Wednesday, 12 April 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
4. Mrs. Owen asked the Taoiseach if dates have been set for the quarterly meetings of members of the four pillars, under the auspices of his Department, which will be held to review and monitor the operation of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7745/00]
5. Mrs. Owen asked the Taoiseach the process the Government will use over the period of the PPF agreement to progressively introduce social inclusion measures, other than social welfare and child care measures, reflecting the priorities under the framework, which will cost not less than £200 million in 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7747/00]
6. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the contacts or discussions, if any, he has had since 2 March 2000 with trade union leaders on the confusion which had arisen on the tax commitments in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; the steps, if any, he has taken or plans to take to clarify the issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7814/00]
7. Mrs. Owen asked the Taoiseach the reason it is necessary to establish, in accordance with paragraph 3.6 of Framework III of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, an interdepartmental committee to identify and clarify the range of existing and proposed social inclusion measures in the national development plan; the respects, if any, in which the existing measures are not clear; the reason, if any, they are not iden tified; and the terms of reference of the proposed interdepartmental committee. [7991/00]
8. Mrs. Owen asked the Taoiseach the criteria which will be used in selecting the 25 areas to be designated for a prioritised list of social inclusion measures in accordance with paragraph 3.6.3 of Framework III of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; if the selection will be approved by and subject to amendment by Dáil Éireann; and the measures, if any, which will be available in these geographic areas over and above those which will be available in neighbouring geographic areas which will not have been designated as being on the priority list of areas. [7992/00]
11. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when the first quarterly meeting of the four pillars under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will be held; the proposed agenda for the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8834/00]
The very strong endorsements by ICTU and IBEC of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness represent a very welcome step in the continuance of social partnership. These followed on from the equally welcome support given by farming and community and voluntary organisations. The way is now clear for the relevant Ministers  and Departments to put in train the necessary arrangements for implementation of the many ambitious aims set out in the programme.
Part 3 of Framework V of the programme sets out the overall monitoring mechanisms which will apply. These include quarterly meetings with the four pillars under the auspices of my Department and including one meeting each year to be chaired by myself. It is envisaged, at this stage, that three meetings will take place this year and the dates will be fixed shortly.
Regarding Deputy Owen's question on the Irish Council for Social Housing, the spirit within which the four pillars in social partnership have operated over recent years suggests the desirability that any organisation wishing to become part of the process should secure the agreement of the appropriate social partner pillar. In the event of a positive response the Government would consider such applications sympathetically, taking due account of such factors as continuance of a fair balance in representation as between the four pillars. The council was advised of the Government's views in this regard but it is my understanding that formal agreement for inclusion under the Community and Voluntary Pillar has yet to be sought. In the context of the new programme, only those organisations involved in its negotiation will be involved in its implementation.
The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness contains a very significant and comprehensive range of measures which are designed to address social exclusion and inequality urgently and effectively. As well as providing for a substantial increase in the resources allocated to social inclusion, amounting to £1.5 billion in 2003, the programme also sets out a process to ensure that everyone is involved in the development of the economy and society. The overall aim is to enhance the social, working and living environment of all citizens, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have not yet felt the full benefit of our economic success.
Frameworks III and IV of the programme set out the range of measures to address poverty and social exclusion. I do not propose to go through the list, as Deputies will no doubt be aware of the contents of these frameworks. Some of the key components include commitments on income adequacy, social and affordable housing, health care, tackling educational disadvantage and policies to promote equality and eliminate discrimination.
The purpose of establishing the interdepartmental committee, referred to in paragraph 3.6 of the programme, is to ensure the substantial increases in funding for social inclusion measures under the national development plan are prioritised towards the areas of greatest need and are co-ordinated and targeted accordingly. To that end, the committee will make recommendations to Government by December 2000 which will enable the 25 most disadvantaged areas to be designated and will ensure that speedy, effective and  integrated measures are implemented, taking account of existing and planned delivery mechanisms. There is not, as the question implies, a lack of clarity in the national development plan. It is simply a question of prioritising the social inclusion provisions in the plan towards those areas of greatest need. My Department will participate in the process with the other relevant Departments. Detailed arrangements are the subject of continuing discussion.
