Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 8 Mar 2012

Vol. 758 No. 3

Public Sector Numbers: Statements

The size of the public service grew significantly in the early years of the last decade. By 2008, some 320,000 were employed in the public service and, by 2009, the gross Exchequer pay bill peaked at more than €17.5 billion. It is perhaps easy to become jaded in our discussion of public service pay costs. However, I would ask the House to note that the total net cost of the public service pay bill will be reduced from 2008 to 2015 by some €3.5 billion - by 20% in seven years. This reduction is necessary to contribute to the fiscal adjustment targets essential for our economy.

While commenting on public service numbers and the associated pay bill, we must always remember that these costs are the price we pay for a civilised society. Public servants educate our children, care for our sick and disabled, clean our streets and protect our environment. Public servants ensure that our rights are protected and our person, homes and businesses are secure. In an emergency, gardaí, fire and ambulance crews and members of the Defence Forces willingly place their lives at risk in the service of the State and their fellow citizens. Less dramatic but no less important is the role played by public servants in the administration of a complex modern society such as ours. Bluntly, too much odium has been poured upon public servants in an effort to divide public and private in recent years, which I regret.

Citizens expect and demand a wide range of services to ensure their rights are protected and their well-being is ensured in such areas as housing, water, transport, food safety and the provision of a social welfare safety net. Business requires an appropriate regulatory environment in which to operate and flourish. Without such services it would be impossible to attract inward investment and international confidence. In short, the myriad of roles undertaken by the public service has ensured we now have the healthiest, best educated and most innovative population in this country's history.

As I stated, the Government is committed to reducing public service numbers and producing a more customer focused, efficient and better integrated public service which delivers maximum value for money. This is not being done merely because it is a fiscal imperative; it is being done to ensure we can continue to enjoy a vibrant, modern, forward looking civil society.

The Government must and will continue to give close attention to the State's finances. Ireland is committed under the EU-IMF programme to reducing the overall size of the public service and this is also a key element of the programme for Government agreed one year ago between the two parties. Delivering this reduction will require continued implementation of the moratorium on recruitment, with exceptions being limited to only essential posts and the utilisation of redeployment as the primary mechanism to fill posts which have been approved. To protect frontline services, the Government is committed to making fundamental changes to the way the public service operates. This will inevitably mean changes in the way in which services to the public are delivered.

As Deputies will no doubt be aware, the Government is committed to reducing public service numbers to 282,500 by the end of 2015 as part of its reform agenda. The overriding objective is to have a more customer focused, leaner, more efficient and better integrated public service which delivers maximum value for money. The establishment of enhanced numbers monitoring systems and multi-annual employment frameworks has strengthened the Government's capacity to control public service pay and plan future staffing levels. Today, I am pleased to inform Deputies that significant progress is being made in reducing the numbers employed in the public service. The numbers working in the public service have continued to fall, with the provisional outturn for the end of last year now standing at 296,900, which means we are now at close to the 2005 staffing levels. This is a year-on-year reduction from the end of 2010 of more than 8,500. The employment control framework ceiling for the public service in 2011 was 301,000. To exceed this target by more than 4,000 is impressive.

The public service pay bill has stabilised and we are now back to 2006 pay levels. This is no small achievement and I recognise the impact this has had on public service workers and their families, although, given the response in some quarters, one would think there has not been a significant contribution to our economic recovery from the public service. I would like to salute the many people in our public services who are striving daily to deliver a first-class service with reduced resources and increased demands.

I am confident that, given the number of departures last year, together with estimated retirement figures for 2012, we are well on track to meet our 2012 target of 294,400, exceeding the target set by the previous Government by two years. This will allow us headroom to recruit up to 3,000 additional staff this year to maintain services, mainly in the health and education sectors, which Deputy Ó Caoláin will be glad to hear.

Of course, such a reduction in public service numbers will pose challenges. It will require a re-focus on business processes and adjustments to the way public servants use available resources. It will require changes to the way individual public servants go about their daily work and greater flexibility in the way services are provided, for example, with greater use of technology and shared services. I am certain, however, that our public servants are capable of meeting and exceeding these challenges. The Croke Park agreement demands a number of specific sectoral and cross-sectoral reforms. Some of these are designed to save money directly, others are tools to manage and prioritise services, as staff numbers decline. Reforms so far delivered include reduced leave, extended working hours, rationalisation of agencies, centralised and shared services, staff relocation and staff redeployment.

The redeployment arrangements contained in the Public Service Agreement 2010-14, popularly known as the Croke Park agreement, allow the Government to sustain priority services by providing the Government with an effective and efficient mechanism for allocating staff to the areas of highest priority without the need to resort to outside recruitment. Where recruitment is necessary, this can and will be undertaken within the parameters of the Government's numbers and budgetary strategy.

There are some who question the Croke Park agreement. However, it has provided the framework of co-operation and flexibility to enable us to effect a necessary reduction in the Exchequer pay and pensions bill in a climate of industrial peace. That is very important. Few of the critics of the Croke Park agreement recognise that it is almost unique in Europe that we are making such fundamental change without industrial unrest and without impact on frontline services. In simple terms, the agreement provides an agreed framework to reduce base costs, to enhance productivity and to support the public service reform agenda. There are real advantages to the State as an employer to be able to pursue this ambitious programme without industrial strife.

In addition, where the circumstances require it, the Croke Park agreement allows for targeted voluntary exit mechanisms in the public service. It is envisaged that such mechanisms will be required only when redeployment or upskilling are not appropriate and a permanent reduction in numbers is required.

There was some focus on my comments during Question Time last week that the next round of exits would be targeted. I did not wish to imply that there would be a great new set of programmes but, in future, now that those who wished to exit before the impact of the reduced pay affected their pensions and lump sums, we would look at areas that are overstaffed to see whether we could shrink those as well.

As Members are aware, some concern has been expressed about the ending of the grace period towards the end of last month. I am pleased that the considerable work undertaken in all areas of the public service has ensured that the nightmare scenario depicted by some has not materialised. It is a little like the year 2000 when people expected something catastrophic to happen. I am pleased that the management controls, supports and flexibilities that were put in place have managed to get us over that period. It was expected that between late 2011 and spring 2012 approximately 9,000 public servants would retire. The latest figures suggest we will have exceeded that slightly. Overall, there will be approximately 17,000 retirements between 2011 and 2012, which equates to three years of retirements truncated into two.

I suspect that in many cases Deputies misunderstood the extent of the departures in February. Approximately 8,000 retirements will occur over 2012. What is different this year is that most of the retirements are happening in the first two months rather than over the 12 months as a whole. It is always the case that staff retiring in any organisation will be among the most experienced. However it is the responsibility of local management to handle ongoing staff turnover. It gives opportunities for people to naturally migrate upwards in the public service.

Sectoral transition teams have been put in place to deal with the specific short-term challenges arising from the ending of the grace period. The reports from these teams indicate that they have given due consideration to the impact of staffing reductions on the various sectors, and the most fitting and expeditious ways of managing those have been put in place. As they have the most current information on service provision at a local level, each sectoral transition team has been directed to communicate actively with the public via whichever appropriate means to allay concerns with regard to critical front-line service delivery. I said at the beginning of the process that I would not seek to micro-manage it from the top and that there was a responsibility on front-line managers to manage their staffing. They are sufficiently skilled and paid to do that, and to communicate any difficulties if they arise and their plans to deal with them at local level. Public concerns about service levels are being addressed proactively and the public should and will be kept informed of business continuity arrangements that are in place.

Much has been made also of the fact that public service pension costs are set to rise from €2.1 billion in 2008 to €3.1 billion in 2015. However, it should be noted that the €1 billion increase in Exchequer pension costs represents a pension liability that was due to mature in any event as a result of the normal retirement of staff recruited 30 to 40 years ago and - this is a critical point - it does not represent a new liability for the Exchequer. Those who wish to recognise the point do and those who do not, do not recognise it. The liability was always known. Those people were coming up to the age of retirement in any event and provision has been made because they were paying for their pension for the past 40 years.

There was a significant expansion in many parts of the public service in the 1970s, influenced among other factors by the accession of this country to the then EEC and the introduction of free second level education. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that we would see additional public service pensioners coming on-stream in this decade as the original cohort of staff reach the end of their careers.

The increased number of retirements and the changed nature of society present the Government with the challenge and the opportunity to reshape and reform the public service to meet emerging social needs. That is the central mission of my Department. To help with the task, the Government has established strategic workforce planning groups in the Civil Service and in the education, health, local authority, defence and justice sectors. These workforce planning groups will ensure that sectoral employers are developing plans to deal with the operational and strategic consequences arising from the anticipated staff turnover in 2012 and future years on an ongoing basis. The sectoral groups are liaising with the central strategic workforce planning forum under my Department.

While the primary focus of the numbers policy will remain the reduction in the public service pay bill, there will also be an opportunity in the coming years to reinforce the upskilling and reform of the public service. It is important that longer-term workforce planning needs are also addressed with, initially, a very small-scale recruitment of staff at various levels across the various parts of the public service. Measures such as the targeted graduate recruitment competition, which is now under way, will address such gaps.

I reiterate that in the first instance, responsibility for operational planning must and will rest with the relevant public service body and its parent Department. To mitigate the impact on front-line service provision as far as possible, with the co-operation and flexibility of individual public servants, we will fully use the mechanisms set out in the Croke Park agreement, including the filling of essential posts and the utilisation of redeployment.

