Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí (Atógáil) - Leaders' Questions (Resumed)

We will not have any rows in front of the neighbours, hopefully. I call Deputy McDonald.

We will try. I want to raise the case of Majella Moynihan. I am sure all of us, listening as Majella told her devastating story, have been moved and deeply saddened by her experiences. For those of us who were children in the 1980s, I think this transported us back to that Ireland - that awful, oppressive, misogynistic Ireland. Majella told her story. She told of her background as a child, her experience of growing up in an industrial school and then, in 1983, how she landed her dream job, and the pride she felt, walking through the gates of Templemore to become a member of An Garda Síochána. By all accounts, she was an effective garda. She was described as honest, dependable and willing. Of course, she was not to have a successful career in An Garda Síochána because she was in a relationship and she became pregnant. For that transgression, she was vilified, isolated and damaged in the most fundamental ways. On 31 May 1984, Majella gave birth to her son at University Hospital Galway. She says that when she left the hospital, she did so in a trance. Heartbreakingly, she describes the situation whereby her child was taken her away from her and she was coerced into allowing the child to be put up for adoption. She describes that as the worst day of her life. Then, she was subjected to an internal Garda investigation. She was lucky she was not sacked, because of the intervention of the Archbishop, but she was brought to heel and disciplined for the transgression of being pregnant and having a child outside of wedlock. She was then brought to an internal inquiry at which the behaviour of the father of her child, also a garda, was investigated.

All of these things happened and Majella has now stepped forward to tell her story. The Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality have apologised, quite correctly, to her in recent days. She is due to meet the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and, I understand, the Minister for Justice and Equality in the coming days. I want to ask the Taoiseach is it now time for him to apologise to Majella on behalf of the State. Since she came forward, others have followed suit in order to tell their stories. Anne Cleary, a retired garda who was based in Fitzgibbon Street station in the 1980s, has said that the top brass were very influenced by the church’s teachings.

Who was not in those times? She tells of one girl who kept her baby and another who gave up her child for adoption.

Thank you, Deputy.

She tells of how these had traumatic affects on people's lives. She describes a culture of fear. Are there more Majellas out there? What will the Taoiseach do establish the full facts? Majella said yesterday that she spoke with Deputy Michael Noonan who was Minister for Justice in 1983, but she spoke to him ten years ago and at that point he said to her that this was an internal Garda matter.

Time is up, Deputy, please.

The mind boggles as to how this could ever have been an internal Garda matter. I understand that Deputy Michael Noonan has not responded to this matter. Should he now make a statement and has the Taoiseach spoken with him on the issue?

I thank the Deputy. In response to her questions, I have not spoken to Deputy Michael Noonan about it. I do not know if there are more Majellas out there: there may well be. I would have no difficulty apologising to those women on behalf of the State but I would like to know the facts and be able to answer the questions raised by the Deputy today before doing that.

This is a story that has very much gripped the nation in the last couple of days. I pay tribute to the RTÉ radio "Documentary on One" team for once again putting together a really fascinating programme that gives us further insight into our country and into our past. It is a true example of public service broadcasting and I want to recognise that here. It was deeply moving. It was almost unbelievable except that those of us who did grow up in Ireland in the 1980s can believe how it was true. What was done to her was wrong on every level. Her privacy was invaded. She was made to feel shame. She was pressurised to give up her child and the way she was penalised was deeply sexist when one considers that the man involved was only subject to a fine. It demonstrates to us how much our State and our country has changed for the better since the 1980s, and before, but there are many wrongs that have still to be righted. I very much welcome the fact that Commissioner Harris has offered an apology and that that apology has been repeated and echoed on behalf of the Government by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. Mr. Harris will meet her in person and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has asked that he be involved in that meeting too. I think that is what should happen next. That meeting should occur between Ms Moynihan and the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality and, perhaps, we can take things from there. As she is the one at the centre of this they should be allowed to hear from her rather than us debating here what the next step should be. The next step should be for her and the Commissioner to meet, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, would like to be able to attend that meeting with her consent.

