real and present. We still have no workable solutions from the British Government or legal guarantees from the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, on the political agreement made last December which the Taoiseach may recall that he described as "cast-iron". The Tory Party tactic has been to play for time.

They have been openly reneging on the backstop or protocol for a while now. The Chequers document only makes a passing reference to a backstop. Speculation is that the white paper, publication of which we await, will contain something similarly vague. To add to this, Mrs. May confirmed to the House of Commons yesterday that she would not sign up to the December agreement and backstop. That cast-iron agreement, as the Taoiseach put it, is a non-runner according to Mrs. May.

Obtaining legal guarantees that protect Ireland's interests, North and South, is essential. A new Brexit realism would understand how essential it is to bring clarity and certainty for our people, our all-island economy and our agreements. A new Brexit realism would understand that the backstop agreed in December is the bottom line. The Taoiseach cannot concede. There cannot be any flexibility, no blurring or softening of the lines on this matter. I believe the Taoiseach cannot continue to accept bad faith from the Tory Government.

We cannot allow these matters to slip into the hazy days of the summer and sit back and hope for the best. My questions are straightforward. What is the Taoiseach's plan now to ensure that Ireland obtains the necessary legal guarantees from the British Government? Will he now call for a special EU summit before October focused on achieving solutions and answers to the Irish question?

Deputy McDonald may be getting a little bit muddled on the detail. In December, there was a political agreement. The UK Government has been very consistent that it stands by the political agreement that was made in December. The UK Government made the agreement in December and reaffirmed it in a letter from Theresa May to President Tusk in March. In fact, the UK Government reaffirmed it again in the paper produced from Chequers on Friday.

The backstop text was produced by the EU 27 in March and the UK Government has never accepted the text. Negotiations will have to continue on the detail of that. As we have said, and as all 27 member states have said, there will be no withdrawal agreement without an Irish protocol, without a backstop. Even if we can agree the parameters of the future relationship in October, we will not be able to negotiate a full, detailed, complicated new treaty between the UK and the EU. It will take the entire transition period, if not longer, to negotiate that. That is why we have to have a protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement. Those in the UK Government understand and accept that. They did so in December, by letter in March and reaffirmed that again in the statement from Chequers.

The Deputy asked about a future summit and that is possible. The 28 Heads of State and Government will meet for an informal EU Council meeting in Salzburg in September, hosted by the Austrian Presidency. A chance occurred to us here on Sunday and I discussed with those responsible the possibility of upgrading that meeting to include a formal discussion on Article 50. That is a possibility and I know it was discussed between Prime Minister May and Chancellor Merkel as well. It is too soon to make that judgment call but it is certainly an option. We will all be there together in Austria on 20 September and it might be a good time for us to all talk together about Brexit, but we will make that judgment call nearer the time. It is an obvious opportunity for us to have a further Article 50 Council meeting should it be advisable.

I have set out what we aim to achieve: keeping the common travel area in place, no hard border between North and South; and minimising the impact on free trade between Britain and Ireland. These have been our objectives since the day the referendum votes were counted. They are our objectives still today and I believe they can be achieved.

I am not confused at all. I am clear that the political agreement in December found legal expression in the protocol drafted in March. I am clear that from the moment and hour the British caught sight of it, they have consistently rejected it.

Here is what we need clarification on. The British would say we need a backstop.

In other words, they disavow what was agreed to in December, in effect, by rejecting the March protocol. Is the Taoiseach telling us that, as far as he is concerned, that protocol is still open for negotiation? Is that the message he is giving to the Dáil? Is he on the same page as the British Government in arguing for a protocol, rather than the text that was agreed to in March? It is extremely disturbing and very dangerous if that is the case. The protocol, as drafted in March, is the bottom line. It is the bare minimum required to achieve the objectives set out by the Taoiseach. We know that the British have consistently rejected the March protocol. Will the Taoiseach tell us what is the position of the Government? Is the protocol the finished item which he wishes the Government to sign on for, or is there another one? Is it still open for negotiation in his mind?

There is always a fair bit of comitology. There is "the customs union" and "a customs union"; there is "the backstop" and "a backstop". When we talk about the backstop, we are referring to the text produced by the EU 27 in March. When the United Kingdom talks about "a backstop", it is accepting that there must be a backstop which, it agrees, has to be part of a withdrawal agreement.

