Wednesday, 1 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: The House will now hear two minutes statements on matters appropriate to the Minister for Labour and the Minister for Energy. I propose to call on the Deputies I have selected in the following order: first, Deputy Gerry Reynolds, second, Deputy Michael Finucane in respect of two matters and third, Deputy Philip Hogan.  Each Deputy is entitled to two minutes in respect of each matter and each statement will be followed immediately by a two minute reply by the appropriate Minister.
Mr. G. Reynolds: I thank the Minister for being here. I raise this matter on grievance time because it was brought to my attention this week that a constituent of mine who is a widow applied to be a participant in a social employment scheme in her local area but was unsuccessful due to an anomaly in the system. She is very much involved in the local community and the community got together to try to have a social employment scheme in the area. There seems to be an anomaly in the system which I hope the Minister will correct. There also seems to be a certain amount of discrimination against widows in this country, this lady is relatively young, has a young family and wishes to find employment. This would be an ideal type of employment for her for 12 months, but, due to an administration factor she is not able to gain employment this way. I would be grateful if some change could be made so that this person would be entitled to get employment under this scheme.
Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): The social employment scheme is the principle Manpower intervention to assist the long term unemployed and provides an opportunity for persons who have been long term unemployed to become involved in work, albeit on a part-time basis, for one year. Participants must be over 25 years of age and in receipt of unemployment assistance or registered as unemployed for over 12 months and in receipt of unemployment benefit.
Widows who satisfy these conditions can participate in the scheme. The demand for places exceeds the number available, so an extension of the eligibility  criteria to additional categories of persons could only be at the expense of those for whom the scheme was devised. I take the point which Deputy Gerry Reynolds made but I should like to point out that the Programme for Social and Economic Progress includes a recommendation that the live register requirements in the case of women applicants should be relaxed to facilitate women who wish to return to the workforce. I have already indicated to the House that I am examining ways in which this recommendation can be implemented and later on in the year we will formulate proposals to see if that can be done.
Mr. Finucane: I wish to refer to McCormack Joinery Works in Ardagh, County Limerick, where an industrial dispute has been going on for some time. The Minister is aware of the history of this dispute because he was kind enough to respond to a question of mine on a previous occasion which I hoped would lead to success in resolving the dispute.
I raise the matter as a result of frustration on the part of the workers because the dispute is still going on and the factory has closed down. The nub of the issue appears to be that the management are not prepared to recognise the trade union's right to negotiate on behalf of the workers. Within the mechanism of the new Labour Relations Commission, is there a provision for a body like that to get involved to seek a resolution to this issue and to break the impasse?
Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): This dispute began in December last and involves about 26 workers. It centres on the issue of union recognition and a retrospective pay increase. Since I spoke to the House on this dispute in February last, the Labour Court issued a recommendation that the company should recognise and negotiate with the union. However, the recommendation has not been implemented by the management.
The Labour Relations Commission  have been in touch and continue their efforts to bring the parties together to try to resolve the impasse. However, I must point out to the House that, while workers have a right to join a union, employers have the right to decline to recognise it. Unfortunately, that is the position in this case.
Mr. Finucane: The second matter is in relation to a recruitment consultancy firm which approached me when two advertisements appeared in a newspaper. In one case FÁS were looking for a bar manager and steward; in the other, Shannon Free Airport Development Company were looking for a general manager. The point was made to me that this was unfair competition in relation to FÁS and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company.
In the past, when employment was probably a little more buoyant, FÁS were very much involved in this aspect. What is the current policy in relation to FÁS advertising for managerial positions? Perhaps the Minister will comment on both cases as the other company are also semi-State.
Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): The Labour Services Act, 1987, specifies that one of the principal functions of FÁS is the provision of an employment service whereby persons seeking employment and persons offering employment are brought into contact with each other. The Deputy will be aware that there are over 246,000 people on the live register at present. It behoves FÁS, as the national placement service, to do everything they can to find employment for as many of these people as possible. This requires the organisation to co-operate in every way with employers to assist them to fill the vacancies as quickly and effectively as possible. This co-operation may require FÁS to advertise vacancies on behalf of the employers when suitably skilled  people are not available on the live register. In such circumstances the employer bears the cost of the advertisement.
The provision of a free employment service is a commitment into which Ireland entered through the participation in the International Labour Organisation. That may be of interest to the Deputy because a criticism of the organisation is that they do not have a high enough share of the vacancies available. Other member states — namely, Italy and Germany — do not permit the operation of private employment agencies. The figures which these organisations show in relation to securing jobs for people compared to FÁS are naturally far higher. Non-EC countries, like Sweden, which have very good organisations in this regard, do not allow private employment agencies. We do and that is where the problem arises. In the meantime, FÁS have a statutory duty in that regard which they must attempt to fulfil.
Mr. Hogan: I thank you for the opportunity of raising this important issue in relation to the extension of the natural gas grid to Kilkenny. I am aware that the Minister made an announcement in regard to this matter some time ago but I am merely seeking information on the progress of the work which will get natural gas to the business community,  hospitals and domestic consumers as quickly as possible.
Is the Minister in a position to give a progress report in relation to the plan he envisage for the installation of a very cheap and efficient domestic fuel? It is important to bring a native source of fuel like natural gas to Kilkenny because it is environmentally friendly and smog-free and we are very conscious of our environment in the Kilkenny city area. This would make a major contribution towards enhancing our environment as well as making a competitive and cheap fuel available to make our business more competitive in the years and decades ahead.
Minister for Energy (Mr. Molloy): The idea of natural gas for Kilkenny was first mooted by BGE in 1983, when they had under consideration a project involving the supply of gas to an industrial market and the Kilkenny Gas Company. The proposal did not proceed due to the condition of the gas network in the city. No alternative viable project could be identified at the time and in 1986, BGE were asked to assist the Kilkenny Gas Company in the orderly close down of their operations. BGE purchased the Kilkenny network in 1986 and a spur-line to the city outskirts was built in 1987, in order to facilitate the supply of gas to commercial and industrial consumers.
Discussions have been ongoing with potential customers since then. While  none has been connected to date, a new proposal to supply commercial customers in Kilkenny city with natural gas emerged in mid-1990 and was approved by the board of BGE. The approved project involves the expenditure of over £420,000 for the construction of a ring main which follows the new ring road from Purcellsinch Industrial Estate, continuing on to connect Kilcreen Hospital and over-land to St. Luke's Hospital on the Fethard Road.
Supply contracts have been agreed with the South Eastern Health Board, for the supply of gas to three hospitals in Kilkenny and with a number of industrial and commercial customers. Negotiations are continuing with other potential customers. It is hoped to have these discussions concluded shortly. Construction of the main pipelines will commence in mid-May and will extend through the summer.
Initial gas sales will be over 800,000 therms per annum. Provision has been made for the extension of the network to connect other industrial and commercial customers within the city. The question of supplying domestic customers in areas adjacent to the pipeline will be considered in the future, if viable projects can be identified.
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