I agree with the Taoiseach that the next steps must in the first instance be dictated by Majella but I also think that the State has an obligation, retrospectively, to ensure, for example, that she is awarded her full pension. There is an obligation on the State not to speculate that there may well be other Majellas but to establish the full facts of the matter. It seems anecdotally that this was not an isolated case. There is an obligation to investigate if it is true, or not, that there were more Majellas and, if so, how many?

It is important that the serving Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, having, rightly, echoed an apology to Majella, should establish that we are now living in a new time. The then serving Minister for Justice in 1983, Deputy Michael Noonan, as recently as ten years ago described this as an internal Garda matter. It is very important that matter is clarified. I would imagine that Deputy Noonan would welcome the opportunity to clarify this matter.

Thank you, Deputy.

The Taoiseach is right that those of us who grew up in the 1980s recognise this atmosphere and ideology as set out through Majella's story. It is important in the here and now that we give absolute assurances, and that it is made absolutely clear, that we in fact live in a different Ireland. On that basis, the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Michael Noonan, should make a statement and should clarify this matter.

Many people have served as Minister for Justice since 1983. I am not sure how many but it could be a dozen people. I do not think this is about trying to have a go at a politician or former Minister for Justice. This is about Majella Moynihan and hearing her story. It is about understanding the wrongs that were done in our past, offering an apology to her from the Garda Commissioner, which has happened, and an apology from the Minister for Justice and Equality, and then allowing them to meet with her to talk about what the next steps forward should be. This should not be an occasion for political interaction such as that.

I want to return to the strike by health support workers. Some 10,000 health support workers are due to take industrial action next Thursday. Their trade union, SIPTU, has worked patiently for years through the industrial relations machinery of the State, as the Taoiseach has said. The workers' employer is the HSE, which willingly took part in the public service stability agreement and formally signed off on it. The HSE accepted the recommendations of the job evaluation scheme that was agreed in 2017. It set out the staff numbers to be upgraded and to be re-evaluated with regard to remuneration. However, the HSE is now refusing to honour those recommendations. The 10,000 workers in question are the backbone of our health services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities. They provide household, porter and catering facilities. They also provide direct assistance to medics as healthcare assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides and surgical instrument technicians. Their strike is not about any new pay claim but about requiring the Government to honour its side of an agreement that both sides entered into freely. As the Taoiseach knows, workers delivered on very difficult pay deals during the economic crisis. They honoured agreements which were instrumental in securing our economic recovery. It would be an act of betrayal for the State to go back on its commitments now.

What is at stake is not simply the honouring of an agreement but the maintenance between the State and employees of fundamental trust. SIPTU has called on the Minister for Health to intervene. The Government should not have allowed matters to reach this point. The workers involved are essential to the running of our health system and they are also among the lowest paid. Does the Taoiseach accept that this re-evaluation process was formally agreed between the unions and employers? Why is the Government undermining confidence in the HSE and the Department of Health as honest dealmakers in the name of the State? Will the Taoiseach or Minister for Health intervene to ensure this strike is averted by Thursday?

The Deputy will be aware that I answered a question on the same matter from Deputy Micheál Martin a little earlier but perhaps I can add a few things. The dispute is related to the non-implementation of the job evaluation scheme for support grades. SIPTU claims that this is a breach of the terms of the public sector pay agreements. Management agreed to the terms of the scheme but questions of its implementation were always intended to be subject to further discussions at the conclusion of the exercise. My understanding is that the commitment was to consider the outcome but not to automatically implement it.

As part of the talks which took place under the Lansdowne Road agreement, a chairman's note was agreed by all parties on the re-introduction of the job evaluation scheme. On this basis, discussions commenced in 2016 between the HSE, SIPTU and IMPACT, which is now Fórsa, with regard to the re-establishment of those schemes. Successful engagement with Fórsa led to the approval of the job evaluation scheme for clerical and administrative grades in August 2016. However, an agreement on a scheme for support staff grades could not be reached and the issue was referred to the Lansdowne Road agreement oversight body in early 2017. The oversight body considered the approval of the scheme and recommended that parties should proceed with the job evaluation scheme as planned. It advised that the question of implementing the outcome of the exercise would be considered by the parties at the conclusion thereof. The dispute now centres on the timelines for implementing the outcome of the first two phases. SIPTU is firmly of the view that there was a commitment to pay not earlier than the completion of the second phase but in advance of the completion of the entire process.

