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Wednesday, 4 Jul 2012

Other Questions

Departmental Staff

Questions (6)

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn


6Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide a list by Government Department of current secretaries general who retain TLAC terms of added years and special severance gratuity payments. [32384/12]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Public)

Reform of the TLAC terms was a major priority for me on taking office. As a result, I introduced a significant reform of the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, terms with effect from November 2011. Under the new arrangements, it is part of the contract terms of all future appointees that, when that contract expires, no added years are available on their pension; no pension will be paid before the minimum pension age; an alternative post will be offered where the Secretary General has been recruited from the Civil Service and does not have the requisite 40 years of pensionable service; no severance payment will be made, except where the person is not of minimum pension age or has not been offered an alternative post, and then a severance payment of up to one year's salary applies; and no severance payment will be made if someone is offered an alternative post and refuses. Officials appointed before my reforms and to whom the former TLAC terms continue to apply are Mr. Tom Moran of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Mr. Joe Hamill of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Mr. Liam O'Daly of the Office of the Attorney General; Mr. Jim Breslin of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Mr. Aidan Dunning of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Mr. Michael Howard of the Department of Defence; Ms Geraldine Tallon of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Mr. David Cooney of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Mr. Brian Purcell of the Department of Justice and Equality; Ms Clare McGrath of the Office of Public Works; Ms Josephine Feehily of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners; Mr. Robert Watt of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Mr. Adrian O'Neill of the President's Establishment; Ms Niamh O'Donoghue of the Department of Social Protection; Mr. Martin Fraser of the Department of the Taoiseach; and Mr. Tom O'Mahony of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

This is another issue I have raised consistently with the Minister. One of those entitled to the TLAC terms is the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Perhaps the Minister might clarify when he was appointed and explain the turn of events. I understood he was appointed on the Minister's watch.

I have raised this issue in the past and was not talking about future postholders. The availability of added years and severance payments cannot be justified at any stage but particularly in the current economic climate. I want the Minister to fix this and he would do so if he was serious about public sector reform and ensuring equity. He told me previously that he could not go after these pensions because of their constitutional status and that he could not give retrospective effect to regulations. However, the Bill on public service pensions is being considered and it contains an enabling clause which will allow the Minister to alter pension arrangements and conditions retrospectively. The bottom line is that I want to the Minister to fix this issue not for future Secretaries General but for those in place currently, because those pension pots cannot be defended.

I explained this to the Deputy already. I do not know if she was not listening or chooses not to hear. We are not retrospectively changing pension entitlements in the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) and Remuneration Bill 2011; we are giving the power to the Minister to change the basis for future pension increases only, not to reduce current entitlements. The Deputy understands that, I know full well, but chooses not to articulate it.

On the question about the Secretary General of my Department, a number of Secretaries General have been appointed in the early years of the Administration since the Government came to power in March 2011. It took us some time to do all that we wanted in the first number of months. It took a number of months to establish my Department because there had to be a huge trawl of legislation. The Deputy will remember that when we introduced the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, it took some time to get everything through. By the time we reviewed the situation, took legal advice and drew up the necessary statutory instruments, it was November before the fundamental TLAC terms were changed. That was done with great alacrity. These terms had been in place since 1987. I regarded them as unacceptable and within a matter of months of coming into office and getting the legal authority to do so, I changed them. The new terms apply to all appointments made subsequent to that November date.

The Minister is hiding behind advice from the Attorney General on pension rights being vested property rights.

In factual law.

I have told the Minister before, even though I know it is not customary, to publish the advice from the Attorney General. It would be useful if he would do so for the purpose of public debate. The enabling clause gives the Minister retrospective powers in respect of people's pension entitlements. I asked a specific question about this and it was disallowed on the basis that the information sought in the question would require the Minister to interpret the law, but he has no problem coming in and giving an interpretation of law in respect of the other questions. If I have jotted down the answer correctly, there are 14 Secretaries General who still qualify for those TLAC terms. I do not believe for a second the Minister has shown any willingness to deal with that issue. He kicked the can down the road in respect of future appointments, but it is hugely important that he deals with this matter. If he is so convinced by the Attorney General's advice and has a pain in his neck from me raising this every week, he should publish the advice and let us see it.

