I thank whoever chooses the matters to be discussed on the Adjournment for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening. I tabled this matter because over the weekend I remembered that some time ago the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey — whom I know well; he is a very able person — said, to great fanfare, that he would meet all the heads of the various trade unions for private discussions. Since then there has been a long silence, and I have no way of finding out what happened except by tabling a matter on the Adjournment. I am glad of the opportunity to do so.
I knew Kieran Mulvey particularly well during the years when he was the general secretary of the ASTI. Later, when I became Minister for Education, I had extensive and regular interaction with the various trade unions. I always thought it was a good thing that in all my time as Minister I did not have a row with any of the teachers' trade unions. We managed to keep a friendship going, although we had tough meetings and there were times when things were extremely difficult. All in all, however, we managed.
Since then I have not seen much of Mr. Mulvey, although I know what he has been doing, and I thought his initiative to meet with the trade union heads was a remarkable one. Any country will benefit from decent social relationships between the Government and all interested parties. When there is good social cohesion, things go better. There are many people within the trade union movement — just as there are many in the Dáil and throughout the country — who have the best interests of the country at heart and wish to see matters moving along in a more tranquil way.
It does the country no good to be in a situation in which people are not getting the services they require. I crossed the street today and met a woman crying her eyes out outside the Passport Office because she could not get in. She told me her tale and explained the sensitive and difficult situation she was in. I thought it was so cruel that she could not go in and obtain what she legitimately sought, which was to update her passport. Equally, I had four calls this evening from people who could not access social welfare offices. It is incorrect to target those vulnerable people.
I am not faulting the trade unions. They have their job to do and we have ours. Our job is to govern the country, while theirs is to put across their points of view. However, I do not like the way in which vulnerable people — in particular, those who need services badly — are being denied. It is not affecting the political class because, by and large, we will get our business done, but it is affecting those who most need public services.
I hope that when the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs replies to me he will have something of substance to say. People are waiting to hear what is happening. I am aware that there may be back-channels of communication and that talks may be going on. I was particularly interested in the attitude of Mr. Mulvey and his wish to engage with the heads of the trade unions so that he could seek out common ground.
We all wish to see the country move forward and to see ourselves coming out of the Slough of Despond. We wish to see things brighten up for all of us — as consumers, as participants, as people living in this land — but we cannot do so unless there are harmonious relationships between all. I hope there will be a resumption of talks with the trade unions and that they, in turn, will see that it is not right to target those who are vulnerable and to leave the weakest unaided in difficult circumstances such as I heard about today.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, for coming to the House. He occupies an office that I once occupied — the nicest office in town, if the truth be known. Is that right?