Phase 2 was completed in October 2018. Phase 3 involved home help and home care workers. Phase 4 is made up of other support staff grades. Phase 3 is complete but has not yet been reported on and phase 4 is only now under way.

The Taoiseach will accept that I know something about the Lansdowne Road agreement. The re-evaluation process was to be held before the economic crisis. By agreement, those matters were put into abeyance until such time as we again had the capacity to pay. With the forbearance and agreement of the unions and the workers in the health service, there was a clear understanding that once the re-evaluation of the job specifications was completed, the remuneration appropriate to the new grading would apply. These are relatively low-paid workers who have accepted a series of pay agreements on the understanding that the State would honour them. It is my judgment that the non-payment of this evaluation is a breach of what was agreed. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene in order to ensure that trust is restored and that the workers get that to which they are entitled.

As the Deputy knows better than I, there are mechanisms by which we can and do resolve such disputes. Talks took place at the Workplace Relations Commission yesterday and adjourned at 7 p.m. without agreement. The option is there now to go to the Labour Court to have this decided and finalised. That is what I suggest as the next step forward. That is how so many disputes have been resolved in the past and it is how this dispute can be resolved in order to avoid the strike on Thursday and the unnecessary disruption for patients to which it will give rise.

I should put on record the fact that the cost of implementing the first two phases - phases 3 and 4 are not yet complete - will be approximately €16 million a year. It would be remiss of me not to point out that the Government has come in for criticism for-----

It would be about a week's overrun in the context of the capital budget.

-----in-year increases in health spending. If we decide to do that, or if the Labour Court says we ought to do that, it will be exactly the thing we are criticised for, which is in-year increases in health spending.

Honouring an agreement is not a breach of anything.

It is very easy to criticise the fact that during the course of the year the Government may decide to spend a few hundred million euro on health, but when one breaks it down, it is often pay increases for workers who deserve it, extra home help or new health programmes that should be funded. It is easy to criticise those things but sometimes they are necessary.

Nobody is criticising them.

But the Government is not doing it.

I am a bit bemused by the attitude of Fine Gael to the National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017. The Bill was introduced by Senator Gavan and passed by the Seanad. The Bill will be introduced in the House this evening during Sinn Féin's Private Members' time. It is a simple Bill that will outlaw the practice of employers using tips or service charges to make up contracted wages. I do not understand the opposition to the Bill given that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, whom I facilitated in meeting workers to discuss the issue, has given a commitment to legislate in this area. Is the Government playing politics and, if so, for what purpose? Is the problem with the Bill or just with the fact that it was brought forward by Sinn Féin?

When I first met a group of workers from The Ivy restaurant on Dawson Street I was shocked by what they told me. It was not just a question of low pay and not receiving their tips; there was a complete lack of respect for the staff on the part of a very aggressive employer. There were even CCTV cameras in makeshift staff changing rooms. They have since been removed but there is evidence of ongoing surveillance of staff, both audio and visual. Due to the publicity surrounding The Ivy, customers are asking staff whether they will get the money if a service charge is paid. Staff cannot give a straight answer for fear of retribution or possible dismissal. I am more shocked now that some of these practices are widespread in the hospitality sector. A survey has shown that one in three workers does not receive the tips customers have given in recognition of good service.

This workforce is mainly young, with many migrant workers and students. They are not very aware of their rights in the workplace. For example, they often work long hours without a break and they are not aware there should be an 11 hour break between shifts. They are not unionised for fear of being dismissed. Two of the workers I met are no longer working in The Ivy and the matter is being pursued by their union. These workers' jobs are precarious. They do not have fixed hours and the minimum wage or slightly above it is the norm. Does the Taoiseach agree that this hardly describes a republic of opportunity, but rather a republic of the unacceptable face of capitalism?