Public services are essential to the functioning of the economy and society. Citizens and businesses expect and demand a modern public service that is continually improving and delivering more and better for citizens. It is the intention of the Government to ensure we have such a public service not only for this generation but for the next and future generations.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this special debate on public sector numbers. I acknowledge that time has been provided for the debate by the Government. It is probably a good time to have the debate now that 29 February has come and gone. There was much debate, discussion and anxiety in the months prior to that date. Perhaps the Minister is correct. The public might be a little jaded with the topic at this stage. However, it is important to have an objective discussion on the matter at this remove.

There is not a family in this country that is not composed of a mixture of private sector and public sector employees when they meet for Christmas dinner, a wedding, christening or funeral. I have yet to meet a family that was all in one category or another. Inevitably, because of the recession, heated debates regularly occur in most houses when there is a big social gathering involving brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws and outlaws all assembled with different perspectives. My intention in the debate is to maintain social cohesion and not to set one group against the other because, ultimately, we all work to earn a living and everyone wants to do that to the best of his or her ability. Whether one works in the public sector or the private sector, it is important that people would do that.

It might not be popular among certain groups to say that those in the public service have taken quite a hit in recent years. A myth exists that people are getting off scot free and those in the private sector are losing their jobs. I accept that is true and there is suffering all around. I wish to refer to an interesting set of statistics that came out yesterday as part of the quarterly household survey. I looked in detail at the figures produced. Reference is made to employment in the Civil Service, the Defence Forces, the Garda Síochána, the education sector, regional bodies in the health sector and, separately, in the semi-State sector, as well as the total number in the State sector and the private sector. The figures date from 2008 to the end of 2011, which was just the other day. This will surprise people. The figures to which I refer represent people working in the public service, not whole-time equivalents. The numbers to which I refer will not correlate with the 292 to which the Minister referred. I assume when he referred to a post he referred to whole-time equivalents. We are all aware that in every walk of life in the public sector, there is an element of job sharing in some posts. At the end of 2008 a total of 21% of the workforce worked in the public sector, excluding semi-State bodies, and 25% of the entire workforce in this country at the end of 2008, out of a total workforce of 1.713 million, worked in either the public sector or the semi-State sector, and 75.1% worked in the private sector. We are all aware that our workforce, the current figure for which is 1.532 million, has reduced. The number currently employed in the public sector and semi-State area represents 25.8% of the workforce and the number employed in the private sector represents 74.2%. Four years ago, three quarters of the workforce was in the private sector. Following jobs losses in the private sector and the introduction of a moratorium and retirements in the public sector, the position remains the same, namely, 75% of the workforce is employed in the private sector and 25% is employed in the public sector, which is remarkable. These figures were published yesterday by the Central Statistics Office.

We are all aware that half of the jobs lost in the public sector were in the health sector. I will deal separately with that matter later. I recently heard a person say that the Croke Park Agreement was put in place to protect the pay of public sector staff even if this meant people had to retire or jobs were lost. What that person failed to take into account is that prior to the Croke Park agreement pension levies and pay cuts had been imposed on the public sector. There are now job losses in the public sector and pay rates for public sector employees have not increased. Many people have spoken of employers giving their employees the option of taking a 10% cut in order that all could retain their jobs or of retaining their wage and one person being let go. I believe most people would have agreed to take a small pay cut, thus keeping everyone in employment. People have forgotten in the debate on this issue that public sector employees did not have any choice but to suffer the pay cuts and pension levies. This is perhaps one of the reasons I am on this side of the House, which I understand. Anyone who does not understand this does not understand Irish society.

Many public servants did not vote for members of the previous Government in the last election because of the hit they had taken to their pockets. While I do not want to get too political now, many public servants voted for the Labour Party because they were not happy with Fianna Fáil. They might also have been afraid that Fine Gael if elected would cut their wages further. They voted for the Labour Party because they believed it would be more moderate. I hope the Labour Party lives up to their expectation. While I acknowledge that other people will have a different view in this regard, that is mine.

The Minister stated earlier that the public sector bill, which in 2008 was €17.5 billion, will reduce over a seven year period by €3.7 billion or 20% to €14 billion by 2015. Having looked at the figures again, I note that most of the reductions in the pay bill occurred between 2009-2011. The actual reduction in the pay bill for 2012-2013 will be modest.

It will be €400 million.

It is modest relative to the more than one billion saved during previous years.

Yes. It is the level of saving that will be made on a permanent basis. All organisations must review their pay and pensions bills. I will not engage in a debate on there not being any new liability because people are retiring. However, pay and pension costs need to be addressed. The Minister stated that the pay bill in 2008 was €17.5 billion and the pension bill was €2.1 billion, which gives us a total of €19.6 billion and that the pay bill at the end of 2015 will be €3.5 billion less, bringing it to €14 billion. However, the pension bill will have increased by €1 billion to €3.1 billion. Most companies record pay and pension expenses in their accounts. They do not try to pretend they are not connected because they are to some extent.

There will be no new liability.

I am speaking only about the cost involved. The Minister stated that there will be a 20% reduction in the cost of the public sector pay bill. However, when one adds the cost of the pay bill to the cost of the pensions bill, the actual reduction achieved between 2008 and 2015 will be only 12% or 13%, which while only a modest reduction is to be welcomed.

We have had several opportunities to debate maintenance of front-line services, accident and emergency units and so on and I will not get into that now. However, it is important there is flexibility within the public service and that the Croke Park agreement delivers in this regard. I will give some examples. Currently people engaged in administrative work can be redeployed to free up staff to assist in the delivery of front line services. For example, the employment of clerical staff in the Garda Síochána has allowed gardaí to do more policing work in terms of enforcement of the law and prevention and detection of crime and so on.

I would like now to revisit an issue which first arose many years ago. One of the challenges of the Croke Park agreement will be elimination of the different pay anomalies and arrangements in the public service, including the differing levels of annual leave for county managers. One particular example - this matter arose many times at Committee of Public Accounts meetings - in respect of which the previous Administration got a great deal of flack, is the cost and failure of the PPARs system in the HSE. The system is working well in many parts of the country. On the last occasion a chief executive from the HSE was before the Committee of Public Accounts it was stated that a hold had been put on rolling it out countrywide.

The key point is that when structures within the HSE were examined, in terms of pay, holiday leave entitlements and so on, 2,700 different arrangements were identified. There were more than 50 different rostering schedules in respect of porters, who open and close doors. I am told that these arrangements were put in place by county health committees which later became regional health boards and subsequently the Health Service Executive. An attempt was made to computerise the payroll system within the HSE. However, I believe that the operation on the ground should have been streamlined before this commenced. Had that been done, computerisation of the payroll system would have been easier. An attempt was also made to computerise the 2,700 different local arrangements in place.

We all know that staff in some hospitals get an hour off to attend mass on a holy day, a half day off to attend a local festival, time off to cash their cheques, despite that they are no longer paid by cheque and so on. Staff in the Defence Forces who live within 100 km of the Border are still being paid allowances for Border duty. Up to recently, new recruits were being paid Border duty allowances despite that such duty is no longer done. All of these issues need to be addressed through the Croke Park agreement. I will be impressing on the chairman of the implementation body the need for him to produce a comprehensive report on the Croke Park agreement. If he does not, the public will lose confidence in it. I will tell Mr. Fitzpatrick, who is a man of great competence, that in the public interest he needs to deliver a report which details Department by Department what shortcomings or good news has been identified. The public is not interested in hearing about overall cost savings. It is important, if the Croke Park agreement is to be continued, that the public retains confidence in it.

A point often forgotten in the debate on this issue is that the Croke Park agreement brought about a level of industrial peace. We have not had the type of disputes or protests witnessed in Greece. Many people will say public servants have not gone on strike because they have retained their well paid jobs. Many public servants are not well paid.

Members can concentrate on another day on the coterie of people who are in receipt of more than €100,000. While I acknowledge they exist and this is too high, most people in the public service who I meet have pay packets of approximately €500 per week. Moreover, many public servants who work in my local authority probably are eligible for social housing, such is the level of their income, and this must be taken into account.

People must realise what would be the impact of the absence of industrial peace. For example, what would a hiccup in the health service lasting one to three weeks do to the waiting lists? All elective surgery would be postponed and accident and emergency activity would be postponed for several days. I acknowledge people working in the health service would never walk off the job and fail to deal with urgent, emergency cases, but industrial action would add to the backlog and probably would set back public access to the health services by several months, as measured by waiting lists. It would be the same were anything to happen in the education sector. I do not believe the Government ever should be soft in giving pay simply to buy industrial peace, but it would be the same story in respect of social welfare. If people did not receive cheques or money into their bank accounts every Thursday morning, there would be revolution on the streets.

In debates like this, it is important for Members to remember that people no longer live from week to week but are living day to day. Today is Thursday and many people in Ireland have not eaten since Tuesday. I have met people in my constituency who had no heating in their houses. In that context, I will say something extraordinary: this recession has an aroma. I now regularly meet people who, due to their poverty, lack the money for fuel to heat their houses. Their clothes become damp when they go outdoors and, on their return home, they lack heating in their houses to dry their clothes. When one meets such people the next day, there is a smell of damp clothes in the air. People should begin to realise this is the current position. Although calling up the lorry to fill up the tank with central heating oil may be fine for some people, it is different for other people, both in my constituency and that of the Minister. The main oil distributors in County Laois and elsewhere allow people to fill a five-gallon drum to bring home enough heating oil to keep the central heating in their houses running for a week. This is the state to which people have been reduced. People used to speak of being obliged to draw water but at present, some people are drawing central heating oil home in five-gallon drums. This is the level of poverty that obtains at present and, consequently, Members seek to protect the current level of social welfare payments. While Members can get all hot and bothered in the Chamber about the big issues, they must remember that poverty levels are increasing and such people must be the focus of their attention.

