Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar
Gnáthamharc

Programme for Government Review

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 23 April 2013

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he plans to bring forward a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government. [2320/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to bring forward a new programme for Government. [2347/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to renegotiate or revise the current programme for Government. [2348/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the implementation of the programme for Government as we reach the end of the second term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2755/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government after two years in office. [12514/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress that has been made to date on the implementation of the programme for Government. [13585/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (65 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

The Tánaiste and I launched the second annual progress report on the programme for Government on 6 March last. The report sets out the progress made by Government during its second year in office. It shows a Government that is working hard for the people and with the people to rebuild our country and restore Ireland's reputation. While the programme of work ahead is formidable, the Government has achieved much in terms of stabilising the economy and unemployment levels, creating the climate and competitiveness for growth, reducing the cost of the EU-IMF bailout and correcting the public finances. Progress on these issues is critical for future economic stability and growth. There are positive signs that the difficult work is paying off and confidence is returning. Investment in new jobs by foreign firms continues to grow. Exporting companies reported their highest jobs gain since 2006. The value of exported goods is at its highest since 2002. Borrowing is on track to fall below the 3% of GDP target by 2015. The economy has returned to modest growth for two years running. Long-term Government bond yields are at their lowest since before this crisis. We have had success in negotiating the promissory note deal with the troika. Our EU partners have agreed an extension of our borrowings. That is another factor.

The programme for Government is a detailed and ambitious programme of work for the Government over its five-year term. The Government is making good progress on implementing its commitments. Some of them will take longer and will be delivered over the lifetime of the Government. In the two reports published so far, the Government has reported progress on two thirds of its commitments. I will list some of the commitments that were delivered during 2012. The new Intreo service was launched to help get people back into employment. Some 11 Intreo offices have been opened under the direction of the Minister for Social Protection, including those in Arklow, Coolock, Buncrana, Tallaght and Killarney. A further 20 offices are to be opened in 2013 and the remainder will be opened during 2014. There has been a continued focus on job creation. Some 92% of the 2012 jobs action plan has been implemented. A €2.25 billion stimulus in job-rich public infrastructure projects has been secured. Among the key projects are up to 20 new primary care centres, new and replacement school buildings, the new DIT campus at Grangegorman and the new State pathology laboratory. Some €850 million is being provided to upgrade the national motorway and primary route network. Those projects are going through the process of the stimulus programme preparations in the PPP system.

The children's rights referendum, which strengthens children's constitutional rights, was passed last year. Work is well under way on the establishment of the new child and family agency, with draft legislation expected to come to the Government shortly. Ms Norah Gibbons was recently appointed as the first chairperson of the board. A suite of legislation was enacted to enhance child protection in relation to Garda vetting and the reporting of abuse. The future roadmap was published, setting out key reforms to be delivered for universal health insurance. The national carers' strategy was published to acknowledge and support the work of carers. The Constitutional Convention was established - it has met three times to date - to give people an opportunity to have a real say in reforming our Constitution. New personal insolvency legislation was enacted to radically reform bankruptcy law and help distressed borrowers to resolve their debts while remaining in their family homes. An action plan for the fundamental reform of the local government system - to make it more efficient, effective and democratic - was published. A local government Bill is expected to be enacted before the end of the year.

Over the next 12 months, the Government will continue to work to reduce borrowing levels and sustain investor confidence in this country. We will continue to place a strong focus on creating more jobs while making sure, as far as possible, that new jobs go to people on the live register. We will do more to accelerate progress to address the mortgage crisis to ensure individuals and families are offered sustainable solutions. The Government will continue its reform agenda across the political system and the public service while protecting front-line services. The Government entered into a five-year plan. Each Minister will keep working to implement that plan. I have no plans to revise or renegotiate the programme for Government, or to introduce a new programme. There is more than enough work to keep everyone busy for the next three years.

I acknowledge the window-dressing in what the Taoiseach has just said. He did not address the real meat of the programme for Government - the wishful thinking that was contained and listed in the programme. There has been an indication, particularly on the part of the Minister for Social Protection, that the penny is beginning to drop with this Government at long last, after two years of pursuing Fianna Fáil policies. I hope it will be catching and the Minister, Deputy Burton, might be able to persuade the Taoiseach that austerity is not working here or in the EU as a whole. Unemployment has remained steadfast at 14%. I do not how the Taoiseach can praise that, or suggest it is a great thing. Unemployment needs to come down. Emigration records are at an all-time high. The domestic economy remains on the floor. I urge the Taoiseach to change direction. He should listen to what the Minister, Deputy Burton, is telling him at the moment, which is that austerity is not working and will not work at EU or national levels.

