Ceisteanna – Questions. - Social Partnership.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

1 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the role and objectives of the National Centre for Partnership for which his Department has provided funding; and if he will make a statement on his attendance at the launch of the centre on 22 October 2001. [26409/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

2 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the plenary meeting of the social partners under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness on 17 October 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26580/01]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

3 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on meetings or contacts he has had with the social partners regarding the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28021/01]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

4 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if the NESC has been asked to prioritise a new economic planning strategy document; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28022/01]

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

5 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the plenary meeting of the social partners on 17 October 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28468/01]

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

6 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department in respect of the National Centre for Partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28469/01]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

7 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the social partners in relation to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. [30662/01]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

8 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach the role and objectives of the National Centre for Partnership launched on 22 October 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30951/01]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

9 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent meetings with the social partners concerning the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30952/01]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

10 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach the nature of the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the plenary meeting of the social partners held on 17 October 2001 under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30953/01]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

11 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if the NESC has been asked to prioritise a new economic planning strategy document in response to the current economic situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30954/01]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, together.

The plenary meeting of the social partners held on 17 October focused on three key themes – the current economic outlook, the strategic review of FÁS and the national drugs strategy. The key conclusion on the economic outlook was that, while we undoubtedly face serious challenges arising from the global slowdown and the 11 September attacks, we should face them with confidence, based on our achievements in building up our economy, our record of creating new jobs and our continuing commitment to social partnership as the best way of moving forward.

There were, of course, different emphases within this broad consensus and social partners raised a number of particular priorities, ranging from the need to maintain competitiveness to the need to ensure the burden of adjustment to current circumstances does not fall disproportionately on the disadvantaged. The social partners have, of course, made these concerns known separately to the Minister for Finance in the context of preparations for the forthcoming budget.

There was a useful discussion of the proposed statement of strategy for FÁS based on a presentation by its director general. The new strategy will be focused on increasing the employability and mobility of job seekers and employees in meeting labour market needs, thereby promoting competitiveness and social inclusion. It will play a key role in responding to the current economic climate and preparing for the recovery which will follow. There was general support for the broad thrust of the strategy and agreement that particular issues and suggestions could be pursued bilaterally with FÁS.

There was a useful discussion of the national drugs strategy, 2001-08. The new strategy, which follows on from a comprehensive review of the overall national drugs strategy, brings together, for the first time, all elements of drugs policy into a single framework, with responsibilities clearly assigned across the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research.

The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, since 1986, has produced a series of reports that have identified interrelated policy issues and put forward strategic approaches to economic and social development in a medium term perspective. These strategy reports have provided the necessary intellectual and policy framework to underpin negotiations between the Government and the social partners, leading to successive social partnership agreements. It is widely agreed, both among the social partners and among commentators at home and abroad, that this type of medium term strategic analysis, undertaken by the social partners working through the NESC, has been an essential ingredient in the success of the Irish social partnership model.

Before the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness expires, and in anticipation of a further round of negotiations between the Government and the social partners in the autumn of 2002, the NESC has begun the work of preparing a new strategy document. A detailed schedule of work to be undertaken on it has been prepared and was discussed by the council at its November meeting. Further preparatory work has also been undertaken by the council's secretariat. Although the council has an extensive work programme, the strategy process is being treated as a key priority.

I had the pleasure of formally launching the new National Centre for Partnership and Performance on 22 October, following the inaugural meeting of its council. As I indicated in my remarks on that important occasion, its role is to provide a strategic focus on the deepening of partnership and the improvement of performance in the workplace, both in the public and private sectors. The centre has been established on foot of a commitment contained in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and will be located within the new National Economic and Social Development Office, alongside the NESC and NESF.

Given the scope of its mandate, the centre will work in close co-operation with relevant organisations and agencies that have an interest in industrial relations and workplace development. Its core activities will include deliberation, consensus building, research and analysis, dissemination of best practice and training and facilitation.

The council has commenced work on developing a strategic plan for the centre and it is envisaged the plan will be formally launched early next year. Total costs accruing to my Department to date, in respect of the new centre, amount to £181,336 or 230,249.

