Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Vol. 878 No. 1

Other Questions

Deputy McDonald has the next question.

I am on a bit of a roll with the questions.

The Deputy is on a roll.

Public Sector Staff Remuneration

Mary Lou McDonald


187. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the unions he plans meeting for talks on public sector pay. [18244/15]

My question concerns the unions which he plans to meet and those participating in the talks. I raise this issue with the Minister because I wish to know specifically what will be the nature and level of engagement with the unions of the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána and the psychiatric nurses and those they represent.

I will cut to the chase and not give the Deputy the preamble in the prepared answer. As has been the case in all previous discussions, including those leading up to the Haddington Road agreement, my invitation was issued to the officers of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I have also made arrangements for the participation of the associations representing public servants in the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. In addition to the formal talks process, I have met and am continuing to engage with the representatives of public service pensioners where matters under discussion impact on their positions also.

I am not in a position to predict when the talks will conclude, but early agreement would facilitate the preparation for the budget for any pay recovery that might be agreed. The Deputy is aware that I am required to review the FEMPI Acts. The next review is due before the end of June. In this context, I would like to be in a position to update the Houses at that time.

The Minister might set out for us the modalities for those rounds of talks. It is logical that the first port of call be the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, but some bodies fall outside its umbrella. How does the Minister propose to co-ordinate and keep a level of coherence in the negotiations? Bear in mind those workers who are reliant on the family income supplement, FIS. Many of those whom I have met are members of the Defence Forces. Is it not astonishing that we congratulate ourselves for our work with the UN and we applaud members of the Defence Forces when some of them rely on FIS? When one boils things down, this is what is thought of their efforts.

How will the talks be kept coherent? Who are the specific officials that the Minister has charged with this task?

It is not normal for individual officials to be named in the House in that way and I do not propose to break with that pattern. An array of officials - 15 plus - will be involved in the talks. Also, officials from all line Departments that are involved will be co-opted to the task as well as the economics evaluation unit within my Department, which will crunch the numbers in support of the talks.

Regarding the process, I deal formally and directly with ICTU. The public sector committee of the congress will be the formal interlocutor, but we and it will have parallel discussions with the others that I mentioned.

The Minister will appreciate that I was not inviting him to name individual officials, but it would be helpful for us to have a sense of who from within the system was charged with carrying forward the negotiations. That was my point. Perhaps the Minister might tell us how many officials will be involved. He stated that there would be 15 from his Department, but how many might be involved when the line Departments and others are included?

The Minister mentioned June as a possible date for updating the House. He has not told us much about the mandate that he has given his officials, although I have concluded that there is no specific emphasis on the low paid in the public sector. What form or shape does he hope will be arrived at for the agreement? I assume that he has in mind a single, all-encompassing agreement.

Yes. Haddington Road was a single encompassing agreement endorsed by the Labour Relations Commission, LRC. I expect the LRC to be involved in the talks at the appropriate time so that its imprimatur and skill set is available to the process.

The numbers will vary. Obviously, everyone from the official and trade union sides will not be in the room at the same time. The way it will work is that there will be formal negotiations, break-out groups and report-back groups. I remember speaking to the full gathering during the Haddington Road process. There was a very large contingent of people. One could not have a negotiation on that basis. There will be small sets of people doing direct negotiations, reporting back to larger groups, getting mandates for individual positions etc. I hope that we will advance the process in this way.

Maybe I am being optimistic but, before bringing my report on FEMPI to the House at the end of June, I would like to know where we stand on an agreement. I would like to be in that position, but it may not prove possible.

Ministerial Pensions

Mary Lou McDonald


188. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide, in tabular form, a list of the annual pension payments to former Ministers and taoisigh, sorted by payment, high to low, including the recipient's name. [18246/15]

Janey Mac. Did the Deputy get lucky with the draw?

Did the Deputy win the lotto?

I assure the Minister that I will never win the lotto.

I asked the Minister for a list, in tabular format, of the annual pension payments to former Ministers and Taoisigh, sorted from high to low, including the recipients' names. I do not know how he will deliver that response, but he might tell us whether he regards the payments as prudent, modest and sustainable.