It is not its backstop.

The legal text might be different from the one produced in March by the EU 27. To answer the Deputy's question frankly, I am not hung up on legal texts. It is not about the legal texts but the outcome.

The legal text gives the outcome.

It is about what it achieves. What "the backstop", "a backstop", or any backstop must achieve is a legally binding guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland and that must form part of the withdrawal agreement. Of course, I am happy to debate, discuss and negotiate with the European Union and the United Kingdom on the legal text. However, it is not about the legal text but what happens on the ground, whether it allows us to achieve our objective which is a legally binding guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. That is the bottom line, not the paragraphs or the numbering system.

We all welcome the fact that, after two years negotiating among themselves, we finally have before us a document that outlines a future EU-UK relationship. It is useful that we have something with which to engage, although it remains to be seen whether it will continue to be the settled position of the British Government once the more detailed White Paper is published in a few days' time, or if the particular White Paper will command a majority in the British Parliament because there are serious questions to be answered. Mrs. Theresa May has suggested Britain would continue to have access to the Single Market for goods, but she has not declared her willingness to oversee and monitor it and, similarly, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the maintenance of the four freedoms. They can be debated, but at least we now have something with which to engage.

The direction of travel in the United Kingdom seems to be towards closer alignment with the European Union, rather than the drift away which was prevalent previously. However, we cannot afford to be complacent, welcome though it is. There have been so many variations in the UK proposals that there is no guarantee that the latest variation will survive. There is also a real possibility that Mrs. Theresa May's minority Government will fall, triggering a UK general election. The policy of the British Labour Party, with which I keep in very close contact, is to retain full membership of the customs union and the Single Market for at least a four-year transition period that would ensure an appropriate time within which to negotiate more robust permanent arrangements. Mrs. Theresa May's aim is still to leave both by March next year, at which point Northern Ireland's Border will be thrown into question.

The need for clarity on the backstop position is urgent for us. Last week I said there was a golden opportunity, following the announcement of the Austrian Presidency of a special summit on 20 September, to add to the agenda this one issue, namely, the need for clarity on the legal text of the Irish backstop. I warmly welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has already raised the issue with the Austrian Chancellor.

The Taoiseach did not quite indicate what was the Austrian Chancellor's response. I ask him to outline it to the House. I do not think he should leave this option in abeyance. I think it should be the objective in order that the Irish question will be settled and taken off the agenda by the time we get to the October summit. That would be terrific. It would give Ireland and Britain an opportunity to deal with the broader issues without this matter being on the agenda. I ask the Taoiseach to seek the agreement of the Austrian Presidency to have the Irish backstop position formally tabled as a second agenda item for the special summit on 20 September.

Much of Deputy Howlin's analysis is very valid. We can see the real effects of political instability across the water in the UK, where a minority Government has a confidence and supply agreement with another party and there is a risk of an early election. None of this is good for the UK and none of it strengthens the position of the latter as we enter into this difficult period. The same applies in Ireland. We need political stability here. We do not want to be going into the autumn - the crucial period of September, October and November - without political stability.

The Taoiseach should listen to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, a bit more.

Call the election now, come on.

That is why it is very much in the national interest for us to have political stability in the autumn.

The Taoiseach should take the advice of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who is most desirous of an extended term.

We should not risk finding ourselves in the situation in which the UK now finds itself.

To answer Deputy Howlin's question about Salzburg, I discussed it with Chancellor Kurz on Sunday and with Michel Barnier a few weeks ago. It is an option, but it is too soon to make that judgment call now.

We need to know what there is to discuss. Over the next couple of weeks, there will be an engagement between the Barnier task force, which is known as the TF50, and the UK Government. We will have to see what gets achieved during the period of August and September.

They will be at the beach.

The purpose of having an Article 50 discussion, or an Article 50 Council, in September would be if the EU was to modify our guidelines. That would be the purpose of it. We can have an informal chat at any time, and I am sure we will. We will not have a formal Article 50 Council unless we are going to modify the EU negotiating guidelines. It is too soon at this stage to say we are going to do that. It is definitely a possibility. Everyone is wise to the fact that it is definitely an option. We are all going to be in Salzburg in September. If it makes sense, we will do that.

I never thought I would say that the UK Government is making this country's Government look positively stable.

That is a bit of a stretch.

