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Estimates for Public Services 2013 (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] Under Vote 18 - shared services - a sum not exceeding €21.019 million is being provided for. Under Vote 19 - the Office of the Ombudsman - a sum not exceeding €7.437 million is being provided for.

We debated these provisions line by line at a committee yesterday. The point of contention was that 2% of the overall sum relates to apportioned pay savings that I need to find. It would be impossible for me to present Estimates with square brackets around sums. I need to put them in a way that is clear to people. If a different solution can be presented to find €300 million in savings across all the Estimates, I will be happy to make such amendments and revert to Deputies on that basis. I ask the House to bear with the normal process and allow for the business of government to continue. If changes to any pay deal are agreed through negotiation, I will be delighted to be the first to come in here to ask for the approval of the House for such adjustments to be made.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I will deal specifically with some of the points made by the Minister. We are opposing these Estimates. The Minister announced yesterday on behalf of the Government that he has asked the Labour Relations Commission to contact all parties with a view to seeing whether they can come back with some new proposals. I agree with the action taken by the Minister and the Government yesterday. As the Taoiseach indicated, we should wait a couple of weeks to see what comes of this opportunity. The Minister should wait until that period has elapsed and the outcome of the discussions is known before coming back to the House with this proposal. We are opposing these Estimates because of the total disregard the Minister has shown for the decision taken by public sector workers last week. I accept that is not a major part of the Estimates. The Minister has embedded the rejected LRC Croke Park II pay proposals in each line of these Estimates. When he published his draft Estimates on budget day last December, the Croke Park deal was not embedded in each line of them.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The sum of money - €300 million - was.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming It was. I would have no problem discussing the overall view. I am objecting to the manner in which the Minister has embedded each line of the rejected Croke Park II deal in the Estimates since they were originally published. He could have left it the way he had it before coming back with the details when they are available. He did not need to make a pre-emptive move by embedding each line of the Croke Park deal in this way. He could have presented Estimates of €473 million, in addition to the OPW Vote, here today without embedding the Croke Park figures in them. There was a mechanism for him to do that. We did not participate in yesterday's debate because the Estimates were flawed. I would like to make another important point. It will probably amaze the Minister; he will not believe it. Objectively, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been an absolute failure when it comes to these issues. As a new Department last year, it was the subject of the biggest Supplementary Estimate of any State body - more than €1 billion - last December. That says a lot about the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. While it is not the case that all the overruns with regard to shared services were in that Department, the point is that the Minister has overall responsibility for public expenditure.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Much of that related to the recalibration of PRSI, as the Deputy knows.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I want to deal with the issue of shared services because it reflects the absolute incompetence of the Minister and his Department. The Minister has said he wants to get this Vote through today in order that staff can be paid this week. The Taoiseach said that six times in the House this morning. The Minister has said it on several occasions. Can he imagine any business going into a bank manager today to ask for emergency funds to pay its staff this week?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Many businesses are doing it every day.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming Such a person would be run out the door and told it was no way to run his or her business. This should have been planned weeks and months ahead. The Minister's statement that his Department cannot pay its staff is an absolute case of self-incrimination. He is condemning the way he runs his own Department. He is allowing staff to work up to this Friday even though there is no money in the kitty to pay them. How can any employer run a business in that way? This is an indictment of the way the Minister runs his Department. He has run this to the wire. He knew it could be foreseen. He should have come up with a proposal that did not have the Croke Park II deal embedded in it. The Minister came into this House last December, on the last sitting day of the year, with a Supplementary Estimate for Vote 12, seeking extra money for retired civil servants' superannuation. He said he would not be able to pay pensioners the following Friday. Since the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was established, it has had a habit of presiding over the biggest set of Supplementary Estimates. It gets its figures wrong to start with. This is the second time the Minister has come here in an emergency situation asking for money today to pay staff tonight so there will be money in their bank accounts on Thursday night.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Deputy is talking through his hat.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming The Minister knows that the National Treasury Management Agency is sitting on €30 billion in cash all the while.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Hear, hear.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I am not saying it should be used. I am mentioning it in the context of the Minister's statements that we are about to run out of money. That is a nonsense statement for anybody to make when there is €30 billion in cash sitting in the bank account. I am not saying it should be used for these purposes. The Minister has said that if changes are needed as a result of the new discussions on how to save €300 million, he will be happy to be the first person to make such changes. He should have been doing that last week, this week and next week. The Minister or one of his Cabinet colleagues said yesterday that the 1 July date is not definitive as long as €300 million is saved this year. It will not be a big deal if the date is 1 August, as far as the Minister and the troika are concerned, as long as the figures are achieved. The 1 July date is not set in stone. The Minister should not rush these Estimates. It is an indictment of the way the Minister is doing his business that staff who are working today cannot be assured they will be paid on Friday morning. Similarly, the fact that this is the second time the new Department of Public Expenditure has had to seek extra money because it cannot pay its staff is an indictment of how that Department is being run.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is the normal way we do business.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The argument for reform within the public sector is unanswerable. I support that. While the shared services initiative is not the be-all and end-all, the rolling-out of this concept makes sense. I support it because it is efficient. The problem with this Estimate will recur as each of the Estimates goes through the relevant committee. The Minister has conceded that the Croke Park cuts are hard-wired into each Estimate. The Minister said he had no option because he could not produce an Estimate with figures in square brackets. Perhaps that is what he should have done. It is not acceptable for him to instruct the LRC to talk to the unions to see whether the basis for an agreement exists while at the same time bringing to the Oireachtas Estimates which have Croke Park II written all over them. What are unions and, more importantly, workers supposed to make of that? It seems to me that the LRC has been sent on a mission to talk to the unions not about how to find more savings in order to raise €300 million, but about how to revive a deal that has been comprehensively rejected by public sector and Civil Service workers.

It is a pity the Minister has gifted this mission to the LRC because I am sure he has heard, as I have, people from within the trade union movement who have suggestions about how €300 million might be found. Taxation measures have been suggested. Stimulus measures have been proposed. If we can decrease the welfare bill by getting people back to work, that will have all sorts of knock-on consequences for the domestic economy and for domestic demand. There is no question that €300 million could be gathered by means of some of the ideas which have been highlighted. I will give a few examples of possible savings in the public service. We have not yet yielded the savings that could be achieved through the use of generic drugs. I have raised with the Minister previously the issue of the small proportion of public sectors workers who are overpaid and overpensioned. There is no question that savings could be made there. That was not the central thrust of Croke Park II, however, and that is why workers rejected it. People on modest incomes who are just about struggling by cannot take another hit.

I remind the Minister that he was part of the process of agreeing a choreography that involved talks and a ballot. He was not forced into that situation - he opted into it. Now that workers have made their decision and the result is known, the Minister should respect the decisive outcome of the ballot. We would be dealing with a different atmosphere today if the Minister respected the verdict of the workers and was introducing an Estimate that reflects the fact that he cannot count on the €300 million envisaged by Croke Park II, which has been defeated.


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