1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has initiated any significant formal reviews of policy areas under his Department. [31041/11]
Vol. 746 No. 3
1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has initiated any significant formal reviews of policy areas under his Department. [31041/11]
My Department is involved on an ongoing basis in the review and implementation of Government policies in a range of areas through Cabinet committees and other co-ordinating mechanisms. However, I have not commissioned any significant formal policy reviews to be carried out directly by my Department.
Could we have a bit of order please? Thank you.
Sorry, what was the last sentence?
That was outside the limit even of the sharp hearing of Deputy Martin. The last sentence was: "However, I have not commissioned any significant formal policy reviews to be carried out directly by my Department."
The reason I asked this question was to inquire about the policies outlined in the programme for Government. In particular, has the Taoiseach revised his commitment to have his office personally vet all ministerial appointments? We have had a significant number of appointments to State boards. The Taoiseach indicated that appointments would be made in a new and independent way and that he would personally oversee the implementation of that approach. Not only has this not happened, but the proportion of appointments that are reserved for the politically connected has actually shot up. The Taoiseach made great play of this in advance of the general election and since then, but I have observed an even more concerted programme of personal patronage by Ministers. The Department of the Taoiseach has historically played, and continues to play, a central role in judicial appointments, so the Taoiseach will, I take it, take personal responsibility for the fact that only 5% of appointments so far have not had a direct political connection to the Government.
Does the Taoiseach not think there is a need for such a review? He says the Department has not conducted any review, but with regard to appointments to State boards and to the Judiciary, the existing programme for Government and existing policy pronouncements by the Taoiseach himself indicate that he had intended to do something new and different. Has the Taoiseach reversed or revised that policy in any shape or form?
No. In fact, to make it even stronger and clearer I am producing a standardised approach to appointments. Even the early reforms have been a quantum leap from where we were. There was a situation here for several years whereby no information could be given to anyone because of secret deals signed off between the Government of the day and a number of Independents.
One significant change is that chairpersons of State boards will go before Oireachtas committees to discuss their appointments, the criteria they bring and their suitability for appointment in the first place. As of today, the five chairpersons appointed by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, have appeared before the relevant Oireachtas committees to discuss their appointments.
Several Departments have made a significant number of appointments. Of 23 appointments made in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, 12 came through the public route. Three of the new appointments made by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources are highly qualified people who applied after a call for applications. The Minister for Finance sought expressions of interest for appointments to the board of directors of the recapitalised banks and now has available to him a panel of 30 names of suitably qualified individuals for possible appointment to bank boards. I realise there was some comment in the media to the effect that all Departments were not following the criteria set down. I do not have all the detail but I gather in several of these cases no appointments or few were made by those Departments but I will check this as a matter of interest.
The policy we have set out is being enhanced and I will shortly bring before all Ministers a standardised form for the appointment of State board chairpersons and ordinary appointees. As Deputy Martin is aware, any judicial appointments are made by the Government. They arise through the judicial appointments advisory board and are approved on the nomination of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
No one believes any change has taken place with regard to State appointments but I have made my point on the matter. I am somewhat surprised that the Taoiseach stated no formal review of policy has taken place because, as the Taoiseach is aware the Minister, Deputy Quinn, made it clear that he would reverse the increase in the student charge upon coming into office. He signed a specific pledge on the matter. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the policy on student fees has been reviewed?
The Taoiseach stated he would complete a report card on each Minister as a result of the review.
These are matters for the Minister for Education and Skills.
How scores the report card in terms of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the pledge he has made to students on the student service charge?
Deputy Martin raised three issues. He stated there has been no change. I have just pointed out that five of the appointments as chairperson made by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, have appeared before Oireachtas committees to discuss their suitability and appointments. This is a fundamental major change from what applied before.
I am aware that the Minister for Education and Skills is working on several proposals in respect of third level education costs. He has not brought his proposal to Government yet and it is not a matter for me as Taoiseach to reverse something I have not seen. The Minister for Education and Skills will bring forward his proposal in his own time. What was the third point mentioned by Deputy Martin?
It related to report cards. On "The Late Late Show", the Taoiseach stated there would be a report card for each Minister.
These are matters for the Minister for Education and Skills.
They are personal to me.
Is the Taoiseach doing them again?
Will the Taoiseach indicate if we will ever see them?
Will the Taoiseach consider a review of policy on the payment of politicians' pensions? This year almost €8.8 million of taxpayers money was paid out in pensions for 109 former Ministers, may of whom are still in employment. What steps will the Taoiseach take to tackle this scandal?
I have taken decisions on this matter and they have been spelt out by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. They relate to all new entrants, the age at which they can receive pensions, non-payment of severance payments and the capping of pensions. A range of measures in this regard have been taken already by the Government in respect of all new entrants and these will apply from now on.
2 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the Cabinet office that was set up to oversee the delivery of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32721/11]
3 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress made in the implementation of the programme for Government. [34019/11]
4 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to review the programme for Government. [34020/11]
5 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to bring forward a new programme for Government. [34021/11]
6 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update in the work done by his Department in co-ordinating the work of Government. [34071/11]
7 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if a Cabinet office has been set up to monitor and oversee the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34187/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 7, inclusive, together.
