Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 5

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Mairéad Farrell


1. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress that has been made to date with the roll-out of the pandemic bonus for front-line staff. [2513/22]

Yesterday, we had the welcome announcement of the long-awaited front-line bonus and after many suggestions and promises from various Cabinet colleagues, we saw the exclusion of certain workers from this. One of the reasons for this, which the Tánaiste mentioned yesterday, was that many of those excluded would benefit from the additional bank holiday. I will tell the Minister who will not benefit from an additional bank holiday: the thousands of carers in this State who do not get a day off. Will the Minister explain why he excluded carers from receiving this bonus?

The Government acknowledges the contribution of our front-line healthcare workers and all workers across the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have faced difficult challenges and have risen to the task. As a Government, we have on many occasions stated our commitment to recognise these efforts. There were a number of issues that had to be taken into consideration before we could finalise our proposals and the pandemic has remained an ongoing challenge for us all, requiring our full focus and attention. We gave detailed consideration to these matters and yesterday the Cabinet approved the package of measures to recognise these efforts and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Working together has been a key element of the Government’s approach to the pandemic to date and this is reflected in the approach announced yesterday. In particular, the value of the contribution of our healthcare workers on the front line cannot be overstated. The Deputy will be familiar with the measures we have introduced, including a public holiday on 18 March 2022 and then an annual public holiday on the first Monday of every February, or if 1 February falls on a Friday it will be held on that day; a tax free recognition payment of €1,000 for a range of workers, including public service health and ambulance workers who were working on-site in Covid-19 exposed environments, those seconded or assigned to the HSE, for example, our Defence Forces staff who were assigned to HSE testing centres, students who were required to perform training in clinical sites, and staff working on-site in private-sector nursing homes and hospices that were affected by Covid-19.

The Government recognises the immense work of so many people across different sectors of our economy and, indeed, of volunteers as well. In arriving at a conclusion on this issue, we felt the need to prioritise the front-line public health workers, in particular, who left their home and went to work in a high-risk environment at a time, particularly at the start of the pandemic, when the risks were unknown and thought to be really significant. That is why we singled out that group for this recognition payment.

Carers lost everything during the pandemic. They lost their day services and respite, including their unofficial respite in the form of help from grandparents and other family members when we were all told to isolate, keep apart and stay in our homes. As for the parents of children in special schools, even those schools for children with severe to profound intellectual disabilities closed. For children and parents alike, their lifeline was gone. The workload of family carers increased monumentally overnight with no time to prepare. They were on the front line of this pandemic. Let us be frank, we all relied on their work. Without this and the Government being able to rely on the phenomenal work of carers, the Government would have been in a real predicament. I simply cannot understand how they have been left behind again.

The Government and I are enormously appreciative of the extraordinary work of the many thousands of carers throughout the country at all times and, in particular, over the course of the pandemic. As the Deputy will know, last year we increased the carer's support grant to €1,850. That was paid in June 2021. She will also know that in the budget, we made changes for the first time in a number of years in regard to the eligibility criteria for carer's allowance in relation to income and capital disregard. Those were long-called for and very welcome changes. We are committed, as the Deputy knows, through the work of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and her Department to examine the issue of pension rights and pension access for carers because we recognise the work they do is of enormous value. In addition, we significantly increased home support hours across society, and that will make a positive difference to the day-to-day lives of carers. We are determined to help them access those hours and to improve respite provision as well.

I am specifically asking the Minister why he decided to exclude carers from this bonus. We know there was a real-life impact on the lives of family carers. Many carers approached me, as I am sure they did the Minister, during the course of the pandemic to explain just how difficult the loss of services had been for them and not only how hard it was for them then but how it has had a long-term impact on them. Carers told me of the severe sleep disruption experienced by those who they care for and how at some points the entire family functioned on almost no sleep or very little sleep. They told me how the lack of services caused significant emotional distress and frustration for some of the most vulnerable in our society with some injuring themselves and others doing so accidentally by sheer frustration. This was a daily life faced by many carers during the many months of lockdown. I am at a loss as to why carers have been excluded.

