Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
–believing that there is now majority support within this House for the expansion and development of the Community Employment scheme;
–calls on the Government to:
–reverse the cuts in the number of CE places,
–approve the creation of an additional 5,000 CE places for next year,
–ensure the retention and development of Jobs Initiative (JI), and
–instruct the Minister for Finance to arrange for the necessary extra funding.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“–reaffirms that the primary role of community employment is that of an active labour market programme which through the provision of work experience and training opportunities can progress disadvantaged persons from a position of long-term unemployment into work in the open economy;
–acknowledges the positive impact community employment schemes have had in disadvantaged communities and recognises that the work and commitment of participants in the scheme has played a significant role in community activity and has been essential to the viability and provision of many voluntary, youth, sporting, disability and many other important services in the community;
–welcomes the decision of the Government in a more uncertain economic climate to maintain combined participation levels on community employment, jobs initiative and social economy programmes at 2003 levels with no further reductions in numbers envisaged in 2004 as a recognition of the invaluable contribution these programmes make to local communities all around the country and that the substantial level of funding provided for next year reflects this;
–commends the policies of the Government that have resulted in a very low level of unemployment and have, in particular, brought about a substantial reduction in long-term unemployment in recent years;
–notes that the review of the CE programme takes place not only in the context of a dynamic labour market, with jobs growth and historically low levels of unemployment being maintained, but at a time when Government has given huge priority to implementing a twin-track strategy of trying to prevent market, with jobs growth and historically low levels of unemployment being maintained, but at a time when Government has given huge priority to implementing a twin-track strategy of trying to prevent long-term unemployment while proactively assisting persons who are long-term unemployed to get jobs;
–recognises the substantial allocation of resources the Government is making available in the Estimates for 2004 for the provision of employment programmes, and notes that this will permit a very high level of activity in 2004 in support of local services and local communities;
–notes with satisfaction that the total allocation for employment programmes has been fixed at €351 million which will support up to 25,000 places across three employment schemes, that is, community employment, jobs initiative and social economy and will ensure that there will be no reduction in overall participation levels in 2004;
–notes that the Government is providing, in addition, some €308 million for training and integration supports, within FÁS, in 2004;
–notes that the overall FÁS budget has increased from €605 million in 1997 to €837 million in 2004; and
–welcomes the continuing review of the operation of these schemes to maximise the benefit to participants and to the organisations and committees with which they work.”
(Minister of State at the Department
of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,
Mr. Morgan: I wish to share time with Deputies Connolly, McHugh, Gregory and Finian McGrath.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Morgan: Could one imagine trying to explain to a five year old child the carry-on of this institution in the past couple of weeks? Last week we had the spectacle of a Minister of State finger-wagging the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach for their action regarding cuts in community employment schemes. The Minister of State wanted a headline proclaiming that he was completely in support of community employment schemes. He wanted more to be provided and he was unhappy with the cutbacks.
The Labour Party's motion, which I commend, calls for an expansion of community employment schemes. To defend its position the Government sends in the very same Minister of State who just last week was finger-wagging the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach on this issue. Is this some form of duplicity?
Mr. S. Power: The Deputy would be good at that.
Mr. Morgan: I remind the Deputy that it was demonstrated last week. I ask where are the backbenchers who were queuing up to speak to the media in support of the wayward Minister of State? None of them has come into the House yet and I look forward to seeing them coming to the House to vote this afternoon. It is a case of talking the talk but not walking the walk.
The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, has adopted this position because he is far more interested in his own career path and his merc and perks than he is in the poor people of Ireland. The Minister of State regards it as more important to continue climbing up the ministerial ladder, stepping on the backs of poor people. I regard that as a lack of backbone, a lack of gumption, on the part of the Minister of State, and it is most unfortunate. If this is what poor James Connolly died for, I do not know what this country is coming to.
The House has been told how many bricks the Minister of State has built in Galway. It seems he has built more bricks in Galway than some other Members of this House. This House does not need bricklayers but rather Members who will deliver for the people of this State, and that is not happening.
Mr. Quinn: The Deputy might get a good price.
Mr. Morgan: I will give the House an example of the people who work on the CE schemes which the Minister is choosing to ignore. I know a woman in her late 50s who has successfully reared five children. She missed out on an education because she was busy minding her direct family members and then her children. She wished to re-enter employment and obtained a place on a CE scheme.
Mr. Quinn: On a point of order, is there any reason the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is not present in the House? Is he detained elsewhere on important business?
Mr. F. McGrath: He has left the country.
Acting Chairman (Dr. Cowley): I cannot accept that point of order.
Mr. Durkan: He is leading a protest march against the Government.
