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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] There was a suggestion of Departments being abolished or being merged in advance of the programme for Government, which some interest groups, lobbies and Deputies opposed. There were suggestions before the Government was formed that new Departments were needed. The Government is bound by the Constitution of 1937 to limit the number of people with seals of office sitting at the Cabinet table to 15. After that, decisions have to be made as to how the various different interests and demands, be they societal, economic or otherwise, are to be represented at Cabinet. The decision was taken and was published in the programme for Government. It is on the back page of it. It was not something that was concealed or dreamed up. It was designed to ensure that specific areas were covered. For instance, the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, to whom the Deputy referred, will have overall responsibility for aviation and other elements of the transport sector, an area I know from being a Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the previous Dáil. Myself and the Deputy have clashed on a number of occasions. That sector, along with other sectors, has grown massively since the 1937 Constitution was written. The real issue here is that the 1937 Constitution is no longer fit for the purpose of dividing out responsibilities within Government to people who need to represent particular sectors. Everybody will accept that if someone is sitting at the Cabinet table and he or she takes on responsibilities to this House and the other House, then he or she should be treated the same as other Ministers sitting at the Cabinet table. They need to be accountable to the House, and this accountability will continue in this House.

The Deputy is absolutely right on the point he made about other workers. That is why we are committed, and I said it here last night, to the 2% increase for public servants which will have a significant impact on the finances of the State. We are also committed - the Minister, Deputy McGrath, has made this very clear - to opening up discussions as soon as possible with representatives of employees within the civil and public services and employers to ensure that in the context of Covid-19, which we have all learned a great deal from, a new way to address pay over the next number of years will have to reflect the points that have been raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett, which are no different from the points I raised. Nobody has a monopoly of concern on low pay. We all have family members who might be regarded by some as being low paid. This Government has started on an agenda, which will be seen later on, to stimulate the economy, to put more people back to work, to keep people at work and to spend a significant amount of money which will be voted through from this Department. Some of this may require legislation but it is designed to support the people the Deputy mentioned today and whom he routinely mentions, and in respect of whom I support him. We have to do it in a way that is reflective of the current climate, which we will do. We would welcome the Deputy's support.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I will support the Minister of State if he gives our nurses and front-line healthcare workers the pay rise they deserve and gets rid of the absolutely shameful pay inequalities suffered by public servants at every level in the public service, where new entrants have to suffer the indignity of working on lower pay than people doing exactly the same job, just because they came in after a certain arbitrary date when austerity was imposed on them.

Whatever way the Minister of State cuts it, in the current climate where the Government is talking about cutting the pandemic payments for people who have lost jobs and income as a result of a public health crisis over which they have no control, and then to give junior Ministers a €16,000 increase is, to put it mildly, sending the wrong signals. To put it not so mildly, it is absolutely disgraceful. If the Minister of State wants equality at the Cabinet table perhaps the senior Cabinet Ministers might cut their pay a little to show leadership for people who are suffering out there and are on fractions of the salaries and wages they are on.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan In response to the Deputy's earlier contribution, I meant to acknowledge the support he has given to the temporary wage subsidy scheme and to the pandemic unemployment payment. We are in the situation with this Estimate where four fifths of our spending has already been reached. We need to ensure that this Estimate is passed for the very people the Deputy talks about, namely, nurses and public servants who are on different levels of pay, and to ensure we can pay salaries and pensions next week or shortly after that. If we go over that four fifths limit the Government will not have the power to do that. The Government responded initially, and I thank the Deputy for his support, by way of some €16 billion to shore up this economy and to ensure it did not go down the tubes like it did in 2008. We will continuing on that road today.

It is also important to point out that in respect of the two schemes the Deputy referenced, 50,000 people came off them at the last count and 35,000 people off them at the count before. We are getting people back to work, which needs to be acknowledged.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Bogaimid ar aghaidh anois leis an Rural Independent Group. There are four Deputies to speak, namely, Deputies Nolan, Michael Healy-Rae, O’Donoghue and Danny Healy-Rae.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan Last year the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform allocated €1.6 billion to agriculture, food and marine. A significant amount of that allocation was aimed at delivering the high level goal of income and market supports to underpin the rural economy and environment. That particular amount was €874.1 million. What was surprising to me, however, was the fact that a further €356.7 million was spent on agricultural policy and strategy. I fully accept that we need to have good and robust policies in place but does this not seem like a disproportionate amount, especially in light of the overall spend on actual financial supports being delivered to farmers and the rural economy? This is something I have concerns about, especially in the context of the public service performance report. Last year’s report highlighted the pilot programme of equality budgeting within a number of Departments. This process is supposed to track the progression of policies that aim to advance equality, reduce poverty and strengthen the economic and social rights of citizens. How is the equality budgeting concept being implemented with reference to agriculture and the rural economy? Is it reducing poverty and strengthening the rural economies? We need to know the answer to that given the level of expenditure being directed to that Department.

On community employment, CE, scheme supervisors, we know the Labour Court ruling in 2008 recommended that they be afforded occupational pensions. Is provision being made for those supervisors? That issue has dragged on for far too long.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I will start where the previous Deputy finished, which is on the issue of the money for the supervisors, which is very important-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Seas suas sa suíochán, please.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Is that better?

The money for the supervisors is a very important issue because these people have played an integral role in our society and have done so much for small towns and villages and have been treated very badly. I want to know for a fact if these people are going to have their pension rights and entitlements taken care of or not.

When we are talking about prudence, managing finances and budgets, we have to be sure, and I have said this here already today, about what we are doing with money because people are very concerned and worried about this. I welcome the July stimulus in advance but I want it to be spent prudently. The Minister of State has common sense and will understand what I am trying to say here. If one goes back - I am not talking about this Government or the last one but about previous Governments - to the issue of housing, what we are all doing is issuing policy after policy and document after document on how we are going to address this housing crisis or how we are going to address the poor prices farmers will receive for their beef. We are getting bogged down continuously in what I call money evaporating schemes in order to dream up a solution for the problem. For instance, when we are talking about beef, it is the easiest thing in the world to solve because all we need to do is to ensure the factories give the beef producers a proper price for the beef at the end of the day. We need not have conferences to discuss it.

When we need to know how to provide housing for homeless people and people on our housing list, let us go back to what the politicians before us did, and in my case Jackie Healy-Rae who was a Member of the Dáil and Kerry County Council. What was their ambition? What did the Acting Chairman do when he was a member of Tipperary County Council? They fought to ensure fields were bought, machines were sent in, planning permission was got, and houses were built. Those houses were local authority houses forever. That is how problems are tackled.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. It would not be right if the Healy-Raes were not heard. I call now on Deputy O’Donoghue to speak.


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