The Deputy would never give me a pain in the neck.

I am so relieved.

That is not the part of the anatomy that is affected at all.

The Deputy does her usual thing about my unwillingness to deal with the issues. I have dealt with the issue.

The Minister has not dealt with the issue.

I did it within a number of months of being appointed. Whatever it was, it was not quick enough for the Deputy. A number of Secretaries General have been appointed subsequent to the change, for whom the new conditions apply: the new Secretary General at the Department of Education and Skills, Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, the new Secretary General at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Murphy, the new Secretary General at the Department of Finance, Mr. John Moran, the new Secretary General at the Department of Health, Mr. Ambrose McLoughlin, and the new Director of the Central Statistics Office, Mr. Pádraig Dalton. That will augment and the new terms will apply more and more. The term of employment of Secretaries General is only seven years and the new terms will apply for ever more. It was done within a matter of months but it had not been done in the 20 years previously. I do not expect any acknowledgment of that by the Deputy opposite.

Semi-State Sector Remuneration

Questions (7, 8, 9)

John Browne


7Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the breach of the €200,000 salary cap in respect of the appointment of the new chief executive of the VHI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32467/12]

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John Halligan


14Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason the pay level set by the Government in respect of the starting salary for the chief executive of a commercial State company was breached for in the incoming chief executive of the VHI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32497/12]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


17Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason the pay level set in 2011 for the starting salary for the chief executive of a commercial State company was breached for in the incoming chief executive of the VHI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32449/12]

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Oral answers (22 contributions) (Question to Minister for Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 14 and 17 together.

Since taking office, the Government has significantly reduced the salary rates paid to the chief executive officers of commercial State companies. These measures on salaries have included the introduction of a general pay ceiling of €250,000 per annum in the case of all newly appointed CEOs in commercial State companies, along with reductions to similar appointees in each state company with salary maxima below the ceiling of €250,000 per annum. This has had the effect of reducing the salary levels of all newly appointed CEOs in a proportionate manner while maintaining the established weightings of the commercial State companies.

Provision exists for a CEO appointee to be placed above the base salary applying to the particular post concerned subject to the submission of a business case to me by the relevant organisation. Such a business case was made to me in respect of the chief executive officer of the VHI, which, on consideration, I was prepared to accept. The newly appointed CEO was accordingly assigned a salary above the base salary of €191,014 per annum but below the general pay ceiling of €250,000 per annum applying in the commercial State company sector. There has therefore been no breach of the general salary ceiling applying in this sector in respect of the CEO of the VHI.

I thank the Minister for that information. The gentleman appointed is receiving a salary of €238,727 per annum. Many people felt the general pay scale ceiling was about €200,000, with a small number of chief executives getting more than that. I can think of more than 200 staff currently employed in various bodies, including the NTMA and the Central Bank, along with academic medical consultants, university heads, academics and the chief executives of Coillte, Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna, EirGrid, the VHI, the HSE, the NRA, the ESB, An Post, RTE and Dublin Airport Authority, who are on more than €200,000.

The salary cap is €250,000.

Five or six of them, including the chief executives of An Post, CIE, RTE and Dublin Airport Authority, earn more than the cap of €250,000. The Minister is allowing the cap to be breached, but it was the Minister who made an issue of the caps and decided to introduce them in the first place. When he introduces a cap, he should stick to it. Every Sunday the papers contain reports of the cap being breached, often with the personal approval of the Minister. That undermines the principle. I do not want to attack individuals - I will not even mention anyone by name - but the Minister made a rod for his own back by saying he was introducing a cap and then allowing it to be breached. Had he not done that, we would not be having these questions.

The Deputy has misunderstood. The cap for the commercial semi-state sector is €250,000. I have appointed no one above that except the ESB chief executive, and I explained that to the House. We had to offer a multiple of that to get someone to run ESB.

