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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 7

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Personal Injuries Assessment Board

Seán Haughey

Question:

6. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the work of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board during 2021; the plans of the board for 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6819/22]

Deputy Lahart is taking this question on behalf of Deputy Haughey.

The question is in regard to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB. I am looking to get a report from the Minister on the work of PIAB last year and the plans for PIAB this year. In that context, I welcome the fact the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, secured agreement yesterday to draft his personal injuries resolution board Bill, so the question is timely.

I thank Deputy for taking this question. PIAB was established in 2004 to assess personal injuries compensation in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

The board has delivered major benefits by providing a low-cost, quick and fair option in injury compensation. It annually saves tens of millions of euro that would otherwise be paid in costs by parties, and ultimately be a cost borne by policyholders. The work of the board in 2021 will be set out in its annual report, which will be published later this year. In the interim, I have been informed by PIAB that 21,410 applications were received by the board in 2021, comprising 11,409 motor claims, 5,774 public liability claims and 4,227 employer liability claims. PIAB’s provisional figures show that the board completed 8,024 assessments in 2021, of which 4,748 were made since the introduction of the new personal injuries guidelines.

In 2021, there was a significant change in the operations of PIAB arising from the commencement of the personal injuries guidelines. The board reported in October 2021 that under the new guidelines the average total award was €14,223, a 40% decrease compared with 2020. Of the cases assessed, 71% of awards were less than €15,000 compared to 30% of awards made by the board in 2020. In 2022, I intend to enhance and strengthen the agency to facilitate an increase in the resolution of personal injury claims. Yesterday, I published the general scheme of the personal injuries resolution board Bill 2022. The scheme proposes to amend the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Acts, 2003 to 2019, in a number of ways, including giving PIAB a new function to offer mediation as a means of resolving a claim. PIAB will retain claims of a wholly psychological nature. PIAB will deepen its analysis and public information roles. We will also strengthen the discretion of the courts regarding costs in litigation.

That is a good reply and some of the figures in that are positive. Can the millions of euro saved be quantified? Is there any figure for that or does the Minister of State have any sense of how much has been saved by the State and individual consumers in premiums due to the work of PIAB? What has been the general impact of those reduced awards? Almost three-quarters of the awards are now less than €15,000, as the Minister of State noted in his reply. That is significant and consumers are looking for the knock-on effect of that. He said that PIAB is retaining claims of a wholly psychological nature. Could he elaborate on what that means? He also mentioned that he has had ongoing discussions with PIAB over the past year, leading up to the drafting of this Bill, which is welcome. What issues did the board raise with him in those discussions?

In the context of drafting this legislation, it was not just PIAB that we engaged with. We engaged extensively with key stakeholders, including the Alliance for Insurance Reform and community groups. We had a public consultation that 240 people made submissions to and that informed the drafting of this legislation. Some of the provisions we are making are due to requests and suggestions that have been made, including on cases of a wholly psychological nature. At the moment those cases cannot be assessed by PIAB so that is something new it will be do. I cannot quantify what the total cost savings have been but I can give the example of cases going through PIAB. The average legal cost associated with them is €841. Of the cases going through litigation, the average legal costs are €16,064. The savings in legal fees are immense. It is 15 times more costly to go through litigation than through PIAB. We need many more cases going through PIAB because ultimately those costs are passed onto policyholders.

That is welcome. PIAB is effective and what the Minister of State is proposing in the Bill is to expand its remit so that it can deal with more cases. Some of these cases are of a psychological nature, which PIAB does not currently deal with as I understand it from what he said. That is also welcome and he essentially said it has resulted in a fifteen-fold reduction, or close to it. It is probably less than that if the average PIAB claim is €800 compared to legal recourse, which costs €16,000 or €17,000. That is welcome. I would like to be able to go back and give good news to organisations in my community such as Kilnamanagh Community Centre, which has seen its premium rise by €10,000. We all have had representations from similar groups. PIAB is bound to be good news for them. How soon can we see the impact on the ground in respect of premiums and what progress has been made on that?

The insurance issue will not be resolved by PIAB alone. We have embarked on a cross-government approach that has been led by the Minister and we have made some good inroads in this area. For example, an office to promote competition has been established, because we need competition in the market for venues such as the one the Deputy alluded to in his constituency. The scope of the national claims information database has been widened so that we have the key information on employer and public liability and a fraud unit has also been established in An Garda Síochána. Most importantly, the personal injury guidelines have commenced and we have seen a significant reduction in compensation payouts because of that. Thankfully, premiums are falling. The data to date has shown that motor insurance premiums have fallen almost 20% in the past two years but we want to see premiums fall further and we want to see them fall in public liability. The best way we can do that is to keep our claims down. The establishment and widened remit of PIAB will help to ensure that happens.