The processes and criteria to be used in identifying the designated areas and delivering these measures will be pursued in the early period of the programme involving, as necessary, consultations with the social partners. The criteria will have regard to established precedent and good practice in the use of objective indicators of social disadvantage.
With regard to the progressive introduction of social inclusion measures over the period of the programme, these will form part of the normal budgetary process over the next three years in consultation with the social partners and will be announced in that context. The social partners have already indicated priorities within the framework of the programme.
The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness covers the 2001 to 2003 budgets, inclusive, and provides that there will be increases in net take-home pay, including pay increases, of up to 25% or more. The effects of the 2000 budget will, in addition, produce significant increases in take-home pay during the period of the programme but these are not in the programme's terms. While a specific tax package is not set out in the programme, in light of experience under previous agreements and the prospects under the new programme, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions judged that the average taxpayer would receive increases of 10% in take-home pay arising from tax changes in the next three budgets. The Government responded that this judgment is reasonable having regard to the considerations which I have just outlined.
I am confident that the full implementation of the terms of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will enable our prosperity to continue and be sustained and I know the social partners are no less committed than the Government to its full implementation.
Mrs. Owen: Is the Taoiseach concerned by the number of people who did not vote for the partnership programme and that the majority who did so are in the lower paid sector of the economy? Does he accept that this indicates some lack of confidence in the Government's ability to deliver the social inclusion measures in the programme? Having failed thus far to provide adequate transport, housing, care for those in need of drug treatment or care for those on hospital waiting lists, which are only some of a litany of failures by the Government, is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Government will be able to deliver on the com mitments given to the social partners in the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness?
The Taoiseach: This is the fifth programme in which I have been involved. I negotiated the four previous ones and implemented the fifth. This is a good programme which received a greater mandate from the people than all the other programmes except for the first one. Its approval rating is greater than 70% which is 10% higher than the previous programme and thus it has a large mandate from union members who voted. I am not sure how every union voted but, with a 70% vote in favour, clearly there is enormous support.
I am satisfied that the social evils of unemployment, disadvantage and exclusion are being tackled and that the enormous strides made in the past few decades will continue apace. I still hold the view that the best way for people to play a part in society is by being members of the workforce, having a job and holding on to as much of their income as possible. The national minimum wage and other measures will allow that to happen as never before. The resources being invested in disabilities and the health sector in general will lead to improvements. The Deputy is correct in saying that not all the social ills of the world have been eliminated and they probably never will, but we must continue to do our utmost to try to eliminate them. The questions I have answered spell out the areas where this will be done in the next few years.
Mrs. Owen: Is the Taoiseach aware that more than 100,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists would differ with him when he speaks of the success of the economy? Is he also aware that, as well as those 100,000 people waiting for council housing, thousands of young people will never have a hope of buying a house? What proposals does the Taoiseach have to increase house building by local authorities to ensure people do not have to live in the squalor and conditions which were demonstrated on an RTE programme last night, the second part of which will be shown next Thursday? As I understand some of it was filmed in the Taoiseach's constituency, perhaps he would take time on Thursday to look at the programme to see the conditions in which some people in our society must live.
The Taoiseach: I do not do the work of other Ministers and I will not do it on this occasion other than to say I do not believe the Deputy has the correct figure for social housing. We must continue to target as many resources as possible to help people in need in whatever category they may be. This programme does so and takes into account the areas where we need to do that. We need more infrastructure and housing and we need to deal with a growing population and with the people who need our help. Regarding the programme which was filmed in my constituency, I do not need to watch it because I am aware of  the problems, and the people who researched the programme in question spoke to some of my political activists in preparing it.
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree he has been in office longer than any of his predecessors since 1987? Does he agree that, unless he has surreptitiously changed the Constitution, he bears some degree of collective responsibility for the actions of the Cabinet, that, therefore, the failure in respect of the issues Deputy Owen raised reflect upon all the Cabinet and that his attempt to suggest he is not responsible for aspects of his Cabinet colleagues is disingenuous, if not unconstitutional? Does he further agree that there is a lack of clarity in the public domain, which I understand him to have uncharacteristically clarified – perhaps he would confirm that clarification – that the combination of wage increases and tax reductions over the next three years during the duration of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will result in an increase of 25% in average take-home pay, and that that increase does not in any way include the provisions in the 2000 budget? The Taoiseach will be aware that there was a difference of opinion between officials from his Department and from the Department of Finance in the latter stages of the negotiations of the programme before it was put to ballot that, to meet the admirable targets set out in the programme, inclusion of the provisions of the current budget would have to be factored in for the overall target of 25% in general terms to be achieved. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the benefits of the 2000 budget, such as they are, are part of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness?