The truth is that if the Government were to seek to meet all the legitimate calls that have been made to extend this pandemic payment, the cost of it would become very large. One could potentially be talking about €500 million or more. That is the truth if we were to include the full range of workers that have been suggested the Government include. Unfortunately, that is simply not possible. We would all love to extend this payment to a wide range of workers and volunteers without whom our experience of Covid would have been much worse. I do not need to remind the Deputy of her party's pre-budget submission. It suggested that there be a €200 payment to every person in the country and it called on the Government to engage in a spirit of generosity with front-line healthcare workers. That is what the Government has done. That is what Sinn Féin called for. We believe the package we have brought forward is fair, balanced and proportionate. I will not deny that there is of course an affordability issue, as there always is when it comes to public expenditure.

Departmental Programmes

Gerald Nash


2. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he plans to produce a White Paper on an expansion of the digital services offered by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2803/22]

Gerald Nash


6. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he plans to produce a White Paper on the expansion of the digital services offered by the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2483/22]

We have seen the threshold of €3 million MyGovID users being met and surpassed. According to the EU digital services index, Ireland does very well on digital services. I am keen to understand the next steps the Government has in mind on the provision of more and better digital services for citizens. We know the digitalisation of public services is a key element of the national recovery and resilience plan and the Civil Service renewal plan. In my view, a national conversation needs to take place in terms of the next steps. It strikes me that a formal White Paper is required to help prompt that conversation.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 6 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that I am currently finalising a new digital strategy for the civil and public service. The strategy will address the digitalisation of public services theme in the national digital strategy, which the Government intends to publish later this month. The strategy acknowledges the contribution of digitalisation to transform public services and builds on progress made to date under previous strategies. It also recognises the potential of digital as a core part of the recovery and broader socioeconomic development over the next number of years. The new strategy will focus on accelerating the move to a more digital public service for Ireland. It will take an all-of-government approach and build on the successes to date, in particular, those over the past two years. The strategy will consider the digital experience of individuals and businesses when using Government digital services.

I recognise that no one should need to know about every Government service such as all those relating to registering a birth or death, or a business. To that end, I will make it a priority that services are simplified, thereby taking a digital-first approach. This may include using digital to break through organisational boundaries in order that we can deliver better outcomes for individuals and businesses.

As the Deputy will be aware, my ambition for a digital first Civil Service that delivers globally recognised digital services is set out in the strategy, Civil Service Renewal 2030. Providing digital services that are accessible, integrated and customer-driven is key to achieving this ambition, as is working to foster public trust in the safety, transparency and value of digital solutions. The strategy will also reflect the EU’s digital decade and the ambition of a European Green Deal in areas such as the use of environmentally friendly technologies and boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean circular economy. I look forward to publishing the new digital and ICT strategy for the Civil Service and public service in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply but there really needs to be a public conversation about the development of what I might describe as world-class or best-in-class digital services for Irish citizens. I am not sure Irish citizens are fully acquainted with the level of digital services that the Government and the State more generally provide with regard to access to a whole panoply of public services. The Minister of State would agree that it is absolutely ridiculous for people to be asked to present the same information on several occasions, often to the same Department. We know that certain issues the Data Protection Commissioner had with the use of the public services card have been resolved. The Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019 provides for a better and accountable sharing of information across Departments and State agencies to allow for the development of better and more accessible digital services for members of the public. Will the Minister of State provide examples of some of his departmental priorities? What kind of services will be provided to the general public in the context of the new plan he hopes to publish?

I thank Deputy Nash. Earlier, he referred to the fact that we have 3 million MyGovID accounts. Much of this was driven by people not being able to go into Government offices that were closed down because of the pandemic or wanting to do things online to keep a degree of separation. We have a very broad electronic ID. We have a form of authentication that has a very wide uptake compared with similar forms in the average European country. What we do not have is the breadth of Government services available. The number of things that can be done with MyGovID is not large enough. The focus for this year and the coming years will be on extending the use of MyGovID across more Government services. Revenue and the Department of Social Protection are great examples. One can do most everything one needs to do online. That could be seen with the pandemic unemployment payment. One can also register for college and so on. I would love to see that extending into the HSE, for example.