Employment Rights

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

7. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has engaged with the trade union movement regarding the draft right to request remote work Bill 2021; the measures could be introduced to strengthen the rights of workers under the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7014/22]

I want to know what engagement the Minister has had with the trade union movement on the draft right to request remote working Bill 2022.

On 25 January the Government approved the priority drafting of the right to request remote working Bill 2022 and pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment commenced this week. This is one of many measures the Government has introduced to incentivise and facilitate remote working. Others include the right to disconnect and investment in remote working hubs throughout the country as part of our remote working strategy, which was published last year.

The Department carried out a public consultation and there was significant engagement, which included submissions from both employer and trade union representative groups. These groups will also have their opportunity to address the joint Oireachtas committee. I will be interested to hear what they have to say and I will carefully consider suggestions from all sides to improve the legislation. This is only the general scheme and we will draft the Bill itself over the coming months. I am happy to receive feedback and suggestions on the legislation. My officials and I will also be happy to have further engagement with trade unions on the proposals and we had engagement last week as part of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, meeting.

My Department is currently looking further at the legal issues related to many issues regarding the Bill and is taking further advice from the Attorney General on the matter. We are keen to enhance the rights and entitlements of workers but we also need to ensure a balanced approach that is fair and affordable for employers. We must also ensure that services provided to the public are not diminished. Similarly, we must acknowledge that not all occupations, industries, or particular roles within an enterprise will be appropriate or suitable for remote working, for example, construction and healthcare. Therefore, calls to introduce a blanket right to remote working are not realistic.

The issue the Labour Party has with the Bill as drafted is that the provisions state that a worker would have to wait 26 weeks before requesting permission to work remotely and then potentially 12 further weeks for an answer. That is 38 weeks, which is the length of a pregnancy. The grounds for refusal from an employer are so wide that the Bill is effectively meaningless. We want a right to flexible work, not a right for an employer to refuse it. This is why I ask what sort of engagement the Minister has had with the trade union movement. I do so because it feels as if this Bill is being written with employers in mind, and not workers. He will appreciate and be aware that remote working has brought a lot of benefits to society for those families that wanted to embrace it. It does not suit everybody and not everybody wants it but female participation in the workforce has increased by 3.5% during the pandemic.

Does the Minister agree that his legislation is weighed in favour of employers and not workers?

On a point of information, there is a separate EU directive on the right to flexible working and that pertains to carers and parents. That has to be transposed into Irish law in August and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is bringing forward that legislation. I read some of the articles by Senator Sherlock and Deputy Bacik and there did not seem to be an awareness on their part that there are two separate Bills here - one that derives from and EU directive and the other that derives from proposals coming from the Government.

We are happy to look at the timelines; maybe they are too long. We are happy to look at the reasons; maybe there are too many. The basic principle has to be that remote working should be facilitated as long as services provided to the public are not diminished and it does not injure the business performance of the organisation. We are happy to look at amendments in that regard.

For Deputy's information, at a LEEF meeting last night, IBEC did not like this one bit either. While the unions may have been louder on the airwaves in criticising the proposals, the employer's side has been equally critical.

Nobody likes the Bill is effectively what the Minister is saying. I take what he said in good faith and if he is willing to look at the timelines and the grounds for refusal, that is fair comment. We will work with him on that but he will have to appreciate that the power balance in any of these situations very much lies with the employer. Workers are unlikely to feel very confident in going through this process if they feel it will diminish their opportunities for advancement in the workplace in the long term.

As the Minister will be aware, there are any number of family and environmental benefits to working remotely. The gender equality issue also weighs heavily when we are entering this space because remote working does benefit gender equality in the workplace. We are happy to work with him and we hope he can be true to his word.

Sometimes when a Government sends the heads of a Bill to a committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, it has already decided what it is going to do but that is not the case on this occasion. I have heard what the unions, employers and the public have had to say and I am genuinely willing to change this Bill, strengthen it and make it fit for purpose. I agree that 13 reasons might be too many. It is more than any other country has, so it probably is too many. The self-assessment tool might be too complicated and six months might be too long. There are very good aspects to the Bill as well though. The requirement for each employer to have a remote working policy is a good one. In some ways, that is the most important requirement because it means that when people take on work in a business or organisation, they know what the policy is and the fact that there has to be a structured and meaningful response is also a strength. That said, we need to be honest with people. What happened in the pandemic is that people were told to work from home because we were in the middle of a public health emergency but there have been problems. The issue of data protection is one that we had to set aside because there was a public health emergency but no member of the public likes the idea of their personal data being on somebody's laptop in a kitchen. These things now have to be teased through and they were not because of the pandemic.