There is also an issue with unfair competition. Employers who are treating their staff with respect are at an unfair disadvantage, particularly when confronted with highly profitable, multinational chains such as The Ivy. Passing this Bill would be a signal to employers that this sharp practice is unacceptable. More importantly, it would be a signal to some of the most exploited members of the workforce that they are not alone and powerless. Hopefully, it would encourage them to join a union and get organised. The Bill has widespread support in the Seanad and I look forward to the same level of support for it in the Dáil tonight. I hope it will be passed with the Government's support.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, plans to legislate in this area. When customers leave a tip in a restaurant or bar they intend that the tip should go to the staff. We want to ensure that happens. The Minister, Deputy Doherty, will introduce legislation to amend the Payment of Wages Act to make it illegal for employers to use tips to make up employees' wages. Tips would have to be in addition to the statutory pay or wages people are being paid. In addition, she will introduce legislation to require employers to display, either in a notice on a wall or on a menu, their policies on tips, gratuities and service charges so customers of bars and restaurants know exactly what is happening to the tip, where it is going and, more importantly, what is happening with the service charge. That is the action we will take.

The reason we do not support the Bill being put forward is that we believe it will be counterproductive. While I am sure it was not the intention of the authors, the effect of the Bill would be to cause people's tips to be taxed-----

That is not true. It is a red herring.

-----and counted as income. Potentially, they could be counted against them when they apply for a medical card, social housing or things such as the family income supplement. I am sure that was not the intention, but that is our interpretation of the Bill. I will explain why that is our interpretation. The Bill changes the nature of tips. At present, in the vast majority of pubs and restaurants the tips are managed by the staff. This Bill would require the employer to manage the tips. That means they would go through payroll and become subject to tax and social insurance. It would therefore be counterproductive. I do not believe it is the intention of Sinn Féin or the left to cause workers to have their tips taxed-----

The Taoiseach's intention is to muddy the waters.

-----but that would be the effect of the legislation. That is why we do not support it.

First, the current position is that if one accepts tips one is supposed to pay tax on them to the Revenue Commissioners. This Bill does not change that, so the Taoiseach is throwing a red herring into this.

Second, we held a press conference today at which Julia, one of workers from The Ivy who is no longer working there, made an appeal to the Minister to support this Bill. The Bill deals with both tips and service charges. We know that when the Tánaiste previously made the point that tips cannot be used as part of a contracted wage The Ivy changed its policy in this regard. It changed its policy from credit card tips to a service charge of 12.5% on all tables, which was previously only on tables of five and above. It is using those service charges to pay wages. That is wrong. No customer who pays a service charge thinks it is going to line the pockets of the management. He or she thinks it will go to the server who served the customer well.

These are the crucial points that must be raised. It is not good enough that tips and the service charge be treated in the same way. Workers should receive their tips directly, not through the management.

The reason we do not think this Bill is a good idea is because we believe it could force staff working in pubs and restaurants to pay tax on their tips. I heard the Deputy say that she thinks they should pay tax on them anyway and I am glad she has admitted that in this House because that would be the effect of this Bill. It would put tips through payroll and staff would have to pay tax on them and they may have it counted it against them when it comes to applying for a medical card, the working family payment or social housing. She should not just believe me on this. This matter was examined by the Low Pay Commission, which unanimously came out against it, including the union representatives on the commission. In their submissions to the commission, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil Party also objected to this measure so the Deputy should not just take my word on it. She should take the word of the Low Pay Commission.

We are supporting it.

I am advised that Fianna Fáil did not support it a few weeks ago but what is new?


The Taoiseach, without interruption.

In terms of meaningful actions that will actually protect staff working in bars and restaurants, we will amend the law to prohibit employers from using tips to make up wages and will require employers to state clearly what happens to the service charge.


Could we all just calm down a bit?