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Cabinet Committee Meetings

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 25 September 2012

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Questions (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

Gerry Adams

Question:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Economic Management Council has met since the summer recess. [37960/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the Economic Management Council has met with the Irish banks since the summer recess. [37961/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet sub Committee on Health has met since the beginning of July. [38359/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the membership of the Cabinet sub Committee on Health. [38360/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

11. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet sub committee meetings he has attended since the summer recess. [38955/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

12. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Economic Recovery and Jobs has met recently. [38956/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

13. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Economic Infrastructure has met recently. [38957/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

14. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Mortgage Arrears has met recently. [38958/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

15. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on European Affairs has met recently. [38959/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

16. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy has met recently. [38960/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

17. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Social Policy has met recently. [38961/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

18. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht has met recently. [38962/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

19. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Public Service Reform Jobs has met recently. [38963/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

20. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Health has met recently. [38964/12]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

21. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub Committee on Health will next meet. [39030/12]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the Economic Management Council will take place. [40450/12]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 22, inclusive, together.

The Economic Management Council has met 28 times so far this year, most recently on 19 September, and the next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, 26 September.

The Government has been working closely with the Irish banks to ensure the banking sector supports economic recovery. The members of the council last met with the banks on 26 June. The general topic of that meeting was mortgage arrears and new mortgage lending. The timing of the meeting coincided with the Government's decision to publish the personal insolvency legislation.

During that meeting the members of the council took the opportunity to set out the Government's commitment to assisting those in mortgage arrears, and set out our strategy to address mortgage arrears difficulties. The members of the council also took the opportunity to seek assurances from each of the banks that they are fully committed to addressing the mortgage arrears of their customers.

The Cabinet committee on health last met on 13 July and is scheduled to meet again during October. I chair this committee and its members are the Tánaiste; the Ministers for Health, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Children and Youth Affairs; and the Ministers of State for primary care, and disability, equality and mental health.

The Cabinet committee on climate change and the green economy last met on 2 May; the committee on public service reform on 14 June; the committee on social policy on 19 June; and the committees on economic infrastructure, mortgage arrears and on Irish and the Gaeltacht on 19 July. The Cabinet committee on European affairs met on 18 September, and the committee on economic recovery and jobs met on 20 September.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. It was remiss of me, a Cheann Comhairle, not to welcome the meeting on 12 October and to commend you for your activities in bringing that about.

It is important that the Economic Management Council, EMC, engage continually with the banks. Yesterday, we got the news that Bank of Ireland has hiked its interest rate by half a percentage point. The net effect of this is that people who are just about meeting their mortgages are put under huge pressure and moved into the terrain of mortgage distress. Without warning and without any increase in the ECB rates people received letters yesterday telling them that the rate had increased by half a percentage point. That means, for instance, that someone with a €200,000 mortgage will be paying approximately €50 more per month. That is an additional €600 each year which people have to find. Has the Taoiseach or the EMC been in contact with Bank of Ireland on this issue? Did he know it was going to happen? Did the EMC realise this was about to happen?

If it has not been in contact with the bank or met its representatives, when does it propose to do so?

I presume the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, have been present at all of the meetings of the Cabinet sub-committee on health. Were the proposed cuts of €130 million announced by the HSE but, one presumes, dreamed up by the Taoiseach's Administration dealt with by the sub-committee? Were the cuts relating to personal assistants and home care packages and hours discussed and cleared by it? Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall, attends or makes contributions to meetings of the sub-committee?

Questions relating to the activities of individual Cabinet sub-committees are not in order as such activities are covered by the rules relating to Cabinet confidentiality.

Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution precludes me from commenting on the detail of what happens at such meetings.

Bank of Ireland made an announcement about the increase to which the Deputy refers last July. It is important to state this is a commercial decision on the bank's part. The State owns only 15% of Bank of Ireland. It is not the case that the Government is in a position to issue orders to any bank in respect of commercial decisions on interest rates.

It appears that the fluctuation in interest rates is coming to an end. It seems that most of the rates are coming into the range of 4.3% to 4.5%. For example, AIB's rate stands at 3.5%, that of the EBS is between 3.95% and 4.45% depending on the loan-to-value ratio, while the position with regard to Bank of Ireland is similar, with a rate of between 4.3% and 4.5%. In addition, the rate of the ICS is between 4.6% and 4.8%, that of KBC is 4.25%, NIB, 4.35%, the PTSB, 4.35% and Ulster Bank, 4.5%. Any increase in interest rates creates a difficulty for people. What one does not want is the development of a situation where losses on tracker mortgages are being funded by increases in interest rates for variable mortgages.

The State obviously has a real interest in persons with mortgages which are either in arrears or distress. Part of the general discussion with the banks at the EMC was on their forbearance proposals in dealing with those to whom I refer. They published their-----

Raising interest rates is certainly not helpful.