In recent weeks, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has repeatedly denied that the 9,000 public sector workers who have retired over recent months have done so as part of an incentivised scheme under agreements made under the Croke Park agreement. I am not quite sure of the reason the Minister feels he must lead every discussion on the retirements now under address with an indignant rebuttal of the facts. How does an employer achieve significant downsizing of his or her organisation? The answer, of course, is by incentivised redundancies or enhanced retirement packages. It is an absolute nonsense for any Cabinet member to stand up in this Chamber and deny the grace period retirement scheme is anything but an incentivised scheme. The programme for Government commits to a reduction in public sector employees of between 18,000 and 21,000 by 2014. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform reaffirmed this commitment in his budget 2012 announcements, which stated the Government expects to reduce public sector numbers by 37,500 by 2015 from the number of workers in the service in 2008. There is no ambiguity here. Fine Gael and the Labour Party have shouted from the hilltops their commitment to slash tens of thousands of public sector jobs.

This incentivised scheme has not targeted, for example, the much talked about bureaucracy across the HSE. It does not reflect new structures or seek to complement the public sector reforms about which one hears so much. It literally has been a free-for-all that has hit the front line hardest and has resulted in an overnight exodus of knowledge, skills, experience and expertise that have been developed over many years. It is plain silly for any Minister to tell Members the loss of 7,500 staff in the last two months, and 9,000 staff in total, is no big deal. It is a very big deal. Change management consultant Eddie Molloy has commented that such a significant loss of senior knowledge and skills across the public sector would take five years to process if managed correctly. While the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform can talk about transition teams till the cows come home, the simple fact is that by its own admission, the Government knew neither who was leaving the public sector nor the numbers involved until the end of January of this year. The health service alone has lost 4,200 posts, while education, the Civil Service, local authorities, defence and the Garda have lost 2,058, 1,236, 931, 362 and 310, respectively.

In the recently published HSE regional plans for 2012, there is no sign of what the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, called his "dynamic contingency plan" to cope with the loss of staff. My local HSE region, Dublin-north east, covers north Dublin and counties Cavan, Louth, Meath and Monaghan. It saw the retirement of 400 staff by the end of February and, on top of this, the service plan for this region states that up to 561 more staff will need to leave the service this year. The exodus of 961 staff from one region will be a devastating blow to health services across the board, a fact the Minister could not bring himself to admit when I questioned him on this matter in the Dáil on 15 February. The HSE Dublin-north east plan states these further significant reductions will be needed before any priority replacement staff are recruited.

Last month, the HSE chief executive, Mr. Cathal Magee, told the Committee of Public Accounts that he intends to take on 400 mental health staff. However, when questioned further by Sinn Féin, he admitted that 500 mental health workers, including 370 nurses, will leave the health service under the Croke Park early retirement scheme. This is a net loss of 100 mental health workers hidden behind a so-called good news story by the HSE and is just one example of how skewed the Government's policy is.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, perhaps naturally, has shirked ministerial responsibility for managing the decrease in personnel by stating it is a matter for the public services bodies and their respective Departments. Public services bodies must first look at work practices, reorganisation and redeployment and only then, if a Department identifies a "potential exception to the moratorium on recruitment", can it seek new recruits under the sanction of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. However, he and other Ministers have stated they may recruit up to 3,000 new public sector workers, although all may not be on a full-time permanent basis. It is clear there is no actual Cabinet strategy to deal with the impact on services arising from the job losses.

Sinn Féin's proposals to tackle the budget deficit expenditure would eliminate waste and protect front-line services. Our proposals did not require an incentivised retirement scheme and allowed an additional €145 million to ease the recruitment ban for front-line services. Sinn Féin would tackle excessive pay and pension in the upper echelons of the public sector. It is unacceptable to protect the pay privileges enjoyed by the almost 7,000 highest paid civil servants at the expense of desperately needed nurses and special needs assistants. I can only imagine what would have been the reaction of the Minister if the Labour Party was still in opposition.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party continue to peddle the myth that the public sector is bloated. I accept that public sector numbers increased between 1995 and 2007. However, this increase was set against a very low base. Even before the reduction in current public sector numbers, Ireland had the third smallest public expenditure as a percentage of GDP in the world and was only above Mexico and Korea in this regard. People should consider the facts. Heaping private bank debt on to the sovereign has skewed the figures but the fact remains that we do not have excessive numbers of public sector workers.

Savings can be found and must be made. Nobody would argue against that. Flexible work practices and interdepartmental redeployment must be both continued and accommodated. The economic advantages of shared services and online facilities have not been fully realised across Departments and local authorities. This is not reform, however, it is merely a process of belated modernisation. It is public sector management finally playing catch-up with the private sector. Radical reform would be constituted in the form of an agreement which ended the culture of entitlement and lack of accountability across the top levels in the public sector. We are continually informed that these individuals, whomever they may be, are worth the big bucks they are paid. As recent studies have shown, however, this is not the case.

A research paper published November 2011 by the Institute of Public Administration, entitled, Public Sector Trends 2011, found that remuneration rates vary significantly from top levels to bottom levels in central government, with a much bigger gap than that which exists in the Nordic countries. The remuneration paid to top and middle management in central government is significantly higher than European norms, while that paid to administrative staff is towards the lower end of those norms. Let us consider the position in this regard. Senior public servants' remuneration levels are over seven times those of administrative staff. In Nordic countries, those levels are only 3.5 times greater. Middle management remuneration levels in this State are four times greater than those of administrative staff. In Nordic countries, they are two times greater. The Government's organisational review programme of Departments outlines myriad management failures. Such is the depth of the problems in the Department of Education and Skills with the disbursement of European Globalisation Fund moneys that the relevant Minister has described his officials' handling of the funding as "maladministration".

The reality remains that front-line services are delivered by people and if the Government keeps hacking away at public sector numbers, this will make a bad situation infinitely worse. Some 85% of the HSE's staff are front-line workers, with 93% of them involved in direct service delivery. It is nonsense to suggest that the loss of 4,200 positions will not impact adversely on the health service's ability to provide health care. In his initial contribution, the Minister said that, despite the reduction in numbers, it appears things are still being done. He should make no mistake: it is early days.

The Deputy should not will a disaster upon us.

It is only one week since the final departure under the incentivised scheme passed. It gives none of us any comfort to state that real issues and problems are going to arise because adequate provision has not been made across all services and Departments. The retirements in question follow hot on the heels of a devastating recruitment embargo across the public sector which has decimated the front line. No where is this more in evidence than in the area of health.

The sovereign deficit must be addressed and no one is arguing against public sector reform because it must happen. However, slashing public sector numbers will neither solve the State's economic crisis, nor will it deliver real reform. This approach just does not tick the boxes.

The reduction in numbers is 3%.

People pay taxes with the expectation that they will receive basic social protections, health care and education for their families and other standard services. The Minister has been a champion of all of these throughout his political life. If, however, the public sector does not have adequate numbers to deliver services, then we are facing into a very real and protracted crisis.

This Government has alternatives available to it in the context of addressing the Exchequer deficit. In that context, why not secure a write-down of the capital payment of the promissory note relating to the former Anglo Irish Bank, which will cost €30 billion plus the additional cost of borrowing the capital? Why not tackle the State's soaring levels of structural unemployment through a capital stimulus investment programme funded by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the European Investment Bank? Why not complete the regeneration projects in Limerick and Dublin? Why not properly kick-start the wind power industry across the island by working with commercial semi-State management and leveraging State assets? Why not provide the necessary capital investment to roll out next generation broadband, taking Ireland to the top of the broadband league? Why not increase our competitiveness and, critically, our attractiveness in the context of the creation of further high-tech jobs? These are just a few examples of what could and should be done.

It is most disappointing to be obliged to note - the sense of disappointment in this regard is greatest among all of those who bought into the promises made by the Minister's party and Fine Gael just over 12 months ago - that the Government, like Fianna Fáil before it, continues to trot out the same failed proposals that have done such a disservice to ordinary citizens throughout both our domestically created crisis and the world economic crisis. Quite frankly, those citizens deserve better.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy who is sharing time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

The title of these statements, which relates to public sector numbers, is wrong. The title should have referred to the reform of the public service and the provision of quality public services to the citizens of the State. The focus of our attention must be on these aspects of the debate. People are required in order that quality public services might be delivered. The Minister referred to managers being employed to manage. The difficulty is that this presupposes an equal distribution of managers, both geographically and across the relevant skill sets, which simply does not exist. We face a major challenge in this regard.

It is understandable that unions will represent the best interests of their members. A great deal of rubbish has been uttered in respect of the Croke Park agreement. The latter certainly offers particular benefits and we would have run into serious difficulties without it. The agreement is compartmentalised in respect of public servants. The focus of the Government and the Minister's Department is, for economic reasons, to reduce public service numbers. I am concerned that the focus of attention on public services will only happen somewhere down the line. There is a need to focus on those services now.