I have provided a table which shows the pension amounts paid to former Ministers and Taoisigh in the last calendar year, 2014. All of the amounts shown are net of the public service pension reduction. In certain cases the pension amounts shown do not reflect the actual pension amount in payment where an individual is "gifting" all or part of his or her pension to the State, or where a pension is subject to certain provisions of the family law Acts.  It is not the policy of my Department to release personal information of that nature. I have the full list of payments to hand, but it is long and it would take up more time than I have available to read it. Would it be of assistance to read the top five names on the list?

The Minister might have time to read ten names or perhaps more.

I have the names listed in order of payment.


Pension 2014 € p.a.

Bertie Ahern


Brian Cowen


John Bruton


Michael McDowell


Mary Harney


Peter Barry


Dick Spring


Desmond O’Malley


John O'Donoghue


Martin Cullen


Sean Treacy


Michael Smith


Charles John McCreevy


Additional information not given on the floor of the House


Pension 2014 € p.a.

Dermot Ahern


Michael Woods


Michael L. O’Kennedy


Rory O'Hanlon


Mary O'Rourke


Albert Reynolds (RIP)


Jim McDaid


Robert Molloy


Máire Geoghegan-Quinn


Mary Hanafin


Séamus Pattison


Noel Dempsey


Joe Walsh (RIP)


Liam Mac Cosgair


Brendan Daly


David Andrews


Alan Dukes


Frank Fahey


Ray Burke


Sile de Valera


Patrick Cooney


Ray Mac Sharry


Patrick Lalor


Liam Kavanagh


Mervyn Taylor


Batt O'Keeffe


Barry Desmond


Richie Ryan


Tom O’Donnell


Austin Deasy


Michael D Higgins


Gerard Collins


John Gormley


Gemma Hussey


Noel Treacy


Niamh Bhreathnach


Pádraig Flynn


Tom Kitt


Martin O’Donoghue


Joe Jacob


Richard Burke


Nora Owen


Ivan Yates


Paddy O’Toole


Mary Wallace


Proinsias De Rossa


Tony Killeen


Pat the Cope Gallagher


Ger Connolly


Sean Calleary


Tras Honan


Pat Carey


Noel Ahern


Brian Mullooly


Dan Wallace


Vincent Brady


Noel Davern (RIP)


Jim O’Keeffe


Fergus O’Brien


Liz O'Donnell


Liam T. Cosgrave


Tom Moffatt


Hugh Byrne


Edward Collins


Tim O'Malley


Tom Parlon


Jackie Fahy


Eamon Ryan


Paul Connaughton


George Birmingham


Liam Aylward


Chris Flood


Thomas Hussy


Brian O'Shea


Rory Kiely


Michael D'Arcy


Donal Creed


Eithne Fitzgerald


Sean Haughey


Conor Lenihan


Ned O'Keeffe


Avril Doyle


Ivor Callely


Toddy O'Sullivan


John Curran


Pat Moylan


Martin Mansergh


Michael Finneran


Trevor Sargent


Austin Currie


Liz McManus


Bernard Allen


Donal Carey


Sean McCarthy


Liam Hyland


Charles McDonald


Lorcan Allen


Donie Cassidy


Thomas Fitzpatrick


John Donnellon


Jim Higgins


Seán Power


Donnacha Ó Liatháin


Gay Mitchell


Eoin Ryan


John Ryan (RIP)


The payments decrease towards the bottom of the list. The smallest pension listed is €4,761.

This issue has been raised time and again since the beginning of this Dáil term by me and others. When the figures are put into the public domain, like I am sure others, I am struck by the contrast in the regard shown for the recipients of these payments which I acknowledge are lawfully due and made and low paid workers within the civil and public service. It is probably opportune that a question has been raised about these bumper pensions for the great and the good on the same day that in this Chamber the Minister cannot make a commitment and has not mandated officials to zero in specifically on that set of workers within the civil and public service who do not earn a living wage.

Before what the Deputy is saying becomes part of her mantra, I must repeat that I have indicated that I am not going to indicate in this forum what instructions I have given to my negotiating team. I have said this in reply to Deputy Sean Fleming, as I have to the Deputy. It is not appropriate for her to determine what these instructions are because I am not in a position to reveal them. I do not know any negotiator who would set out his or her negotiating hand in advance.