The Taoiseach: That is the position. The issue was not between Departments because it was raised and resolved on the night in question and I was closely involved. It was raised during the voting period by some of the unions opposed to the agreement to cause confusion. The people involved knew the answer to the question, which is as the Deputy said. As always, I would make matters absolutely clear.
Regarding taking a general question and answer session, it is not that I am not responsible for or aware of issues but that I would answer every single question. I already answer questions for over an hour and a half each week, which is probably three times longer than any other Prime Minister in Europe answers questions. If I were to take up all the time for questions, I could probably answer all questions.
The national development plan will invest £40 billion in the infrastructure of the economy. On social housing, the report on the private rental sector is due in June and we are now building twice the number of houses we built before. We need to do more. The infrastructural group is  actively engaged in trying to do more and will continue to do that.
Mr. Sargent: In the absence of quality of life indicators, how can the Taoiseach be so sure that the provisions of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will do anything for the people generally known as disadvantaged or for the general quality of life for all people when one considers deteriorating air quality levels, lower fitness levels, the increase in the number of people with asthma etc? Those issues are not measured and apparently do not comprise part of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. Does the Taoiseach agree with the CORI figures that one in five of the population is in receipt of income below the EU poverty line of 50% of average household income? Does the Taoiseach envisage that position changing significantly under this programme or does he see such disadvantage coming to an end? If not, does he agree that the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness could be challenged in so far as its title may contravene trade description legislation? The programme does not guarantee prosperity and it certainly does not guarantee fairness.
The Taoiseach: The people who negotiated the programme were drawn from all sectors of society and the programme represented an enormous effort on the part of those involved. Some 90% of the discussions did not relate to pay issues but rather to how services and economic and employment growth could continue to be improved. The end result of economic and employment growth is quality of life.
The Taoiseach: The fact that an additional 700,000 people are now in employment is an indicator. People have a better quality of life and better educational opportunities, with 60% of young people now progressing to third level education. Those are quality of life indicators. The Deputy represents a constituency in which there is almost full employment. I am sure he is aware that with the development of high quality sports clubs and infrastructure in the area, there is now a better  quality of life for the people in north County Dublin.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Does the Taoiseach agree that the substantial rejection of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness by the membership of MANDATE is a direct consequence of the growing gap between low paid workers and other workers? One cannot draw any other conclusion. While noting that the Taoiseach's enthusiasm for the new programme has not waned, will he respond to the comments made by one of the chief negotiators of the agreement who recently informed the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government that rising house prices are wiping out all the gains—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I want to be informed of the Taoiseach's views on this matter. Does the Taoiseach agree with the view that rising house prices are wiping out all the gains of wage agreements over the past 12 years and does he accept that the housing crisis is the primary element in the ongoing increase in the cost of living and the consequential decline in quality of life? Does he agree that unless radical measures to provide housing are adopted by the Government, this programme will be in serious trouble?
The Taoiseach: The vote against this agreement was 30% as opposed to a 39% vote against the previous agreement. The percentage votes against some of the earlier programmes were in the early 40s. The Deputy is basing his argument on a false premise. Some of the people who voted against this agreement voted against all the previous programmes and stuck rigidly to the view that social consensus of any kind is wrong on this  occasion too. They represent approximately 15% of those who voted against pay agreements. We should stick to the facts.
Obviously, house prices affect a section of the population but they do not affect the 1.7 million people in employment, the one million people in primary, second and third level education or the 500,000 people who will receive increased pensions this year. A particular sector of society is suffering as a result of increasing house prices and the Government is acutely conscious of that. That is why we have taken a huge range of measures in this area over the past two years. We will continue to develop infrastructure, produce legislation such as the Planning and Development Bill and reports such as those carried out by Peter Bacon and introduce initiatives such as the serviced land initiative in an attempt to ease the burden for house buyers.
