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 Header Item Civil Service Renewal Plan (Continued)
 Header Item Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] As part of this final module, the commission considered the issues and policy challenges associated with pay setting for top level posts in the public service at the current time, as evidenced by recent competitions to appoint a Garda Commissioner and a new director general of the HSE. In its final report, the commission included findings regarding senior executive recruitment and retention issues. It noted as a matter of fact that the pay reductions introduced during the fiscal crisis were structured with greater reductions at the most senior levels, steps that in my view, were appropriate at the time. The commission also noted that the unwinding of pay reductions, which commenced in 2015, has been progressive and focused rightly on prioritising restoration for those at the lower income levels first. That action will be ongoing at more senior levels until July 2022 under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017, which provides a statutory roadmap for the continued controlled unwinding of FEMPI as it applies to all public servants, including those in the most senior positions.

On the question of pay determination for future such posts, the commission stated it would be appropriate, should it be decided to conduct a review of remuneration of senior level posts, that the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector, which was in place between 1969 and 2009, be reconstituted for this purpose, given the diversity of posts in question, as well as the range of issues affecting them. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked officials in his Department to examine the re-establishment of this review body.

In regard to Deputy Micheál Martin's assertion that financial decisions are being re-politicised, I would not accept that assertion. In fact, I would give an example of the contrary, which is the sports capital programme. When I was in the Department with the Minister, Deputy Ring, we put in place very clear rules to determine which projects were valid or invalid, and we put in place a points system which means it is the officials who score the different projects using that points system.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Who gets the points?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Mayo gets extra.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar There is also an appeals system, which was a very significant change to the approach taken by the former Minister, John O'Donoghue, and the former Minister, Jim McDaid, before that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach should talk to the Minister, Deputy Ross.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Mayo won on the grants, not on the field of play.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar IGEES is a very good project and is continuing to develop. Deputy Burton is right to point out that we have never had a woman at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of course, the person who is at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in my view, is the Minister. Unfortunately, the Deputy's party leader decided not to appoint her to those roles and decided to appoint her to social protection instead, which is a great job and a really important one too. Perhaps if I have an opportunity to appoint a new Cabinet, I will be able to appoint at least one woman to one of those two roles.

 Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 29A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputies Eamon Scanlon, Eugene Murphy and Marc MacSharry - to discuss safety concerns on the N4 primary route at Cootehall junction; (2) Deputy Aindrias Moynihan - to discuss the ongoing delays in providing the new Macroom Garda station; (3) Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan - to address the need to reinstate the community policing forum, CPF, in the north inner city of Dublin; (4) Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick - to discuss housing developments in Drogheda, County Louth; (5) Deputy Mary Butler - to discuss waiting times for home care supports in Waterford; (6) Deputies Charlie McConalogue and Jackie Cahill - to discuss the welfare of dairy bull calves in spring 2020 and the development of additional market outlets; (7) Deputy Michael Harty - to discuss the survival of Clare Bus; (8) Deputy Frank O'Rourke - to discuss the advancement of housing development at Hazelhatch, Celbridge; (9) Deputy John Brassil - to discuss the urgent need for the provision of a general purpose room for a school; (10) Deputy John Brady - to discuss concerns regarding the low manning levels of the fire service in Bray, County Wicklow; (11) Deputies Bríd Smith, Thomas Byrne and Fiona O'Loughlin - to discuss the dispute involving school secretaries across schools nationally and pay inequality for school secretaries and caretakers; (12) Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher - to discuss the registration of Little Learners Montessori, Glenties, County Donegal; and (13) Deputy Maurice Quinlivan - to discuss the provision of an additional MRI scanner at University Hospital Limerick.

The matters raised by Deputies Eamon Scanlon, Eugene Murphy and Marc MacSharry; Charlie McConalogue and Jackie Cahill; and Bríd Smith, Thomas Byrne and Fiona O'Loughlin have been selected for discussion.

Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will attend a meeting of the European Council this Thursday and Friday, 12 and 13 December. It will be the first meeting chaired by Charles Michel, who took over as President of the Council on 1 December. It will also be the first meeting attended by Ursula von der Leyen in her role as President of the Commission, and by Christine Lagarde since she took up office as President of the European Central Bank. We have a busy agenda and, at the top of it, are climate change and the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, the EU's seven-year budget. We will also discuss external relations, as well as the proper functioning of the World Trade Organization. On Friday, there will be a euro summit where we will take stock of progress achieved by Finance Ministers on EMU reform since the last summit in June, and we will provide direction on how we take the work forward. We will also meet in Article 50 format to consider the state of play on Brexit and the next steps.

