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Social Partnership (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] I outlined already to the Deputy the fact that the social protection facilities for pensioners and those in the social protection area remain untouched, despite the fact that some commentators and people who know all the answers before they are ever decided had a very different view.

I also point out to the Deputy that those whom he calls "super-wealthy" are the people who can afford to pay more and they are being hit with a bill of more than €500 million extra. That is a clear demonstration of the Government's recognition that those who can pay more should pay more and will pay more. The engagement of the Government, its agencies and Ministers with all the organisations and groups around the country is work that goes on all the time. I am sure that if the Deputy were to look at the engagement list of Ministers and Ministers of State during the past quarter he would see evidence of that in every town and county in the country, where it is a regular and indeed daily operation. I will be honest and say that not all of that becomes a reality, but the fact of the matter is that voices were raised with regard to lower paid workers, those on the minimum wage and those who were not required to pay the universal social charge. In that sense, there is also a recognition that we need to do something to get people off the unemployment list and into work, that those in lower-paid areas can have an opportunity to do better and that extra jobs can be created. That is why I made no apology for the fact that a central feature of this budget is a focus on the expansion and development of the small and medium enterprises sector. That is one of the central planks of the recovery of the Irish economy and it will be created by those doers, by those people who want to move on-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett We all want to move on.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----change direction, employ more people and provide jobs for those people to whom the Deputy referred.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I would not hold my breath waiting for any of that to materialise. The reason I asked a specific question about the groups the Taoiseach has met as part of the process of social dialogue was to get a sense of the Government's engagement with civic society and with the voluntary and community sector. If, as the Taoiseach said, his outreach was and is significant, then the cuts in the budget are all the more reprehensible. If his Ministers were meeting these groups, as he said they were, there is absolutely no excuse; he cannot plead ignorance. They are bound to have told him the effects of the cuts in respite care, child benefit, the back-to-school clothing and footwear grant and so on. On the other side of the picture, there appears to be access for the movers and shakers - the elites - to interact with the Government. I make that general response to what the Taoiseach said.

I asked a specific question in my initial response to the Taoiseach's answer. I pointed out that the health budget for 2013 contains estimates of €458 million in pay-related savings and that the Department of Health has proposed the cutting of 3,500 jobs. My specific question was whether these matters had been raised or discussed with the union, to which the Taoiseach responded that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, had set out the requirements. Could the Taoiseach clarify that? Has he said to the trade union movement that in this sector of the public service he wants to implement €450 million of pay-related savings and remove 3,500 jobs? Did he discuss this with the unions, or did the Minister, Deputy Howlin, or someone else discuss with them what impact these cuts, particularly to front-line staff, would have in the delivery of the services they are charged with providing for citizens?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny As I said to the Deputy, the voluntary sector contributes an enormous unpaid value to the State. This is evident, as the Deputy is well aware, across every town and parish in the country every weekend and every night, when many people voluntarily give of their time and commit to working with young people and various groups throughout the country, receiving nothing in return. Many of them do that because they have been doing it for years and because they are involved in a movement. They express their commitment to public service in that fashion, which is absolutely to be commended. Ministers who have been dealing with this area continually point out the value of volunteerism. Clearly, the old concept of the meitheal, of which the Deputy is well aware, has not gone away and is very strong in Ireland today. It is something we commend and that we want to continue to foster, and if facilities and assistance can be given by Departments and State agencies to make that happen, so much the better.

It is not the case that I only meet the movers and shakers, as the Deputy calls them. I meet members of chambers of commerce around the country and the agricultural sector, which is still the largest carrier of manufacturing jobs throughout the European Union. I am glad to see the extent of research, innovation and investment that is taking place in that sector because that means jobs, employment and circulation of money in local economies, which is to be strongly supported and commended. I meet the American Chamber of Commerce on a reasonably regular basis every few months to monitor what is happening on the world markets with regard to the global products they manufacture here and export. It is important to reflect the issues they see arising in a European context and beyond, because of the number of jobs - more than 100,000 - that are supported by that kind of investment in the country. I know the Deputy does not object to that.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has set out his targets in dealing with the trade unions. When I met the Minister and the implementation group, our view was that we have recognised the contribution the Croke Park agreement has made to industrial peace and stability in the country and the very significant changes in the public service that have been made by agreement and through implementation by public servants. I pointed out previously how many people have had to change rosters, drive to new places of work, deal with changed responsibilities and deliver a greater and more efficient service with fewer facilities and resources than they had in the past. That is to be commended. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is engaging with the trade union movement to talk about not only what we said to the implementation group - that we want to see the Croke Park agreement implemented in full with more ambitious and accelerated targets - but also the requirement for up to €1 billion in extra savings to be achieved incrementally by 2015, which is a big challenge and will have a particular impact on the Department of Health and a number of other Departments. The Minister is conducting those discussions with the trade union movement and I am sure that when he next takes questions he will be happy to take more detailed questions on the progress of those discussions.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I asked a question on the consultation there had been with social groups to gain a full understanding of the reality of the impact of the cut to the respite grant for people on the ground. Has the Taoiseach met the Carers' Association recently?

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