I am anxious to significantly reduce top-level pay and I must do it in a structured way. We looked at the Hay rates and reduced them proportionately to maintain the differential between the different State companies. Without disrespect to Bord na gCon, the chief executive of Bord na gCon is not being paid the same as the chief executive of Bord Gáis Éireann or the ESB because their responsibilities are different. However, the Hay rate was not a fixed point; there was flexibility. I have always said that if a business case is made to me in an individual case and it is in the public interest for a company facing significant challenges to get the right person, I will adhere to that. We must have a debate on the issue. It amuses me when I read one newspaper in particular that pays fantastic sums to its chief executive commenting on the pay of people who are running extraordinarily complicated companies within the State sector. We saw one departing chief executive of a newspaper recently getting an enormous sum of money and regarding that as acceptable and yet being able to comment on salaries in the State sector.

Thank you, Minister.

I wish to make a final point on the matter. I will give some detail if the Deputy wishes by way of a further supplementary question of the reasoning in this particular instance why I thought a compelling case was made.

I agree with the Minister on the last point - the nauseating hypocrisy of Independent Newspapers. I do not mind naming it. The company was previously owned by one tax exile and is now owned by another tax exile and is paying executives obscene amounts of money and then attacking other people who are earning far less. That is sickening in the extreme.

The context for most people for this question is the tens of thousands of people who have lost their jobs, cannot make mortgage repayments and are affected by cuts in social welfare allowances and child benefit. They are literally nailed to the wall and they wonder from week to week whether they can make it through the month. Then they find that the new chief executive of the VHI is not satisfied with earning five times the average industrial wage but that in order to take up the job he must earn six times the average industrial wage. That is nauseating also for people because they simply do not understand it.

One must wonder what sort of abilities, talent or business case anyone can make in stating that €191,000 a year is not enough but that they must have €238,000. It is pretty sickening. Are we openly advertising those posts and asking if anyone is out there who could do the job who is willing to work for the limit we have set? I do not think it can be justified for someone to insist on getting approximately €50,000 more than what is already an extremely generous salary by anyone's standards.

The Deputy will be surprised to hear that I do not disagree with much of what he said. Ministers work for considerably less than the original threshold, as opposed to the extended rate. A business case was made for a company that has real challenges. We need the right person to drive it and it is important for the health service to have a functioning VHI that does the business well as we migrate into universal health insurance. I accepted the business case for it but there are high salaries not only in the public sector but most certainly in the private sector. In the banking sector, particularly abroad, we have seen unimaginable salaries being demanded and paid. The former CEO of the VHI was paid €312,000.

The basic salary was €312,000. Deputy Boyd Barrett is talking about the final salary with add-ons and bonuses, which I suppose I should add in to be accurate in the total quantum of money. As the Deputy is aware, we are not paying bonuses to anyone in the State sector now. This is a work in progress. We are making decisions. We must have a debate about it. I am under pressure regularly from State companies who identify people, often working abroad for multiples of what we offer, who could add value and drive a State company. We must decide whether we want such persons or if we want to employ those who will work for the pay grade. Unfortunately, that is the international market in which we compete.

Thank you, Minister.

It is a worthy issue for debate. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to debate it in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

I call Deputies Fleming, Boyd Barrett and Wallace in that order.

I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the injustice people feel at this decision, and how it is inexplicable to most people that someone would demand a €50,000 increase above and beyond €191,000 for doing the job. What does not satisfy me about the Minister's response is why we have allowed it. I do not see what special abilities or talents can justify the decision or that there was no one else who could have done the job that this person will do for the VHI for €191,000.

Given that the person's name is O'Dwyer, they must be Irish – perhaps I should not say that - but they do not seem to be showing a hell of a lot of patriotism given what everyone else is going through, that they cannot operate on a very generous cap of €191,000. What case did they make and could we not have got other people?

I call Deputy Wallace.

Deputy Wallace should be careful in talking about salary levels.

I can explain that much better than the Minister knows only I have not done so yet.

I have every confidence in Deputy Wallace.

I thank the Minister. I am well aware that three quarters of public servants in this country earn less than €60,000. I do not agree with people bashing the pay of public servants on low and middle incomes. That is outrageous. Like the previous speaker I believe that in the current climate, given how difficult it is for those in the most difficult circumstances that there must be more burden sharing by those earning in the region of €200,000. It is difficult to justify those salaries.