Mr. Morgan: It is important that the House is aware of the people who are being marginalised by the Government's action. A woman who reared her family and participated in a CE scheme managed to learn computer skills probably better than most Members. She pursued a course and obtained a degree in horticulture. She is a grandmother but she is probably younger in age than the average age of Members of this House—
Mr. Rabbitte: She is not much younger.
Mr. Morgan: —and she benefited considerably from the community employment scheme. The Government seems set on a course of destroying whatever opportunity was offered to that woman, and that is a scandal. I ask the House to support the motion.
Mr. Connolly: The reduction in the number of CE schemes will have a disastrous effect on the efforts to revitalise local communities. The CE schemes help people to progress into the open jobs market. Each one of the employees in the local golf club in Monaghan has graduated through community employment schemes and that is real progress. The proposal represents a 40% reduction in what was agreed under the PPF. This is an example of the Government promising something in social partnership. It provides further evidence of the Government's callous indifference to the plight of individuals seeking to acquire these new skills. I am aware of examples across rural Ireland where communities have been greatly enhanced by local employment schemes. Football clubs, church grounds and group homes for those with a learning disability benefit from CE schemes. If the Government persists with a reduction of 8,000 CE schemes, areas of the highest unemployment will suffer most.
The success of these schemes has stemmed from the enrichment of local areas while enabling persons to acquire new skills. Both the CE schemes and the jobs initiative schemes are being drastically curtailed, denying vital services to the elderly, children, people with disabilities and those formerly on the live register. The Government is eliminating valuable community services for which it will have to pay eventually or accept the political backlash. There is a difference of approximately €24 between the cost of keeping a person on a CE scheme and on unemployment benefit.
Mr. McHugh: It is shameful for the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties who form the Government that they have identified vulnerable groups engaged in community work, sporting organisations and disability groups on which to enforce their economic policy. Such people have a poor voice and are generally seen by the Government as an easy target. The Government can celebrate in the knowledge that those being hit by its cutbacks are in many cases disabled persons, lone parents or unemployed. The Government is unconcerned that many of those laid off community employment schemes are unlikely to be employed in the open labour market. The Government gives no recognition to the fact that the work being carried out by the schemes under threat are of significant value to towns and villages throughout the country. The Government is unconcerned that sporting, disability and community groups will be seriously affected by the cutbacks.
Last night the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, asked that figures be quoted. I would have expected the Minister of State to know what was at issue and to be familiar with the figures. For the information of the Minister of State, I can inform that a vulnerable person laid off a community employment scheme will contribute €24.40 towards balancing the books of Government. For every person taken off a community employment scheme and reverting to the dole, the Government saves €24.40. That is a great day's work by the Government. It has taken on the disadvantaged and extracted €24.40 per person from them. These are the actions of a Government with no social conscience, a Government unconcerned with equity in society. Is €24.40 too great a price for the Government to spend to give people a sense of worth and dignity? Is it too much to expend so that disadvantaged communities can benefit from the labour of someone who would otherwise be unemployed? Is it too much to expend to enable voluntary organisations to continue their work? Is it too much to spend on an individual so that groups providing services to the disabled and others can continue their work? The Government's actions declare that €24.40 is too much to pay an individual so that he or she has a reason to get up in the morning, to go out to work, contribute to the community and have a sense of worth.
Mr. F. McGrath: I regard these cuts as a disgrace. I reject any attempts to wind down, cut back or downgrade these schemes, which have had a significant positive input in providing opportunities for the long-term unemployed to re-enter the labour market and to avail of useful training and upskilling. Their success in the community has been recognised by all parties in this House. They have had a significant influence on society. These schemes should not be facing cutback but rather an additional 5,000 CE places should be created. Now is the opportunity for Ministers and backbenchers to support this motion. It is time to stop blowing hot air and to support CE schemes and the development of the jobs initiative scheme. It is time to move on this matter in today's budget by arranging extra funding. Recent figures showing extra revenue coming into the Exchequer demonstrate that this Government has no economic or social excuse to walk away from these schemes.
I strongly support the disability sector in its efforts to obtain a continuation of community employment schemes for people with disability and for carers. I am also calling for the removal of current impediments for people with disabilities to return to part-time or full-time employment. These are all sensible proposals and I urge the Government to take my views into account.
We should all take this opportunity to thank and commend the voluntary sector and community organisations for their positive, valuable and vital contribution to society. Their dedication and hard work is appreciated. It is important to recognise the support that exists in this House for CE schemes and for the voluntary and community sector in general. I urge all Members of the House to support the motion.