That is real public service reform in the true sense. It would be worthwhile for decisions on the services to be provided to not always come from the centre. What do I mean by that? I mean that the general public ought to be broadly consulted to identify their priorities with regard to access to digital services. A significant resource to prioritise digital services was obtained from the European Union through the national recovery and resilience plan process. That is a good thing. That will modernise our public sector and access to public services. I ask that the Department engage in a consultation process and ask the public what services they wish to be prioritised with regard to better access to digital services. That would be really useful.

Deputy Nash has referred to the need to avoid having to type in one's information again and again. That is referred to as the once only principle. It is a common principle across Europe that people should have the convenience of being able to store their information. That requires joined-up government and the data sharing Act which has been put in place. Large sections of that Act were very recently commenced. These include the appointment of the data sharing board. We cannot just push the data out to everybody without consent. We must do it with consent and must preserve trust at the same time. If one gives one's information to one Department, it should not hand it over to another without one understanding why or where it is going. We have that balance between trust and convenience. People want to be able to access their Government services. They do not want to have to type in their address 50 times or to start from scratch every time they deal with a different Department. That is that balance between trust, joining up and data sharing. There are four critical parts to our new national digital strategy. The ICT strategy for public services is only one part. We also need to consider communications, broadband and business and ensure that our digital skills are up to date. Those are the four components of our national digital strategy, which is to come out very soon.

Public Sector Reform Review

Mairéad Farrell


3. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the preparations he has made for the unwinding of unpaid hours in the Haddington Road Agreement. [2514/22]

An tAire has said that he expects to receive the Mulvey report in the coming weeks. Will he advise us as to the preparation he has done for receiving the report? I understand that he cannot guess what will be in the report but I am interested in hearing about his preparations.

I thank the Deputy very much. The Haddington Road agreement provided for a range of significant reform and productivity measures including the introduction of the additional working hours for public servants the Deputy has referred to from 1 July 2013. She will be familiar with the details of those additional working hours.

Chapter 4 of Building Momentum - A New Public Service Agreement 2021-2022 provides that the parties to the agreement recognise and accept that certain measures introduced under the public service stability agreements, including the Haddington Road agreement, are considered outstanding matters to be resolved as part of this agreement. In this context, section 4.2 of the agreement provided for the establishment of an independent body to assess issues arising in addressing the Haddington Road hours and to make appropriate recommendations to be applied equitably across all affected grades, groups, categories and sectors.

An independent hours body chaired by Kieran Mulvey, former head of the Workplace Relations Commission, and comprising of employer, trade union representatives and independent members was established in April last year. The commitment to review this issue was a key element in agreeing Building Momentum, which also provided for sustainable pay increases across the public service over last year and this year.

I recently received correspondence from the chairperson with the independent body’s conclusions and recommendations. I have yet to receive the full report. I understand that the independent body will finalise this by the end of January. The submission of the final report and its consideration by Government is an important part of the continuing implementation of the agreement. The Deputy will be familiar with the recommendations that have been forwarded to me up to this point because they have been welcomed by a number of trade unions.

A number of steps have been taken in preparation for the potential removal of the Haddington Road agreement hours. A budget of €150 million to replace these hours has already been provided for in the budget for this year. I have also communicated details of the potential changes to the relevant Ministers and sectors to enable commencement of any necessary planning at sectoral level regarding the implementation of the recommendations, depending on the decision of Government.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. I am also quite interested in the analysis that he and his Department will have done to determine the additional value of those extra hours. Will he say what has been done to quantify the savings made by increasing the hours? How many shifts were covered? How much was knocked off the agency Bill? What extra services were delivered? As I am sure the Minister is fully aware from listening to much of the analysis surrounding the letter he received, it is interesting to look at the productivity involved. Much of the analysis involves talking about the productivity of workers who have a better work-life balance. I am interested in seeing the analysis the Minister and his Department have carried out with regard to that productivity.

I thank the Deputy very much. It is fair to say that the Haddington Road hours have real value, especially in areas such as healthcare. These are hours in which really important work is carried out. There is a cost to replacing those hours. The work of assessing exactly what that cost will be is ongoing. My Department has, of course, carried out its own assessment over time but the independent body, which I hope will furnish its report to me in the coming weeks, has also looked at this issue and has received submissions and presentations from the different sectors that are subject to the Haddington Road hours.

