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Social Partnership (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The public service unions have agreed to engage in initial discussions with the Government in respect of its proposals for an extension to the Croke Park agreement. It would be useful to obtain some notion of the current position with regard to these discussions. Are the Taoiseach and his Department involved in them? If not, are they kept up to date on progress? The Taoiseach will be aware of the clear view articulated by Jack O'Connor, general president of SIPTU and a member of the Labour Party - this is a view I share - that the budget targets low and middle-income families. Will this make it more difficult to reach agreement with the unions? It is interesting that the budget for health for 2013 contains estimates in respect of €450 million in pay-related savings. The Department of Health has also suggested that some 3,500 jobs be cut from the health service. Have these staffing reductions been discussed with the unions? Will they not involve further cuts to front-line staff? Given that there is an excess of pay and pensions at the very top of the public sector, including among politicians, what process is being pursued in respect of this matter? It would be useful if the Taoiseach provided an update on these matters.

The Taoiseach uttered a few sentences with regard to the review of the NESC. If I understood what he said correctly, this review has already begun. Perhaps he might elaborate further on the position in this regard, particularly as I tabled a specific question on the matter.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny As the Deputy is aware, the NESC reports directly to the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of the efficient development of the economy and the achievement of social justice. It also provides a forum for engagement between the Government and the social partners in respect of economic, social and environmental issues. The NESC also has responsibility in respect of sustainable development following the dissolution of Comhar. As already stated, the review carried out in respect of the NESDO and the NESC revealed that the latter continues to provide that forum and that is why it still has an important role to play. The changes that will be made will be of assistance in this regard.

The NESC has provided successive Governments with excellent research and analysis on economic and social issues of significant national importance. In 2011, the Government requested the NESC's secretariat to produce independent analysis of policy options in regard to Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2013 to 2020 and to develop a long-term socioeconomic vision to sustain a transition to a low carbon future by 2050. Obviously, it is impossible to have detail about the latter at this point. The first part of the NESC's work in this regard was completed in June and the second will hopefully be completed in the not too distant future. In 2012 the NESC published several important studies on the topic of maintaining quality and standards in some of our more important public services. Clearly, it is vital that the highest standards will apply and will be translated into real effect.

Will the NESC continue to function as an important entity? Yes, it will. The Government accepted the key finding of the review to the effect that the NESC still has a valuable role to play. Work is being undertaken in respect of legislation in this regard at present. I asked the NESC to focus in its work programme on the more immediate and shorter-term issues, to publish more frequent and shorter reports and to reflect the varying views of its members. Sustainable development is being integrated into the work of the NESC and this will hopefully be of assistance in the context of expanding the expertise and knowledge available to assist in the process of economic recovery.

The objective of the changes arising from the review carried out in respect of the NESC is hopefully to assist it in having flexibility in fulfilling its key role. The review highlighted rigidities relating to the structures of the NESC which should be addressed. As the legislation is prepared, I hope these matters will be dealt with and will be the subject of discussion in the House. As the Deputy is aware, the NESC is funded by a grant-in-aid from the Department of the Taoiseach. The allocation for 2013 will be €2.17 million, which represents a 60% reduction since 2008 and a 20% reduction since 2010. The 2013 allocation includes provision in respect of five members of staff who are on secondment to the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance.

The Deputy referred to the Croke Park agreement. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was mandated by the Government to meet the trade unions in order to discuss the evolution of the agreement, the current version of which concludes in 2014. The Minister has set out what he expects to achieve from the discussions into which he has entered. The second annual report relating to the Croke Park agreement was published in June and it shows that the agreement continues to make an important contribution to our economic recovery. It contains a number of important things. Some €900 million in sustainable pay and non-pay savings were successfully delivered in the second year of the agreement. Under the agreement's redeployment provisions, thousands of staff are being moved within and across sectors to areas where they are most needed. This process has proven to be very successful. The implementation body noted that the pace and ambition of the change needs to be systemic to address fully the challenges that lie ahead.

Is the Government committed to the Croke Park agreement? It is clear that the savings to be obtained under the agreement must be accelerated and enhanced. They must also be discussed in considerable detail. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has invited those who represent the members of the public service to discussions on a new agenda for improvements in productivity, the work of public servants and reductions in the cost of the delivery of public services in quite a number of areas. That invitation was issued in light of the Government's determination to meet the challenge posed by the fiscal consolidation required in the period 2013 to 2015 in order to reduce the deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2015. This is an enormous challenge but it also reflects a shared ambition to build on the substantial contribution made by public servants to Ireland's ongoing economic recovery. The scale of work committed to by so many public servants in recent months has been outstanding. Many of them worked very late into the night in a range of Departments as they prepared the Estimates relating to the budget and dealt with other matters relating to the difficult economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I wish to provide some examples of the reforms that have taken place. The establishment of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is dedicated to reducing public expenditure to more sustainable levels while carrying out reforms to and improving our public services, represents a major shift in the way we approach the delivery of public services. The legislation relating to whistleblowers is being progressed. In addition, significant initiatives have been undertaken in respect of shared services and the redeployment of staff. The programme in this regard is extensive and implementing it has presented different challenges.

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