Does the Taoiseach accept that many parts of the programme for Government have been binned by the Government even though it was elected on the basis of its promises? Does he accept that it has failed to implement the programme for Government that it placed before the House after the election? I have asked the Taoiseach previously about the commitment in the programme for Government with regard to upward-only rent reviews for existing leases, which was supposed to be a key component of the Government efforts to get businesses back to work and retain businesses throughout the country. Will the Government publish the legal advice to which it keeps referring to the effect that it cannot proceed with legislation to address this problem? Regardless of whether that advice is published, will the Government ask the Constitutional Convention or an expert group to examine this issue and try to find some way around the supposed constitutional problems in this respect?

I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the Government's record on health. He mentioned how great the Government has been at implementing the programme for Government, but in this area it has missed deadlines and broken promises.

All we have seen is the primary care debacle. The Government has also failed to live up to its commitment to provide for free drugs under the long-term illness scheme and the high-tech drugs scheme. The Government said it would publish a White Paper on universal health insurance. When is that coming? Is it coming, or is it just another one of those failed promises?

It is good to see the Minister for Social Protection next to the Taoiseach in the House, because this also relates to her. The Taoiseach said there were many commitments in the programme for Government. One of those commitments was that the Government would protect the vulnerable and another was that it would maintain social welfare rates. Social welfare rates have not been maintained if, for example, one asks lone parents, considers what the Government has done with child benefit or jobseeker's benefit - under which the number of months for which a person is entitled to the payment have been reduced - or looks at the fuel allowance or the household benefits package. They are all social welfare payments and every one of them has been attacked.

The Taoiseach said in regard to other-----

I remind the Deputy that others want to ask questions.

I will finish on this point but I ask that I be allowed to come back in, as there are one or two other points I wish to raise. Disability was one of the key platforms during the election and also in the programme for Government, which states: "We will ensure that the quality of life of people with disabilities is enhanced and that resources allocated reach the people who need them." Yet on this issue we have seen, time after time, that the Government has gone after people with disabilities. Those people have sometimes managed to force the Government to reverse the decisions it has made but it has not, as yet, reversed the decision to cut the respite care grant, reversed its cuts to the adaptation grant or said it will not abolish the motorised transport grant and the mobility allowance grant, which the Government recently announced it would cut. Is it now time to publish a new document that the Taoiseach can stand over and that is achievable, rather than the fairy tale that is contained within the current one?

I do not accept Deputy Ó Snodaigh's assertions at all. What I gave him were some of the actions that have been taken and implemented during the course of the past number of months that are having an impact on our problems here.

I had the opportunity to visit Sligo with the Minister for Social Protection to open one of the first Intreo offices. The office contains a combination of personnel from the Department of Social Protection and the HSE, along with community welfare officers. For the first time, I saw the value of an integrated system under which people with different experiences are able to deal with persons who are unfortunately unemployed, in whatever category they may be. The live register, far from being some sort of instrument under which people just go and receive the dole, is a resource dealing with people who have an enormous range of skills and competence and who, in the vast majority, are willing and want to work. In contrast to the old system under which people would go in to sign on and draw money, there is now the opportunity for group interviews and individual interviews to see what their experience, talents and particular areas of expertise might be, to see what their wishes and ambitions are, and to try to fit those into the opportunities that are being created and will arise in the time ahead. I must say genuinely to Deputy Ó Snodaigh that I detected a sense of energy and enthusiasm I had never seen before in social welfare offices, which are now called Intreo offices. Another group of these offices is to be opened in 2013, and the Minister for Social Protection is in very close contact with the Office of Public Works and reports to Cabinet on the progress being made to ensure this can become a reality.

The expenditure on social protection is €20.3 billion. This is money that goes directly into the economy in all its various sectors and phases. It is true to say the Government has kept its commitment in honouring core pay rates. It is a commitment that has and will be honoured and it is a very important element.

The number on the live register on 19 April was 420,000. Less than one year ago, people were talking about the number exceeding 500,000. This is much too high but it is an impressive response from the Minister for Social Protection and across the Government in the opportunities that are being created. The question and challenge for the Government is to deal effectively with the live register. That is why I am glad to note that, with the continued line of strong investment coming into the country, the Department of Social protection now has a competent potential employee list that is available for any body, whether Enterprise Ireland-backed small and medium enterprises, foreign direct investment in the form of multinationals or otherwise. Such bodies now have available to them a resource within any locality. People have been more than surprised at the quality and range of talent and expertise that exists out there.