Mrs. Owen: The Taoiseach referred to the serviced land initiative and I want to know whether he is aware that that initiative is not succeeding in providing much needed housing. The Taoiseach did not answer Question No. 8. Will he give a commitment that this House will debate the 25 urban and rural areas which may be designated as disadvantaged before the final list is agreed with the special interdepartmental committee and the Government? We had no say in the development of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness which was drawn up by the social partners. We debated the programme after it had been signed, sealed and delivered. When the 25 special areas of disadvantage are to be designated, will the Taoiseach undertake to arrange a debate on the matter before the list is finalised in order that we might have some input into it?
Mr. Quinn: On the same issue, I refer the Taoiseach to Question No. 15 in the name of my colleague, Deputy Broughan. What methodology will be used to select the 25 areas? Will it be the same as that applied to the existing area-based partnerships or will we run the risk of creating a new set of areas which are not coterminous with the areas which already exist?
The Taoiseach: Perhaps that is why 70% voted in favour of the agreement and 30% voted against it. There are 38 partnership companies throughout the country, many of which were established under the PESP in 1991. An interdepartmental committee has been established to recommend mechanisms and procedures through which these designated areas could be funded. The aim is not to create new structures but to draw upon the expertise of the current initiatives. The committee has examined the experience of the integrated services process to ensure that the planned expenditure provided for in the national development plan will be effectively delivered to these areas. The committee is anxious to consult the people on the ground who run the partnerships.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): In the context of the Taoiseach's statements on partnership, does he think he is morally justified in the many one-sided attacks he has made on low paid workers, such as the Dublin Bus drivers, who have been seeking a decent wage, when he has never uttered a single word of criticism against rack-renting landlords, who make life such a misery for those low paid workers, or against speculators and developers in the housing market, who also make life a misery? Does the Taoiseach think it is a proper operation of partnership for him to insist that low paid workers must come up with productivity for decent wage increases, while he has made no such demands of house builders, who—
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): This is on the question of the workings of the agreement. The Taoiseach makes no such productivity demands on developers who have profiteered outrageously in the housing market. Why is there a difference? Does the Taoiseach think it is partnership, when the proportion of national income going to profits increased from 25% in 1987—
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): —to 42% in 1999? A massive disproportion is going to profits rather than wages. The Taoiseach, in referring, I believe, to critics of partnership, was quoted as describing certain people as a “creeping Jesus”. What is a creeping Jesus and who was he describ ing as such, if the words attributed to him are true?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Following the Taoiseach's response to my earlier questions, does he share my concern in that regard? One can cite the situation of the 70:30 vote, but we must look at the reality of the magnitude of the rejection of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness by MANDATE. Does the Taoiseach recognise that this is indicative of the growing marginalisation of low paid workers? Was the vote not also a comment by those workers on the totally inadequate minimum wage recently introduced by the Government?
The Taoiseach: Last week, a Cheann Comhairle, you had to protect me here when I attacked a development by what Deputy Higgins would refer to as huge speculators. As a result of my making a few remarks about that, I was—
The Taoiseach: We must keep trying to operate measures, such as the minimum wage, decreasing taxation, taking low paid workers out of the tax  net and allowing single people and women hold onto more of their income. Those issues help income adequacy, which can be seen from tables published recently by a number of organisations, such as the trade unions, which have produced some good figures on this, and CORI. We must continue with those measures, which I agree with, rather than allow profits to spiral. There is concern about the growth of profit ratios in some sectors of the economy. I have no difficulty with that.
As I said to Deputy Ó Caoláin, it was not only low paid workers who voted against the programme. Many high paid workers also voted against it because they believe their might is far stronger when there is no social partnership. They are entitled to vote and to their point of view, although I have never agreed with them. Key workers in essential service sectors can use their strength by striking, as has often happened here, to win their argument. Such people are among those who do not like social consensus.
I have no difficulty in regard to bus drivers or anybody else. They all do a good job. I said that last week when I was giving out about the begrudgery mentality of some in Irish society, which is what I meant by that. I praised bus drivers and others who provide essential services. However, I also said we should be looking for competitive ways of using the best available methods to get as much efficiency as possible. If that efficiency gives more money to people, so be it, the best of luck to them. That is what happens in industry and there is no reason essential services cannot do likewise. That is why many trade union members, including busmen, are quite anxious to look at some of these competitive ways. They do not want total deregulation—
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