I wish to refer to a couple of matters. I wrote to the Garda Commissioner yesterday seeking a meeting. We had a meeting with the assistant commissioners last year and we might as well not have bothered doing so. This has been the case on several occasions in the past. I wish to highlight the position in the context of the unfair distribution of Garda numbers. This is not a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, it is one for the Garda Commissioner. The ratio of gardaí to members of the population in Kildare is 1:640. This is the worst ratio in the country. Sligo and Leitrim are at the other end of the spectrum, with one garda for every 82 people. There is a significant difference, with a national average of one garda for 379 people.

There was an awful shooting in Kilcock in the past week, but no matter how many gardaí we have, that probably could not have been prevented. The problem is with unfair distribution, as this exposes areas to such criminality. Criminals may be bad but that does not mean they are stupid. They will go where they are less likely to be caught or detected. I would not say the following unless I absolutely believed it. The Garda Commissioner and his predecessors have not done their job. It is only fair that the people of this country, irrespective of where they live, get an equal service proportionate to population and crime rates. Areas like Kildare, Meath and Wexford - which are growing - are not getting a fair crack of the whip. The Garda Commissioner should be asked to speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality to deal with this serious problem.

With schools, distribution again illustrates what happens in the growing areas, such as Fingal, where the population grew by 13.8% between 2006 and 2011. The average class sizes there are 10.4 above the national average. Kildare and Meath are the other counties which feature strongly, and at the other end of the scale are counties in the west or others with a very gradual increase in population. The historical model is used where a need must be demonstrated before a service can be supplied. That impacts disproportionately on growing areas, and primary school children in those areas suffer a disproportionate impact.

I will also mention local government. I have put together a table on the most recent figures received from replies to parliamentary questions. The areas at the bottom end of this spectrum again take in the counties on the periphery of cities or in commuter belt areas. Meath had the lowest ratio in the country, for example. I do not point this out because the Minister of State is in the Chamber.

The Deputy's county beat us last week as well.

There is one member of staff for every 294 people in Meath but there is one member of staff for every 88 people in Dublin city. There is one member of staff for every 118 people in Leitrim. We cannot deliver libraries, planning compliance, or the taking in charge of housing estates unless there are people working in local authorities. There is a very unfair distribution and not only are we losing numbers, it is happening at different proportional rates.

I have already had people on the phone to me in tears because of the cutbacks in health services. I have been trying to resolve the problem, and one would think that if there is a phone line, there would be somebody at the end of it. I do not know how many phone calls I have made in recent days where I cannot get to speak to somebody who can deal with the withdrawal of services to children in my area who are on the autistic spectrum. The liaison person dealing with schools has been moved and the service is being curtailed. There may be an expectation that crisis will manifest itself in hospitals through cutbacks in the HSE, but it is already obvious in areas where there is a need, particularly when it involves vulnerable children. There is no point in us talking about putting children at the centre of our attention and considering referendums if the most vulnerable children are the first to feel an impact from the cuts in public service numbers.

I sympathise with Deputy Murphy and the Acting Chairman on the outrageous events in their county in recent days. Deputy Murphy is right in her comments about Garda numbers, and criminals are not stupid and will move to places that are poorly policed. That is not the fault of local gardaí but rather a result of decisions made at the top. That is disgraceful.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, but it is a pity the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has left as I have commended him for many of the jobs he has tried to do in reforming the public sector. The task he has been given is not easy. It is made twice as difficult by the promises made before the last election. Letters went out from SIPTU to every community employment scheme in the country urging its members to support Labour, but they have been under siege and decimated ever since. I will not get into that today.

I pay tribute to the many hundreds of thousands of decent public service workers throughout the country who have worked so hard over the years. I was at retirement events for two officials in Teagasc last Friday night and I have been invited to a similar event for an ambulance driver, Mr. Michael Wall, who is retiring after 44 years of service. People like him have provided great service and did their job with hard work and dedication. When 4,200 people are taken from the HSE, 1,030 people are taken from the Civil Service, 931 people are taken from local authorities and 315 people are taken from the Garda, how can we continue, especially when people are not being replaced?

A certain large number of appointments have taken place under the radar in recent years, both before the current Government was in office and since. Privileged positions, such as ushers to esteemed justices, have been filled while basic front-line services have been removed. That is an outrage and insulting. It should not be done because we will be left with many chiefs and no Indians. The unions must be involved with this as their representatives sat around the table in the good times and shared the spoils. They have completely abandoned front-line workers at the coalface, such as the man on the road, the lower paid public servants in offices, clerks and administration personnel. We saw what happened with the HSE fund that was to train people but was abused by union leaders.

The Construction Industry Federation, CIF, was also a cosy partner at the table when the negotiations took place in the good times. There are investigations into the actions involving unions, with €30 million or up to €100 million gone missing. Ordinary front-line employees in the trenches, working drills and jackhammers and laying blocks, paid the fees every week to the federation but they are getting nothing now. The money is gone like snow from a ditch. Hard questions must be asked about where it has gone and the scandals that went on at every level throughout the country. This happened even when times were not good but when the economy improved, these problems were compounded.

Senior public servants are apparently paid seven times more than the administration personnel or the man on the road providing front-line services or called on in an emergency. These include gardaí or paramedics who must attend awful tragedies, such as the house in Kildare the other night. They also attend to accidents, such as the tragedy in County Louth, to pick up the pieces and inform families. It is awful. I am told that 85% of the staff in the HSE are front-line staff, with the rest as managers. If that is the case, much of the money is going on managers. Their careers are important to them and they are not interested in front-line staff or patients. In many cases they want to build their own careers and nest eggs. In St. Luke's Hospital in Clonmel, which is in my constituency, the offices are fit for a king or queen, with paintings on the wall. It seems they think: "To hell with front-line services, the public and everything else." I call these people self-serving. It is outrageous and it should not have been allowed happen.

We must have the highest standards in public service and we have had the highest standards over the years. I wish well the public officials who have retired. We have a new Secretary General at the Department of Finance. I will not mention his name but everyone knows who he is. There are serious question marks over his appointment. I am all for bringing in people from outside the public service to mix it up and bring in outside expertise. However, we must have impeccable standards and such people must have unblemished records. This man should stand aside for the present until such time as he comes before the Committee of Public Accounts or an Oireachtas committee with responsibility for finance to answer questions on the five-year sabbatical which shows as a gap in his CV after he left Zurich Capital Markets in the United States. Major problems occurred and it was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company in question was severely fined. I am not saying he is guilty of anything-----

No allegations, please.

I am saying the company was fined more than $16 million. He was CEO and the buck must stop at the top. He should stand aside and come before the Oireachtas committees.

What is the point of us tarnishing good public servants who want to do their jobs and work with the Department? Incidentally, since the man who has become the new Secretary General joined the Department of Finance, a building society was taken over. The main architect of this, and the person who signed all of the affidavits, was the same gentleman. I cannot say too much because of existing court cases. Did the State take, steal or rob the shares of these ordinary people? We must question this. When it happened, the main adviser and architect was this same gentleman. We must have the highest standards possible and we cannot have any question marks.

I have sat on interview boards during the years for menial and senior jobs. If any CV had a five-year gap, questions would be asked as to why someone would take a sabbatical. Was it enforced? Was it agreed? Was it taken because the company was questioned? I do not know. The CV of the man in question states he was CEO during the particular time. The Department of Finance might say something different, such as on the news at one o'clock today. Either his CV is wrong or the Department of Finance is wrong. He must be brought before a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I support the request of Deputy McGuinness that members of the Committee of Public Accounts and Oireachtas committees with responsibility for finance should be on the interview boards. We must have the openness and transparency promised by the Government to get rid of the last shower which was not open on anything. However, the Government is worse and neglecting this job.

Deputy Mattie McGrath has made an outrageous contribution on this matter.

I will not comment on whether he is right or wrong in terms of what he said, but at the very least we should have the principle that if one makes allegations against an individual, that person should be in a position to respond. Deputy McGrath said he would not make allegations and then proceeded to do exactly that. The person in question is not in the Chamber and is not able to respond or rebut the points made. Deputy McGrath is entitled to make claims about the probity of people to do their job, but they should be able to respond to any points made.

They are welcome to come before a committee.

Deputy McGrath calls for greater probity and says we need people from the outside as a fresh broom.

However, when they are brought in, he stands up in a forum at which they are not represented and where they are not able to respond and makes a series of allegations about them.

That is the Deputy's opinion.

Deputy Catherine Murphy spoke about the referendum campaign and the role of Oireachtas committees and the greater powers they may have for powerful scrutiny, and made a number of very telling points on the powers that might be conferred on people and the suppression of the rights of individuals who come before committees in terms of their inability to respond. The type of allegations levelled by Deputy McGrath on the floor of the House against somebody not in a position to respond-----

I am not speaking for Deputy Murphy.

Deputy McGrath has given very greater claim to the dangers Deputy Murphy highlighted-----

We all highlighted them.

-----in his performance here.

That is Deputy Donohoe's opinion.

It is my opinion.

The Deputy is entitled to it.

At least I am discharging my opinion in a responsible manner against an individual who can respond, namely, Deputy McGrath. The individual against whom Deputy McGrath is making allegations is not here and is not a Member of the House. What should happen, as, in fairness, Deputy McGrath suggested, is that such people should come before a committee-----

-----and respond to any points made. However, this is where such points should be made and not in a forum where a person cannot respond. In a democracy, we are entitled to put points against any person, but in the interests of natural justice, that person is entitled to respond.