The Deputy asked for a list of the pensions of senior politicians, including former Ministers and Taoisigh. Obviously, there are many in the public sphere in receipt of analogous pensions, including senior judges, senior members of An Garda Síochána, senior administrators in the public service and senior academics. It is important that pensions comprise an important part of the package available to get people to work in the public service. We will have to start discussing how we can ensure we get quality people to work in the public service because there will be pressures associated with the filling of senior positions when recovery comes and there will be much more lucrative opportunities in the private sphere.

I am sure the Minister is not asserting that, if we want quality people working throughout the system, the only place there is a need for what he calls quality is at the top of the tree.

I am sure he will acknowledge that quality, ability and the capacity to live a decent basic lifestyle is something he wishes to afford to all public and civil servants. I have said this to him previously when we have debated these matters and I readily concede that all of this has become something of a mantra of mine and others in recent years. With all the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, legislation, changes and reform that he claims have been introduced, the central disparity within the system - in which small numbers of people are overpaid and over-pensioned but as one moves down the chain people are on poverty wages, and we talk about the working poor but these are the working poor in the employment of the State - and the failure even to acknowledge that is quite astonishing.

I know this is an area the Deputy likes to milk for political reasons but, in truth, she knows that with respect to people with legal entitlements to pensions, we have brought in reductions to those pensions in so far as we can go on the advices that we have from the Attorney General. I have made that clear and have given the Deputy gross figures as opposed to reduced figures for all these recipients. We should not exclusively look at people who are in politics and exclude senior administrators, judges, senior gardaí and senior academics. If we are going to have quality people working in the public sphere, we need to acknowledge that we are going to have to pay a reasonable rate for those jobs.

I am the son of a trade unionist and that in no way undermines the absolute case for having a fair rate at the lower end. It is something that I have spent my entire working life working for and my party's focus is to ensure that those who are the weakest are protected and that we support collective bargaining and provide decent wage rates for people who are least paid in society.

Then the Minister should deal with it in this round.

Ombudsman's Remit

Seán Fleming


189. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to extend the role of the Ombudsman to cover State bodies not currently within its remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18240/15]

I would like to ask the Minister about a different topic, as his Department is wide-ranging. What are his plans to extend the role of the Ombudsman to cover State bodies not currently within its remit? I know the Minister will say that he has extended the Ombudsman's remit but the legislation has a Schedule of exempted agencies which run to more than 110 organisations. When can we get some of those exempt organisations to come under the remit of the Ombudsman's legislation?

The priority objective of the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 was to extend the Ombudsman's remit to a substantial number of new bodies which were not already subject to oversight by the Ombudsman, but whose administrative activities and decision-making impact on large numbers of people.  I adopted the approach of including a general provision of "reviewable agency" in the legislation where any public body that conformed to that definition came within the ambit of the Ombudsman, with exempt bodies listed individually in the Schedule to the legislation.

On that basis, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act brought some 180 additional public bodies within the remit of the Ombudsman when it became law. This was the most significant extension of the Ombudsman's remit in 30 years. Obviously the Ombudsman's office has to be scaled up and supported to take on this very extensive new task.  Furthermore, any new body that conforms to the definition of "reviewable agency" will automatically become subject to review by the Ombudsman into the future. The Act also provides for the extension of the Ombudsman's remit by order to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer, where there is a clear public benefit in particular bodies being subject to review by the Ombudsman, in accordance with the commitment in the programme for Government. 

It became clear, following consultation with other Departments and with the Office of the Ombudsman, that it was not appropriate to bring certain public bodies within his remit.  On that basis, the Government decided that certain categories of bodies should not be included.  These categories, about which we have had a debate, include the commercial State bodies, economic sectoral regulators, research and advisory bodies with little or no public interaction.

As the Deputy may know, I am currently finalising arrangements for bringing privately-run nursing homes whose residents are in receipt of State funding or subvention within the Ombudsman's scope. I hope to be able to do so by the end of next month.  I have written to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform to ask that it might consider that and advise me.

My officials are also considering the steps necessary to extend the review by the Ombudsman to non-public bodies in receipt of significant public funding in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. If the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform or the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions has any suggestion to make in this regard, I will happily entertain it.