Enterprise Support Services

Brendan Smith

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the level of funding provided for his Department and for the agencies under the remit of his Department for the development of enterprise centres in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7063/22]

The development of enterprise centres and the development of workspace through enterprise centres has been particularly important in supporting the creation of employment. The counties I represent, Cavan and Monaghan, have benefited from such developments. We all know of one- or two-person businesses that went on to be major national and international companies. We now need a new approach to the development of workspace and enterprise centres. We need a dedicated fund and we need substantial support to be channelled towards incentivising the private sector and/or supporting our local enterprise offices, LEOs, and local authorities.

I thank the Deputy for his question and for his support for enterprise centres and the general principle of investing in and strengthening them. I spent a day recently in counties Cavan and Monaghan and saw the benefits of investing in enterprise centres and enterprise teams in those counties and indeed, throughout the country. I acknowledge the work that is being carried out locally through the involvement of the local authorities, the LEOs and all involved in running enterprise centres, digital hubs and so on. They can work extremely well and the Government is keen to target investment and to match taxpayer's money with private money, local authority funds and other funding to get the full benefit of these centres.

Enterprise centres provide important infrastructure for entrepreneurs and are an essential part of the start-up ecosystem across Ireland. The centres, many of which are regionally based, provide space, mentoring and support to start-up founders and teams, helping them to scale internationally. They assist companies with growth strategies when businesses want to expand and move out of the back yard, the house or the small office.

To date, my Department has provided funding of €250 million administered by Enterprise Ireland to support the establishment of 270 enterprise centres throughout Ireland, of which approximately 40 originated from the regional enterprise plans. This investment has enabled the establishment of physical space for entrepreneurs, start-ups, scaling companies, SMEs and a balance of small scale foreign direct investment, FDI. This has enabled the delivery of enterprise relevant programmes to companies and the provision of physical spaces to support remote working. Again, the conversation we had in Cavan and Monaghan was around the need for more physical space and proper work solutions. That is something we want to work on through the regional enterprise plans and the funds have been confirmed for that.

Since 2017, Enterprise Ireland has administered departmental funding to 91 projects totalling €16.4 million under both the regional enterprise development fund and the community enterprise centres schemes. On 20 November 2020, €8.24 million in grants, administered through Enterprise Ireland, for 95 enterprise centres around the country was announced. This funding will ensure that these enterprise centres, many of which have been negatively impacted by Covid-19, can sustain their businesses, pivot and further develop their services to continue to assist the development of our start-up companies.

Currently, an Enterprise Ireland open regional development feasibility fund is available to promoters seeking to scope out and investigate the viability of larger full-scale projects such as remote working hubs.

I thank the Minister of State. We had very good meetings with the Cavan and Monaghan LEOs and the local authorities as well. The Minister of State knows the topography of Cavan and Monaghan and knows that the development of sites there is very expensive. I and other public representatives supported Cavan County Council on one particular project. The council drew down limited Government support to develop a site, service it and make it accessible through building access roads, just to enable buildings to be put in place. The council got less than €1 million in support. We hope that buildings on that site will, in the future, enable the creation of more than 300 jobs. That would be a very significant return on a very small Government investment. The local authority had to put up very substantial funds itself, funds that it does not readily have. Local authorities in places like Cavan and Monaghan have a very small rates base and they are stretched in terms of coming up with matching funding to draw down very worthwhile Government support for different schemes.

We need a dedicated fund that would incentivise the private sector and-or enable local authorities and LEOs to provide the workspace directly in the enterprise centres themselves.

I note the point the Deputy raised. I recall reviewing that site and agree that there is great potential there to create jobs. The Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Rural and Community Development are very keen to develop working spaces, sites, office space and factory space for those who want to create jobs. We are determined to have a jobs-led recovery as we come out of Covid. We can achieve that but it means that we have to support those who are involved in creating jobs and part of that involves property solutions.

The funding that is available through the regional enterprise plans, through both Departments and various development agencies, in conjunction with local authorities, can help to achieve this. Mechanisms are available to find the funds that are needed to develop sites. I recognise that in some counties local authorities do not have the rates base to support ongoing investment in the delivery of sites. However, the town centre first approach is relevant and other incentives are available. There are mechanisms there to achieve this and we have to try to join up the dots. I am determined to work with the Deputy and the local authorities in Cavan and Monaghan to achieve that. I am also conscious that in some parts of the country, commercial property is expensive to develop and without the intervention of the State through these schemes, it might not be possible to create the space needed to create jobs. We will continue to work with the Deputy on that.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. In respect of the provision of workspace in enterprise centres, there is a market failure in that developers will not construct such workspace in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan because they will not get the rent return. That is the information available to me and that analysis is supported at official and private sector level too. We need to support the local authorities to a much greater extent in opening up lands and developing services. Then we need a dedicated fund to put in place the workspace.