The centre will bring added momentum to the drive for change at organisational level, leading to improvements in productivity and the delivery of public services, as well as improving the quality of working life and the work-life balance. In pro moting enterprise level partnership, the centre has an important contribution to make in developing increased flexibility and competitiveness within companies and, ultimately, securing the long-term viability of the jobs they provide.

Copies of my remarks at the launch are available in the Oireachtas Library for further reference.

I meet representatives of individual social partner organisations on a regular basis. Most recently, I met ICTU and IBEC on 21 November in the context of their pre-budget submissions. I have no plans to meet the social partners collectively in the near future. I met them collectively at the PPF plenary meeting in July.

At the launch of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, the Taoiseach said: "We should keep the surplus, but if we have to go back to negative borrowing, we should come back on surplus after a year or so". Can the Taoiseach outline what he means by negative borrowing?

I mean borrowing for purposes that would not be very productive for the economy. We should try as far as possible to keep our borrowing as low as possible.

Having regard to the establishment of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance and that the strategic management initiative is approximately ten years old, does the Taoiseach now feel the centre is the body that should drive the SMI process, since it is about renewal and change, particularly in the public services, as well as delivering quality public services? Does he, along with many public servants and me, share a sense that the steam behind the strategic management initiative has largely evaporated and the occasion of the establishment of the partnership centre should be used as the basis of a re-launch of what the SMI set out to do which now needs a new impetus, that is improvement in the quality of the delivery of services in the public sector and willing acceptance of change by public servants, both in Departments and in some of our State companies? Although we have FÁS, the Labour Relations Commission, the IDA, Forfás and Enterprise Ireland, that role sits more comfortably with the NCCP than any other body.

There is a review of the SMI process at present. In its various forms there is still an amount of work going on as reported to the House on numerous occasions, through the Secretary General and the committee. As Deputy Quinn mentioned, there is a need to revamp some of the structures and this is the reason for the review by PA Consultants. I do not disagree with that. The consultants are talking to people in Departments and representatives of the staff to see what impetus they can give to the agenda. I have no doubt many issues will come out of that review. Deputy Quinn has been at a number of the conferences, as I have, where the representatives from various working groups in different Departments and agencies have spelt out aspects they would like to see addressed. I look forward to the completion of the review and the recommendations coming from it. The new organisation clearly has a role in co-ordinating the work of NESC and NESF and in working with the public and private sector in driving the agenda for change and co-operation on management.

The Deputy correctly said that is an agenda in which it can play a major role. The type of people it has attracted and who are on the board can drive that change. Its initial work is to put together a strategy. Its remit, which is broad, is to try to develop what happened in NCPP over the past three years and to bring that forward into a process of change and co-operation at ground level in organisations. Mr. Cassells and others who are involved in it are anxious to bring it to a new level. I am not ruling out the SMI process. It would be good if it also did that in the public service, although I am not sure if it wants that remit. I hope we will have the other side of the report in the next few months so that we can consider it.

Was the health strategy discussed at his meeting with the social partners and, if so, was the Taoiseach surprised at the remarks made by Mr. McDonagh, SIPTU's national representative of nurses, who described the health strategy as a miserable failure? Does the Taoiseach agree that unless the Government gets the co-operation of key health personnel, such as nurses, it will be impossible to take the radical restructuring steps necessary to deliver a proper health service to the country?

I did not discuss it. I outlined the issues which were discussed. We need the co-operation of the main players to implement the health strategy. The comments I heard from most of the organisations or their representatives are supportive. The strategy on the implementation of the nurses forum report is continuing.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach mentioned in his reply that at the review of the economic situation the events of 11 September, which were a factor, were brought into the equation. Does he agree that a number of employers and major corporations, particularly in the aviation industry, are using the tragedy of 11 September as a convenient excuse to carry out deep cuts in terms of employment and workers' conditions to a degree which is not related to 11 September but related to the desire of these companies to maintain maximum profits to the detriment of workers? Will the Taoiseach condemn that and state that it should not be used by employers as an excuse?

Does the Taoiseach agree it is time to reconsider the meaning of partnership? It has been one of the main buzzwords in economic discussions and in relations between employers and workers over the past 12 years. Does the Taoiseach agree that partnership seems to be that when the economic situation is positive, employers are enabled to take super profits from the economy while workers' wages are held low in many cases, but when the economic situation changes, there is no restraint on employers, including major corporations, from shedding thousands of jobs if it suits them without giving any consideration to the vast profits they have made during the economic boom? I am referring to the multinational corporations operating in this country which repatriate £8 billion or £9 billion in profits each year. What comeback will there be for workers in the future when a downturn in the economic situation is used as an excuse to sack them? Will they be able to claw back some of the wealth they have created in good times?