I caution the Taoiseach against seeking a mandate for a strong and stable Government because it has not worked out so well for his counterpart across the water. I want to say clearly and passionately that I genuinely believe, on the basis of all the contacts and discussions I have had with my British colleagues, that if there is a deadline of September for a settlement on the backstop issue, that will be infinitely more to our advantage than leaving it in the general pot of issues to be determined in October. I genuinely think that is a better approach for us. I ask the Taoiseach to consider that, even if he cannot give me a definitive answer now. Can we try to secure a deadline for having a legally agreed position in September, rather than leaving it until the absolute deadline with everything else in October, which would be a disadvantage?

As I said at the European Council in March, it is absolutely my preference to reach an agreement as soon as possible. An early agreement is in the interests of our citizens, who want certainty, and in the interests of business, which needs to plan for changes that might take place in the future. Of course I want to have an agreement as soon as possible. I am not going to make concessions in order to get an agreement as soon as possible. I want to get the best agreement. If it takes a little longer to get the best agreement for Ireland, so be it. Under the guidelines agreed by the EU 27 in March, the deadline is the October Council in Brussels. That is when we hope and expect to sign off on the withdrawal agreement. It is understood by the EU 27, including Ireland, and by the UK that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. If the text of the backstop were to be agreed in August or September, it would not actually be agreed until everything is agreed.

The deadline for that is the summit in Brussels in October. It is important to bear in mind why that deadline was put in the guidelines. It is because the withdrawal agreement and backstop require approval of the UK Parliament and the European Parliament. Therefore, we believe five months - November, December, January, February and March - is adequate time to allow both to ratify any agreement.

For almost a year now, all the Taoiseach's speeches about the economy have been accompanied by a little catch phrase along these lines, "As we approach full employment, our emphasis now has to be on good jobs, jobs that pay the bills, jobs that allow people to aspire to homeownership and pensions that allow them to plan for the future." Obviously, someone told him this was a great one-liner because he has been repeating it ad nauseam for almost a year. The truth, however, is that it means nothing. Behind the figures he boasts about, there lurks a dark underworld - a battlefield for an almighty assault on the working conditions of workers, particularly women, in this country. This week marks its escalation, with a number of industrial disputes brought about as a result of brute intransigence by profitable companies refusing to negotiate with unions or to deal with the industrial relations machinery of the State. Actually, it is becoming quite a trend. The first is LloydsPharmacy, the largest pharmacy chain in the country. It has 800 staff, 92% of whom are women. It is owned by a multibillion dollar US pharmaceutical giant. This company is in modern "On the Waterfront". There are no guaranteed hours. One can be brought in to work any day at any time. If one is sick, tough. The company will not pay one if one is sick, forcing many low-paid workers to work sick in a job where they interface with sick people. One could not make it up. Since February 2017, the company has refused to negotiate with Mandate and it is now blatantly ignoring a Labour Court recommendation. Of course, it does not have any problems at all in accepting the State when it comes to putting its hand out for the significant HSE community contracts from which it profits.

Meanwhile, in the Taoiseach's neck of the woods, another group of workers being forced to take action are those at Ryanair. They are due to take that action on Thursday next. We note the irony of Ryanair, the company that wrote the manual on blackmail and bullying, accusing its pilots of bullying. Is Ryanair serious? The pilots are simply demanding a master seniority list, something that costs the company nothing but that would provide a transparent mechanism for dealing with base transfers, command upgrades, holidays and the like, which have a major impact on family life. Of course, Ryanair wants to keep it so that it can continue to bully its staff. As a former Minister with responsibility for transport, the Taoiseach knows well the root cause of this dispute. Precarious employment contracts are being used to deny pilots and cabin crew basic employment rights, such as the rights not to be dismissed unfairly and to maternity leave. We are unique in Ireland in facilitating such employment contracts.

It is about time the Taoiseach started to deal with this rather than talking about it. We are becoming infamous as a flag of convenience for social dumping. I want to know what the Government is doing, against the backdrop of employers abandoning the voluntary industrial relations system, to ensure that workers have access to collective bargaining and a right to have their employment conditions protected.

I am delighted Deputy Clare Daly is reading my speeches. I often need to say the same things many times before anyone picks up on them. Nobody told me it was a great one-liner. I wrote that one myself and I did so because I believe it.


The spin machine.

Was it like the one-liner last week?