If we are to further develop jobs at local level, we need work clusters. In many instances in my two counties, there are businesses that started on byroads and along laneways. Now, with the emphasis on protecting the environment we want to see as much of our employment as possible clustered in our towns and villages. There are great opportunities ahead to develop small clusters and small industrial parks that will provide the necessary work space for the persons starting off a business who do not have the capital to provide their own enterprise centre or workspace. We should have a new beginning in funding the development of enterprise centres.

The Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and myself hope to launch regional enterprise plans during February. Part of that will be funding a range of actions in different counties along the concept outlined by the Deputy. I think we are launching one in Cavan. That gives an opportunity through the funding set out, which is quite substantial, over the next four or five years to fund those three-year plans. Actions are being put forward that would achieve what we want to achieve. I agree that in some of our counties it is not viable to build some of these commercial units based on the rent base that could be achieved for them. There is a similar difficulty with housing in some parts of the country. That is why the State stepped in to close that gap through a range of schemes. It is a similar approach. Working with local authorities we can achieve an outcome and delivery of property solutions for jobs. There are some cases where a developer will not allow it if they cannot get their rent. Why would they? Likewise, we have to bring forward actions. I draw the Deputy's attention to the regional development feasibility fund, which is worthwhile in encouraging any private sector companies that have an interest in developing a remote working hub or office space to look at that first to bring forward a project that we can then find funding for.

Enterprise Policy

Catherine Connolly

Question:

9. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 107 of 9 December 2021, the status of the new west regional enterprise plan to 2024; when the plan will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6828/22]

I am asking about the status of the new west regional enterprise plan, which I have followed assiduously. Where is the plan at? Is it in the Minister's office or the Department and when will it be published?

Regional enterprise development and sustainable local job creation continues to be a key policy priority of mine and this Government.

Throughout 2021, my Department has overseen the development of nine new regional enterprise plans to 2024, including for the west, which covers counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. These plans are developed by regional stakeholders who are keenly aware of the growth opportunities and vulnerabilities in their region. The west regional steering committee continues to be chaired by Ms Evelyn O’Toole, founder and CEO of Complete Laboratory Solutions. Steering committee members include Enterprise Ireland, the LEOs, regional assemblies, local authorities, higher education bodies, the Western Development Commission and others, all of which are focused on creating and sustaining employment opportunities in the region. I was pleased to lead out on the west in the Department.

Following a review of the outgoing regional plan to 2020 and consideration of future thematic areas of focus, the steering committee and stakeholders in the west participated in a virtual consultation event to contribute to the focus and development of the new plan. The new regional enterprise plan for the west is a result of the work of these stakeholders and their in-depth engagement across the region. The plan will contain a set of objectives and related actions to be delivered by the end of 2024. These objectives are complementary to and support existing Government and agency initiatives.

The regional enterprise plans to 2024 are currently being finalised by my Department and it is intended that the west regional enterprise plan will be published and launched in March this year.

The Department has approved in excess of €126 million in funding nationally since 2017. To date, the west region has secured almost €19 million of that. We are finalising a new significant source of funding to drive implementation of the nine new regional plans. I expect we will announce details on new regional funding shortly.

I thank the Minister of State for the background. It is very helpful and I have learned a lot from all the questions and answers that I have tabled. However, the question was about the status of the plan and when it would be published. Do I take it from the reply that the plan is currently with the Department, that it is finished with the steering group, it has produced a completed plan which the Minister of State and the Department is looking at and it will be published in March? Is that the answer to my question?

The draft plan is completed. We worked with the stakeholders and I took the opportunity to acknowledge the good work that the stakeholders have done over the past six months in bringing the plan and we will launch it in March. No doubt the Deputy will be invited to the launch.

I thank the Minister of State. It will be published in March and it is before the Department. Will the Department be making changes to it? Has it identified the new way forward and the transformative actions that are needed as a result of climate and biodiversity change and the pandemic? This will be a completely different plan if we are going to make language mean something. I pointed out to the Minister of State's colleague previously that it is beyond my capacity to understand how the indigenous industry of wool was never examined by the Department. I know that there is now a feasibility study but it seems it was a crucial industry that should have been examined ages ago. The same applies regarding seaweed. We have had no plan since 2020 so there can be no further delay in the publication of the plan.