I totally agree.

Deputy McGrath denied this individual this right in his contribution.

I did not. He is welcome to come before a committee.

With regard to the substantive issue, which is the change in the numbers in the public services, Members of the Opposition have made many points. Some of these are fair, and I agree with some of the points made on the process and how it unfolded, but not with others. I ask people to consider the alternative to the approach outlined. There is general agreement that we need to reduce the cost and size of our public services, but the number of options open to us to do so are quite limited.

The first option open to us is another round of wage cuts. If the Government were to follow this route, it would be the third such wage cut in 24 months, which is something any government would be eager to avoid given the recent implementation of two such wage cuts in a short time period. The next option is to reduce the number of people in the public service. There would be no consensus or support for the Government following the route of compulsory sackings from the public service. The Government chose the voluntary route, asking people whether they wanted to leave and whether it is worth while to do so given where they were in their lives, the options open to them and the support the State could give them. Once one goes down this route, one must give people time to make up their minds and respond. Of the three options available to the Government to deliver the targets of a public service that is affordable inside the constraints of the money we are raising, this is clearly the most attractive and fairest route.

The point has been made that this generated uncertainty regarding where we would end up, and this is a fair criticism. However, I ask people to bear in mind that once we go down the voluntary route, our understanding of where we will end up will always be uncertain because one must see how people respond. It is an inevitable consequence of going down the route requiring the consent of one's employees. That being said, there could have been greater clarity regarding where we thought the exits would come from and better understanding of what numbers could be delivered without putting pressure on front-line services.

Given what is happening, a discussion on the number of people we have in our public services misses the point. We need to focus on what they can deliver and how we can support them in doing so.

One of the most regrettable features in the difficult times we have been experiencing has been the forces attempting to pitch one group of society against another: young against old, urban against rural, employed against unemployed, and private sector against public sector. These attempts have served no purpose whatsoever in the battle to regain our economic sovereignty, which is a battle that can be won only by working together.

In recent weeks, several thousand workers from across the public service have opted for early retirement. It has been highly distressing for some workers to hear accusations that they have, as it were, taken the money and run. When one considers the facts, it is clear that a completely false and inaccurate picture was constructed by some sections of the media who often engage in rounds of attacking the public sector.

A total of 87% of public sector workers who opted to retire were over 60 and had given 40 years or more of dedicated service to the Irish State. The remaining 13% were in their mid to late 50s and opted to receive a reduced pension. I hope this will put an end to the erroneous belief retiring public servants were receiving anything more than that to which they were entitled.

While the public sector is, as a whole, imperfect, many of its problems lie in the shortcomings at leadership level, by which I mean Government level. During the so-called Celtic tiger years, when governance was less concerned about value for public money and more about popular, headline grabbing measures, the public sector grew immensely. The 2009 report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes, otherwise known as an bord snip nua, contained some startling revelations. In the seven years between 2001 and 2008 public sector numbers increased from 270,000 whole-time equivalent posts to just shy of 320,000. This increase of approximately 45,000 positions cost the public purse €2.25 billion. By 2009 the overall public sector pay bill was a staggering €17.5 billion. To put this figure in context, State revenue at the time was slightly more than €30 billion. With such substantial increases in expenditure and personnel, it would not have been unreasonable to expect the most efficient and effective public service in the world. However, what taxpayers received was a service lacking an overall strategy and focus. Funds and additional public moneys were thrown at any and every problem as a universal solution.

Another startling revelation from the 2009 report was that between 1997 and 2009 the number of middle and higher level managers in the public service increased by 82%. Another solution to whatever problem presented itself was to add an extra layer of management. Is it any wonder that there is such anger at the fundamentally flawed financial and economic decisions taken by some at senior managerial levels, including Government level?

The stark reality facing us is that we must work within our means, a concept which was undoubtedly lost on many in the previous Governments. The Government cannot afford the public sector it inherited. For this reason, it has committed itself to reforming, reshaping and refocusing the public service. Reducing public sector numbers is a crucial part of the effort to stabilise public expenditure in the battle to regain our economic sovereignty. I am heartened to note attention is not only on reducing numbers but also on refocusing how the public sector works. This will allow us to ensure services are delivered in the most effective and efficient manner.

Out of our economic problems we can seize an opportunity not only to achieve the necessary savings but also to reform the service, by which I mean changing how we do things, examining and reviewing business practices to ascertain whether they are serving us well and identifying more customer focused approaches. I very much welcome how the Government has prioritised public sector reform, with the most visible action being the creation of a new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I also welcome the new focus on communication and dialogue, specifically communication between the Government and the Oireachtas and members of the public on the planned changes and the progress made in dialogue between the Government and public sector workers. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been most active in communicating its actions. Every Deputy and Senator has received the comprehensive reports and reform documents on a regular basis allowing progress to be closely monitored.

The other significant driver of reform has been the public sector agreement, more commonly known as the Croke Park agreement. Although the agreement is not without its problems and has attracted both supporters and opponents, no one can doubt that reforms have occurred as a result of it. The goals and targets set and exceeded are unambiguously set out in the various progress reports of the implementation body.

It would be dishonest of me if I did not point out that public sector workers enjoy a measure of job security above and beyond that available in the private sector. However, no one can deny that savings have been made or that public sector workers have taken pay cuts, are making higher pension contributions and changing old and often unproductive business practices. The proof is available. The total number in the sector fell ahead of schedule to below 300,000 at the end of 2011. This year it will be lowered further to reach a target level in order that by 2015 we will not only be back to more sustainable figures before the excesses of the years of Fianna Fáil, Progressive Democrats and Green Party coalitions but we will also have a more efficient public service capable of meeting the needs of all citizens.

Having listened with great interest to Deputy Seán Kyne, I advise him to conduct a little more analysis. While he is correct to note a large increase in public sector numbers under previous Governments, one must drill into this figure to identify the sectors in which the largest increases occurred and from where they were driven. Many of the increases were in the health care professions. One will find, for example, that the number of physiotherapists, speech therapists and so forth increased dramatically from 1997 onwards. These are vital front-line staff and it will be extremely difficult to claw back the increases in their numbers because most people believe a modern economy needs their services.

A second area in which numbers increased significantly was the Garda Síochána. I never agreed with the drive for more and more gardaí; I believe instead that we should increase the number of community gardaí. I am totally opposed to removing gardaí from the community because one garda living in a community is worth three gardaí travelling into an area, working an eight hour roster and returning home. While the garda who lives in the community technically works 40 hours each week, he or she is in the community at all times.

Similarly, the number of special needs assistants increased by 10,000 while we were in government. This increase accounts for approximately 25% of the increase in the number of jobs in the education sector. The number of teachers, including resource and language teachers, also increased substantially. A significant increase in the population in the period after 1997 also created a need for more services. If this problem was as easy to solve as Deputy Seán Kyne suggests, one could decide tomorrow to get rid of 45,000 excess public servants. I guarantee him, however, that if one was to take this approach, many of the services for which his party argued would be decimated.

Governments can function with or despite the Oireachtas. The Government is fortunate to have a large majority which allows it to ignore most Deputies on this side of the House. It also has a sympathetic media, which may not be a bad thing at times. The reality during the Fianna Fáil Party's time in government was that it did not matter how sensible or overdue were the changes we made, the Fine Gael Party and, in particular, the Labour Party opposed them line by line. In cases in which one could have done with fewer staff and done the job more effectively, the Opposition still opposed changes. At times, the Labour Party, in particular, was more obsessed with job numbers than services.

I commend the vast majority of public servants who do their jobs well. I have no doubt the percentage of public servants who are interested in their job is as high as the percentage of employees interested in their job in any other sector. However, change is necessary and the Opposition in this Dáil is a good one which will not resist change for the sake of it. I continue to believe, however, that the job could be done better. Anyone who worked with me in the Departments will know I placed great emphasis on efficient public administration. Any Deputy who served in the House while I was a Minister will know that I went to considerable effort to ensure Members received timely and full replies to queries. As I used to say to civil servants, it is no good providing a reply in three or five months because that is not what public representatives or members of the public want. They want a reply to a question on the day they submit it. I made good progress in the areas I could control. The small Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, in which I had an opportunity to serve for a long time, enjoyed very high public commendation. It also disproved the theory that decentralisation was inefficient. As the years progressed and we decentralised, it became quicker, more open and better at meeting the demands and requirements of members of the public.

Trade unions in the public service are often unrepresentative of the great mass of the workers. The impression I often had was that if one had 1,000 staff working in a Department, the union would be lucky if 150 of its members attended the annual general meeting. Moreover, those who attended the AGM tended to be those who took a strongly ideological position on what the public service was about. This was not always a positive ideology. The trade unions often impeded progress which would have made the job of workers easier. When I raised this issue as Minister for Social Protection, I was informed the system had to be changed, which was a good idea. The Department started to involve workers at the lowest level, in other words, front-line staff, in the design of the system. Part of the reason for doing so was to work around the public service unions, which is a sad commentary on them. I am very pro-union in the case of unions working in the genuine interests of workers and trying to create stability.