The Minister made the point that it is unlikely that anyone would go from the private sector into the public sector and get an increase in pay. For his information, I know some people who worked in banking and real estate and when they moved to NAMA they got an increase in salary. That is not very impressive. There has not been much accountability or transparency in how NAMA has done its business in that regard. I do not know how much control the Minister has over it but it leaves much to be desired. In the current climate and given all the cuts endured by people who are hurt most by the austerity to give this individual more than €200,000 is not good enough.

I do not wish to focus on any individual. I wish to speak about the general principle, namely, that we must have moderation at a time of great difficulty for a huge swathe of the population. That applies to all of us. I do not wish to make any comment about Deputy Wallace but all of us must be mindful of how our actions are perceived. I am conscious of that when I make decisions on pay rates. It is a constant battle in terms of deciding whether it is an appropriate thing to do and whether it will solve the challenges of any organisation of State. I can list the challenges facing the VHI currently. They are probably the most daunting set of challenges the company has ever faced. One must ask whether we will get someone of ability to drive through the challenges. I must take cognisance of whether the person is right and the pay rate is appropriate. That is a judgment.

I have decided not to sanction pay rates in the past that probably ensured that we did not get people who would have applied for the job had the pay rate been higher. We are in an international market and companies in the commercial semi-State sector are supposed to have a commercial mandate. I am a supporter of the commercial semi-State sector. The alternative would be to move away from commercial semi-State companies, let everything be in the private sector and then the market would determine pay rates. That is not good. As I stated in a previous reply to Deputy McDonald, the way to deal with high pay is not to look at salaries exclusively in the public sector or the private sector but to consider having a progressive taxation system so that wherever one gets one's money, whether it is from dividend payments, playing the markets, being a chief executive of a State company or wherever else, one is taxed at an appropriate rate in a time of difficulty.

Oireachtas Members’ Salaries

Questions (10)

Brian Stanley


8Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the annual saving to the public sector pay bill if all TDs salaries were capped at €75,000 and Senators salaries at €60,000. [32374/12]

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Oral answers (37 contributions) (Question to Minister for Public)

The gross annual salaries applicable to Deputies and Senators were reduced, as were salary rates for public servants, under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. The gross annual salaries for a Deputy and a Senator amount to €92,672 and €65,621, respectively. When account is taken of the application of the pension related deduction, PRD, the net rates applied are €84,991 for Deputies and €60,781 for Senators. These amounts are subject to the normal taxes and social insurance deductions.

To impose a cap at the limits proposed by Deputy Stanley, a Deputy's salary would be reduced by €17,682 to a gross annual salary of €75,000, or €69,175 net of the PRD, and a Senator's salary would be reduced by €5,621 to €60,000, or €55,750 net of PRD. It could potentially yield an annual gross saving of €3.2 million, although this figure ignores any individual arrangement whereby salary or portion thereof may be waived.

I thank the Minister, although he did not need to go through all of that preamble, given the fact that we are aware of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts and so on. Is it not a good idea to save €3.2 million? It is a cut and would have implications for people, myself included, but why can we not do it? It would not solve our problems, but doing this would provide leadership and give meaning to the rhetoric of "sharing the pain" and "sharing the burden". We should do this.

The Deputy mentioned rhetoric. The current salary scales for Deputies and Senators are linked to the principal officer grade in the public service and are fair. There is a provision for a waiver. If the Deputy believes that her salary is too high, I will arrange for a waiver form to be submitted to her. It would save the State a certain amount.

The Minister gives that answer to Deputies when we raise this matter, but he is missing the point, which is that Members of the Oireachtas should collectively take a pay cut.

I know what we have done. Please do not rehearse the history. I am speaking about the present and the future. Notwithstanding everything that has occurred to date, there will be another tough budget in December.

The Minister will recant all of the cuts and savings - he will term them "adjustments" - that will have consequences for people who are eking out an existence. As elected representatives, public officials and leaders in our society, we should take a collective pay cut. The saving might be modest, but the effect of showing leadership would be significant. Bar a smart answer, I have never heard the Minister explain why it cannot be done. It is a good idea and we could have a new FEMPI Bill to give effect to it.