The programme for Government states, "We will reduce the size of the Department of the Taoiseach, transforming it into a Cabinet Office that oversees the delivery of a new Programme for Government". Arising from this commitment, sections and posts in the Department which had been engaged in work that now comes within the responsibility of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have transferred to that Department along with some support staff. The total number of staff that have transferred is 27.
A new EU co-ordination division in my Department was also established with personnel from my Department's existing European Union and international division and from the EU affairs division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which relocated to my Department. Under the new second Secretary General to my Department, the new division supports the Tánaiste in his responsibility for overall co-ordination of European policy, including his membership of the General Affairs Council and it also supports me in my membership of the European Council. In its co-ordination role, the division engages with all Departments on issues on the EU agenda.
A new office of the Tánaiste was also set up in my Department, comprising three special advisers and one personal assistant supported by 1.6 whole-time equivalent staff from my Department from within existing resources. The office is responsible for co-ordinating support for the Tánaiste in his whole-of-government responsibilities.
A new programme for Government office has been established in recent weeks, comprising of two staff from within existing resources. This office is currently in the process of developing a structure which will allow it to monitor programme implementation and to report to me and to the Cabinet on progress across all Departments. There are currently no plans to bring forward a new programme for Government.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The Taoiseach must accept that the commitments made to dramatically and substantially reduce Department of the Taoiseach staffing numbers and to create a smaller cabinet office that would have an overseeing role simply has not happened. The Taoiseach's Department is, by and large, similar in size now to what it was prior to his taking office. Does the Taoiseach accept this basic truth?
Does the Taoiseach accept that the transfer of EU affairs to his office means fundamentally that he will answer all questions relating to EU affairs in future since the EU section is now within his Department? Does the Taoiseach accept that he should not transfer questions and that he should be anxious to answer questions on these issues, especially those related to the forthcoming Presidency of the European Union in 2013? Will the Taoiseach indicate his position on this matter, especially as the unit is preparing and briefing him on an ongoing basis with regard to European Council summit meetings?
Deputy Martin used to ask me if I was going to reduce the Department by one half.
No. That was the Taoiseach's own commitment.
The programme for Government stated it would be reduced and it has been reduced. There are now 179 whole time equivalent staff in the Department of the Taoiseach. I am willing to come before the House, as I have always done, before and after Heads of Government meetings and I am willing to answer questions in respect of meetings of that nature.
The co-ordination of European affairs is vested in the Department of the Taoiseach because of its overseeing responsibility. However, the new second Secretary General advises the Tánaiste in respect of his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and in respect of his responsibilities toward the General Affairs Council of the European Union. The Minister of State at the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach with responsibility for European matters chairs the committee dealing with the preparations for the forthcoming Presidency to be held by Ireland in the first half of 2013. As Deputy Martin is aware from his experience, this is a remarkably busy post with technical requirements. It may well be that the Irish Presidency has to make decisions or finalise several important matters that will come to a head in the first half of 2013, including the possibility of finalising CAP reform.
Tá cúig cheist agam agus ba mhaith liom go leor ama. The Taoiseach stated there were no plans to bring forward a new programme for Government. This is very disappointing. Any review of his term so far would show that it has been marked by the number of times he has departed from the programme for Government. The Taoiseach promised to renegotiate the EU-IMF deal and instead he has implemented it. He promised no more blank cheques to banks but a fortnight ago he gave €700 million to unguaranteed bondholders.
He promised to prioritise job creation in what he described as a jobs budget, yet unemployment today is higher than when he came into power. Why is the Government failing to implement the programme for Government?
The Taoiseach said this would be an open Government, that there would be change at the top and an end to cronyism. Yet, a review of Government appointments shows 20 people with affiliations to Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been appointed since it took office. Half of Departments are still not recruiting board members by public advertisements and five of the six judges recently appointed by the Government have political affiliations to Fine Gael or the Labour Party.
Sinn Féin launched its pre-budget submission today. I sent a copy to the Office of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. I urge the Taoiseach to consider the proposals. They may provide a better guide on how to get out of the economic recession. When the Taoiseach has read them I ask him to consider reviewing his announcement that he will not introduce a new programme for Government and do just that.
Deputy Adams seems to have missed the point that we have renegotiated substantial elements of the memorandum of understanding signed off with the troika. The reduction in PRSI and VAT in the hospitality sector, the changes and restructuring made in respect of the banks and the renegotiation, with European consent, of interest rates have brought about a saving of €10 billion for the Irish taxpayer.
We never made a commitment to paying blank cheques as was done before. The State has committed to paying such cheques and we have taken an alternative view on how to reduce the overall debt burden. What happened before was that a blank cheque was signed off without knowing what its extent would be. We now know the full extent of it and the Government has to work with European colleagues and everybody else to reduce that.