The question of upward-only rent reviews is something the Government has not been able to deal with. This was an intention of Government but, as I have said before, the formal legal advice from the Attorney General was very clear in that regard.

I ask Deputy Ó Snodaigh whether I am missing something here. Last year, 2012, was the most successful year for job creation by the IDA since 2006. I had the opportunity to engage with American investment personnel in Washington, New York and right across to the west coast, from Seattle down to San Francisco. Among the biggest companies that have invested here in the recent past are Apple, PayPal, Eli Lilly, Amgen, SAP, Cisco and, from Ireland, the Kerry Group. More than 13,600 new jobs were created in 2012, some 12,500 of which were created by IDA clients, which was the biggest number ever. We have also put in place the €19 million microenterprise loan fund scheme, which we hope will create more than 7,000 jobs. By the end of March, that scheme had supported 44 microenterprises and 116 jobs from the approximately 149 applications that were received. There was the launch of the €450 million credit guarantee scheme, which has the potential to create 4,000 jobs, and over €3.1 million was guaranteed under that scheme by the end of March. As the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, will know, one of the crying complaints I get is that small and medium-sized enterprises have no access to credit. This scheme was created as part of the infrastructure to help small and medium-sized enterprises to do their business and to expand. That is why we also published legislation to make it easier for viable SMEs to restructure their loans. Some €300 million has now been invested in seven new world-class research centres that are to be located in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin and will support more than 800 scientists-----

They are already there.

-----in developing and commercialising cutting-edge technologies. That is important. I travel to these places and see the range of what is now on offer. Yesterday, I launched four projects in the west which involve cutting-edge technology created by Irish people who see opportunities and have access to the credit and the support to actually make that happen and to employ people, which is what we all want.

JobBridge has proven very successful. From speaking to employers, I have to say they have been very pleased with the number of young people-----

Why would they not be if they are getting free employment?

Over 52% of them are employed permanently once they go through the process.

There are other issues that need to be dealt with. Yesterday, I attended the all-party Oireachtas committee in the west dealing with jobs and job creation, the retail trade, the black economy and so on. It is only when people engage with front-line practitioners and people who are involved that they hear of the opportunities out there and discover where the blockages and impediments in the system are. That committee has been dealing with some real and relevant issues.

One might say that one of the issues taken in hand by the Minister of State with responsibility for small business, Deputy Perry, is the complexity and difficulty involved in small and medium enterprises setting up businesses and keeping them going. It involves the number of licences they must apply for and the red tape, bureaucracy and cost involved in that. By the end of this year, there will be a single portal for applications for small and medium enterprises to save them money and spare them red tape and bureaucracy. This was done in Chicago and Singapore and will hopefully be piloted in a number of areas throughout the country by the end of this year. They are some of the issues.

Clearly, the €20 billion in savings over the next ten years from the promissory note agreement was important, as were the liquidation of IBRC and Irish Nationwide, the ending of the bank guarantee scheme, deposits returning to Irish banks, the disposal of the State's €1 billion holding in the Bank of Ireland at a profit of €10 million, the sale of Irish Life for €1.3 billion with an additional dividend of €40 million paid to the State and the establishment of a new bank resolution fund to protect against future instability. These are important issues.

As I said in response to an earlier question, I would like to think that the stimulus package announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform last year will result in due course in a serious number of jobs in the construction of primary care centres, schools, the major development at Grangegorman in the city centre and a new and long-desired State pathology laboratory and in upgrading the national motorway network with a further €850 million, all helping to create jobs and spread that money through the economy. I agree that dealing with the national economy is the challenge facing Government because our international reputation has been restored and the international economy is running very strongly with profits, the numbers employed and exports increasing. The line of investment into the country remains very strong which feeds into many of the small and medium enterprises who specialise in servicing those industries.

Our challenge is to deal with the live register, the perception of which the Minister for Social Protection has made radical changes to in addition to its competence and status as a resource for employment. We will also provide opportunities to allow access to credit for small and medium enterprises; cut costs, red tape and administration; and prove it can work. It is in this way that confidence is restored, not to mention the difficulties people have experienced with mortgages.

