Wednesday, 22 January 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The document Partnership 2000 has been under consideration by the 19 social partner organisations which were involved in its negotiation since it was published on Friday, 20 December. I expect the endorsement process will be complete by the end of this month.
The Taoiseach: The trade union movement is a very important participant in the partnership but it is not the only participant and I hope all participants will ratify Partnership 2000. I am glad the Construction Industry Federation, Macra na Feirme, the Irish Farmers' Association, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, the National Women's Council, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, the Irish Exporters' Association, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Protestant Aid, the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland and ICOS, all of whom are participants in the social partnership, have to date endorsed Partnership 2000.
I hope the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, on behalf of the trade union movement, following consultations, discussions and decisions within the individual unions, will be in a position also to endorse Partnership 2000. It has a target of holding a national congress on 30 January at which that issue will be decided. I hope it will realise that in terms of take home pay and gross pay, trade union members are much better off than they were at the outset of the process of partnership. Not only has take home pay improved but there has been a number of other benefits to trade union members, particularly in the past two years, notably the abolition of third level fees, the increase in child benefit and stable low mortgage interest rates, all of which mean that trade union members are appreciably better off under a system of partnership than they might have been in a free for all.
Mr. B. Ahern: People will look at what happened in the past ten years and as the main architect of partnership agreements I am delighted that not alone did we convince many people but we convinced the Taoiseach that benefits accrued in the past two years. I hope he retains that view when he is back in Opposition and I am trying to implement such agreements. Will the Taoiseach outline how, in the context of Partnership 2000, he seeks to resolve the nurses' dispute?
The Taoiseach: I thank Deputy Ahern for his support for Partnership 2000 which is acknowledged by many people to be the best partnership programme of all those negotiated in terms of the comprehensive nature of the commitments contained in it. I am even more pleased to note that a sister party of the Deputy's has also endorsed  this programme despite the fact that it had girded itself to criticise it a few days before it was launched.
The Taoiseach: The industrial issue raised by the Deputy was addressed by me on the occasion of the launch of Partnership 2000 when I indicated that the nursing profession is and has been doing work of a very high standard with commitment and skill in very difficult conditions. I understand fully the sense of frustration felt by many nurses. I also understand, however, that all of us, including nurses, have benefited from the fact that during the past ten years there have been rules for settling industrial disputes. All partnership agreements, including those of which Deputy Ahern claims authorship, contained a “no strike” clause with a statement that issues in dispute about people's salaries or wages will be settled by conciliation and negotiation and if that does not work, by independent adjudication and that there will not be recourse to strike action.
Strike action is contrary to Partnership 2000, the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and the whole concept of social partnership, the basis on which all employees, be they nurses, gardaí or people in the private sector, have been able to enjoy lower interest rates, greater take home pay, no university fees and other advances which have arisen directly from the partnership structure. It is very important that the rules of that structure, one of which is that issues in dispute are not settled by recourse to strike action, are respected by all.
Mr. M. McDowell: In regard to the key role the Taoiseach claims for himself in piloting through this most successful negotiation, will he indicate whether he sided with the Tánaiste or the Minister for Finance on public sector pay? Will he take credit for negotiating successfully the retention of Deputy Quinn as Minister for Finance despite a rather dubious coup de main on the part of the Tánaiste?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy reads too many newspapers. He has a particular attraction for the newspapers that accept contributions from him because the subject matter of his questions seems to derive from exclusive publications in his favourite newspaper. The Government has  worked very well in terms of achieving successful negotiation of Partnership 2000 while concluding a successful EU Summit. To be able to do both of those things successfully on the same day represents quite an achievement by the Government. I compliment every Minister who was involved in that process, including the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, both of whom played a crucial role.
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