Absolutely. The Deputy's supplementary question relates to interest rates, but it refers to a commercial decision on the part of the bank in question. As stated, however, the Government has a 15% share in Bank of Ireland and it is not a case of our ordering it or any other bank to reduce interest rates. I would like to believe an interest rate reduction being passed on by the European Central Bank is designed to ease pressure on people. However, the matter to which the Deputy refers relates to a commercial decision taken by Bank of Ireland. The Government has given support to those mortgage holders who bought their houses when there were enormous surges in the price of property and who are experiencing particular pressures.

The Deputy referred to the Cabinet sub-committee on health, details relating to the membership of which I have provided. A range of issues has been dealt with in the context of reform, be it in respect of the establishment of the implementation group on universal health insurance, the introduction of universal primary care and the risk equalisation scheme and the legislation to be put in place in 2013. As the Deputy will be aware, the special delivery unit became operational in September 2011 and has had a significant and valuable impact on reducing the number of patients on trolleys in hospitals. The overall surgical waiting list decreased by 7% in the past year, while the number of those waiting for over 12 months is down by 85%. In addition, the backlog of 58,000 medical card applications was cleared by the end of April. The development of chronic disease management programmes, particularly for diabetes, is also in train. When the chief medical officer of the Department of Health was making a presentation some time ago, I was struck by his assertion that we could be faced with the possibility of there being up to 300,000 in this country in the future with diabetes. The vast majority of the cases of diabetes to which he referred are preventable by means of adjusting people's attitudes, diets and patterns of activity. An enormous information campaign on the part of the Government will be required in this regard. There are so many other matters to which I could refer, including the case we discussed previously, namely, that of the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent's Hospital which opened in July and provides between 20 and 34 inpatient beds for persons suffering from cystic fibrosis.

I cannot inform the Deputy about the detail of the discussions which take place at meetings of Cabinet sub-committees. In general, however, the areas I have outlined in the context of the sub-committee on health are those which are acted upon as part of the strategy to change the health system to ensure better delivery and more effective care for every patient. Such a system will come into being when the universal health insurance model applies at the end of the Government's term of office.

What is the Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs doing in reality, particularly given the fact that there were 14,000 fewer jobs in the second quarter of this year than in the first? Consumer spending is down and every element of the domestic economy is being hammered as a result of the Government's austerity policy. Has the Administration not learned the lesson that the domestic economy is being throttled by austerity?

Níor chuala mé freagra ón Taoiseach maidir leis an gcoiste a bhaineann leis an Ghaeltacht agus cúrsaí Gaeltachta. An féidir leis a rá linn céard iad na cruinnuithe a bhí ag an gcoiste úd le déanaí agus cén obair atá ar siúl maidir le fadhbanna na Gaeltachta, fadhbanna teanga agus fadhbanna fostaíochta, eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta?

Sa fhreagra a thug mé, dúirt mé go raibh cruinniú den choiste i rith an tsamhraidh. Rinneadh cinneadh ag an gcoiste sin agus tá sin curtha i gcrích tar éis an Bhille a bheith curtha tríd an Dáil. I dtaobh an údaráis nua a bheidh ann, séard atá i gceist ná béim a chur agus iniúchadh a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí teanga agus ar na pleananna atá le cur ar fáil ó na comhlachtaí ar fud na tíre, ní hamháin sa Ghaeltacht faoi láthair ach in áiteanna ar mhiste leo bheith i bfad níos tréine as seo amach ó thaobh forbairt na teanga de. Sin an príomh rud a bheidh i gceist ag an údarás nua de réir atá leagtha amach ag an Aire Stáit anseo sa Dáil.

The Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs is tasked with making recommendations for decisions by the Cabinet which impact on competitiveness, employment and enterprise. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has set out the Action Plan for Jobs which, in part, is being monitored and overseen by my Department. I am not really interested in coming before the House and stating 96% was actually implemented. I am far more interested in the challenge we face in making people aware of the assistance that is available for small and medium enterprises and other employers, either by means of the forthcoming activation of the partial loan credit guarantee scheme or the microfinance agency.

There are also many cases which have never gone before the Credit Review Office. It would seem that in many cases, perfectly feasible businesses operating for a number of years are being dragged down by their involvement in property or property deals either here or abroad. Such involvement has imposed a crushing burden on the capacity of such businesses to operate. These are areas that interest us with regard to the banks.

The stimulus package to which I referred will affect transport, health, education and schools. It has been announced that the work of consular staff, whose duties include promotion of trade, is having an impact on exports. This helps in the difficult work of restoring a sense of confidence to our economy. I refer to our work with our European colleagues so the European Union and the eurozone can thrive and prosper. This would have the most beneficial impact of all on Irish manufacturing and export capacity which has been very strong over the past number of years and we should keep it that way.

I am not happy with the level of unemployment. My hope is that SOLAS, the pathways to work scheme and the job creation initiative will have an impact on communities all over the country as this is crucial for supplying the lifeblood of the economy and in particular for giving young people the opportunity to stay and work at home if that is what they wish to do.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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