One key factor for me in considering the report, when I get it, will be protecting core services. I know that is also of importance to the workers and their representatives and trade unions. There will be challenges in implementing the changes recommended in this report, especially in healthcare, should we decide to do so. All of that will be taken into account. As I have said, I have yet to receive the report. It will address the issues the Deputy has raised with regard to productivity and the cost of these hours.

I thank the Minister. I am aware that the Minister has not received the full report but I am interested in this area because we often see an increase in the use of agency staff, which comes at a cost.

I would be interested in looking at that analysis and whether those additional hours had an impact. Did we see a reduction in the use of agency staff? What I have seen at times has instead been an increase in the use of agency staff. I would also be interested in hearing about the details of the preparations undertaken regarding unwinding these hours. Is it intended that what will be proposed will be in the form of a day off every six to eight weeks, or will it be a few minutes here and there? Will this be something meaningful for the people impacted?

If we get to that point, and this matter is subject to a Government decision yet to be taken, because I must consider the report in the round and then bring a recommendation to Government, which I will do, and if changes are to be implemented, then it will be a matter for the individual sectors to determine how those changes are to be implemented. All sectors have been aware since late 2020 that this process of setting up an independent body to examine the Haddington Road agreement hours was being embarked upon. As I said, having recently received a cover letter and a summary of the report's conclusions and recommendations, I wrote to the relevant Ministers and the different Departments to alert them to these recommendations coming my way. That is not to give an indication of what the decision in this regard will be but it is prudent to ensure that people are aware of what recommendations will be coming to me for consideration. The report will recommend that these changes commence from 1 July, which is not terribly far away. The independent body estimates the cost of implementing the recommendations will be €180 million in 2022.

Flood Risk Management

Holly Cairns


4. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide an update on the flood relief scheme in Bantry, County Cork. [2543/22]

As the Minister of State will be aware after his recent visit to Bantry following the flooding there in December, it continues to be an ever-present risk for businesses and homes. The town has been flooded four times in the last 18 months. Will the Minister of State provide an update on the scheme and outline the interim defences that will be made available?

I visited Bantry following the recent flood events, including last month after the flooding of 28 properties during Storm Barra. I have seen at first hand the devastation that flooding has caused to homeowners, businesses and the wider Bantry community. The flood risk management plan launched in May 2018 included a recommendation to progress the design, planning and construction of a flood relief scheme for Bantry. A steering group, comprising representatives from the Office of Public Works, OPW, and Cork County Council, is in place and is progressing this flood relief scheme to protect some 198 properties.

During 2021, Cork County Council, in partnership with the OPW, issued the tender documentation for the procurement of engineering and environmental consultants to design a viable scheme for the town. An assessment of all tenders has been completed by Cork County Council and I expect that consultants will be appointed in the coming weeks. Once appointed, consultation with statutory and non-statutory bodies, as well as with the wider public, will take place at the appropriate stages to ensure that all parties have the opportunity provide input into the development of this important scheme for the town. In the meantime, Cork County Council has engaged a contractor to treat some of the invasive species in preparation for the flood relief scheme. The Bantry flood relief scheme is being funded by the Department from the overall €1.3 billion for flood risk management allocated by the Government under the national development plan to 2030.

In tandem with progressing this scheme, Cork County Council is preparing the consultants' brief, which is expected to be issued in the first quarter this year, to carry out the repair and reconstruction of the culvert that runs under Main Street in the town. This culvert has been identified as a significant element contributing to flooding on Main Street, New Street and north and south of Wolfe Tone Square in recent months. The OPW and Cork County Council are liaising on the integration of these works with the flood relief scheme for the town.

In 2021, my office and the OPW approved some €180,000 under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for interim works to mitigate flooding in Bantry, including the installation of non-return valves and the provision of mobile pumps. The council has now identified a preferred contractor for these works and insurances are currently being finalised to confirm their appointment.

