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European Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] I spoke to Prime Minister Letta in Italy the other day. In the past week I have spoken about European matters to Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Barroso, President Schulz, Prime Minister Rajoy and Prime Minister Coelho. I also spoke to them about the necessity for Europe to drive on with the creation of jobs and growth. I refer to my reply to Deputy Joe Higgins that President Barroso produced a report on competitiveness, growth and jobs. Our competitiveness has improved, not because of any external facility but because the Government made decisions that impact on our competitiveness, with the result that Ireland is an attractive location for investment. The need for flexibility for investment is very important and needs to be followed through. As I said in reply to Deputy Martin, the IMF has decided that countries that can borrow, should borrow. This would help our exports, our jobs and help the IMF economies to develop in a fashion. Competitiveness has improved by over 20% as a consequence. This provides the opportunity for job creation.

If 50 more industries were brought into the country next week, we are still faced with the situation that more than 400,000 people are on the live register, 90,000 of whom are working a three-day week or other form of part-time work. We have a challenge to use that live register as a resource containing people with experience, talent and ambition. These are people who want to be employed. The live register should not be regarded - as it was for years - as some kind of an off-limits list of people who simply went to a social welfare office to sign on and draw their free money. The vast majority of these people want to work. We do not want a situation in which sons and daughters in families become serially unemployed and unemployment becomes part of a social stratum. We do not want that and neither do they.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Burton, on her work in changing the structure of the social protection system. The new Intreo facilities have taken the place of the social welfare offices. They include community welfare and HSE staff as well as social protection staff. This resource will identify and interview people, encourage talent and provide opportunities. The indigenous economy will be created as a result.

For example, Deputy Boyd Barrett may wish to employ five people. They may have been out of work for two years, they have had nothing doing and their confidence and hope is gone. One of the five may say: "For the past two years I have been giving a voluntary commitment to my community." That spark of initiative is out there and we need Deputy Boyd Barrett's encouragement to get people to involve themselves so that they leave the live register and long-term unemployment. Such involvement will create a new energy and dynamism. The same applies in other countries. We have to be creative and imaginative in how we go about it.

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Burton, at a recent briefing meeting on this issue. I do not agree with a system where people participate in education and training courses year after year but there is no employment at the end of it. That is not the way to do the business. People with that experience and talent want to be employed and to make a contribution. I agree that upskilling and retraining is important but it should not be carried on for a lifetime. The same applies to those in the social protection system who see no hope other than the next scheme or the schemes after that. I also commend the Minister, Deputy Burton, on dealing with professional, serial fraudsters, many of whom have had the opportunity to fly in and out of here and sign on once in a while with others filling in for them. That is not the kind of system we want. I know Deputy Boyd Barrett does not support such a system.

These are all aspects of dealing with the live register which is a resource, as I see it, and not just a list of persons who merely sign on and who, in years gone by, were regarded as being somewhere "over there". Let us bring them out front. I can testify that a number of recently established companies have been astounded at the quality of people on the live register who are based locally, who are willing and happy to work but have never had that opportunity. A little retraining or upskilling can result in the live register providing the most magnificent workforce. I am sure the Deputy supports the Government in this regard.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy I refer to a table outlining the attendance of Irish Ministers at European Union meetings. I congratulate the Taoiseach because Ireland is ranked second out of the 27 member states for the attendance of Ministers and the Taoiseach at these meetings. I urge the Taoiseach to continue this process because there is no doubt that this attendance is vital in the pursuance of our national interest. Speaking to other European politicians and Irish people working in Europe, there is no doubt that significant damage was done to our reputation by the very poor attendance by Ministers in the previous Government-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is not true.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy I urge the Taoiseach to continue that policy because-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Deputy does not have the statistics. The opposite is true.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy -----it is clearly reaping benefits.

Sixty-three years ago, Schuman spoke of a community of nations and 40 years ago, Ireland joined the EEC, as it was at the time. We are now in our seventh Presidency. President van Rompuy referred to the four critical components of the European Union with banking union, fiscal union and economic union being the first three. I welcome the Taoiseach's comments about agreements to date being honoured. Deputy Eric Byrne and I attended this afternoon's meeting of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs at which the fourth component was discussed, which is democratic legitimacy and accountability. I refer to one of the conclusions of the meeting of October 2012. Contrary to public opinion about national parliaments losing power to the European Union, the conclusion stated that one of the guiding principles in this context is to ensure that democratic control and accountability take place at the level at which decisions are taken and implemented. It concluded that in this spirit, ways to ensure a debate in the context of the European semester, both within the European Parliament and in national parliaments, should be explored.

I have two questions for the Taoiseach. Is the issue of democratic legitimacy and accountability still being discussed at European level? I know that our party - the EPP, for example, is suggesting a directly-elected President of the Commission. How does the Taoiseach envisage our Parliament developing further scrutiny and oversight of European decisions?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I thank Deputy Dara Murphy for his comments about the attendance of Ministers at EU meetings. They prepared well for the Presidency. It is their obligation and responsibility to attend those meetings. I think two meetings were not attended by Ministers, one of which was held on 16 March when people were away.

The issue of democratic legitimacy and accountability is central to the whole business now. When President Schulz spoke in this Chamber on behalf of the European Parliament he made this point very strongly.

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