The Deputy mentioned universal health insurance. The future health road map was published and will lead to that. We have said that universal health insurance would be at the end of the lifetime of this Administration. The legislation to abolish the Health Service Executive is proceeding through the Oireachtas. The "money follows the patient" proposals have been published and will enable us to move to a more equitable system of resource allocation so that people get medical care as close to them as possible based on their medical needs. The special delivery unit piloted by the Minister for Health has made substantial progress. At the end of 2012, there were 20,000 fewer people waiting on trolleys, which was a reduction of almost 24% on 2011. The number of adults and children waiting for surgeries was reduced by 95 over the year. The risk equalisation scheme commenced in 2013. The new deal, which deals with medicines, and Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill will lead to a reduction of over €400 million over three years. These are important decisions made as part of restructuring to bring about a more effective and efficient health system. The Government decided to make the St. James's Hospital campus the location for the national children's hospital. The budget for the National Office for Suicide Prevention increased to €8.1 million in 2013, up by €4 million. A number of persons were employed to work in that body. I could go on about different sectors but Deputies may want to ask other questions.

I will call Deputies Boyd Barrett and Higgins who have also asked questions and are next on the list.

After the Taoiseach read out that impressive list of his achievements over the past two years, one would almost think it was heaven and bliss out there for the vast majority of people such was his stunning success in dealing with the crisis faced by ordinary people. However, the truth is far from that, as well he knows. When he is asked about the major issues facing ordinary people, particularly unemployment and the crushing effect of austerity, he very often reads out the same list of things the Government is doing for people. One can only conclude or assume from the way he responds to these things that he believes the people out there do not really understand what a wonderful job he is doing. I suggest that this is not the case and that the people outside understand very well what is going on and that two years after this Government was elected, it has not delivered the things people expected it to deliver in a national emergency that has not abated one iota.

The Taoiseach knows what the key issue is because "Get Ireland working" was emblazoned on every Fine Gael poster in every town and village across the country. That was the promise he made and everybody knew that this was what needed to be done. Instead, the Government has slashed 30,000 public sector jobs and imposed crushing austerity that has destroyed thousands of small and medium enterprises and led to tens of thousands of educated and talented young people who want to work leaving this country. The unemployment figures would be catastrophic were it not for the escape valve of emigration. Is emigration the Government's jobs policy? Is it the Government's policy to force people out of the country because that is the only thing making any difference to the job figures? They would be higher now than they were when the Government came into office were it not for the tens of thousands who have left. What people want to know is whether the Taoiseach will recognise that he has failed to deliver on the promise to make a significant dent in the catastrophic unemployment figures that are blighting the lives of 430,000 families and crippling our economy. Is it not the case that unless the Government deals with that crisis in a serious way, we will be in a dreadful state for some time to come?

The Taoiseach is engaged in the classic manipulation of figures and facts when he lists off 5,000 jobs here and 500 or 10 million there but does not give the other side of the equation. The simple fact is that unemployment was 14% when the Government came into office and it is still 14%. According to the projections we get from the troika, the Fiscal Advisory Council and the Department of Finance, if all the Government's plans work out as well as possible, unemployment will be 13.6% in three years time. The best we can look forward to with the Government's jobs plan is a reduction of 0.5% or 0.6% in the unemployment rate. Is that what the Taoiseach is offering people? If it is, because this is what the Department of Finance and troika forecast, we are looking at well in excess of 400,000 people unemployed even after we exit the troika programme in three years time. Surely the Taoiseach can offer us something better than that?

Where is the strategic investment bank that was in the programme for Government and was going to deliver 100,000 jobs? Where is the massive scheme of insulation of public buildings that could save the money the Government is trying to take from low and middle-income workers without attacking their wages? The Government could put construction workers who are on the dole back at work insulating public buildings and saving energy costs. Where is that programme? Where are the tens of thousands of jobs that could be created if he did that? It has not happened.

Has the Taoiseach forced the banks to start lending money into the economy? He has not. He puts up his hands and says, "We are not very happy with the banks and what they do" but nothing actually changes.

The Taoiseach announced seven new research centres. However, what he does not say is that the research budget for Science Foundation Ireland is lower this year than it was last year. The money will now be spread over these seven new centres and the existing ones which has relied on this funding. Many research centres will have less money next year than they had in previous years. The Taoiseach is manipulating the facts. I ask him to say what his plan is to get the 400,000 people unemployed - not a few hundred jobs here or a few training places there - back to work. What is the timescale? When can we expect these 400,000 or even 300,000 of them who want to work back at work?

That is a litany of righteous indignation.

I just want to hear the answers.