The emphasis has to be on creating jobs. I agree that a figure of over 440,000 unemployed is completely unacceptable but one will not deal with that unless one makes serious decisions about the cost, structure and governance of how business in this country has been run for a very long time. These decisions are not easy. The €18 billion deficit will not go away on its own. It has to be dealt with by reducing costs, growing our indigenous economy and continuing to have a thriving export market such as we have. As the Deputy is aware, in Greece exports account for about 20% of GDP, but here they account for 100% of GDP and the figure is expected to grow strongly next year.
The emphasis of the Government has been to meet the immovable budget deficit target of 8.6% of GDP next year and provide an opportunity for jobs to be created and for work to be seen to be rewarded. That means serious decisions must be made in respect of a range areas, such as in the structure of the health system, the methods of social protection and all of the other areas where the cost base has to be examined in order to be reduced. We also need to consider the cost of the entire public sector and the way to stimulate confidence in the indigenous economy.
The Deputy wants a new programme for Government. He will not get one. The Government has been in office just over eight months. We are at least entitled to make an effort to implement the programme for Government on which we have agreed. Every aspect of it has not been delivered in detail but I have a long list detailing progress which I could read out for the Deputy if he wishes.
I still want to commend our budget submission to the Taoiseach. If he takes the time to read it he might think it is of some assistance to him. Part of the problem is that the Taoiseach points out the things Fianna Fáil did wrong and then goes about doing exactly the same things all over again. The Taoiseach is trying to sell a very dead fish and it smells. He needs to be straight with people on these matters. He has only been in office for nine months but he is doing exactly what he blamed the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government for doing.
I remind the Deputy that this is Questions to An Taoiseach.
I ask the Taoiseach to consider that point and the error of his ways. On the arrangement put in place last week, he said in four years time despite all the fiscal and other adjustments we will make there will still be almost 400,000 people unemployed. That is a signalling failure in advance.
I do not agree with the Deputy. We have not done the same things. We live in the land of reality. One cannot move into Government and change the entire country overnight. In times past a blank cheque was signed off to put the full extent of the bank debt onto the sovereign debt, which the citizens of this country have to pay for. Young people do not have the job opportunities I would like to see them have because of that.
In order to deal with the scale of the problem we have to reduce the debt burden and change the way the country has been run, including cost structures across a range of areas, which requires political decisions. No matter what one does, politics is always about people and political decisions affect their lives. From that perspective, when one talks about dead fish, I do not know whether the Deputy is referring to the famous English lord who gave his greatest insult to his mortal enemy by likening him to a rotten mackerel in the moonlight in that they shine and stink. I know the Deputy does not mean it that way but there are difficulties ahead. The Irish people are well capable of dealing with challenges and the Government will work with the people to get through this in order that young people can have a future in their own country if that is what they want.
I have a supplementary question on the Cabinet office which was set up to oversee the delivery of the programme for Government. I ask the Taoiseach to accept no blank cheques were signed by anybody. Everything that was done with regard to engagement with the ECB and EU was transparent, brought before the House and with the full knowledge of everybody.
In terms of the fundamental pillars of banking, public finances or the four year plan, the Taoiseach has signed up and implemented the programme in broad measure. The major fundamental change from the situation which pertained nine or 12 months ago, when the various engagements with the ECB and EU took place, has come about by the acknowledgement by the EU heads of state of the Greek default and the utilisation of the EFSF to take on board some of the recapitalisation of banks in France and elsewhere as a result. That is the truth of the situation. We have not availed of the opportunity to press the case for a fundamental change——
Can we have a question, Deputy?
——in our bank debt which should occur in the context of a European-wide change in the approach to the restructuring of bank debt and the recapitalisation of banks. The programme for Government needs fundamental review in that context. Just two weeks ago, despite all that the Taoiseach said today, the State paid €700 million to unsecured and unguaranteed bondholders.
I regret that the Taoiseach is not reviewing the job creation aspects of the programme for Government.
Deputy, we do not make statements. You should ask a question.
The provisions for jobs are wholly inadequate. The raid on pensions through the pensions levy was a scandalous decision which needs to be reversed. It was a straightforward raid on the pensions of people in the private sector who never expected it. It has not been allocated to job creation and the Taoiseach needs to own up to that. He has abandoned any commitment——
Deputy, we are dealing with Questions to An Taoiseach. Will you please put a question.
——contained in the programme for a Government and that is why I ask the Cabinet office which is overseeing it to have a fundamental and urgent review of its employment dimension.
I have a fundamental difference of opinion with the Deputy. The Government of which he was part did sign a blank cheque. Minister after Minister came in here during the period in question and said the crisis would cost €6 billion, €7 billion, €14 billion or €20 billion. The fact of the matter is that the previous Government signed a blank cheque and crucified every taxpayer for years to come as a consequence. If one asked Deputy Adams if he would buy a house in west Donegal the first thing he would ask about is the price. Would one put a blank cheque on it? One would not, but that is what the previous Government did with the country. To the eternal shame of the party of which the Deputy is a proud member it signed off on a blank cheque without knowing the scale of——
I am sorry——
Deputy, you put a question and now you are getting an answer.
Your party voted for it.
Deputy Martin denies that his Government wrote a blank cheque, but that is what it did, because it did not know the scale of the situation and the outcome. That has crucified everybody in the country.
I do not accept that.