In his wrap-up remarks today, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will speak on the WTO issue and other external relations issues. I will focus my remarks on the other items on the agenda. The European Council will begin on Thursday with an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. I understand he will raise the idea of a conference on the future of Europe, something both the Parliament and the European Commission have been doing some thinking about. This will be the first discussion on this issue at the European Council and I look forward to hearing President Sassoli's thoughts and the views of colleagues.

The European Union has a significant programme of work to undertake in the coming period, including implementing the strategic agenda which we adopted in June. This built on successful citizens' dialogues in Ireland and elsewhere. The European Council will continue on Thursday with a formal working session where we will discuss climate change. Last October, we welcomed the outcome of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and confirmed that we would return to this issue in December. This week, we must finalise the guidance we give to the European Commission on the EU's long-term strategy on climate. This will enable the adoption and submission of the EU's long-term strategy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change next year.

For me, the priority is to build a consensus for our objective of achieving climate neutrality at EU level by 2050. As it is the best way to encourage other countries in other parts of the world to scale up their short-term and long-term ambitions under the Paris Agreement, global leadership by the EU is required. We aspire to become the first carbon-neutral continent. We know this is good environmental, social and economic policy but we also need to bring citizens with us and ensure that the transition is both just and socially balanced. I believe this means supporting the most affected regions and sectors, where necessary.

The Union's future budget will be the main topic for discussion at our dinner on Thursday evening. We will also discuss foreign policy and the World Trade Organization. At the last European Council in October, we asked the Presidency to submit a "negotiating box" ahead of our meeting this week, in other words, a paper with detailed figures which would be used to structure MFF negotiations and to facilitate discussion on individual issues. The Finnish Presidency has now brought forward a proposal based on an overall budget of 1.07% of GNI and has set out suggested allocations across each of the main expenditure headings. We welcome the efforts of the Finnish Presidency to progress the negotiations and I look forward to discussing the proposal with colleagues this week.

As our prosperity has increased and our economy has grown, so have our contributions to the EU, and they are projected to increase considerably further in the next MFF. We benefit so much from our membership of the EU, including through our membership of the Single Market, and it is in our interests that the Union has a budget that is fit for purpose and adequate. Above all, we want to see long-established, well-funded and successful programmes, such CAP and cohesion funding, continue, as well as investment in new challenges, such as migration, security, climate change and digitalisation. Programmes such as Horizon, INTERREG and Erasmus+ are successful and must be properly funded. I welcome the Finnish Presidency's proposal to increase funding for the PEACE programme to €100 million. With contributions from Ireland and the UK, this potentially allows us to have a PEACE PLUS programme of almost €1 billion in the next MFF period, which will be of huge benefit to Northern Ireland and the Border counties, and is a priority for me in the negotiations. I will continue to advocate for CAP because it is a successful policy that ensures food security, promotes regional and rural development in Europe and enables us to encourage greener and more environmentally friendly agriculture. The importance of stopping climate change is reflected more broadly in the proposed budget, with an overall target of at least 25% of expenditure delivering on climate objectives. This is not going to be a meeting where we make decisions but it will set the course for the future discussions on the MFF. I expect the European Council to take a more central role on this from now on.

On Friday morning, our day will begin with the euro summit, at which we will take stock of progress achieved by Finance Ministers on EMU reform since the last summit in June. This will be an opportunity to provide direction on how to advance this work further. The main elements for discussion are reform of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, the proposed new budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro area to be provided for in the new MFF, and banking union. On Friday, we will also meet in Article 50 format to discuss Brexit. It is likely that, by then, we will know the outcome of the UK election and its potential implications for ratification of the withdrawal agreement. I will urge the European Council to call on the Commission to propose a comprehensive mandate for the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship. We need to demonstrate our ambition to have as close and broad as possible a relationship with the UK in the future. The joint political declaration agreed between the EU and the UK provides a negotiating mandate for this next phase. We need to be ready to begin negotiating the future relationship with the UK as soon as it is ready. It is good to see that Michel Barnier will continue to act as the EU's chief negotiator during this phase. It is also essential that the task force maintains close engagement and co-operation with the other EU institutional actors, as it has done to date.

Commissioner Hogan, as Trade Commissioner, will also have a leading role.

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