I suggest we get a few facts straight. Between 2008 and 2011, 250,000 people lost their jobs in the private sector. The Deputy chose not to mention that statistic. He chose not to mention the mess we were left to deal with. Some 1,000 private sector jobs are now being created per month, for which I am grateful, as it is a sign of confidence returning. No one on this side of the House has talked about green shoots or corners being turned because there is a long and difficult road ahead. I refer to the woman down the street who runs a small shop. She has had five very difficult years. In her opinion, if she were to walk up O'Connell Street with a placard stating her shop would close unless the people bought her merchandise, she would get very little sympathy. Some 250,000 jobs went between 2008 and 2011. That is the reason there is no magic wand to restore the numbers of jobs to which the Deputy refers. I advise him that what he said about the numbers is incorrect. Of the 420,000 people to whom he referred, 90,000 work part-time. The real figure is 330,000 people who, unfortunately, are out of work and on the live register. The second point is that the monthly movement of numbers on the live register is extensive.

On various occasions the Deputy was in north-west Mayo with some of his people. I remind him that 200,000 people, mostly men, were employed there over a period of ten years. This employment transformed the economy. There are significant numbers of people working on major construction projects in different parts of the country, but the level of employment is nothing like what we want. Even in the days of national squandermania, there was a cohort who remained unemployed when, technically, the country had reached full employment. It is also a fact of life that interest rates have come down from over 14% to less than 4%. The Deputy might not regard this as important for business, but, in fact, it is. The agreement with the ECB and the projected savings in the next ten years are significant and also an important sign of confidence returning.

I recently received the president of a group in Catalonia. Over 52% of young people are unemployed in Spain. Many have moved to Germany to work in engineering, but there is frustration and anger among the young unemployed. We included in the MFF proposals provision for a fund of €6 billion to deal with youth unemployment. I do not like to see anyone being forced to leave the country. There is a campaign under way in the United States to look for comprehensive legislation on immigration and pathways to citizenship. When I was growing up in County Mayo, emigration was a normal part of life, although I do not suggest that should be the case now. I met Irish people in China and other countries who were in those places by choice. They want to gain experience and use their skills and talents. I hope they will return to this country when they have gained that experience. The people for whom I feel sorry are those who believe they have to leave because they have no hope. That is why the Government must get the fundamentals right when sorting out the country's financial position, while also creating the opportunity and environment in which to do business.

I refer to a local example which caught my attention a day or two ago. An unemployed construction worker opened a bakery in the west. He took a course in Ballymaloe and now has 15 unemployed construction workers working in the bakery. This enterprise attracted one of the biggest investments - €200,000 - ever made in the history of "Dragons' Den". Because of the quality of the product he is producing, he is supplying multinationals and bigger stores in the country. That has been the result of his initiative.

Yesterday I launched four initiatives born out of current research and innovation. While these initiatives might be small and may not be of interest to the Deputy, people are being employed, men and women who now have an opportunity to go out to work every morning, expand their enterprises and sell abroad. I visited the offices of Google recently. I refer to the challenge set by it last year to have 10,000 new sellers on-line within 12 months. That objective was achieved. Many people in towns all over the country think that if they set up a website, it will work automatically, but that is not the case. However, the world is wide open to receive their wares and they need to be able to access that market.

There is more than one issue. We are all interested in hearing ideas on job creation. That is the reason I was so pleased last year when the Kerry Group which began in Listowel in 1972 set up a world-class innovation centre in Naas worth €100 million which was devoted to food research. It will become a magnet for blue chip companies from all over the world. It will employ young people, scientists, researchers, innovators and creators. These initiatives send important signals about the country.

Nobody on this side of the House will say we have beaten the unemployment problem. However, of all the Ministers for social welfare, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has shaken up that Department. She has developed an understanding of the resources, talent and experience available among the 330,000 unemployed, the vast majority of whom want to work and deserve the opportunity to experience the new way of interacting with people in order that working will become a reality.

I hope Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett will go down to his local bank manager - or bank managers - to ask him or her or them what he or she has or they have loaned in the last quarter. New targets have been set for the banks. The pillar banks have a target of reaching a figure of €4 billion in new lending in this year. I have talked to Deputies from the different parties, some of whom tell me that they know of half a dozen companies which were unable to access credit, perhaps because their applications were incomplete. Other Deputies say they have proof of money being available and they can give the names of those who received loans. It is a case of being very clear with the banks. That is why we interact with the regulator on a regular basis.

Ours is not a programme of austerity; rather, it is one of change and development to sort out the country's problems and deal with the issues we all want to see being resolved - unemployment and job creation. I would like to think the next stimulus package will be used for the building of schools and primary health care centres and whatever else in order that people around the country will see that things are happening and that we will see contractors building and investing in the future for our children and those who will come behind us.