When I seek information on what exactly happened in that regard, I cannot find it.
Deputy Martin must address the Taoiseach only through the Chair.
No, I cannot find it. The decision was taken in the middle of the night.
It was taken here in the Dáil Chamber.
Deputy Martin's colleague, Deputy Willie O'Dea, said in the Sunday Independent the following Sunday that he was responsible for the idea and it was a brilliant one.
The Taoiseach voted for that decision.
The Government did not come into the Chamber with the truth.
The evidence given by the Government of which Deputy Martin was a member was that there was a finite limit on this, but there was not. His Government signed a blank cheque.
We reviewed and published the capital programme only last week. Some €17 billion will go into capital programmes in the coming years. Against all of the recessionary trends we have still managed to provide clarity in respect of the national children's hospital, central mental hospital and a range of other necessary activities and infrastructure. I would love to say that all projects will be implemented but that is not possible. One must cut one's cloth according to one's measure. That will remain the situation until we get our public finances in order and our country headed in the direction, and to the extent, that we would like. We are not in control of our economic sovereignty. The fundamental reason for that is that somebody wrote a blank cheque without knowing the extent of the problems.
That is not the reason.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett may put a brief supplementary question to the Taoiseach.
On the fish——
We are not talking about fish.
It was raised in the question.
The Deputy should not mind that.
Does the Taoiseach agree with the saying which an old Jewish socialist comrade of mine used to say, that the fish rots from the head, that is, that responsibility lies at the top? In so far as the Taoiseach has put an emphasis on employment as a priority for this Government, in the programme for Government and in many statements in this House since, does he agree that if we do not make a serious dent in unemployment, of which there is no sign thus far, that he will have failed and that he is responsible? What precisely in the programme for Government or in the policies the Taoiseach has enunciated since will make a serious dent on the unemployment crisis and when will they do so?
I have called the Taoiseach.
I am baffled by the statement the Taoiseach made earlier. Somebody should analyse it.
The Deputy must allow the Taoiseach to respond.
Please, a Cheann Comhairle, I am almost finished.
These are questions tabled by Deputies Gerry Adams and Micheál Martin. I told the Deputy he could make a brief supplementary question.
This is unbelievable.
We do not want another statement.
I have almost finished my question. The Taoiseach said that reducing costs in the health service — by which I presume he means staff cuts and so on — will improve our competitiveness and is somehow linked to our export recovery. That connection baffles me.
Does the Deputy have a question?
How do cuts in health spending help our competitiveness, improve employment prospects or contribute to export-led recovery? It is a baffling assertion.
The Deputy is clearly not a businessman.
The Deputy is becoming expert at listening to his own words. What I said was that we need to change the structure under which services are delivered in our health system, because it is not working as it should. We must reduce the overall cost of the delivery of the public sector. That is why the programme for Government clearly sets out a reduction in personnel of up to 25,000 for the duration of the programme. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is working with the trade unions, in accordance with the Croke Park agreement, to achieve those cost reductions.
How will that enhance competitiveness and exports?
I am glad that the public sector itself recognises what needs to be done and is working in that regard. Any reductions in the overall cost and changes in the structure of the delivery of health services must be focused on the quality of service for the patient and the quality and capacity of front line services. I do not know whether the Deputy wants to understand that but that is what involved.
What does that have to do with exports?
The Deputy should not be baffled. I will be happy to give him further information.
8 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the progress made on the legislation proposed on Cabinet confidentiality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32722/11]
9 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to bring forward legislation on Cabinet confidentiality. [34188/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 9 together.
The Deputies will be aware that Cabinet confidentiality is provided for in the Constitution. Any consideration of legislation would have to take this into account.
Does the Taoiseach's reply indicate that he will not be bringing forward legislation on Cabinet confidentiality? There has been an epidemic of leaking of what is supposedly on the Cabinet's agenda, in terms of who is doing what. There was a good deal of it this morning, with participants in the Economic Management Council telling journalists how important their proposals are. We even had a leak in regard to the potential resignation of a member of Cabinet.
The problem is that while Ministers and advisers can and are willing to leak anonymously, there is no way for anybody here to ask any questions about it. Even in regard to freedom of information, the Taoiseach has taken a fairly aggressive approach of trying to hide the factual material behind many of his public claims. For example, we were denied freedom of information access to the formula put to the Taoiseach by President Van Rompuy at the European Council meeting last February. We sought that information from both the Office of the Information Commissioner in this State and its European Union counterpart. The latter indicated that the Government should provide that information but it has refused to do.
Has the Taoiseach issued instructions to his Ministers and advisers to respect Cabinet confidentiality and, if not, does he intend to do so? It is not good enough that we are being told in this House that we cannot, with due respect to the constitutional provisions in regard to Cabinet confidentiality, ask questions about particular Cabinet sub-committees, yet we hear every day, in the public domain, about what is going on at Cabinet. This information is coming from anonymous sources, either Ministers or advisers. It undermines Parliament and shows a fundamental disrespect for Parliament.