Last February I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister asking him when An Bord Pleanála and EirGrid would be brought within the remit of the Ombudsman. His reply was that An Bord Pleanála and EirGrid had never been scheduled and, as such, were never within the Ombudsman's remit. Anyone listening to him today would think that with 180 bodies listed, everyone was included. However, he keeps saying it is only reviewable agencies that are included. There are 110 bodies that are exempt, while a further 14 are substantially exempt, except in the case of specific issues. I will not go through the whole list which includes bodies such as the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Equality Tribunal but ask the Minister to reconsider three bodies, in particular, in the public interest. He knows that there is a good case to be made with regard to An Bord Pleanála. Many people are dissatisfied that they cannot appeal its decisions to the Ombudsman. I am not talking about having another court of appeal, but people who are not satisfied with how they have been dealt with administratively by An Bord Pleanála cannot go to the Ombudsman. People who are not happy with how EirGrid is dealing with them also cannot go the Ombudsman, while those who are unhappy with the Environmental Protection Agency cannot do so either. All three bodies are involved in public planning and there is no route, other than to the High Court, for those who are not happy with them. I think the Minister will agree that this is not satisfactory. These three bodies should be reviewable by the Ombudsman, while the public should have a right to go to the Ombudsman's office.

It should be acknowledged that one of the first things I did as Minister was to introduce the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act in 2012 which involved the most significant broadening of the role of the Ombudsman in 30 years. I changed the process, as I have in other legislation, to state bodies are included unless specifically excluded. The fact that the Deputy now knows who is excluded is a novelty. Up to now, only those specifically included would have been known. The categories excluded include the commercial semi-State sector, for reasons we have argued repeatedly, economic sectoral regulators, as well as research and advisory bodies. The Deputy made reference to An Bord Pleanála which was set up under statute by the Houses and has a quasi-judicial role. No more than we do not have the Ombudsman oversee the courts, we do not give the office authority to oversee An Bord Pleanála. If there is a case to be made for administrative oversight of An Bord Pleanála, I will happily hear it, but I am concerned to ensure its absolute independence in making planning decisions which have been so controversial for many decades will not be impeded in any way.

There is probably much common ground between the Minister and me on this issue. I am not asking for people to have another route to appeal a specific planning decision-----

That is what would happen though.

-----but that the administrative aspects be open to review by the Ombudsman. EirGrid is not dealing with the public on its commercial activity, while the Environmental Protection Agency has a key role to play. The Minister mentioned the Courts Service, which is generally exempt, except where it relates to an action taken in the performance of administrative functions under section 5 of the Courts Service Act 1998. The Minister is trying to claim credit for the listing of 110 agencies in the Schedule to the Act. However, he spoke previously about the "Second Schedule to the Ombudsman Act, 1980." That Schedule was not included by the Minister last year. I again ask him to consider the administrative functions of the EPA, An Bord Pleanála and Eirgrid. I understand his argument about commercial semi-State bodies and regulators being exempt, but these three bodies are significant and we will be revisiting the issue in the House.

One of the reasons we set up the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions was to deal with the Ombudsman. The committee's role includes receiving reports of the Ombudsman which often went into the air in the past. The Ombudsman now has a point of contact with the Oireachtas through the committee. I would be very happy for a discussion to take place within it or at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform with the organisations to which the Deputy refers, if either committee was of the view that this should happen. That said, I would be afraid that people dissatisfied with a planning decision would simply go down the road of making an appeal to the Ombudsman, as if that office could overturn planning decisions. That would not be a desirable objective.

Question No. 190 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pay

Terence Flanagan


191. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to reverse public sector pay cuts, including An Garda Síochána pay cuts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18124/15]

What are the Minister's plans to reverse public sector pay cuts, including An Garda Síochána pay cuts?

I have answered a few questions like this one and do not want to repeat the entire preamble. My intention is to open discussions today with the public sector and that has happened. We understand the economic circumstances in which we are discussing these matters. In an article I had published today I stated we did not have a greenfield site. We cannot undo all of the cuts; that would take a very considerable amount of time. I am very conscious that the sustainability of the public finances remains the first objective.

I acknowledge the contribution made by public sector workers to our recovery. Without their forbearance, doing more for less, we would not have got through the past four, five or six difficult years. As the cuts are anchored in emergency legislation, it is prudent and wise to see how we can unwind that emergency legislation in a rational way that would not put our recovery in jeopardy.