That can only happen where the economy is running efficiently to attract investment and deposits and where there is flexibility that gets people off the live register and into the world of work. The best news a Deputy will get in his or her constituency is not simply the announcement of new jobs, but the reality of men and women having the opportunity to go to work every morning and have fulfilling jobs which allow them to contribute to local economies and to their personal lives and futures. That is where we want to be but it cannot happen unless the fundamental problems are dealt with. The Government is doing its damndest to ensure that those things happen.

The questions asked are about whether the programme for Government will be revised. Does the Taoiseach agree that the policy of the Government on austerity is fundamental to any answer to those questions? The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has said that while we have reached the limits of austerity, there still appears to be an inexplicable preference for loading the costs of banking crises squarely onto the shoulders of ordinary people and small businesses. She is a member of the Government, bound by collective responsibility. Is she stating the view of the Government and is it the Taoiseach's view? Does her statement not call for an immediate review of the programme for Government, which envisaged at least four years of the austerity which has proved to be a nightmare for ordinary people? If austerity has reached its limits - and it has - and the Minister for Social Protection is not merely posturing, does it not mean that the further austerity measures in the pipeline should be abandoned forthwith? Does it not mean there should be no more cuts in social protection?

The property tax represents the equivalent of a week's income for low-paid workers and much more than that for many people on social welfare. The power to rob people's wages and bank accounts has been given to the Revenue Commissioners. Does not the Minister for Social Protection's statement imply that the policy should be abolished? It means the cut of €300 million this year which will affect low-income, middle-income and frontline workers in the public service should be abolished. Does the Taoiseach agree that it would be highly cynical if a member of the Government made such a statement and was afforded acres of print in the capitalist media if it was mere posturing and a vain attempt to rescue credibility for a rapidly sinking Labour Party? Does he agree that if there is any credibility to the statement, it signals a change of Government policy? What changes will the Taoiseach announce today in view of the statement by a member of his Government?

This is the first time I have seen the Minister for Social Protection in the House during questions to the Taoiseach, which leads me to question whether she is practising to be Tánaiste or if the Taoiseach ordered her to attend for his announcement of a major change in policy in line with her suggestion to end austerity.

Did the Taoiseach order her to attend as a head prefect who has spoken out of turn and must come to the principal's office to be shown who is in charge? I hope the Taoiseach will reply candidly and not go all around the houses. I spent ten years questioning the Taoiseach's predecessor, Bertie Ahern, when he rambled on and on. The Taoiseach is better than the former Taoiseach in that regard. I want him to answer candidly the key question on austerity and the three particular examples of it. We on the Opposition side would welcome the Taoiseach sharing his time with the Minister for Social Protection to allow us to speak directly with her on the matter.

I should note to Deputy Joe Higgins that the Chair does not have any power to stop Deputies or Ministers putting questions or giving answers.

Unlike my penultimate predecessor, the handball is returned to Deputies by me, sometimes with more than they bargained for. I assure Deputy Higgins that Deputies are not playing against a haystack in my case. I recognise the Deputy's strong Kerry tradition and roots in the basis of the questions he asks. When the Minister for Social Protection spoke, she was addressing 1,000 members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. She spoke very well and will forward a copy of her speech to Deputy Higgins to read and understand it clearly.

She was playing to the audience.

It is the sort of thing one says to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

She was referring to the potential of the Eurogroup to help deal with Europe's problems, which are many and include the problems of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Greece and, of course, Ireland.

That went down very well.

(Interruptions).

I take it I have Deputies' full support.

Ireland is making its way through challenging times with modest projections for growth for 2013 and 2014, whereas many other countries are in negative positions with real difficulties ahead. That is the context in which the Minister for Social Protection was speaking. I do not accept that Government set out with anything other than a programme to rectify our problems and restore our country's credibility and integrity. I have said on many occasions that the international economy is moving very much in the right direction as far as Ireland is concerned. The difficulties other countries in Europe face represent a challenge for us also. Our productivity levels are extraordinary and export levels have been higher than ever. The better the shape other countries in Europe are in, the better it is for our producers and exporters.

As I said to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the challenge is to deal with our national confidence and economy. That is why the structural changes have been taking place, principally within the Department of Social Protection through the establishment of the new system of Intreo offices. While they will not in themselves change the situation, their establishment is a recognition of the resources and talent which exist.

The Taoiseach has said all that before. Is there to be a change in the programme for Government?

Other Departments can assist by making decisions to allow the resources and talents to be used and accessed for everybody's benefit.

There is no change in policy.