There are legislative difficulties with isolating any group of people. We could probably reach a collective view in the Houses about volunteering for the cut without people running down to the courts to take a constitutional case on having their group isolated for a pay cut. Populism is a factor, as the Deputy understands, and she would have something to say about any salary scale. For whatever reason, in the public's mind Deputies are overpaid. We have taken significant reductions. We should not isolate any group, although doing so would be popular and the Deputy loves to court popularity. My general thesis-----

The Government isolated a group in terms of judicial pay.

No. The Judiciary was not isolated. It is very important that the Deputy understand. The same pay cut that applied proportionately to every member of the public service could not be applied to the Judiciary until-----

The Government brought judges into the fold.

-----we held a referendum to allow for it. The only basis for the referendum's constitutionality was that judges would be treated exactly the same as everyone else. This is an important point.

As the Deputy is anxious to give a signal, I will ensure she can give one by waiving her own salary to whatever level she likes. I will arrange for her to have that opportunity.

I have received requests from Deputies Clare Daly and O'Donovan. We are nearly out of time.

The worst excuse I have ever heard is that the measure might be popular, by which the Minister means it would be welcomed by the majority of citizens because Deputies are overpaid. Our wages are in excess of the pay received by the majority of the working population.

Not to mention expenses.

I will get to that point. It is my main question.

A question, please.

The Government has the ability to reduce our pay. The issue of expenses is in the public domain, which I welcome.

I am sure that the Deputy does.

In light of the statement by the Houses of the Oireachtas that Deputies' travel expenses can only be incurred in their constituencies, how can an unvouched allowance of €1,000 per Dublin Deputy be supported? Is the Minister reviewing this situation? Is he reviewing the fact that political parties receive €1 million aside from the party leader's allowance that leaders use to travel around the country and develop their parties? I assume that this is another saving he is examining.

Following on from the previous question, when will the Minister introduce proposals on amending the party leader's allowance? My understanding is that, since the foundation of the State, the allowance was given to political parties to cover the cost of running those parties. It metamorphosed into a payment for keeping people on side so that they might prop up a Government. An unvouched amount of €43,000, or a gross of nearly €85,000, is being paid to people every year to attend the Dáil as Independents. An Independent Deputy from down the country who is in receipt of the leader's allowance and chairs an Oireachtas committee might be grossing as much as €270,000. This is a serious issue and a proposal is long overdue. Many Deputies did not even realise that Independent Senators also received a leader's allowance. The allowance should revert to its original purpose, that is, a leader's allowance rather than an Independent's allowance.

I will allow Deputy Wallace to ask a brief question, as we are nearly out of time.

In reply to the last Deputy, Fine Gael receives €4.5 million-----

No, I give the replies.

We only want a question.

I apologise. The Minister stated he was in favour of a progressive tax to deal with high wages. That was a fair point.

People should pay their taxes.

The figure of 62% is difficult to believe. I will check it. The Minister might be right, but it seems high to be the real tax rate for someone in the €200,000 bracket. One of the few promises the Government has kept is that it has not touched income tax. Perhaps it should consider breaking that promise and increase the tax rate for higher earners.

A number of questions were asked and I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me to answer them. Deputy Clare Daly never ceases to astound me. She has the brass neck to enter the Chamber in the teeth of a storm and when she is claiming expenses hand over fist-----

They are substantially less than the Minister's.

He covers the country.

It is almost like accusing the police for the crime. It beggars belief, but nothing surprises me about the Deputy.

Just answer the question.

I will answer it directly if the Deputy stops berating.

The Deputy is right to be very sensitive on this matter, as she has a brass neck and has been found out. I am reviewing all allowances, including the leader's allowance, because we need solidarity and fairness in these matters. We will table the proposals in the context of the changes to be implemented through the budget. I hope people will apply carefully. Even where allowances exist, they do not need to be claimed. Be it an allowance for toner or something else, Members do not need to ratchet it up to the maximum.

Regarding the specific question asked by my colleague, Deputy Wallace, the maximum tax rate is 41%, the universal social charge on earnings of more than €100,000 is 10%, PRSI is 4% and the pension levy is 7%, which amounts to 62%.