We have built inefficiencies into the system; for example, manual systems continue to be used where computerisation is possible. That still happens in the case of maintenance records and so on in the Department of Social Protection, which is outdated. When such inefficiency is built into a system, inevitably, it results in poor service, huge delays, a great deal of anger among the staff who have to service the front desk and general dissatisfaction, which is not good for the workplace. On the other hand, when quick answers are given and efficient systems are used, the queues disappear and the time lost in addressing parliamentary questions about issues that should have been dealt with long ago is recovered. There is a good feeling when people approach the Department which, therefore, is a much more pleasant place in which to work.

I appreciate that Deputy Seán Kyne gave so much credit to the previous Government for bringing in the greatest game changer in public service attitudes to work practices. However, we must get away from the unplanned reductions we have witnessed in the public sector recently. Rather than conducting an overall general analysis, each job and section must be analysed as one would analyse a factory to establish the way each job is done and whether, for example, forms are unnecessarily complicated by asking essay type questions when questions that required boxes to be ticked would provide better answers and be more objective. It would also establish whether the methods in place created unnecessary bureaucracy. I could give concrete examples of how the way work is done could be changed to make it much simpler for the applicant and much quicker for the Department to deal with applications.

I question whether we need all the tiers and grades in the public service such as clerical assistants, staff officers, executive officers, higher executive officers, assistant principal officers, principal officers, assistant secretaries, Secretaries General and a few other grades that I have not thrown in. An executive officer today could be Secretary General in ten years, but by then the spirit of entrepreneurship and drive will have left him or her. It is valid to ask whether every officer should have to climb four or five tiers.

In the past 15 years, because of management consultants, many layers were added to the public sector to improve services, but poorer services resulted. I refer to two initiatives, the first of which is Better Local Government. It diluted the impact of local government on core services. Any corporation in the private sector would state one should maintain such services. The second is the Strategic Management Initiative which was all about ticking boxes pro forma but which did not deliver on the ground because there was no focus on making jobs deliver a better service to the public.

The level of uncertified sick leave in the public service must be brought into line with that in the private sector because, as previous speakers said, it has led to staff believing this leave is holidays under another name. This is unfair to workers who do not take such leave and has to be changed.

The value of much of the training and third level courses paid for by the State has to be questioned. A great deal of training was undertaken and I often wondered whether the plethora of public servants with MBAs, PhDs and MAs paid for by the State performed better than those who did not have them. Were the people who took these courses not making a contribution to the State anyway? Others who were close to leaving the public service did these courses, meaning the Exchequer would never recoup the money involved. This issue needs to be examined carefully.

When we brought in the pension levy, it did not affect pensions, but when we cut public service pay, we should have cut public service pensions at the same time. The pay and pension ratio should never have been changed. Now we have the crazy anomaly that will last for many years where two public servants with the same length of service will receive different pensions at the end of their careers because of a cut-off date. It is important to admit mistakes made. Over time, the Government should put this right.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is our responsibility, as a Government, to deliver public services we can afford and, by the end of this year, the public service pay bill will reduce to approximately €15 billion. There has been a significant saving since the process began in 2008, with a view to a total reduction of more than €14 billion by 2014. This will have a significant impact on budgetary issues. This necessitates changes in 2012 that will have the greatest impact on services, at which point we will have reached 70% of our target reduction. For this reason, this year presents an opportunity for the public sector to reaffirm its commitment to the conditions of the Croke Park agreement. I have had the opportunity as a member of a Government party to meet the unions and individual public service workers in recent months and there is a sense of willingness among them to bring about change in order that they not only adhere to the agreement but also ensure the State wil be in a better position when the agreement concludes.

While staff reductions will result in many changes to the public service, this is part and parcel of the agreement to ensure savings can be made without cutting jobs or wages and to provide for the delivery of improved services. The agreement is not only about reducing staff numbers and hoping for the best; it also allows for strategic conditions to be put in place amidst a reduction in resources, while enabling management to continue to identify options for redeployment. Ordinary retirements throughout the public service create an opportunity and a challenge for young, ambitious public sector workers to make their mark and bridge the gaps, where necessary, while also encouraging newer strategies to improve work practices.

Two Ministries are focused on the delivery of a smaller, more efficient public service. I welcome the Taoiseach's recent establishment of the transition teams to manage the impact of early retirements following the closure of the scheme on 29 February. These teams will oversee the management of the delivery of public services under the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Recruitment will be enabled, despite the embargo, where Departments can justify a requirement for additional staff resources.

As Deputy Seán Kyne said, there has been a debate in the media pitting public and private sector workers against one another, which is unfortunate, because, in an international context, public service participation in the workforce stands up in comparison to our European counterparts, with 14.8% of the workforce employed in the public sector. This is at the mid-point of the scale compared with France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, while it is significantly ahead of Germany, Italy and Greece. While the majority of public sector pay scales are in line with the EU average, Ireland does not perform well in the context of overall working hours. It is crucial that improvements are made in this regard to counteract reductions in staff numbers, although there are always exceptions.

While commentators may find it easy to criticise the implementation of the Croke Park agreement by creating a perception that there is a lack of co-operation or success, these views are not helpful, especially when the enormous increase in demand on public services since 2008 is considered. There is a greater demand on the Departments of Social Protection, Health, Environment, Community and Local Government and Education and Skills. For example, the HSE processed more than 1 million medical card appliacations last year.

The Department of Social Protection, despite the enormous number of applications and pay-outs each week, has managed to maintain services, while also developing new initiatives such as Pathways to Work. The movement of 700 staff from FÁS to the Department is a method of balancing demands, while retaining numbers and skill sets. That is what the agreement is about.

One of the more obvious examples of the Croke Park agreement is within the education system which has undergone changes to classroom arrangements, teaching resources and working hours. It is important to note the development in the number of hours that teachers give voluntarily to their vocation. For example, many sports and extra curricular activities are organised by teachers outside their core hours and it is important to acknowledge how students and the community benefit from their input.

While I welcome the progressive co-operation we have enjoyed with unions with regard to implementation of the Croke Park agreement, there are still peripheral issues that I consider to be relevant and wish to highlight. I would not be alone in raising concerns about the level of aggressive lobbying experienced after the budget, most notably involving the use of children to lobby Members to protest against cuts to the numbers of teaching posts, such as those who attended many clinics throughout the country. This took place without the support of the union hierarchy, as they informed me. It is not the right of those who benefit from the terms of the agreement to engage in such practices in protesting against it. There is a need to secure a commitment from union members that we are on the same page and ready to take the next step in order to instil public confidence.

While there is no agreement in place for students, patients, old-age pensioners and any other section of society, the Croke Park agreement can be used to protect services in the interests of the public at large. That is our priority in the Oireachtas. It is in the interests of public sector employees, the implementation body for the agreement and the Government to ensure we are successful in delivering services which is the key to its success.

Last week in reply to an oral question put by my colleague, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, outlined his view of his job and priorities. He said:

I am fixated with two things, namely, restoring the economic sovereignty of the State, which is a job I have been given, and reforming the public service. We will do both and are in the process of doing both. In the first year we have achieved a remarkable amount.

There is no doubt that the Government has achieved a remarkable amount in restoring our economic sovereignty and public sector reform. However, we are told, on the one hand, that austerity and cutbacks in the public service are required to regain economic sovereignty, while, on the other, the Labour Party is at the same time supporting the transfer of economic sovereignty through a treaty that will remove the flexibility available to this and future Governments to respond to economic difficulties. Already German parliamentarians are discussing proposals in respect of the economy before they are even discussed in this House. We have a treaty that in legislation will continue austerity beyond the life of the Government. A remarkable amount has been achieved by the Government, yet €21.3 billion has been handed over to banks since it came to power, while in the budget €2.2 billion worth of cuts were made to vital services. The rates of unemployment, at 14%, and emigration have remained rigid and static. In fact, more people are emigrating than gaining jobs in the State. Therefore, Government actions have failed in restoring our economic sovereignty.

In regard to the Minister's other fixation, public sector reform, we all agree that there is a need to reform the public service to ensure it is fit for purpose and the delivery of a First World service to citizens in an efficient and effective manner. We need to put in place a system of accountability throughout the public sector, but particularly at senior management level. Secretaries General, local authority managements and VEC chief executive officers are all responsible for spending billions of euro of taxpayer's money. They are responsible for spending the wealth of the people and the buck stops with them.

The actions of the Minister demonstrate a fixation not with public sector reform but an ideological attack on the public sector in terms of its size. It appears the Labour Party has bought into Fine Gael's concept of small government, with which it is preoccupied. While I do not agree with the Minister opposite, I congratulate him on the efficient manner in which his party has whipped the Labour Party into line on this issue. Was the first act of the Labour Party to reduce the excessive pay and pensions of high earners in the most senior echelons of the Civil Service? Did it seek to hold those at the highest levels of the public service to account for the economic crisis that many of them had helped to shape? Did the Minister take as his starting point in seeking reform the experiences and expectations of citizens? No, of course not. He and his Cabinet colleagues have slashed essential budgets in the health and education sectors. They have, however, failed to reel in the excessive payments made to senior public servants. They brought forward a blunt instrument to deal with retirements. This plan which could be described as an unplanned and unco-ordinated system has led to 9,000 job losses, this from a Government which has promised to create 100,000 new jobs. It is clearly moving in the wrong direction. There is no plan, rather this is about a head count.