What Deputy Higgins wants is for everybody to get what they want by entitlement and to pay for nothing. He does not want to pay for water or services to properties and wants to increase taxes on some mythical figure as if there were a small number of wealthy people who could sort out this country's ills. It is absolute nonsense. I remember joining Mayo County Council as a young fellow back in the 1970s when people paid for water and refuse collection. They paid their rates and local authorities supplied their services as best they could. Even Deputy Boyd Barrett when he removes himself from the Chamber knows full well that there is nothing for nothing in the world and that people make a contribution. As far as the Government is concerned, those who have and earn most will pay most.

The bankers get something for nothing every day.

In the fair and equitable negotiations with the 21 unions which took place, the result was that 87% of workers - those who earned less than €65,000 - would not have had their core salaries affected. I do not agree with Deputy Higgins that I should make an announcement to abandon ship. The Government has set out its position very clearly. There is a requirement as espoused by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, whom I support fully, for savings of €300 million. That is why the Government asked this morning that the Labour Relations Commission engage with the unions to establish if there is a basis for further discussion and negotiation to achieve the savings.

I hope that can happen within the next two weeks.

So the whole thing was a bluff by the Minister.

When the crisis hit Ireland, we were required to borrow €64 billion. In recent days, some people have been talking about this being all due to bankers and that no one besides them had any impact on it. Let us not forget why the crash happened or why it was allowed to happen. There were extraneous circumstances-----

-----but there were people at home who could have done something about it. They did nothing about it and they deny all responsibility for it since.

We could have prevented the problems in the UK, Greece and Portugal as well.

The prayer we learned at school was mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We have had side excuses about who was responsible but the people know because they are paying.

It is Davos all over again, with the idea that we all went mad.

The Government is trying to rectify problems in a way that people have the opportunity to come back, create employment, create jobs, grow the economy and provide opportunity for their children. I disagree with Deputy Joe Higgins fundamentally. The Government's programme is one of change, expansion, economic reform, restoring the credibility of our economy and getting people back to work. It will never happen overnight and, as I pointed out to Deputy Boyd Barrett when he spoke about 420,000 people on the live register, 90,000 people of those are working part-time.

Nothing has happened in two years.

The problem was 15 years in the making.

The real problem is with the 330,000 people genuinely unemployed. Our focus will be, unremittingly, on giving opportunities to small and medium-sized enterprises to employ two, five, ten or 20 people. That is the challenge and where our focus will be.

I alert Deputies about tabling questions on the programme for Government because it allows the Taoiseach to indulge in the longest filibuster I have witnessed in this House for quite some time.

We do not get question and answer, we get filibuster and the filling of time so other questions are not answered. However, that is the system and we only have one day because the Taoiseach does not want more than one day a week answering questions.

The Taoiseach does not need an excuse to filibuster.

Point taken. Two thirds of the consolidation of the public finances occurred before this Government came to power. The Taoiseach was then the leader of the Fine Gael Party and opposed every single measure. He attacked our cuts to consolidate the public finances. Along with the Labour Party, he opposed every measure and gave the impression things could be done differently. The public is disillusioned because so many promises were made prior to the election and breached. Examples include child benefit, respite care, and third level grants, where the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, signed a solemn pledge to the students of Ireland on the steps of Trinity College to reduce the €500 increase and swear there would be no increase for the duration of the Government. The Labour Party said it would do that and that child benefit would not be cut. In respect of the disability aspects of the programme for Government, the breach of promise and commitment was stark from the beginning. The Taoiseach's reply was that there was no need to change the programme for Government. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, does not agree and has clear views on the need to change the programme for Government. Matters within the Labour Party may be responsible for that. At the very least, the programme for Government should be corrected because it contains things that will not happen. Budget decisions have gone against much of what is in the programme for Government in respect of disability and home helps. Comparing the home helps section in the programme for Government with what has happened shows they are opposites. It should be more accurate and more reflective of what is happening through Government decisions.

There is no progress on universal health insurance. The health insurance industry is almost in a death spiral, with thousands leaving the insurance industry. Reserves, particularly in the VHI, are in difficulty and need capital injection. There will be further significant cuts in health services. There is a sense that the centre cannot hold in the health services and no massaging of the figures will change it.

The Taoiseach referred to a figure of 250,000. We have had a major banking crisis, which is not unique to Ireland. It does not suit the Taoiseach's narrative to say that. He can talk about the best year since 2006. I was the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 2006 and it was a very good year for the IDA. That is not the whole story in terms of employment. The Taoiseach referred to research. Science Foundation Ireland was initiated over a decade ago and has proved very successful. Before that, I initiated the PRTLI programme. Combined, they transformed the research landscape in the country. That is helping in terms of the innovation and research to which the Taoiseach referred. It is in not within the frame of the Taoiseach to acknowledge these fundamental transformations occurred in research or in terms of the financial services centre in Dublin and its 30,000 jobs that are still there.