Will the Minister of State clarify the sources of funding that will be looked at? I will re-echo Deputy Brendan Smith's point on local authorities. Only last week or the week before, Galway County Council did not have enough staff nor resources to run a basic sweeping service on the streets or a bulky collection service. It seems to be pulled in every direction with developers plans with no overall plan for the common good. It is something that I would like to return to. I am all for enterprise.

To return to what I said at the beginning, these are bottom-up plans. They are plans that are derived by the key stakeholders themselves in each region. They are the people who know the opportunities and threats in their respective communities. The Ireland west plan is chaired by a very good entrepreneur who has created a very successful company and job opportunities in the west and who is working collaboratively with the key stakeholders in the west to devise a plan that is unique to the west of Ireland. That is how the plan originated.

It will be published in March and by the time we launch the plans we will launch the funding streams that will be available to each region. Under the previous plans, there was a funding stream of €126 million. We anticipate that funding stream will be even higher this year to ensure that the aspirations of each plan, which is unique to its region, can be realised.

Gender Balance

Emer Higgins

Question:

10. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality that gender quota legislation should be enacted to require private companies to have at least 40% gender balance on their boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7023/22]

What are the Minister's views on the citizens' assembly on gender equality recommendation to provide for a gender quota of 40% in all private companies?

Gender balance at board and senior leadership levels in Irish companies is a policy priority for me and it is an issue I have been engaged in for several years. The policy approach to date has focused on driving culture change in businesses, including by setting voluntary targets for large companies and assisting them to meet them.

To help with this, I launched Balance for Better Business in 2018 to promote increased participation by women on the boards and senior leadership teams of companies. Since then, there has been a steady and sizeable increase in the share of women on the largest listed company boards, from a very low figure of 18% in 2018 to 31% in September 2021. This is a significant achievement in a short space of time.

I thank the Deputy for the work she and others have put into the Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021. In January I met with the National Women’s Council of Ireland to discuss the Bill and some other issues.

Voluntary targets appear to be working and are helping to promote cultural and strategic change at the heart of businesses. Still, I accept that voluntary targets might not be working quickly enough and do not deal with companies that are not engaging at all. There are still several companies which have no women members on their boards at all. Each year gender balance is not achieved is a year too many. Therefore, I welcome the legislation that the Deputy put forward. It could act as an accelerator in the area and I look forward to having the Deputy’s Bill debated in the House in due course.

I thank the Minister for that response. His commitment to making change in this area and to further advancing women in leadership roles is reassuring. As he noted, I have brought forward my own Bill in this area supported by the National Women's Council of Ireland.

The ambition behind it is to achieve better balance in boardrooms through quotas. I am really keen to see this progressed and see our policy on gender representation start to catch up with our European neighbours.

As the Tánaiste said, Balance for Better Business does incredible work in this area. It is really encouraging to see us making progress in certain areas but the level of change we need is just not going to happen fast enough on the route we are currently on. It is a target for Balance for Better Business that no listed companies should have all-male boards but as the Tánaiste referred to himself, that is still the case and in fact there are five all-male boards in Ireland currently. I would love to hear how the Tánaiste feels we as a Government could change this culture of male dominance quickly.

I thank the Deputy. She has put her finger on it. In many ways, the approach we have been following up until now is producing good results in the round. State boards are already ahead of the 40% target and publicly-listed companies are at over 30% and heading for 40%. However, that does not deal with the hold-outs that still have all-male boards or maybe just one or two women on their boards. I have no doubt we will get better decisions made in organisations that have proper balance and diversity on their boards. The legislation the Deputy has put forward is really useful in that regard. We are not going to oppose it when it comes to the Chamber and I look forward to the debate on it. There is an EU directive in this space that is coming down the tracks as well so we will have to see how it ties in with that. I am also interested in the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee that is looking at the recommendation from the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality.

I thank the Tánaiste. That is really encouraging to hear. That will be a success if the Government chooses to support this Bill and it becomes law. The Tánaiste has highlighted the business case for this and it is important we talk about that too. All the research tells us gender balance is better for business. Irish businesses need this as much as Irish society. Diversity of thought around the leadership table or a boardroom table produces better decisions. It is better for governance, risk and for the whole decision-making process. McKinsey did a report on this in 2020. It found companies whose boards are in the top quartile of gender diversity are 28% more likely to outperform their peers financially. That research speaks for itself and we need to act and follow the example of other European neighbours by enacting gender quotas as quickly as possible.