I thank the Minister for his response. I know that he is just beginning the discussions and that it is too early to say how they might conclude. As he knows, however, morale in the Garda has suffered in recent years. Pay has been reduced substantially for new entrants to the Garda in comparison with members who joined many years ago whose pay is much more substantial. Will a review of this issue be part of the agreement? On the PULSE system and the lack of adequate infrastructure for gardaí, will this issue be part of the reform agenda or will the Minister just be looking at the pay side?

I take it from the Deputy's question and comments that he supports the process of pay restoration. This seems to be at variance with his party's position. On the day of the launch of Renua Mr. Eddie Hobbs, a co-founder of the party, insisted on public sector workers not having their pay restored. When asked the question, he said, "The answer is no. It shouldn't happen because we have very scarce resources and they shouldn't be wasted restoring something that actually was one of the outcomes that contributed to the economic collapse." I hope the Deputy will acknowledge - I think he is so acknowledging - that it is now time to acknowledge the work of gardaí, teachers and other public sector workers who got us through difficult times by making their contribution, as every other citizen did. Many people made a bigger contribution by losing their jobs. Many were forced to emigrate. We need to build a future that will be sustainable in order that we do not revisit a boom and bust cycle. That is certainly the objective of the Government.

I thank the Minister for his response. I acknowledge that there have been many cuts for ordinary public servants, particularly gardaí. Members of the Garda have told me that they are finding it very difficult to get by. They accept, however, that reform of the public service is needed. What level of reform does the Minister envisage within An Garda Síochána in dealing with all of the deficits in equipment and even the question of starting pay? There are two Irelands in the sense that pay has been reduced substantially in recent years for new Garda recruits by comparison with the pay of those who joined in better times. Will this issue be looked at during the Minister's review of the agreement?

One of the allowances payable to new gardaí has been abolished. In replies to parliamentary questions I have indicated that it is not my intention to see it restored. We had a considerable debate about there being too many allowances, a debate to which I believe the Deputy contributed. We now have a more rational pay structure.

For example, substitution is subsumed into teachers' core work and should be remunerated accordingly rather than as an add-on payment. We are introducing remarkable and groundbreaking change in An Garda Síochána. The Minister for Justice and Equality is establishing a new Garda authority, the chairperson of which has been named. This is something for which I have campaigned for a decade and I am glad to see it happening. We have a considerable number of good people in An Garda Síochána who want reform and to do things differently. The report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate showed a great many shortcomings that need to be addressed.

On a point of order, the Minister referred in his reply to Mr. Eddie Hobbs, who is a private citizen. We are regularly told by the Chair -----

He is the co-founder of a political party.

I know that. I would have made my point of order if I was not interrupted.

I ask the Deputy to put his question.

The point of order is -----

The Deputy is not making a point of order. He is making a political point.

I am not making a political point. I am asking the Chair to consider the issue of Ministers referring to private citizens by name. Other Deputies get chastised for doing so.

He is not a private citizen.

Sale of State Assets

Seán Fleming


192. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide the receipts for each year from 2011 to 2014 and to date in 2015, and the estimate for 2015, from the sale of State assets; the manner in which these funds have been deployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18236/15]

Under EUROSTAT rules, the amount of any dividends received from a State company, including proceeds from asset disposals, which can improve the general government balance, GGB, is limited by reference to the income of the relevant company in the previous year.  In order to comply with the fiscal rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, the scope for the Government to use such dividends for additional expenditure on a GGB neutral basis is limited to the amount by which the dividends paid actually improved the GGB. That sounds complicated but I think the Deputy understands the point. In order to take maximum advantage of the asset disposal proceeds, they cannot all be availed of at once but must be remitted to the Exchequer over a number of years.

The State assets disposal programme announced by the Government in February 2012 has resulted in the following receipts for the Exchequer to date. In 2014, €347 million in special dividends was received, comprising €197 million from ESB and €150 million from Ervia, formerly BGE.  In Jan 2015, a further €203 million was received from ESB, representing the remainder of the €400 million that had been requested from ESB as its contribution to the State assets disposals programme. A further €100 million is expected to be received from Ervia in mid-2015. The balance of the approximately €1 billion total net receipts expected as a result of the BGE sale is expected to be received between now and 2017, as required by the Government and in a prudent manner that protects Ervia's investment grade credit rating.