The Deputy has asked me a number of very general questions. Employers have to keep their enterprises competitive, whether times are good or difficult. Times are more difficult now and employers, naturally, are focused on the competitiveness of their businesses to ensure they can sustain them in more straitened circumstances and create enough wealth to stay viable. I have no difficulty with them doing this. The Deputy has asked me to generalise about a company which does not have a competitiveness problem. I would have a difficulty if a company were to use bad times, even though it was not in difficulty, as an excuse to shed workers and eschew certain work practices. I would condemn that, but from reports on companies that I receive, particularly on those in the aviation industry, that is not happening. Companies have lost market share because an enormous amount of corporate travel has stopped and freight transport has been reduced, as have general passenger numbers. I hope this will not continue to be the case for long. Already there are indications of a swing back in some markets, though not in all.

In general terms the Deputy will agree that companies have had a profitable seven or eight years. There is no doubt about this. It is not true of every firm, but the large companies have had a particularly good period and created jobs. In the last seven years 488,000 jobs have been created and with a workforce of 1.8 million we have the highest number working that we have ever had. While unemployment has marginally increased and projections are that a marginal increase will continue, these are still relatively good circumstances for employees. We must always be careful. The trade union movement uses the partnership process and its negotiating skills in the LRC and the Labour Court to ensure employers' actions are justifiable. I support it in this. I do not see any evidence to support what the Deputy has said.

Some time ago the Government gave a commitment to low-paid workers that those earning the minimum wage would no longer be required to pay income tax. Did the Taoiseach reconfirm this commitment at his meeting with the social partners? He has failed one test and did a U-turn last week by failing to extend eligibility for medical cards to low-paid persons. Can he assure the House that all those earning less than £5 per hour will be taken out of the tax net tomorrow?

Do you really want me to answer that question, a Ceann Comhairle? In discussions during the year the Irish Congress of Trades Unions has indicated to me at all stages its welcome of the Government's introduction of the statutory minimum wage which is greater than that in practically every other European country. The ICTU's policy is to get as much of it out of the tax net as possible. That is still the position.

Deputy Noonan very much welcomes what we have done in the last four budgets to improve the medical card system, as opposed to what happened in the three previous budgets.

On £100 per week one cannot get a medical card.

The Taoiseach should be ashamed.

I remind the House that budget day is tomorrow.

May I—

You know, a Cheann Comhairle—

The Taoiseach should stand up if he has something to say.

I have been very kind. As regards the previous seven budgets, in the previous four, there were improvements which enhanced the availability of medical cards. In the three previous to those, I do not recall who was Minister for Health and Children during that period, but there was not a penny change in medical card limits.

Let us get back to the question.

A sad answer.

One more chance tomorrow.

I understand the reason the Taoiseach is so defensive.

I am not defensive. I am attacking.

The public will get an opportunity—

Who was Minister for Finance during that period?

A question from Deputy Quinn.

I succeeded someone who left quite a mess for me.

Some £1 million for disability.

I had to tidy up there also. On the Taoiseach's reply to the question on the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, will he confirm for the House and those interested that the remit of that new body, which I support, includes, among other things, adaptation to change, increased productivity, deepening partnership in the workplace, assisting in the next phase of modernising the public service, that is, the health service, education sector, local authorities and the Civil Service, and working with those public utilities facing major restructuring? Does the Taoiseach agree that the new body, which will build on what has already been achieved through the strategic management initiative, should have its relationship in terms of driving forward the process of change made abundantly clear? May I take it from the Taoiseach's earlier reply that PA Consultants is reviewing the work the SMI has achieved to date and will make a set of recommendations soon on the next phase? May I further anticipate that the SMI process will be reversed into part of the work programme of the NCPP?

The summary the Deputy has given is absolutely correct. On the last part, a decision has not been made. I did not discuss it with the board when I had my meeting with its members nor did they ask about it. They stated they are anxious to drive the change agenda in both the public and private sectors. The public consultation process, that is, public in the context of membership of the public service, is being conducted by PA consultants. It is also addressing customers' needs as well as in terms of agencies and members of the public.