There are 6,700 staff in the Civil Service who earn more than €100,000 a year. That is a phenomenal amount of money which is three times the average industrial wage. This excessive payment is being guarded by Fine Gael and the Labour Party while they chip away at the salaries of new teachers on the lowest level and services throughout the State. Under the Minister's watch, Secretaries General have retired on full pension - one at 53 years of age, with special severance payments of up to €140,000, in addition to lump sum and annual pension payments of more than €100,000. Despite the Government spin, the retirement scheme will not deliver public sector reform or lead to a more efficient service, rather it guards those paid the most. It will, however, lead to the loss of skills and experience within the public sector. More than half the retirees have 30 years experience. An accumulated 270,000 years of experience is being lost without a plan to safeguard public services. In the first two months of the year 2,567 workers in the health service, 2,058 in the education sector, 310 in the Garda Síochána, 1,236 in local authorities and 931 in the Defence Forces have left.

In the absence of a plan to meet the skills deficit the only option open to the Minister is clear - to allow the services already under strain to cover the holes. In other words, the weight will come down on the shoulders of the workers remaining in the system. They will carry extra responsibilities, while those who have retired will receive their money. This is not scaremongering. Already within the education sector 383 posts are being filled by teaching staff in receipt of pension payments. I ask the Minister to monitor and report on the number of retirees who will return to work in the public service because this makes a mockery of the system proposed. We have reduced numbers, resulting in a loss of experience and a reduced level of service, yet we are willing to pay people pensions and a wage to do the jobs they were doing. It is clear the Government rushed into reducing the headcount in the public service without having a plan in place. The Minister is now trying to make the best out of the mess created.

There are savings to be made in the public sector and there is a need to realise them. However, it appears the Government views public services as a burden on the public purse, as a column on the governmental spread sheet. It needs to move away from this ideology that the public service is a burden. It was elected to deliver services. It was charged with economic management in order to deliver wealth and prosperity, an economy for the benefit of all citizens and high quality, efficient and effective public services. That is why people voted for it.

As the Minister said, the key issues facing his Department are the need to regain economic sovereignty and the delivery of public sector reform. I look forward to his explanation of how the fiscal treaty or, as I called it earlier, the fiscal union, the school-closing treaty, the hospital-closing treaty, the emigration treaty and the unemployment treaty will enhance our sovereignty. These are the outworkings of shrinking the economy beyond 2016 and into 2018. How will this increase the size of the economy or restore economic sovereignty?

With regard to public sector reform, we have a retirement programme designed to drive down the headcount and deliver a headline. However, this does not mask the lack of a strategic plan to deliver better public services. What we are facing is the immediate loss of a range of skills and our choice is between leaving posts vacant, thus reducing the quality of public services, and rehiring workers and paying them both a wage and a pension. Impím ar an Aire féachaint arís ar an rud seo agus a dhícheall a dhéanamh athrú a dhéanamh.

I welcome the opportunity to make a statement on this matter. Last week was the deadline for early retirement in the civil and public service. The retirements have presented challenges and will continue to do so for some time. That cannot be argued. However, they are not the kind of apocalyptic challenges the irresponsible rhetoric of the Opposition and some sections of the media would have us believe. More than 7,000 people applied to take early retirement, which represents less than 3% of the staff serving in the public service. This is a significant number, but in listening to Opposition rhetoric in the lead-up to 29 February, one would have believed there was to be a mass exodus from the public sector. This was not the case.

I hope we will see a maturing of the debate throughout 2012 and a move away from the reckless hysteria that has defined it so far. The entire debate needs to shift focus from the number of staff in the public sector to how we can reform the public sector in order that it can deliver services with increased efficiency and productivity and provide the kind of public service the people deserve. The good news is that we have an agreement that can deliver these reforms. At its core, the Croke Park agreement is a bargain. The Government has agreed to protect pay, including increments, and jobs in the public sector from 2010 to 2014 in return for improved efficiencies and productivity. The latter part always seems to be ignored by the media. The title of this debate tends to focus attention on the first part of the bargain, that is, pay and numbers in the public sector, and shifts attention away from the other side, namely, the delivery of improvements in productivity.

People need to ask the question: what is the Croke Park agreement stopping us from doing? The answer is nothing. We now have an opportunity to radically reform the public sector with the co-operation of the trade unions. The agreement offers the best opportunity to improve how our civil and public services are run, make them more efficient and productive and ensure the best possible services are provided for the public, yet there are dissenting voices, not just in the media but also even in this House, including some Fine Gael Members, our partners in government. What do the dissenters want? Do they want further cuts in public service pay? Do they want further cuts in public sector numbers? What would that achieve? Strikes, industrial action and a downward spiral of confidence and morale would most definitely result. That is not what Ireland needs at this critical time for the economy.

Full implementation of the Croke Park agreement is a no-brainer. All stakeholders must work towards this and the naysayers must stop what they are doing. The Minister needs to lead the way, as he is doing. Secretaries General must examine their entire Departments to identify waste in all its forms and eliminate it. Well paid senior managers in the public service must step up to the plate and line managers must do the same. Public service managers must do what private sector managers have been doing for years in order that their companies stay competitive, that is, deliver improvements and manage change and to be held absolutely accountable for doing so.

Public sector workers do important and, at times, unappreciated jobs. They look after the sick, fight crime, teach our children, clean the streets and provide many more services that are often taken for granted. The public versus private sector debate promoted in certain sections of the media needs to stop now. It is our public service and we must appreciate it, but we must also challenge it and at all times seek to improve it. We have an absolute responsibility to make it more cost-effective. This must continue on an ongoing basis, not just for the period of any one agreement.

I wish to share time with Deputy Clare Daly.

I heard the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, say earlier that some of us on this side of the House, including those in the United Left Alliance and some other Independents, in criticising the plans to sell State assets and continue the cuts to the public service, were genuine but misguided. Let me turn that back on him, the Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, and the Government generally. They are probably genuine, but they are utterly misguided in their view that there is no alternative to austerity, carving up the public sector, privatising our assets and massacring jobs in the public sector. Just as the Minister rejects our view, we reject his view that there is no alternative to austerity. We reject his view, articulated again today, that there is no possibility of taxing the wealth of the super rich in society as an alternative to attacking the livelihoods and jobs of low and middle income workers. We reject his view that there is no alternative to paying the debts of private banks and bondholders and that slashing public service jobs and privatising State assets will somehow, perversely, create jobs and improve public services. Call us simplistic, but we think the very opposite. If the Government cuts the number of public service jobs, it will end up with fewer jobs. If there are fewer staff working in the public service, there will be fewer and poorer public services. Privatisation and outsourcing will mean more job losses, higher costs for citizens and less efficiency in delivering services.

Cutting the number of public service jobs not only affects public service workers and users but also leads to job losses in the private sector. I am being simplistic, but I defy the Government or anyone else to challenge this logic. Dún Laoghaire, in my constituency, is a town that is massively struggling, like many others, with small and medium-sized businesses going out of business one after the other, such that it is beginning to look like a ghost town. Probably the biggest employer left in the town centre is St. Michael's Hospital. What would happen if the hospital which employs 400 or 500 people was to be closed? Would that be good or bad for the small and medium-sized businesses in the town? It is self-evident that it would be bad and more of them would go out of business. It is precisely those health workers who keep many of the shops and businesses in the town going. Setting the public sector against the private sector and implying that privatising and slashing jobs in the public sector will improve competitiveness and create the conditions for more jobs is fantasy in the extreme, and all the evidence shows that to be the case. Equally, the evidence of what that does to our services is manifest everywhere. For the Government to suggest there is no connection between the fact that 7,000 health workers have been lost from the health service and the planned removal of ambulance services in west Cork, the closure of the 24-hour accident and emergency department in Roscommon and the planned closure of the 24-hour accident and emergency department in Loughlinstown is bizarre. Furthermore, to suggest the taking of thousands of workers out of the education system will improve our education system and enable those in the sector to provide a better quality education to our children is fantasy in the extreme.

If we continue to cut the public service, particularly when the private sector is on strike and the banks refuse to lend money into the economy, we will continue in a downward spiral. We need to move in precisely the opposite direction. We need public sector reform but the reform is needed at the top. The Government should slash the salaries of the people at the top, and the people at the top who have failed so miserably should be removed, but it should stop attacking the people who deliver the services, who are on low and middle incomes, and whose jobs are vital to keeping this economy going.

I am still reeling from Deputy Ryan's contribution when he attempted to dress up what is an attack on the public sector as being something in its favour. We have heard many contributions throughout this debate on the negative impact that job losses will have on the delivery of services. Contrary to what Deputy Ryan said, it is not reckless hysteria to say that, rather it is a matter of fact and a matter of record. To take the area of health alone, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said that last year was the worst year for patients being on trolleys since that organisation was set up. More than 86,000 patients were on trolleys last year, representing an increase of 14% on the previous period. How can removing more staff out of that system possibly alleviate that situation? It cannot. To overcome the short-term gap, more agency staff will have to be employed, which will be hugely expensive, the hours of the existing staff will have to be increased and they will be forced to postpone leave and so on.

The Tánaiste told Members this morning that people need have no fear, that the closure of Garda stations will not have an impact and that it will result in more community gardaí being out on the street improving everybody's safety. That is complete and utter rot. The reality is that public services are being slashed. The same gardaí the Tánaiste would have us believe will be on the beat are being instructed to conserve petrol, not to go out in their cars and to cut back on their mileage because An Garda Síochána owes millions to Topaz in unpaid petrol bills. This is developing into a banana republic when it is not possible even to have petrol for Garda cars and the Tánaiste thinks that is okay. All of us know the appalling nightmare it is for citizens waiting to avail of social welfare allowances who cannot access them because there is no staff to process the claims. It is rich of my constituency colleague, Deputy Ryan, to talk about services being protected by productivity when he knows that in his own area of Fingal County Council, services are nearly grinding to a halt as a result of the exit of staff from those areas.