I agree that there should be no breach of Cabinet confidentiality. In the 36 years I have been in this House, I have seen it happen on different occasions, with different taoisigh trying to find out what was going on. I abhor any breach of Cabinet confidentiality. However, there is a big difference between fact and speculation. The media in general are entitled to their views, but I have read nothing in terms of the way the Cabinet conducts its business. I welcome that. People are well aware of the broad range of issues that must be discussed and decided upon by Cabinet at any one time or in due course. I share the Deputy's view in this regard. I have advised all Ministers, Ministers of State and advisers that they should keep their thoughts to themselves and that the process must move through Cabinet for decision before, in due course, being announced and the rationale behind decisions explained to the public, as is the responsibility and requirement of Government.
Will the Taoiseach repeat his response to Questions Nos. 8 and 9? I did not hear it.
The Deputies will be aware that Cabinet confidentiality is provided for in the Constitution. Any consideration of legislation would have to take this into account.
That response leaves me no clearer on the question of proposed legislation on Cabinet confidentiality. In an earlier response on another issue, the Taoiseach said that when he seeks information he cannot find it. I am in the same position. The Government's view on Cabinet confidentiality is set out in the programme for Government, which states: "We believe that in recent years an over-powerful Executive has turned the Dáil into an observer of the political process rather than a central player and that this must be changed". Those are the Taoiseach's words, not mine. This is particularly important when it comes to the work of the Economic Management Council which is the driving force behind Government policy on the economy and on Europe. Yet we cannot ask questions about its work.
I will repeat my question. Will the Taoiseach bring forward proposals in this regard? It would enlighten the debate and allow everybody to participate. Knowledge is power. Will the Government make proposals to allow greater scrutiny of the work of Government to ensure openness and transparency?
That is what this is for. Obviously as an elected Member, Deputy Adams has an absolute right to ask his parliamentary questions and raise issues as he does as the leader of his party. He is aware that the Constitution did not always have an explicit provision on Cabinet confidentiality. Explicit provision was inserted in 1997 following a referendum. The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill 1997 was published by the then Government on 1 May 1997 and following the general election was restored to the Order Paper by the incoming Government on 10 September 1997 and subsequently enacted on 14 November 1997. The relevant article is 28.4.3°, which states:
The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter—
(i) in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
(ii) by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to be of public importance.
Clearly, when I say that when I go looking for information in respect of a particular matter that I was discussing with Deputy Martin and there is no information for me to find, either it was never there in the first place or it was done verbally, but the consequences have been quite devastating.
May I ask — it is not really a question, it is more of an appeal——
This is Question Time though.
I will put it as a question. Would the Taoiseach please read over the record of that little exchange between us? The Taoiseach should remember when he used to be over here trying to getting information in response to a question such as I asked. I am no clearer.
The question was about opening up Government decisions to greater scrutiny. That is what the House is for.
I asked for the Taoiseach's plans to introduce legislation on Cabinet confidentiality.
When I bring forward that legislation we will debate it here and the Deputy can have his——
Does that mean the Government will bring forward legislation?
I will bring it forward in the context of the Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution, which refers to Cabinet confidentiality. I agree with Deputy Martin that it is very important that people would respect what they sign on for and I am quite sure they do. In the general course of events when the public at large know that decisions need to be made on particular issues, speculation always follows, but speculation is different from fact. Fact in this case in respect of the Cabinet leads to decisions. Those decisions have to be able to be debated here——
——and commented upon and agreed with or disagreed with by people elected to the House such as Deputy Adams.
I am somewhat unclear. My question asked about the progress made on the legislation proposed on Cabinet confidentiality. The Taoiseach proposed that he would change the situation on Cabinet confidentiality. He was very critical of what he may have perceived to have been excessive Cabinet confidentiality up to now. However, he is not clearly saying here that he will bring forward legislation to change the status quo on Cabinet confidentiality. Following the commitment to bring in legislation on this, is legislation being prepared? Is the Government bringing forward legislative change on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality or, beyond that, is it contemplating change to the constitutional provision on Cabinet confidentiality?
I hope to have discussion shortly with the Deputy and the other leaders about the constitutional convention. Obviously an issue of legislation in respect of confidentiality is a matter that could be considered by the constitutional convention. I have not advanced work to finality on this issue but any legislation that comes forward here will be in the context of Article 28.4.3°. I do not contemplate a referendum on this, but the constitutional convention might like to reflect on the requirement for Cabinet confidentiality except in the cases where the Constitution dictates that it should be breached or that information of public interest or on the direction of the High Court or in respect of a public inquiry authorised by the Houses of the Oireachtas should require that particular information should be made available.
Is legislation being prepared now?
Not now, no.
10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met the social partners recently; the items that were discussed; the outcome of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32725/11]
11 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the process of social dialogue that he has commenced with the social partners. [34022/11]
12 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent meetings he has held with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34189/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, together.
I have stated on several occasions since taking office that the Government values dialogue with key representatives of civil society. The Government recognises the contribution that social dialogue can make to maximising common understanding across all sectors of society as we respond to the many challenges facing the country.
