I did not anticipate we would be discussing this issue here on 21 February because the impression was given that it was off the agenda. It was an initial proposal by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Burton, which was to have been debated in government and withdrawn, presumably at the insistence of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, actively encouraged by some of his backbenchers, but apparently it seems to be back on the agenda. This has perturbed business spokesmen and spokeswomen all over the country.
What is being proposed will impose horrendous extra costs on businesses that are already struggling, particularly small businesses. Sick pay is paid out of the social insurance fund. The employers of this country for the last year for which we have figures, 2010, contributed more than €5 billion to the social insurance fund and now they are being asked to pay on the double.
We have heard various statements that the Government is obsessed with employment, everything it does is geared towards creating employment and every policy initiative is to be employment-orientated. If that is the case, can the Minister tell me why the Government has not done anything to date about issues such as commercial rates, which are a guaranteed job destroyer? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that. Why has the Government done nothing about upward only rents despite its pre-election promises? If there is a constitutional issue, it can be easily sorted out by adding an extra question for the next referendum. Why is the Government allowing insurance costs, energy costs and utility costs to rise? Why did the Government decide to make the cost of making people redundant, which affects firms downsizing to preserve their business, two and half time what it costs in the United Kingdom and very uncompetitive vis-à-vis the rest of Europe? If the Government is so obsessed with employment, why has this proposal come back on the agenda, and what is its current status? That is the reason I raised this issue today - I want clear answers. I am not alone in my anxiety about the matter. To quote a number of the Minister’s party backbenchers at random, Deputy Charles Flanagan described this move as “anti-business and anti-jobs”, while Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor, as late as this morning on Newstalk FM, stated that more debate was needed and that businesses feel this will be an expense too far. I agree with those Deputies. It is an expense too far. The Minister will realise, having produced a 170-page document on job creation, that much remains to be done to remove the barriers to job creation, but that is what we should be doing. We should be removing the barriers to job creation, not putting more in place in the shape of further costs for small and struggling businesses.