It has been the Government's consistent position that funds released from asset disposals should be used, as far as possible, to support the economy and job creation, while also using some of the proceeds to reduce debt. Since the State asset disposal programme was agreed by the Government, I have made a number of announcements including allocations of additional funding for capital investment to be funded from proceeds of asset disposals. Details of these investment programmes are on my Department's website, and further details about individual projects and programmes are available from the relevant Ministers and their Departments.

Am I correct to say that there were no receipts in 2012 and 2013? The Minister outlined the figures for 2014 and 2015. The revenue from ESB came from the sale of some of its power plants located abroad. They were proceeds in lieu of sale. Some of the dividends from Ervia came through in 2014 and an additional €100 million came through this year. The Minister indicated that the balance of the sale of Bord Gáis can only come through in stages in 2016 and 2017. If Ervia is profitable between now and 2017, EUROSTAT rules still will not allow it to remit dividends to the State. Where is the money being held? Is it held on Ervia's balance sheet as a contingent liability to be passed to the State in due course? There is no possibility of any further receipts by way of dividends or sale of State assets from Bord Gáis between now and 2017.

No, we will get the full amount we have listed, but the Deputy asked me a specific question regarding where the money is now - like a Father Ted question "Is it lodging in your account?"

Pending payments of further dividends to the State, Ervia has used part of the remaining proceeds to reduce its debt balances and to restructure its current debt facilities, resulting in cheaper finance being available to Ervia itself. However, as I said, this does not affect the final amount the State will receive arising from the sale of BGE. The Government expects to receive the full €1 billion in special dividends over the timeline I have indicated, between now and 2017.

Questions Nos. 193 and 194 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pay

Mary Lou McDonald


195. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to commence talks with unions on public sector pay. [18243/15]

This question returns to the issue of public sector pay and the Minister's plans to commence talks with the unions. He says this process is under way. Earlier I raised the issue of those groups that fall outside the ICTU umbrella. Is there a parallel process taking place and are officials talking to An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and so on?

I will not read a prepared reply to this question because we have already covered the ground in a number of other questions.

The Haddington Road process was my first direct exposure to the structure of this type of broad-ranging, general public sector talks. These talks are, of necessity, complicated, because we have approximately 290,000 public sector workers, somewhat less than the 300,000 plus we had. The various groups have individual concerns and are paid in different ways. The way the process works is that we have a lead from the public service union side of the ICTU delegation, that is the main players in the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They deal in the plenary negotiations with my lead negotiators from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, backed up by negotiators from key line Departments, those with large numbers, such as the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Environment, Community and Local Government. Other groups are not part of ICTU qua ICTU, like An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. They have bilateral discussions with my officials and bilateral discussions with ICTU. In that way they are kept in the loop and can feed into the process.

On the last occasion we had talks, public sector pensioners felt excluded from the process. I advised they should form their own organisation and they have done that and I have met with that umbrella organisation on a couple of occasions. I have instructed my officials to keep in touch with its representatives during the current discussion process and to keep them in the loop in terms of any issue that may impact on them and their remuneration.

The Minister said earlier there will be no rowing back in respect of allowances and the reform of allowances. In respect of the issue of productivity and additional work hours, are these on the table and does the Minister envisage any review, reform or removal of the conditions imposed? In his thinking generally on the reinstatement of pay, will the Minister be looking for further productivity concessions from the unions and public sector workers?

In terms of productivity generally, my Department was set up with two objectives. First, it had a public expenditure role, to work towards a deficit of less than 3% of GDP and this has been the overarching fiscal imperative of the Government for the past four years. Now that we have reached that, we have set a new horizon, in accordance with the fiscal rules voted upon by the Irish people, and we are working towards our mid-term objective, the MTO.

Parallel to that and equally important has been the reform agenda - reform of the public service and reform of the political sphere, in terms of FOI and all the rest. I have said that reform is now hardwired into our public services and just as every progressive private sector company will look for innovation and ways of doing things better and more efficiently, so will the public services. We will not just do this in the period of the crisis, but forever, because the more efficient we become, the more resources I can redeploy - what I describe as the "reform dividend" - into providing more front-line services for crucial services delivered by people, for example, An Garda Síochána, nurses, teachers and special needs assistants. That will be the ongoing objective of Government strategy.