I thank the Minister of State for the update and his recent visit to the town. Progress on this scheme is always welcome. The Minister of State, though, will also appreciate that residents and proprietors are anxious to know when they will start to see physical work starting on the ground. All flood events can have a large impact on households and businesses, including through damage to structures and destroyed stocks. The social effect can also be very demoralising for communities. The risk of repeated flooding only increases these negative results. Bantry is an amazing town, with a thriving commercial and tourism sector. The Friday market attracts people from all over west Cork and beyond. The flood relief scheme will therefore bring much-needed certainty that will see the town go from strength to strength.

As we all know from the flooding in December, the remedial flood relief works carried out by Cork County Council did prevent further flooding in parts of Bantry. Additional funding for further remedial measures would therefore make a great difference. It would be great to get a timeline for when these things will take place.

There are two elements to this scheme. One concerns the culvert running through the centre of the town and the other is the flooding that happens from the harbour, which is part of the wider Bantry flood relief scheme. It is evident from meetings involving officials of Cork County Council and the OPW that the council is progressing the design of the culvert element via its own engineering section and consultative support. We will assist the council in that undertaking. Regarding the other element of the wider flood relief scheme, the formal process is being initiated in the first quarter of this year. We hope that will happen in the next fortnight or three weeks, once we get the statutory process started.

I met local representatives and some of the local community just before Christmas. They came out on the square on the day and it was evident that they understand that this work is part of a planning process. We cannot make it go any faster than it can because we are tied in a process. As to do anything that would subvert or usurp that process would land us in trouble, I cannot do anything that will interfere with it in any way.

I thank the Minister of State for that information. Bantry is just one of several towns in west Cork with work in progress on flood defences. The Minister of State recently marked the completion of the Clonakilty scheme. It is fantastic and is already making a big difference to the community there. In responding to my parliamentary questions, though, the Minister of State noted that both the Skibbereen and Bandon schemes are "substantially completed", rather than completed. As this distinction has a major impact on homes and businesses when it comes to things like seeking insurance and mortgages, when will the Minister of State be coming to Skibbereen and Bandon to officially mark the completion of those schemes, as well as the one in Clonakilty?

The Clonakilty scheme is completed and has been handed over to Cork County Council, while the schemes in Skibbereen and Bandon have more or less been completed as well. The true test of the pudding is in the eating, though. As someone who knows Bandon intimately, being able to say that the town did not flood during Storm Barra, and that my brother's pub did not flood, unlike in almost every previous flooding event, shows that the investment by the OPW, through Cork County Council, was a good undertaking in the context of addressing the scourge of flooding in Bandon, as well as in Skibbereen and Clonakilty. Hopefully, we will be able to get the scheme in Bantry up and running now as well. I pay tribute to the volunteers, the outside staff of Cork County Council, our own outside staff and the local communities, which have been very resilient. That has been the case not only in the west Cork towns, but in all the other towns that have also experienced the scourge of flooding. We want to get on with this process, but it will only be as good as the local representatives, who we hope will row in behind these endeavours. Obviously, we hope that it will not get bogged down in delays. We want to try to do for Bantry what we have done for Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and the other Cork towns as well.

Public Sector Pay

Richard Boyd Barrett


5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is planning to review public sector pay in view of the current inflation rate of 5.3%; if he has had discussions with the Minister for Finance as to the way that private sector workers could also be compensated for the effect that this rate of inflation is having on the cost of living for workers nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2458/22]

The €1,000 bonus for front-line healthcare workers is richly deserved, while the additional bank holiday is something that will be welcomed widely. These gains will be somewhat hollow, however, if the cost of living and the rate of inflation continue at the current level. In effect, that will mean that workers, pensioners and social welfare recipients are in fact seeing real income cuts. What does the Minister intend to do to ensure that workers do not lose out because of the rise in inflation?

Public service pay has been governed by a system of collective agreements since the Croke Park agreement was negotiated in 2010. These collective agreements have helped to ensure that public pay is managed in a sustainable, affordable and orderly manner. These agreements have also enabled significant reform of public services and changes to work practices. The current public service agreement is Building Momentum - A New Public Service Agreement 2021-2022. It is weighted towards those on lower incomes, with headline increases of approximately 5% for the lowest-paid public servants.