Economic Policy

Questions (11)

Clare Daly


9Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the conclusions of the Nevin Economic Research Institute’s Quarterly Economic Observer Summer 2012 report that cutting public expenditure and other austerity measures result only in a much reduced public service and do nothing to promote economic growth; and if he will act on the Institute’s advice and do no further harm. [32439/12]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Minister for Public)

The Government's budgetary strategy is not one of austerity. On the contrary, we are borrowing significant sums of money to sustain the State and to protect the living standards of its citizens. We have extended the time available to the State to reach its 3% deficit target from that originally agreed with the troika. That means we are still borrowing 3% of GDP and not paying our way even then.

I remind the Deputy that the State's day-to-day spending is currently financed through borrowing from the troika which is based on firm conditions relating to the public finances. These conditions are rigorously overseen and the troika team is in my Department and the Department of Finance right now. We are committed to achieving a deficit target of 7.5% next year.

The Government is aware of the concerns expressed in the Nevin report and has made clear its commitment to focus our limited resources on measures that offer the greatest potential for expansion and employment creation in the domestic economy. This approach was evident both in the jobs initiative launched last year and the jobs action plan launched earlier this year. I will bring forward promised proposals for a further stimulus in the coming weeks.

I understand the Minister's sensitivity as the employment creation process over which the Government has stood led to a youth unemployment rate of 27.5% in April and an overall unemployment rate of 15%. The Nevin Economic Research Institute has indicated firmly that the policies being pursued of consistent cutbacks have succeeded in bringing about a cumulative decline of 26% in domestic demand in recent years. Cutting our way out of the crisis is not an option and the institute has produced very firm evidence in that regard. For example, it indicates a cut of €1 billion in capital spending lowers GDP by between 0.1% and 0.3%, although that may be an underestimation. A cut of €1 billion in public sector wages lowers GDP by a further 0.2% to 0.3%. Where are the measures, as recommended by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, for strategic priority investment in infrastructural programmes? There should be no further cuts in the overall level of discretionary capital and current expenditure. The Government is doing the opposite of what was recommended by the institute and the results will be the same, continuing decline in the domestic economy and hardship for citizens.

The Deputy wills misfortune on us because she thrives in that milieu. I will be clear: the basic economics are simple; we cannot spend more than we take in. We were doing this hand over fist. This year we are borrowing 8.6% of GDP to meet day-to-day expenses. Approximately one quarter goes towards bank debt repayment, but three quarters goes on paying gardaí, nurses and so on. The only people who will lend us money at affordable rates are the troika which has set out the conditions we must work towards in balancing the budget over time. If we do as the Deputy suggests and stop trying to balance the budget, we will immediately have to fill the gap because nobody will lend us the money. Instead of enduring cuts, there would be savagery, as we would only be able to pay for what we could from current income. That would be catastrophic for the people whom the Deputy pretends to represent. In her heart, she knows this.

We can get money elsewhere.

Where would we get it?

The Nevin institute which is made up of economists recommends the Government could start by closing off tax breaks and reliefs, with a graduated and incremental increase in the average target tax take for high income households, with the aim of reducing the budget deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2017.

What are the targets?

The Government could take a leaf from the book of Social Justice Ireland which has indicated that if we dealt with our taxation rates and had them at the EU average, the Government could raise another €6.5 billion. Instead, it has chosen to go after ordinary households through cutbacks in welfare and other general tax hikes.

I am not sure if there was a question asked, but there was a rant without giving data. The Deputy may talk about a wealth tax-----

I did not mention a wealth tax.

-----a progressive tax system or something else. I will cost any proposal given to me, as I did last year. This means people cannot throw out the line that there are billions of euro available here and there.

The Department refused to cost a wealth tax proposal last year.

A notion is peddled by some that there is a soft option and a rich cohort of people and that if we could only get to them, all our woes would be over. That is to peddle a falsehood.

That is not what the Deputy said.

It is for party political reasons that such a falsehood is peddled.

I have quoted a reputable source.

I will certainly look at any suggestion from the Nevin institute or proposal from any quarter that-----

The Department did not cost our suggestions last year.

I am giving the Deputies an open invitation. I will have any suggestion they present for taxation measures costed to see if it would have an impact in order that we can have as fair and balanced a journey as possible. We will have a difficult time balancing the income of the State to maintain decent levels of social provision.

My question was related to something else. The Minister did not answer it.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.