I want to deal briefly with the issue of how we got here. The jobs that are being axed are not just any jobs but relatively decent, secure, permanent and pensionable jobs, and they provide valuable roles not only for the individuals in those jobs but also for society. Normally, if jobs were being axed, the unions would be beating down the door demanding justice, but they are not doing that because they are part of the problem. They, too, perpetuated a myth under the false claim that they would protect jobs and workers' conditions which they have not done because the staff remaining in the public service are the ones who are bearing the cost of all of this. Ten of thousands of decent jobs have been lost in our economy. That is not the fault of people who took redundancy. The Government orchestrated a scheme where people had no choice but to leave. I have met many people who did not want to leave but it would have been economic madness for them to remain as they would not have been able to avail of their entitlements if they did not exit now. It was a gun-to-the-head situation where they would have been at a financial loss and would have been working essentially for nothing if they had continued on in their jobs. The Government orchestrated that situation with the connivance of the unions and the result is that the remaining workers, all the people who benefit from public services and the economy, are bearing the price of that. We are losing valuable quality jobs against the backdrop of the tragedy of people queuing on the streets of Cork and Dublin to leave this country to get employment elsewhere. It is a myth to say that people in the public service were sitting around doing nothing and that there are many jobs that could be saved by working harder and working smarter. That is not the case. What we have is a con to put up a headline figure to pacify the troika and finance the bailouts. The reality of what the Government is guilty of is not protecting the public service, as Deputy Ryan tried to say, but butchering it and economic short termism which will have a devastating effect on all our citizens and ultimately on the economy.

I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about the public service and its staffing levels. We are all very proud of the public service and I particularly appreciate the work carried out by it in our schools, hospitals, in the justice system and even in this building where all rely on the high calibre of the staff, their skills and the services they provide to us.

The real picture is that 300,000 people are employed in our public sector, 3% of whom are leaving under this early retirement scheme and 97% of whom will remain in situ. Now that D-Day has arrived and the hysteria from the Opposition benches about the mass exodus from the services has died down, all that is happening is that those public servants who were already planning to retire this year are most likely to leave a little sooner than they had planned. The normal number of retirements this year, therefore, has been speeded up and will take place in a shorter timeframe than usual.

Nobody on this side of the House has said this process was easy. Thanks to the previous Government, nothing in this economy is easy at the moment. However, this Government is ensuring there are safeguards to front-line services. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has committed to taking on the extra 3,000 public servants to fill the gaps in the strained resources. There is also a commitment by public servants and their managers to work together within the Croke Park agreement to change the way in which the public service does its business to ensure both its cost and the number of people working in it can fall significantly while continuing to meet the demand for services and improve the experience of service users.

I would say to Deputy Barrett that fewer people does not equal poor services. That is a poor reflection of his opinion of the people currently serving in our public service.

All the Deputy needs do is look at the services.

We have to pay for them.

At Department level, a series of high level units have been set up in various Departments to determine how the public services could accommodate the retirements with the least disruption to public services. Those units are working with the Departments, Ministers and local managers to ensure the smooth transition to the new staffing arrangements. Within the health sector in particular there has been detailed planning at national, regional and site specific levels to manage proactively the impact for front-line services of staff retirements under the grace period. In the development of national service plans, all factors, including budgets, staffing levels and the impact of retirements, have been factored in, and that applies to regional service plans as well.

The principal focus is on protecting and maintaining critical services such as emergency departments, maternity care, critical care and neonatal services. The Health Service Executive is seeking to mitigate the impact of these retirements through the implementation of national clinical programmes, targeted investment and recruitment as set out in the national service plan, and utilising the provisions of the public service agreement to bring about greater flexibilities, together with co-operation from the unions. Some of the initiatives that have been taken include the reform of the supply chain management and the inventory, greater sharing of IT facilities, which we should have done years ago, and revision where there is an overlap in services. Overtime payments are down by in excess of 5% since 2008. Revised working arrangements in hospital laboratory services are set to deliver savings of €5 million per annum. The number of principal officers has fallen by more than 7%. Senior management, namely, assistant secretaries, has fallen by 4.6% in the same period. Flexible redeployment is critical to the agreement's capacity to support the large reduction in staff which the recovery of the economy requires. Without redeployment, gaps that will appear owing to retirements and departures will have to be filled by recruiting replacement staff. I thank public sector workers for their participation in the process and its success to date. There is an additional safeguard. The Public Appointments Service has put in place a system of resource panels to support redeployment and an online tool is being developed to support the programme.

It is clear that, despite fiscal constraints, many public servants have been succeeding in delivering service enhancements that will make a tangible difference to the public and Irish businesses. To meet these expectations as numbers fall, the use of resources must improve through revised work practices, significant reform and reorganisation, providing for more shared services, organisational restructuring and greater innovation, and recognizing the much greater availability of online services. To achieve savings without recourse to further pay cuts, staff and their representatives must urgently deliver savings and efficiencies. We have already seen great improvements such as the centralisation of the medical card processing unit which I was lucky enough to visit last week.

It is not. It has experienced some teething difficulties.

My phone has not stopped ringing as people cannot get their medical cards.

The Deputy should visit the unit and he will understand exactly the transition the staff have gone through and the immense commitment they make to provide the best service the people require.

It is not the staff's fault. The Deputy should answer my phone for a while.

Perhaps there is a reason for that.

An Garda Síochána is taking a number of steps to improve the quality of the policing service it provides, including outsourcing the operation of safety cameras, the introduction of new ICT and implementation of new working rosters, all of which have been very successful in local stations. This is another example of how successful the Croke Park agreement has been in some sectors of public life. The public rely on the delivery of quality public services. I am proud of our public services for what they are doing to rebuild the State after it was almost destroyed by the previous Government.

I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The policies being pursued by the Government are working and the evidence is there for all to see. The public service pay bill has stabilised and we have now returned to 2006 pay levels. The number working in the public service continues to fall and we are now close to 2005 staffing levels. The Croke Park agreement has provided for the co-operation and flexibility required that have enabled the Government to achieve the necessary reductions in the Exchequer pay and pensions bill in a climate of industrial peace.

Front-line services are being protected. Strategic workforce planning groups have been established in all sectors and are developing plans to deal with the operational and strategic consequences arising from the turnover of staff expected in 2012 and future years. When account is taken of the effect of the pension related deduction in public service pay, the total net public service pay bill will be reduced by around €3.5 billion, or 20%, in the seven years between 2008 and 2015.

The bottom line is that we cannot sustain the current system of public service delivery. It must be changed. The coming years will not be easy and a massive effort is required. Future economic growth will only be generated from a solid and sustainable fiscal position. Taking the easy option is no longer an option.

The mission statement of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is "to achieve the Government's social and economic goals by ensuring the effective management of taxpayers' money, and the delivery of quality public services that meet the needs of citizens". In less than 30 words, it provides the road map we must follow if Ireland is to return to having a sustainable financial model. Under the EU-IMF programme, Ireland is committed to reducing the overall size of the public service. This is also a key element of the programme for Government and it is not being done merely because it is a fiscal imperative. It is also being done to ensure we can continue to enjoy a vibrant, modern, forward looking civil society, with a public service that supports such a society.

In order to protect front-line services, the Government is committed to making fundamental changes to the way the public service operates. This will inevitably mean changes in the way in which services to the public are delivered. Our overriding objective is to have a more customer focused, leaner, more efficient, better integrated public service which delivers maximum value for money. I am confident that the public service and public servants are up to meeting these challenges. What was lacking was leadership. The Government will provide that missing element. It will provide the people with an affordable public service that is fit for purpose, that rewards efficiency and decreases waste, and enables its workers to serve their fellow citizens with pride, while earning a decent standard of living.

In response to Deputy Ó Caoláin, on the question of retirements, whether grace periods are incentivised is not purely semantic. Staff have chosen to retire at the end of their careers and there can be no suggestion that their employer will not allow them to retire. Their managers will need to address how the work they have been doing will be discharged.

Deputy Sean Fleming has agreed that certain historical allowances need to be reviewed. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be reviewing them critically.

We would not be having this debate if we had the money. We have to tell people the truth. Opposition Deputies are talking about the provision of services, but what happens if we do not have the money to pay for them? We spoke about the killings in County Kildare yesterday and the accident in Dundalk which was attended by gardaí, firemen and ambulance drivers, all of whom need to be kept on the front line. I cannot understand how Opposition Deputies are saying "No" to everything. They are all against the €100 household charge, but that is what the money that will be raised will be used for. If somebody puts his or her card in an ATM and there is no money in it, he or she can shout and roar and kick it, but no money will come out of it. We have a treaty to pass and need to have a system in place by which we can obtain money at a reasonable rate from the European Union. Whether we like it, we have signed up to the treaty. Those who are saying "No" to everything are being disingenuous and not telling the people who put them where they are the truth. I cannot understand how they have complained about the provision of services for the entire afternoon and yet do not want to pay for them. The money is just not available.

The Deputy can tax anyone he likes, but the money is not available. It is time the Deputies opposite copped themselves on and supported those who elected them.