In October, the Tánaiste and I stated our intention to meet representatives of lead organisations over the coming weeks and months. In this regard the Tánaiste and I met representatives of ICTU on 2 November and we met representatives of the IFA yesterday. I have also arranged to meet representatives of IBEC next week, and I plan to address the ICMSA annual general meeting on Saturday. These meetings are an opportunity for a discussion of broad economic issues and the challenges facing our country in the period ahead, as well as the specific decisions which we face in the context of the 2012 budgetary process.
We also highlighted our support for ongoing bilateral engagement with relevant Ministers on issues of mutual concern, as well as the value of the National Economic and Social Council as a forum for engagement with Government on economic, social and environmental issues. The Tánaiste and I plan to attend a plenary session of the council each year.
The Government's approach to social dialogue does not amount to a return to rigid social partnership structures of the past, but rather involves a more flexible, adaptable approach which can support change. My intention is that senior Ministers, including the Tánaiste and I, will continue to meet representatives of social partner organisations on a periodic basis to discuss matters of mutual concern.
I thank the Taoiseach for his response. I note the meetings that have taken place. The Croke Park agreement is another area in which the Government is claiming credit even though the Government parties originally bitterly opposed it. The act of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, as the great reformer is not fooling anybody. Does the Taoiseach agree that public servants have made a significant contribution to progress on the public finances and that this should be acknowledged more widely? Does he envisage additional contributions over and above the Croke Park agreement in the context of the forthcoming budget and the public finances?
The Deputy is aware that the Croke Park agreement is an essential part of the troika and from that point of view the Government has made it clear that it wishes to honour the commitment given in the agreement. That is only possible if the agreement is implemented in full. I compliment those involved on the efforts in stretching the parameters of the agreement in order to bring about meeting the full conditions set out here. The report of the implementation body published on 15 June shows that solid and measurable progress has been made, which is welcome. It also points out that more urgency and ambition is needed in the period ahead. The Government accepts that assessment. I was pleased that the OECD included a positive assessment of the agreement in its economic survey of Ireland.
Obviously there is enormous pressure to cut expenditure significantly and to ensure that the public is leaner and more effective, and delivers services for the people in the best way possible. It is a case of achievements having been made, but clearly an intensified level of effort and engagement from all concerned, both public service management and unions will be needed in the coming months. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has been in constant contact with the trade unions in respect of the Croke Park agreement. Further significant reductions in public expenditure and the number of public servants will need to be achieved in the months ahead. That is when we will learn of the real potential of the Croke Park agreement in enabling and facilitating fundamental reforms on the scale clearly necessary to do more with less and maintain critical front-line services to the greatest extent possible. A great deal has been undertaken and I realise the pressure that many are under. However, it must be implemented in full because it is part of the agreement.
I call Deputy Adams.
May I ask——
I will come back to Deputy Martin.
In the discussions in which the Taoiseach and Tánaiste engaged, was there any discussion of the temporary agency workers directive? If so, will the Taoiseach outline the detail in that regard and say if the Government will be seeking a derogation or if full effect is to be given to the directive? Perhaps the Taoiseach will say also if the issue of legislation to deal with the joint labour committees was discussed. The Taoiseach met during the election campaign with some of the workers involved and will be aware such legislation is of vital importance to the rights of workers and that Sinn Féin has already introduced legislation to deal with this matter. If negotiations are currently underway at what stage are they and when does the Taoiseach expect the legislation to be introduced? Also, are there difficulties between the two Government parties on this issue? Will it be the Labour Party's way or Minister Bruton's way?
Perhaps the Taoiseach will outline the detail of all the issues which formed part of that dialogue.
There are no difficulties between the parties in Government. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, is dealing with his responsibilities and will bring forth legislation in due course. As regards the temporary agency workers directive, transposition of the directive is the responsibility of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Burton, who is actively seeking to ensure it is transposed in a manner that respects the employment rights of agency workers while safeguarding the labour market flexibility which Ireland must maintain so as to maximise opportunity and not put us at a competitive disadvantage. This matter was discussed with the trade unions. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has contacted ICTU and IBEC with a view to their exploring the possibility of agreement being reached between the national social partners on the derogation available under the EU directive, which would allow member states to fix the qualifying period before which equal treatment of pay and employment conditions would apply. I understand that ICTU has strong reservations and sees no reason to set aside the rights of agency workers to allow for a short qualifying period as, in its view, Government has not to date delivered on issues that are close to Congress, including legislation on the joint labour committee system and collective bargaining.
I have appealed to Congress, in the interests of the general good and so as to not in any way put in jeopardy the jobs agenda, to set aside its reservations and see its way to agreeing a 12 week derogation period under the directive, at least for an initial period of 18-24 months, after which progress made on the issues of importance to Congress could be reviewed. The Deputy will be aware that it is hugely important that Ireland can at least avail of the same 12 week derogation period as will apply in the UK. Otherwise we face losing serious competitive advantage on a number of fronts relative to our closest trading partner. These include being a more expensive place in which to do business from the point of view of employing agency workers, a drop in our attractiveness in terms of the score card for securing new foreign direct investment projects in that we would lose points in terms of labour market flexibility that is vital in terms of retaining the multinational sector and a negative impact on the ability of our indigenous companies to grow exports and employment if the possibility of hiring agency workers, even for short-term contracts to meet seasonal needs or production peaks, is effectively costed out of existence. They are the issues we discussed regarding the directive in respect of which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will shortly bring forth legislation.