I take the Deputy's point which, if I understand him correctly, is that the strategic management initiative does not fit into any specific place nor does it have any area on which to focus and that, while it has a committee of the House, it could usefully find its place within the NCPP process. I accept that point and will examine it when the consultants' report is concluded. While it is not one which has been made to me, it is valid.

Mr. Coveney

On the national drugs strategy to which the Taoiseach referred in his first answer, will he tell me, as chairman of the Cabinet committee on social inclusion which has responsibility for the strategy, whether the committee has received the promised six monthly report from the Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, on the progress of the strategy? It is now seven months since it was launched and a six monthly progress report was promised.

Is the Taoiseach aware that £5.7 million of moneys allocated to the national drugs strategy last year remains unspent? This comprises mainly capital projects which have not begun. Does he have any comment to make on the fact that large amounts of money earmarked for the national drugs strategy are not being spent and that, as far as I am aware, we still do not have the promised six monthly progress report after almost seven months? The strategy has only just been launched and we are getting off to a very bad start.

The Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, gives a monthly report to the committee. Deputy Coveney said the progress report was not published. I am not sure about that. I understand, however, that the first report was launched in May.

Mr. Coveney

It was, yes.

A progress report, which we have cleared at the sub-committee, is to be published before Christmas. Overall, work is going well on the report including a number of important issues, such as methadone centres, regional drug task force areas, and the implementation plan. I do not have the capital funding details but I know about some of these centres, which in many cases are community facilities. The difficulty is that some of the centres in the 13 drug task force areas to which the Minister has allocated money, have not been able to resource the local contribution, or they have had other difficulties. The Minister had that problem last year, as well; he provided additional moneys to support the centres but some of the committees were not able to get on with the task. That is what is creating the difficulty in some of the centres again this year. That is the case with one or two of them in Dublin, and I am sure it is also the case in other cities.

Has there been any discussion with the social partners about the lack of progress on specific commitments in the PPF on housing? The PPF committed the Government to provide an additional 25,000 council houses in the life time of the agreement, yet only about 7,000 have been provided to date. Based on what we know from the Estimates, only about half the number of houses committed in the PPF will now be provided in the life time of the agreement. Based on those figures, does the Taoiseach accept that the Government is in breach of the PPF as regards housing? What discussions took place with the social partners concerning this matter and what new measures are to be introduced? Will additional moneys be provided to make up the shortfall in house numbers over the remaining two years of the agreement?

I outlined in my earlier reply the issues I discussed with the social partners. A separate sub-committee of the PPF is dealing with the housing issue and it has published an agenda covering what it is doing. That sub-committee deals primarily with the issue of housing, and local authority housing in particular. I am aware that the number of houses has not reached the target, and not all the houses provided for in the PPF will be constructed. While the targets will not be reached, a considerable number of houses will still be provided. The figures in the Estimates, both for this year and last year, are as much as the local authority system has been able to provide.

A brief follow-up question, because we cannot discuss the matter in detail.

I acknowledge the Taoiseach's honesty in accepting that the targets set in the PPF for public housing will not be met. Does the Government intend to provide any additional resources to enable those targets to be met? The number of houses to be provided under the PPF was 25,000 but we have a waiting list of 60,000. The Taoiseach has now told us that even the modest target provided for in the PPF will not be met, so what will the Government do to make up the shortfall? People are living in appalling conditions.

We were talking about what is happening with the sub-committee. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, and his Ministers of State, have provided an enormous amount of resources for local authority housing.

Not enough.

That programme has to continue. They will not meet the target they have set, but resources will continue to be made available to try to provide as many houses as possible.

The Government has already conceded that there will be many more job losses in the coming months. Has any arrangement been made between the Government and the social partners whereby the social partners would get advance notice of job losses in the economy, particularly in the vulnerable sectors?

Wherever the information is brought forward, either in the early warning systems or by requirement followed in some cases, though not in all, whereby private sector companies give notification, it is communicated to the trade unions. Any of the good employers, either unionised or non-unionised, has the practice of consulting either its works committees or trade unions.

The question is not whether employers consult, but rather whether the Government consults the social partners.