With regard to disability, does the Taoiseach agree to be faithful to what is in the programme for Government and home helps or else correct it? The programme for Government talks about the abolition of the Seanad as a clear commitment, along with an appeals court and a referendum on the patents treaty. This would mean three referendums in the autumn. This has not been presented to the House. With the budget to be announced in October, and a full legislative calendar, how will the referendums be handled? What is the timeline in terms of the Bills that must be produced and when will the information pertaining to the referendums be produced? Can the Taoiseach give an assurance on the time to debate the matters or will he rush these constitutional changes through the House?

Some months ago, the Taoiseach indicated to the House that he would give us early sight of the proposals. That was in February 2011, and he said he had the details of the Seanad abolition worked out at that stage. Recently, the Taoiseach told me he had many papers on it and I asked him to publish the papers so that we can have an informed debate on the issue. The Taoiseach winked across the floor at me and said that he could not be doing that. As we are getting closer to the summer, I would have thought the Taoiseach would be in a position to polish the proposals on the abolition of the Seanad and the other items of legislation.

I recall the Taoiseach promising that he would keep report cards on Ministers.

He ran out of cards.

The Taoiseach announced that to the nation on "The Late Late Show". Part of the announcement was that he would get rid of any Minister who was not on top of the job.

He could not get rid of them all.

Can the Taoiseach indicate whether such report cards exist and when he will take decisions on firing Ministers as he said he would? Is the Taoiseach of the view the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is doing a fantastic job and that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, is doing a brilliant job?

What about the red card Deputy Mattie McGrath got?

I looked for it.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is clearly excelling in his capacity to isolate people with rapidity. I would like the up-to-date position on the report cards on Ministers. Do they exist? When will the Taoiseach publish them?

Deputy Martin said that two thirds of the reforms in dealing with the public finances had been put in place by the previous Government.

Does that mean there may be a few unexploded bombs?

Some 100% of the 250,000 people who lost their jobs in the private sector did so on the watch of the previous Government. Some 250,000 private sector jobs from all over the country were lost in three years. That is the message. On more than one occasion, I heard Deputy Martin say during those tumultuous times that there was no need for a bailout in Ireland. His colleagues at the time had never heard of the fact that the IMF was on the doorstep. They nodded knowingly to each other that they had not heard it.

(Interruptions).

I am making the point that instead of the two thirds, 100% of those who lost their jobs did so on the Deputy's watch.

What I said to Deputy Higgins was that I had no intention of introducing a different programme for Government. There is more than enough work for everybody to carry through in the lifetime of this Government. The future health roadmap for universal health insurance was published. Legislation to abolish the HSE is going through the Oireachtas. The money follows the patient proposals have been published. The special delivery unit has made an impact. A new risk equalisation scheme commenced in 2013. The new deal reducing the cost of medicines by €400 million over three years is in place. There is a new agreement with hospital consultants to enhance health services. The new national carer's strategy, which had been left lying around for years untouched by the previous Administration, was published. There has been a strengthening of the community mental health teams. Some 220 posts in the adult mental health service have been or are being filled and 109 posts in the child and adolescent mental health service have been filled this year and more are expected to be filled. The unit for people with cystic fibrosis at St. Vincent's Hospital was opened in 2012, although admittedly it was begun before that. St. James's Hospital was selected as the site for the national children's hospital. As I said earlier, there has been a doubling of the allocation to suicide awareness, intervention and prevention.

Work on the Seanad is nearing completion. There will be a number of referenda in the autumn. The Government has not yet decided on the date.

Can the Taoiseach publish the papers on the Seanad?

I will give them to the Deputy in due course.

At the 11th hour.

I have not yet decided on the number of referenda. Obviously, there is the court of civil appeal, the question of the single patent and the issues recommended by the Constitutional Convention, which we have to consider. The budget will be on 15 October and it will be followed by the finance and social protection Bills. The local government Bill must go through by the end of the year. There is a really intensive line of legislation to be put through. As I said, we have notified the Chief Justice of the intention to hold referenda and, obviously, she will make arrangements following that.

The report cards will not be published in the media.

Do they exist?

Deputy Martin need not worry about that. I am sure he keeps report cards on his own squad to see how it is doing. It is a matter for every Minister to apply himself or herself diligently to his or her cause and the portfolio for which he or she has responsibility and to see that his or her elements of the programme for Government are implemented fully and with due vigour and enthusiasm to make our country great again and bring it back from the disastrous condition in which we found it.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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