The Deputy makes a very strong case in that regard. As I am sure she will agree, it is not just about the boards but also the senior leadership teams and senior executive teams. At the moment, of companies listed on the ISEQ exchange, 34 do not have any women on their leadership teams. They may have women on the board but not in full-time roles. We have to examine that and act on that area as well. We are now down to five all-male boards. That is down from eight in 2020. I certainly encourage those companies to refresh their boards and not to wait for legislation whereby we make them do it. They should do it anyway and do it quickly.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Work Permits

Catherine Connolly

Question:

12. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 154 of 9 December 2021, the timeline for the next review of the employment permits occupations lists; the engagement he or his Department has had with the Department of Social Protection with regard to the ongoing exclusion of homecare workers from the critical skills list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6827/22]

My question is very specific on the timeline for the next review of the employment permits occupation list. Has the Minister or his Department had any engagement with the Department of Social Protection about the ongoing exclusion of home care workers from the critical skills list?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I will give her the short answer first because I know that is what she wants. It is to be hoped we will be able to reopen that process within the next couple of weeks. That is the aim. That then takes a couple of months and decisions will probably be made around April or May at the latest. In a few weeks we will open the consultation and see where it goes after that.

I will give the Deputy the background to that as well. The occupations lists for employment permits are subject to twice-yearly reviews to ensure their ongoing relevance to the State’s human capital requirements. The next occupational lists review will, as I said, open in the next couple of weeks and submissions will be invited through a public consultation to be launched on our Department’s website. The issue the Deputy raised has been discussed quite a lot here. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, and myself are happy to engage on this area and to try to work with this sector to see how we can resolve this. Permits are not the only solution. There are others as well. However, it is something we will look at again, as we did in the last two rounds as well.

My Department chairs the economic migration interdepartmental group with membership drawn from senior officials of key Departments and offices, including the Department of Social Protection. In this case, the relevant Department is the Department of Health. The aim of the group is to promote an integrated approach to addressing labour and skills shortages being experienced in the economy. This includes assessing proposals received through the public consultation for changes to the occupations lists. The Department of Social Protection plays a role in the review process through its provision of advice on the uptake of its tailored employment services by employers. In order to change the status of an occupation on the lists, there must be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA, and not to other factors such as salary, employment conditions, or both.

The contracts of employment and employment terms and conditions being offered to home care workers are significant factors in the recruitment challenges faced by the sector, rather than a demonstrable labour market shortage. For example, issues such as failure to guarantee hours of work and the lack of travel and subsistence payments are factors in the recruitment challenges faced by the sector. Thus, as we review the sector an issue seems to be coming through. When you see a high number of part-time workers that is something we need to get in behind and interrogate a little more. I am conscious there are many in that sector who might choose to be part-time workers but it is something we need to tease out much more with the sector and the Departments of Health and Social Protection. We are willing to do that but to be very clear, the sector has been asked to engage much more with the Department of Social Protection to try to flesh this out as best we can.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. He is saying the critical skills list will be reviewed in the next few weeks and a decision made on whether to add to or take from it. That is the answer to that part.

Yes. There are two lists. There is a non-essential list as well. The critical list is for one category and the other category is the one the Deputy is after and that it would be opened up to permits. We changed that for health care assistants last year.

Okay. That then is going to happen and I thank the Minister of State for the clarity on that. I thank him also for the clarity on highlighting that it is not just a shortage or workers, which it is, because nationwide there are 5,322 people approved for home support but with no carer available. In Galway there are 278 persons on a waiting list and in the region, that is the community healthcare organisation, CHO2 region, there are 698 persons on a waiting list. Clearly, we have a problem of not enough carers. It is very significant the Minister of State has highlighted that it is not just a shortage but that the reason for same is the bad conditions. Part-time work suits an awful lot of people but it cannot be precarious. Thus, we have a significant problem here. I have a question for the Minister of State, as his Department is on the cross-Department strategic workforce advisory group. What is the gender breakdown of that group by the way, given we are talking about work that is dominated by females in precarious positions?

It is a good question. I do not know. I have not sat around the table. It is officials from all the various Departments who are on it. I imagine there is quite a strong gender balance because the majority of officials I come across demonstrate to me a gender balance. However, I will certainly check it out for the Deputy. To be very clear, the evidence gathered around this, which is in conjunction with the expert group on future skills needs, labour market research and SOLAS, is that it is in specific areas, in this case that of the Department of Health in addition to the Department of Social Protection. The sector has not been able to provide the evidence to show it cannot reach the staff requirements it needs within the EEA. The difficulty and the questions are around the quite high number of people who are part-time, which is 75%. I have already acknowledged there could be some reasons for that because it suits some people in that sector. However, there are also the issues around contracts of employment, travel and subsistence and other matters that must be teased out. The evidence was not there to back up a need to allow permits for the sector. We reviewed the evidence for healthcare assistants in nursing homes and made changes last April, I think. That was positive and was done because the evidence was there. If we are to see changes here, and as the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and many others have said we would like to work on this, we must have the evidence to back that up.

