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Order of Business

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Senator Jim Walsh

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Order of Business
Snippet Contents:

I fully support Senator Darragh O'Brien's proposal, as seconded by Senator Paschal Mooney, for a debate on the forthcoming budget. In fact, I propose that we have a series of debates on a variety of expenditure areas, as agreed by the party leaders. A week should not go by in this House between now and December without a debate on some aspect of economic policy in the context of the budget.
All expenditure decisions for the coming year must be underpinned by the overriding criterion of fairness. In this regard, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to the House as soon as possible. The Minister's complete capitulation in regard to public service allowances astounded us all. While he predicted in his Budget Statement that the review would secure savings of €75 million this year and next, the outcome of that lengthy process was a saving of a mere €3.5 million. As a businessman in the Leader's home city commented to me last week, if he had been responsible for a failure of that magnitude he would have been fired without time to pack his bag. The Minister must come to the House to address this issue.
I hope to take the opportunity presented by that debate to raise with the Minister the possibility of undertaking a new benchmarking exercise. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, recently announced the results of a survey his Department had conducted of hospital consultants' fees across various countries in Europe. It is little surprise to find consultants in this country at the top of the table. I am confident that corresponding surveys would show other high level workers at or near the top for a variety of positions across the public service. A benchmarking exercise would ensure we were informed as to our position in these league tables and would back up efforts, if we wish to be fair, to address disparities. We cannot keep going back to those who are not in a position to take more pain than has already been inflicted on them by the Government and, I acknowledge, the previous Government.
In regard to social welfare, we have a choice between taking a small amount from a large number of people or a large amount from some of them. In the case of child benefit, the Government is proposing the latter option. The changes introduced in last year's budget by the Minister for Social Protection regarding the criteria for qualification for the State pension have a disproportionate adverse impact on women, many of whom are obliged to vacate the workforce periodically in order to undertake parenting duties.