Wednesday, 19 July 1989
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Spring: asked the Taoiseach if he will outline what is meant by the phrase in the new Government's programme “to build social consensus into a permanent way of managing our affairs”, and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Taoiseach: The success of the Programme for National Recovery between the Government and the social partners — trade unions, employers and farmers' organisations — and the contribution it has made to economic and social progress since 1987 demonstrates clearly the value of such a consensus approach to managing our affairs.
The agreed programme for government together with the Programme for National Recovery and the National Development Plan, on which the social partners were consulted, will form the basis of Government policy over the next four years. The Government will fully honour all the commitments entered into with the social partners in the Programme for National Recovery.
The Government are convinced that the consensus approach to managing our affairs is by far the best way to achieve worthwhile progress and will begin discussions with the social partners in the near future to seek a new agreement to succeed the current Programme for National Recovery which terminates at the end of 1990. The Government fully intend, therefore, that this consensus approach should become a permanent way of managing our affairs.
Mr. Spring: If the Taoiseach is genuinely interested in social consensus, is it his intention to pursue a set of policies in this Government which will be unlike the divisive set of policies pursued in the last Government which, in relation to health, education, housing and social welfare  resulted in a two-tier society? If the Taoiseach is genuinely interested in social consensus, will he pursue different policies in the course of this Government?
The Taoiseach: I do not think the Deputy understands what happened during the past two and a quarter years and I really wish he would consult more with his colleagues and friends in the trade union movement who have frequently expressed their satisfaction with the level of consensus achieved in the Programme for National Recovery and the mechanisms established under that programme. Quite recently I have had further confirmation of their wish that the mechanisms that are put in place for those consultations should be retained and used to the best advantage.
Mr. Spring: I am sure the Taoiseach does not need reminding that two weeks ago at the annual conference of Congress in Bundoran a resolution was passed by Congress for the setting up of a special conference in six months' time to review the programme which they agreed two years ago with the Taoiseach. I would assume it would be a natural follow-on from that that further discussions will have to take place. If the Taoiseach is genuinely interested in a social consensus which cares for all of the people both unemployed and employed, has he any proposals to bring forward whereby this would be put on a statutory basis or is there to be any new Department in his Government to manage this consensus which he is talking about? We must accept that the progress made in relation to the agreement, the results of which we are all very familiar with in terms of unemployment and emigration, are not going to solve the problems in this country. If the Taoiseach is talking about social consensus he must try to bring in the people who are now being alienated and are part of our two-tier society.
The Taoiseach: We completely reversed that policy, worked in close co-operation with the representatives of the trade unions, the farmers and the employers and achieved a degree of social and economic consensus which was quite unique in the history of this country and which did achieve results. Deputy Spring should recall the level of unemployment when he left office and compare it with the level when we left office recently.
Mr. Spring: On a point of order, I do not want to be particularly contentious but I think it is worth noting for the record, numerous meetings took place between the Government in power from 1982 to 1987 and the trade union movement.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Taoiseach accept that the biggest threat to social consensus being built into some kind of permanent way of managing our affairs is the unemployment situation and that while that situation continues where more jobs are lost during the term of the programme so far than have been created, this poses a major threat to the possibility of the agreement continuing, not to mention new agreements being renewed? Does the Taoiseach accept that behind the recent decision of the Congress of trade unions in Bundoran was the concern about unemployment and that it was this concern, above all, that motivated the decision for a special conference?
The Taoiseach: I repeat that in my view, and in the view of most impartial observers, and indeed in the view of many of the people who participated on all  sides in the Programme for National Recovery it represented a unique step forward in management of our affairs in that it secured the agreement of the different sides of the economy, farmers, employers, trade unions and Government to agree objectives and work for the achievement of those objectives. I really think it is very unhelpful to be suggesting that that was not a major improvement in the management of our affairs and that it was not a headline which we should seek to establish in the future, improve on if possible, elaborate on it in any way possible but at least it represents a central principle which did nothing but good for the economy of this country.
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