This is very interesting and significant because we have a major crisis on the ground. People are suffering and services are burdened with people who should be at home with carers but cannot. There are many other implications, not to mention the backbreaking work carried out predominantly by women going in and out with terrible conditions, which the Minister of State has set out. Does it look like the critical skills evaluation list will not be changed to include home carers because there is no evidence? Who should be giving that evidence? Where is it?

Am I over time?

I do not know because the clock has reset to 1 minute.

I did not use all my other time so I might take 30 seconds.

Where are we going with this? There is a crisis. Cross-departmental work is going on and the Minister of State said that gender-balanced committees have been set up to deal with this issue, but in the meantime the list is growing to 5,322 nationally, which is an underestimate. What is the short-term solution? Can we make an exception in the short term and then look at a longer term solution? Where are we going with it?

When we undertake the labour market analysis, we try to look at short-term solutions in addition to long-term trends. The permits operation should not be seen as a long-term solution. It is an absolutely temporary one, which we have used to respond to many sectors over the past year. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, is leading this and trying to put a strategy in place to deal with this matter. We will work very closely with her on that.

To focus on what the Deputy asked, and to be very clear, home carers are not on the critical list. At present, they are on the ineligible occupations list. If we are to change that, it has to be based on evidence that shows we need to change and facilitate the permit process to bring in people from abroad, outside the EEA, to allow them to work in this sector. The evidence is not proving that at present. A very clear process is set down. We have a consultation twice a year during which we go out to everyone for submissions, including all the various sectors that would have seen changes over the past year, to produce the evidence to back it up. We have engaged the Department of Social Protection, which can provide evidence at present that there is an interest at job fairs and through other recruitment processes that shows us people could be found closer to where workers are needed. It might not necessarily be to do with that, but at present there is a big ask of us to change this system. We will only do that based on very clear evidence.

Low Pay Commission

Catherine Connolly

Question:

13. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the examination by the Low Pay Commission and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth into the introduction of a living wage in Ireland; if he has received the research report to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6826/22]

My question relates to the introduction of a living wage and whether the Minister has received the research from Maynooth. Where are the data? What is the status?

I will refer to my previous question. I am not promoting the use of permits in this regard; I am looking to see why it is not possible. There has to be fundamental reform of the conditions for carers in Ireland and for it to be recognised that this economy cannot thrive without such reform. That is what we need.

This question relates to the Low Pay Commission.

I have spoken previously about how the pandemic has caused many of us to reconsider and re-evaluate what an essential worker is. We now understand it is a much broader group of workers than people would have originally described, many of whom are on low pay and in the private sector.

The Government has been clear that a legacy of the pandemic should be better pay, terms and conditions for everyone, but particularly those currently on low pay. We are committed, therefore, to honouring the programme for Government commitment to progressing a living wage over the lifetime of this Government. In doing so, we need also to recognise that many businesses, especially small businesses, have been badly affected by the pandemic and are struggling to pay existing wages. We need to make sure we proceed in a way that does not cause jobs to be lost in terms of numbers of people employed or that would see employees having their hours cut, as to do so would be counterproductive.

In 2021, I asked the Low Pay Commission to examine the programme for Government commitment to progress a living wage over the lifetime of the Government and to make recommendations to me on how best we can achieve this commitment. Following this request, the Low Pay Commission commissioned a team of researchers in the National University of Ireland, NUI, Maynooth, to conduct research on the living wage. This research was to consider the policy, social and economic implications of a move to a living wage and the process by which Ireland could achieve it. The research will examine international evidence on living wages, examining different calculation methods, examining the policy implications and outlining options for moving to a living wage in Ireland.

I understand that in January of this year, the Low Pay Commission received the living wage supporting research report from the researchers at NUI Maynooth. The Low Pay Commission is currently evaluating this research. The commission is meeting with experts and stakeholders in the area, such as Eurofound, the UK Low Pay Commission, business and employer representatives and representatives of the living wage technical group.

I have not yet received a report from the Low Pay Commission, but I expect to receive it, perhaps in the next month. Once I have received it, I will give it consideration and the Government will respond to the recommendations and set out a policy approach.