Does the Taoiseach have the support of the Labour Party in his efforts to persuade ICTU to swallow its reservations?
It is not a case of swallowing reservations, rather it is a case of making decisions in the best interests of creating an environment in which jobs can flourish and where workers' rights can be respected.
Does the Taoiseach have the support of the Labour Party?
There has been a substantial reduction in public servant numbers from 2008 onwards. However, the Government intends to go beyond the numbers achieved up to end 2010 and to seek a further reduction of 25,000. Perhaps the Taoiseach will clarify if that remains the Government's intention and if that matter was discussed with ICTU and representatives of the public service unions.
On the temporary agency workers directive, there has been much discussion and talk about jobs and so on. The so-called jobs initiative was farcical. It literally took money from pensioners but was not allocated to job creation. The directive on agency workers is fundamental and could have a significant impact on thousands of jobs in our economy. My understanding is that it must be transposed by 6 December. Despite that date being only a few short weeks away, we have had no sight of any proposals in regard to that directive. It is simply slipping by with no one paying it any attention. There has been no substantive public debate on this directive which affects thousands of jobs, which calls into question whether people are paying lip-service to jobs.
A question, please.
Perhaps the Government will set aside time in the House next week for discussion on the directive so Members can articulate their views on it and the social partners can hear what a broad representative sample of the House have to say on it and its impact on jobs and unemployment. A criticism which the Taoiseach would have levelled when on this side of the House, with some validity, was that the social partnership process excluded parliamentarians and politicians from influencing in a broader way the outcomes of that social dialogue.
The Government has entered into a new phase of social dialogue. The Taoiseach has confirmed that he has had discussions with ICTU with a view to persuading it to agree to a derogation of 12 weeks. Earliest indications from Great Britain are that implementation of the directive there has impacted negatively on jobs. In other words, 25% fewer jobs than prior to implementation of the directive are now available to agency workers. I believe it has incredible implications for foreign direct investment——
——and for the multinational companies here which employ large numbers of people seasonally, in particular leading up to Christmas, in the area of consumer and technology products and in a range of other areas. I do not wish to name any companies. However, they do employ substantive numbers of people and have done in recent years owing to their success in terms of the products they have developed. There is a balance to be struck here.
I ask that the Government allow time in the House for discussion on the directive. This would allow spokespersons of the various parties to put forward their perspectives on the issue.
This is an important matter. Every job we can create is of vital importance. The discussions we had with ICTU were pragmatic and there was understanding on both sides. The views outlined by me earlier for the Deputy were put forward, including the attractiveness of this country for foreign direct investment. We do not want to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage to our nearest neighbour. Obviously, an issue arises in respect of a derogation period. That matter is of critical importance. The joint labour committee and employment regulation orders issue must also be discussed. I can assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is working hard on this issue. While I would prefer that the legislation to be introduced by the Minister were debated in the House, I will put Deputy Martin's proposal at the Whips' meeting and in the event of the legislation not being available in the next week or two I will not object to the House discussing the directive.
While in normal circumstances 40 pieces of legislation would be produced and published during a calendar year, owing to the conditions of the troika 30 pieces of legislation have had to be produced and published this session. The Attorney General's office has been under enormous pressure producing all the relevant legislation. I can confirm to the House that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is working hard on the relevant legislation. As soon as it is ready, it will be cleared by Cabinet and brought before the House for discussion.
What happens if the Government does not meet the EU deadline? I am only seeking a debate on the directive. As I understand it, there must be agreement between the social partners before the Minister can proceed with the derogation. The Government could, therefore, be in a stalemate situation by 5 December and the directive would then by default come into play. There is a legitimacy in saying that the parliament needs to be aware of this and needs the opportunity to debate it in advance of that situation arriving as a fait accompli on our doorsteps. I ask that the Taoiseach give urgent consideration to allowing a general debate on the directive, at which time Members can put forward their perspectives.
The Taoiseach has already answered that question.
It is hoped that an agreement can be arrived at and that we can proceed with debating the legislation. The up-to-date position will become clear in the course of this week. I will speak to the Chief Whip about the possibility of a debate at some stage next week. I have no objection to such a debate and it is not a bad suggestion.
13 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the meetings he has attended at Cabinet sub-committee and-or at official level on job creation. [32727/11]
14 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the meetings he has attended in relation to the issue of job creation. [34190/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.
Job creation is a key priority for the Government and is a central focus of my work and that of my ministerial colleagues and the State agencies. In my role as Taoiseach, I attend meetings related to jobs and job creation on an ongoing basis as part of my engagements at home and abroad. I also chair the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and jobs which has met on three occasions to date and is due to meet again on Thursday. Job creation is also an important part of the mandate of other Cabinet committees, including the Cabinet committee on economic infrastructure, which has met five times to date.