Yes, where the Government has information, but, as the Deputy knows, in many of these cases the information and notice given to the Government are extremely short, if at all. The better and bigger employers give them. The multinationals are probably the best and give adequate information on statements which is communicated.

Let me return to the Taoiseach's original reply in which he referred to the three items discussed at the meeting on 17 October, one of which was the economic outlook. On his own admission, there will probably be a rise in the level of unemployment and redundancies in the forthcoming year compared to previous years. In accepting this analysis, which I think all of us do, will the Taoiseach agree that now is the time for the Government to improve the security system and, in particular, the redundancy payments system for workers who, through no fault of their own, will face redundancy? Will he agree it is time to improve the statutory redundancy payments which have remained virtually unchanged since their introduction in the late 1960s? Instead of the statutory half a week's pay for each year served up to a certain age the level of compensation should be in line with Labour Court practices, a minimum of two weeks pay per year of service. Given that the social insurance fund is in surplus this would impose no cost on the Exchequer or employers and would provide a level of comfort that would enable workers faced with redundancy to accept redundancy and avail of the opportunity to retrain and develop new skills to enable them re-enter the workforce in a different area.

There are two aspects to the Deputy's question. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is in discussions with the Tánaiste and has brought forward proposals in the past two weeks, if I recall correctly. I have not been party to those discussions, but it has brought forward proposals for an enhanced scheme. I have outlined that it has been many years since there has been a change in the statutory position. The statutory payment, even in its earlier years, was looked on as the floor and certainly was never used as a ceiling in any discussions, even 16 or 17 years ago. There is a case for review. As I am not involved in the discussions, I do not know what the exact terms are.

On the second issue, retraining is linked to what I said in my reply because the whole pur pose of the FÁS new framework programme is to take the employability and retaining of individuals on board. Rather than the good work which the organisation has done in the past 13 or 14 years it is now refocusing itself away from the schemes approach, though accepting that schemes are an inevitability for some and very desirable for social reasons for others. As part of the redundancy programme, people should be offered training to enable them enhance their employability. Clearly, that is an issue. As we watch people being made redundant, it is remarkable that those with skills in what is a difficult time are the very ones who are learning new skills. Recent figures in respect of some of the people who lost their jobs in Cork and north County Dublin indicate that an enormous proportion – up to 90% – of the skilled people were able to get jobs while the unskilled people had difficulties.

Has there been any reflection or discussion on why in a time of full and plenty – which unfortunately is no longer the case – the Government was not able to achieve its housing targets or on why builders and investors were driven out of the marketplace? Has there been any review of what seems to have been a rather disastrous period of Government policies on housing? Can the Taoiseach give an indication, even at this late stage when the money is all gone, that there will be a change from the Government's disastrous approach to housing?

There are two aspects to this. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government had great difficulty getting local authorities to meet the targets they set. He had to pressurise them month after month to meet those targets when money was available. In many cases in the public sector it often appears that more money will solve the problem.

There has been a slow-down in the private sector which has been partly due to the success in this area. The house inflation prices in 1997 and 1998 were unsustainable and drove first time buyer out of the market. This morning's newspapers report that most recent figures indicate there are still house price increases, but they are nothing of the order they were previously. Arguments are being made again by the House Builders Association, CIF and others for a boost to those schemes, but there is also an acceptance by them that the profit margin they were taking in many cases at that time was excessive. I hope there is a bit more realism now. I am sure Deputy O'Keeffe will agree that £100,000 a unit, as people got in certain parts of this city and in others, was excessive.

Being blunt about it, did the fact that the Government slavishly followed the Bacon reports not cause the problem?

The Deputy is going into too much detail on this matter which is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and local authorities.

Will the Taoiseach not accept that, in effect, Government housing policies have driven builders and investors out of the marketplace and that has been disastrous from the national point of view?

I would not agree one bit with the Deputy. There was no housing policy for a period in the mid-1990s and a first time buyer could not get his or her hands on a house—

That is codology.

That is nonsense.

(Interruptions.)

When Deputy Quinn was Minister for Finance houses were affordable.

The Deputies opposite do not want to listen. Investors were buying up all the houses, the first time buyers' share of the market dramatically plummeted and they could not get their hands on houses.