The Minister said he expected the report next month. I have the privilege of being Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and I think when I listened carefully to a previous reply, the report was to be in the next few months. This is the difficulty. Can we get a precise time for when that report will be ready and when it will be published? Will the research and the report be published? I agree that one has to proceed cautiously, but not forever. Workers in this country could not survive without the benefit of the State through social welfare, which is €21 billion or €22 billion per year, a substantial proportion of which goes to back up inadequate wages. The Government knows that more than I do. It is essential we comply with what was set out in the programme for Government, which is a minimum wage. People cannot survive without it. The Government has heard all the fact and figures; I will not repeat them. At this point, I just want certainty regarding the report. When will it be published? I ask that the Government sticks to that date.

We will publish the report and the associated research. I cannot give the Deputy a definitive timeline because it is not under my control. The Low Pay Commission is doing this work. It has a new chairman and a number of new members in addition to other ongoing work. My officials tell me we expect to get the report next month, which will be March. It should not take me too long to consider it. It is hoped we will be in a position to bring proposals to Government in April or May and set out a plan to introduce a living wage in Ireland, which we can begin in 2023. I have not seen the report yet and I would need to see it to make that determination.

The Deputy is correct in saying a proportion of our welfare budget goes to people who are at work. It is a relatively small proportion of that €21 billion budget and is often linked to people with large families. Many people on the minimum wage do not qualify for the working family payment and many who earn more than that do qualify. That is to do with the size of their families as much as their level of pay.

I entirely agree with the Minister. A substantial amount of that budget goes back to workers in many guises because they are simply not being paid enough. I understand many small employers cannot pay enough because there are many restraints on them, but there is no escaping the fact we need a living wage. It has certainly become much more difficult to provide it because of the way we have given free rein to the market. Has the Minister seen any interim or draft reports?

No. There has been no interim or draft report.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.

We are under time pressure but we might get to some of the next question.

Tax Code

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

15. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has been notified of companies leaving or reducing operations within the Irish market due to increased corporation tax rate and increasing cost of business in Ireland. [6408/22]

Corporation tax in this country was the Holy Grail of economic policy for government after government. Anybody who questioned the corporation tax rate in this State was almost deemed an enemy of the State and someone who was attacking the very existence of jobs. Now there has been a change in the corporation tax regime, is the sky falling down? How many businesses have left this country? How many jobs have been lost as a result?

Ireland continues to be an attractive location for foreign direct investment, with strong FDI results in recent years, despite Covid-19 and a downturn in global FDI. I have not been notified of companies leaving because of changes to corporation tax or any other costs to businesses. In fact, the trend has been very positive, with IDA Ireland recently announcing that the number of people employed in multinational companies in 2021 grew by 29,000 new jobs to reach a total of 275,384, the highest FDI employment level. In 2021, the IDA won 249 investments, 104 of which were new name investments.

On corporation tax, while Ireland has agreed to introduce a 15% rate, nothing will change for the overwhelming majority of enterprises. This corporation tax change came as no surprise to the small number of multinational corporations that will be affected. In fact, the decision has brought the clarity that is required for long-term planning when considering investment. To these would-be investors, Ireland offers more than just a competitive tax rate. Our skills, our people and our commitment to the European Union are significant advantages.

In respect of business costs, it is clear Covid-19 has created challenges for companies across the world. There has been an enormous economic upheaval as a result of the pandemic and we are still living with the aftershocks. A rapid recovery, along with rising energy prices and international supply chain bottlenecks, have been driving prices and inflation. Rising inflation is not a challenge that is unique to Ireland. It is a pattern repeated around the world as the global economy recovers from the shock of the pandemic. Despite these challenges, Ireland remains a resilient and stable platform for companies choosing to invest here.

Ireland has had a bargain basement corporation taxation policy for the past 20 or 30 years. We have an infamous reputation as a tax haven. We have done enormous damage to ourselves among our international partners. In debates I have had with the Tánaiste in this Chamber and on radio and television I have stated that any change to the corporation tax of this country would lead directly to radical difficulties within businesses and in regard to the development of a foreign direct investment and a loss of jobs. I welcome the Minister of State's statement that none of that was true and that none of that has manifested itself in any material way. When we look back, is it not true the Government has been pulled kicking and dragging in regard to this new regime? We have lost tens, possibly, hundreds of billions of income forgone as a result of not properly taxing international corporations in this country.

Thank you Deputy. We have to move on to the next round of questions.

Fine Gael in particular sells itself as a party of business. The increase in input costs, rents etc. is costing major difficulties with regard to competitiveness in the economy.

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