One is always one's own best speechwriter.

The Taoiseach should rethink that one.

Can we have order, please?

Let me pick up on some of the points the Deputy raised. Let us look at the facts - the CSO statistics. The unemployment rate peaked at 16% in 2012 when people had trusted Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents to manage the country's economy. It is now down to 5%. The long-term unemployment rate is 2%. For the past year or so, the number of full-time jobs has been increasing and the number of part-time jobs has been decreasing. We heard from the left consistent arguments that people were drifting into part-time work.

The facts say otherwise because part-time work is decreasing and full-time work is increasing. In addition, the number of people in self-employment as a proportion of the entire workforce is stable, so the suggestion that more people are being pushed into self-employment does not stand up. The proportion of people in self-employment is as much as it was many years ago.

To answer the Deputy's question about what we are doing, workers' rights legislation is currently being brought through the Houses by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. It deals with matters such as zero-hour contracts and banded hours. It is before the Dáil and I hope Members will co-operate with the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, in getting it passed before the recess this week. Second, the Cabinet subcommittee yesterday signed off on the straw man proposal, the draft proposal for auto-enrolment. There is an enormous inequality in Irish society at present where two thirds of people working in the private sector have no pension provision other than the State pension. People in the public sector generally have good, guaranteed pensions. We signed off yesterday on our proposals to change that by enrolling automatically everybody over the age of 23 years in a pension scheme, a top-up pension that they can add to their State pension, with the requirement that the employer contributes as well as the person who will benefit in the end. The State will also make a contribution. I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, producing that, getting agreement on it and drafting the legislation so we can introduce it in 2021 or 2022.

With regard to the specific industrial relations issues the Deputy raised, as always I strongly encourage both sides, the unions and employers, to make use of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. It is a State body that stands ready to intervene and to help resolve these disputes. I ask both sides to engage with the WRC, which is more than willing, capable and qualified to help broker a solution in the interests of citizens.

I have no problem with the Taoiseach repeating his soundbites, if they are his, as much as he wishes if that is what he is into, but a soundbite does not put food on the table. Statistics show, as Social Justice Ireland did earlier this year, that as the economy has recovered more people at work are in poverty. Over 100,000 workers at work are in poverty because of zero-hour contracts and precarious contracts of employment. My question was about that issue. The Labour Court recovered almost €2 million in unpaid wages last year for vulnerable women workers in particular. Talking about new legislation is good and we welcome that legislation. However, the point the Taoiseach is missing is that it is not enough when employers are deliberately ignoring the industrial relations machinery of the State.

In the case of Lloyds Pharmacy, for example, why does the Taoiseach not say that those who do business with the Government, the HSE or otherwise should, as a minimum condition, treat their workers fairly, not have zero-hour contracts and adhere to the principles of equality? We should be doing ethical business. If the Taoiseach inserts such clauses in State contracts I guarantee that he will do more for the working conditions of people in the State than through any other measure he might take. It is a little ironic that we talk about measures such as changes to the constitutional clause regarding women in the home and so forth when we ignore, in particular, the areas where women work and the number of women who are exploited because of the failure to recognise unions. Lloyds Pharmacy recognises the union of its male workers in the distribution depots, where wages are good, but not the women's union. People do not want the Taoiseach's soundbites or his talk. They want to see a little action on some of this.

The Deputy is absolutely right that soundbites do not put food on the table - jobs do. There are more people at work in Ireland than ever in our history. Almost 2.3 million people are now at work. The working family payment for those in low paid jobs with families, and we improved that payment this year, ensures that people who are in work, do 19 hours work or more every week and who have children are kept out of poverty. That is the reason we have the working family payment. The CSO is not a NGO or a lobby group. It produces official statistics and those statistics show that poverty and deprivation in Ireland are falling and inequality and income inequality are narrowing. Those things should be welcomed.

I acknowledge we have more to do: there is always more work to do. We intend to do that work by continuing to build employment, continuing to increase wages and improve incomes, continuing to give more people their money back through reductions in taxation, reducing the cost of accessing public services such as childcare and healthcare and by putting through the type of legislation being brought forward by the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to enhance workers' rights, ban zero-hour contracts in almost all circumstances and to introduce banded hours. All of those measures are very much part of the Government's programme to improve living standards. I ask the Opposition to co-operate with the Government in getting that legislation through.