These groups will also benefit more from other measures in the agreement, including the overtime rates and premia payment adjustments that are provided for. The agreement provides a general round increase in annualised basic salary for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater, on October 2021, which has been implemented; the equivalent of a 1% increase in annualised basic salaries to be used as a sectoral bargaining fund in accordance with chapter 2 of the agreement, which will take place on 1 February 2022; and a general round increase in annualised basic salaries for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater, which will benefit those on lower incomes the most, on 1 October this year.

The Government is determined to ensure the current pay agreement is honoured in full. In this regard, an independent body was established to examine the additional hours worked by public servants under the Haddington Road agreement. We have just been discussing that issue. The recommendations of the body have now been submitted to my Department and I anticipate that the full report will be submitted at the end of this month.

As the Deputy will be aware, Building Momentum is a two-year agreement which is due to expire at the end of the current year. Government and public service staff representatives will be due to enter into discussions on the potential for a successor agreement later this year. I expect that the issues to which the Deputy has rightly referred will very much feature and be considered in those discussions.

Given the day that is in it, I will refer to the pandemic bonus. As well as the richly-deserved €1,000 for front-line healthcare workers, carers and those working with disability should benefit. I shout out particularly for retail workers in supermarkets. They put themselves at very serious risk and literally kept us alive during the pandemic. The Minister should consider them.

On the wider issue, workers are only getting 1% pay increases annually under a deal negotiated before inflation started to rise. Inflation is now at 5.3% and is projected to be 4% next year. In the round, workers are losing income. They are enduring pay cuts. The rate of inflation does not take into account the stratospheric increase in the cost of accommodation and rents. The Minister has not said a word about private sector workers or that part of my question which urged him to engage with the Minister for Finance on their pay situation.

On the pandemic recognition payment, I hear what the Deputy has to say. We discussed this earlier. The challenge for the Government is this. The Deputy mentioned retail workers. There are up to 300,000 retail workers in Ireland. There are about 120,000 carers in receipt of the carer's support grant. The Deputy can do the maths. If we add that to the cost of what the Government has committed to, we are getting to north of half a billion euro very quickly. That is the reality that the Government has to face in making a decision on this issue. We absolutely recognise the invaluable role all of those people played.

Turning to the issue at hand, I acknowledge that the inflationary pressures are real and they are hurting people. They are affecting people. The Government is acutely conscious of that. The measures we brought in during the budget have only just kicked in, in the main. They include over €1 billion in respect of income tax and social welfare improvements. They will certainly help.

I have dealt with the issue in respect of public pay. It is about a 5% increase for those at the lower end of the public pay spectrum. Of course the Minister for Finance and I discuss these issues on an ongoing basis. We expect that the level of inflation will moderate and subside over the period ahead. That is no consolation to people right now. We believe the Government's measures will help people who are struggling with inflation at this time.

I will just say that the Dunnes Stores workers have shown the way. They are traditionally low-paid workers who kept us going at the front line. They put in a pay claim and got 10%. That is what they deserve. Especially after Covid, retail workers and lower paid workers should be getting pay increases in that order. The Government should actively try to facilitate that.

Last night the Parliamentary Budget Office pointed out to us the State contributory pension - I presume it is the same for the non-contributory pension - and all social welfare payments are actually losing out. In real terms, people are going to be 2% less well off as a result of inflation, unless we index-link their increases. Similarly with public sector workers if the pay increase is 1% and inflation is five times that, workers are losing out. The Government has a responsibility if it is serious about rewarding workers for hardships during Covid to do something to compensate workers for the rising cost of living.

I have acknowledged that the price pressures are impacting on people negatively. It is not just energy prices although the headline inflation rate has been driven up substantially by energy prices. We are also seeing it coming through in rising food prices in our supermarkets. Of course that is a concern. However, we have to look at what the Government is doing in the round. I spoke about the public sector pay improvements. We are seeing wage improvements across the private sector as well. When we add to that what the Government has done in the context of the budget with more than €1 billion provided by way of social welfare improvements and taxation reductions, as well as what we are doing and planning to do much further in the area of retrofitting, which will greatly assist people in reducing their energy costs and which will make the whole system much more sustainable. I look forward to the implementation of the credit the Government has committed to as well in respect of electricity costs. We are doing a lot. The Government always keeps these issues under review.