I tabled this question because the unemployment situation is, without question, the most important issue facing the Irish people. The domestic economy is extremely flat and it is calling out for fresh initiatives and new ideas on how new opportunities can be created for people who are unemployed and for the many young people coming out of the colleges. The House has just discussed the temporary agency directive, which is critical for employment creation and for employment retention. I am concerned at the lack of urgency and also at the lack of public debate with regard to this issue. I note the Taoiseach has indicated he will give consideration to such a debate.
The jobs initiative has proved to be a damp squib in its impact. I ask the Taoiseach to indicate whether at the meetings he has attended he has considered a review of the initiative and in particular a review of the pension levy which was a raid on pensioners, supposedly to fund job creation. We have learned from parliamentary questions and replies to same that the funds raised from the pensioners has not been used for job creation at all and that a large bulk of it has remained, essentially, unspent on job creation projects.
There is a dearth of any fresh or radical approach to job creation. Despite the number of Cabinet sub-committee meetings and official meetings attended by the Taoiseach, there seems to be little in the way of real substantive initiatives for job creation.
The Taoiseach referred earlier to the capital programme which has been cut back by €750 million. This will result in thousands of jobs being lost which otherwise would have been created if he had looked differently at how he would meet the fiscal adjustment target of 8.6% of GDP. He has gone for what I would call the soft options politically. It is clear there are tensions within the Cabinet about the most basic of issues and that there is no agreement about a budgetary framework to meet the targets.
Could the Deputy ask a question, please?
This suggests to me that the focus on job creation is being lost as a result——
Deputy Adams has a question.
——and hence there is an excessive focus on issues like capital spending which can make a fundamental difference to the productive capacity of the economy and create jobs.
There is no question in anyone's mind that the most important legacy of any Government is its capacity to create jobs and work, to get people off the dole and into employment. Work is a source of dignity and respect for people. It provides a challenge and a motivation for them to get up in the morning to go to work and to contribute to their own local economy, their parish, their town, their county and their country.
One of the big issues raised when I meet business people all over the country has been the question of lack of access to credit and lack of availability of credit. For this reason we called in the banks last week to discuss this question and to hear from the two pillar banks whether they can meet their targets of lending €3 billion each this year. It transpires that elements of that €3 billion are restructured loans and new finance.
The Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, is at the point of being able to bring forward his proposals in respect of a microfinance agency and legislation for partial loan guarantee schemes. The pension levy, to which the Deputy referred, is a temporary levy in respect of which the pensions industry could well absorb the cost involved. That money has been channelled into the reduction of PRSI for particularly lower paid workers and for VAT reductions in the hospitality sector. The latest report clearly indicates that the VAT reduction had a direct impact on the rising number of tourists, which in turn has a beneficial effect on local economies.
From that perspective, we will continue to look at imaginative ways of stimulating the indigenous economy. For example, the short-term visa waiver programme now applies to 14 nationalities who would ordinarily require a visa to enter the State and there has been great interest in this programme. Approximately 1,000 jobs will be created by capital injection towards the rehabilitation of local and national roads. An extensive retrofitting energy scheme has the capacity for significant employment. The Government will provide €30 million for school works in addition to €41 million already provided for the schools summer works scheme. This will support 2,400 direct jobs and almost 500 indirect jobs during the period of the works.
I want to see a real jobs strategy. The Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, and the Minister, Deputy Bruton will, along with the budget, focus on a jobs strategy to get the country working. We all want to see the creation of opportunities and to get people off the dole.
I agree with everything the Taoiseach said in his opening remarks. There is no more important part of the legacy of a Government than to have created jobs. By his own admission, at the end of his Government's four year austerity programme, there will be almost as many people still unemployed as there are now. This is the biggest crisis facing the State. Can the idea of a substantive jobs stimulus not find favour with the Government? One of Sinn Féin's propositions in its pre-budget submission is to take money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and from the European Central Bank and to use it for the creation of new jobs and the retention of existing jobs. I commend this proposition to the Taoiseach as one way of getting people back to work, growing the economy, bringing back confidence and giving people the dignity they require.
Of course it would be lovely to say we will provide a major financial stimulus for the lifting of the indigenous economy. The Deputy realises at long last that we are not in control of our economic destiny here because the paymaster general is in the corner——
I have known it all my life.
The Deputy has his own view about the whole European business.
Deputy Martin referred to capital works. If I were to say we plan to increase income tax by 5% or 6% to pay for these projects, this would increase both taxes and debt but this is not the way to go. There must be a balance between achieving the fiscal adjustment target of 8.6% of GDP on the one hand and re-focusing our attention on cutting out red tape and administrative blockages so that all the effort goes into releasing the opportunity for people to create work.
Across the country there are many examples of small businesses, entrepreneurs and young people who have new and creative ideas and businesses. Even if these businesses only employ a small number, confidence will be grow. The Government will provide microfinance credit opportunities and there will be a reduction in red tape and bureaucracy which applies. For instance, many LEADER groups have told me they have money in their funds but the associated red tape and bureaucracy makes it impossible to access it. The system will have to be simplified so that entrepreneurs or young people with ideas will be given the opportunity to give it a go.
I apologise to Deputy Adams but we are over time.
Written Answers follow Adjournment.