(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach agree that in the four and a half years he has led the Government, “partnership”, while being a handy term to trot out, for many sections of workers has proved to be a sham and a means of maximising profits for employers but holding down wages? Is it genuine partnership for landlords to be allowed to rackrent at will, to charge astronomical prices for houses and flats at the expense of workers who are not allowed to raise their wages at will, whose wages increases are tied quite tightly in many cases? Is it genuine partnership whereby developers, land owners and house builders were allowed to treble the price of a home in that period of four and a half years while workers' wages were pinned quite tightly? Have the landlords, house builders and land speculator been genuine partners or people who have heavily exploited working people over that time? What will the Taoiseach do about that?

The basis of the Deputy's argument is incorrect because the Congress of Trade Unions and the CSO documents show that wage increases were probably about 30%, if not more, during the period.

(Dublin West): House prices were increasing at the rate of 300%.

I am making the point that because so many investors, particularly in the mid-1990s until the Bacon report in 1998, con tinued to buy up all the houses, first-time buyers could not get a house.

They were not restrained. The builders and investors were driven out of the market.

Order, please.

They are different people.

That is what has given rise to the fall in output.

No, that is not the case. If one were to follow that logic, the Deputy would want only investor housing.

I want to see more houses being built.

Order, please.

More houses just for investors.

(Interruptions.)

A Deputy

The Taoiseach has no interest in the first-time buyer.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Rents have increased by 50%.

One can understand the argument. The point is that if all the housing is in the hands of landlords and investors, the difficulty outlined by Deputy Higgins then arises. That was the order of the day for a number of years but, thankfully, it has ceased. Perhaps there is now an argument for trying to move on some of those issues again, but we have moved from a position where first-time buyers had no opportunity to buy moderately priced houses because the investors were buying them, which created a major difficulty.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach has to control rents.

The Deputy knows as well as I about the ability to control rents. It has not worked anywhere. Controlling rents did not work even in communist countries in the past and it will not work in our economy.

(Dublin West): It worked in Europe.

It does not work. A Minister for the environment or housing in any country will say the controlled rent regime is not—

Is the Taoiseach defending the 9% stamp duty? That was a disastrous move.

Order, please. The Taoiseach is in possession.

Does he intend to get rid of it?

To bring the market under control it was necessary to give the first-time buyer some chance to get back into the market. That has happened.

The Taoiseach will have his chance tomorrow to get rid of it. It was a disaster.

That is another issue.

Order, please. Deputy O'Keeffe should cease interrupting.

It was necessary to give the first-time buyer, who should be the priority of politicians and Government, a chance to get back into the market. The Deputy believes the investor should run the show, but I believe it should be the first-time buyer.

Does the Taoiseach agree that rents in the private sector have increased by 50% in the past 18 months, even with the Government slavishly following the Bacon report? From where did the Taoiseach get his views on housing and economics? Was it at UCD or the London School of Economics?

Peter Bacon got them at UCD, where he studied. What he endeavoured to do, correctly, was to take the heat out of the private housing market to give an opportunity to first-time buyers. That was the basis of his work. The percentage of first-time buyers has increased dramatically while the percentage of investors has diminished dramatically. I accept that for a variety of reasons, including that one, investors went out of the market. A proportion of them went to other countries, as Deputy O'Keeffe said, and they will continue to do that because they will make a profit, but that does not take from the fact that builders and developers had moved to a position where on each unit they were making a profit of a few thousand pounds and first-time buyers had no opportunity to get into the market. The investors came into the market, bought up those houses and let them at enormous rents. That is what happened in this and other cities. The position has now changed. The Government made changes in its policies following the three Bacon reports.

It did not work.

The Minister for Finance will have to look again at the matter. We will see tomorrow what he does or does not do.

Rents have doubled, that is the change.

They have not.

During his meetings with the social partners did the Taoiseach discuss the problem arising from the decision by companies such as Peerless Rugs in Athy, which has gone into receivership, to use money set aside as savings by employees? The employees cannot get their savings back, which is an awful indictment of the system operating for redundancy and receivership. These unfortunates put their money into savings with the company in good faith. The Taoiseach may not have a solution now, but could he, please, investigate the matter?

I am aware of the difficulty. It is where individuals who lose their jobs are not entitled to statutory payments because their employers cannot pay them. Some amendments were made several years ago, but the figures have not changed for, I believe, about ten years.