Mr. Gregory: I also support the motion which is primarily about the 5,000 community employment places – that is, 5,000 part-time jobs – that have already been cut by the Government this year. The Government is trying to ignore that fact but it demonstrates that it cares damn all about disadvantaged communities. The motion is also about the 400 full-time jobs that have been cut from the jobs initiative programme so far this year. The Government amendment confirms that the 5,000 CE places cut from the programme have gone for good as far as the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are concerned. Anyone who votes for the Government amendment is giving his or her individual approval to the loss of those 5,000 part-time jobs and the 400 jobs initiative programme places.
Deputies: Hear, hear.
Mr. Gregory: That is what the Government is doing. I also wish to refer briefly to the blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy of the contradictions contained in the Government's amendment which, “acknowledges the positive impact community employment schemes have had in disadvantaged communities”. The Government is acknowledging that impact by cutting 5,000 such jobs this year, in addition to 400 places from the jobs initiative programme. The Government is talking about the invaluable contribution these programmes have made to disadvantaged communities. However, a leaked document from the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, which we obtained earlier this year, shows that the committee set up to tackle social inclusion and introduce such schemes, was intent on phasing out the jobs initiative programme and the social economy programme. It is still not clear what precisely the committee's intentions are for next year concerning both programmes. I feel strongly about this matter because I have first-hand knowledge of it in the areas I represent which, ironically, are also represented by the Taoiseach. I know these schemes have played a vital role and have become part of the fabric of inner city communities and other disadvantaged areas around the country.
Mr. O'Connor: I wish to share my time, which was hard fought for, with Deputies Kelleher, Carey—
Mr. S. Ryan: Is it that difficult to get time?
Mr. O'Connor: No. Last night, Deputies did not want me to speak and they do not want me to speak today either.
Mr. S. Ryan: The Minister did not want the Deputy to speak.
Mr. O'Connor: I wish to share my time with Deputies Kelleher, Carey, Ellis, Glennon and Sexton.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. O'Connor: In the few minutes available to me—
Mr. McHugh: The Deputy had ten minutes yesterday evening.
Mr. O'Connor: I do not have time to deal with heckling but I will see the Deputy outside if that is what he wants to do.
Mr. McHugh: Is the Deputy sure it is right to share time with Deputy Sexton?
Mr. O'Connor: The Deputy should not think that this is not difficult. Being a Government backbencher is about taking responsibility in difficult times and trying to represent one's constituents to the best of one's ability. Maybe other parties have been so long out of Government that they do not remember what it is like. People are refocusing this discussion by raising other issues, talking about rebellion and voting against the Government.
Mr. F. McGrath: The Deputy should excuse us.
Mr. O'Connor: When another Government was in power facing difficulties and challenges over the national debt, long-term unemployment and jobless figures in Dublin, how many of those opposite walked into the anti-Government lobby? They should raise their hands if they did so. Is there one? No, there is not. Times have not changed. Do not be under any impression that I am happy 24 hours a day. I have to do my job to the best of my ability.
Mr. McHugh: The Deputy should go to Greenhills.
Mr. O'Connor: Deputies may want me to sit at home in Tallaght watching television but I will not do that. I am going to represent my constituency here, along with my constituency colleagues, Deputies Crowe and Rabbitte. I am glad to see they are here. We represent a disadvantaged community and we come here every day to fight for the rights of our community. That is what I will continue to do.
Mr. Howlin: He is going to knife them.
Mr. O'Connor: Just in case anybody doubts my sincerity about CE schemes, I am on the board of a number of organisations in the Tallaght area. I am sorry for talking just about Tallaght but that is where I am from. I am on the board of the Tallaght Welfare Society and the Get Tallaght Working partnership. Along with other constituency colleagues, I run several clinics every weekend in centres that are manned by those on CE schemes, so I know the pain, anger and difficulties involved. I can best represent the area here on the Government backbenches.
Mr. Broughan: The Deputy should do it.
Mr. O'Connor: Opposition Deputies want people to vote against the Government in order to form a different kind of Government and roll things back but that is not the way to do it. Every Opposition Deputy has had the same challenge that I am facing and they all voted for the Government at the time, because that is what they do.
Mr. Broughan: The Deputy should stand up for Tallaght.
Mr. O'Connor: I am standing up for Tallaght, Greenhills, Templeogue and Firhouse. That is what I want to do. It is important to refocus this discussion. We should not be talking about all the other little issues people want us to talk about. We want to discuss the importance of the CE schemes and how successful they have been. As a Fianna Fáil backbencher I will appeal to the Government in this regard. It is amusing for a new Member and maybe I do not know as much as the rest, but I thought that the parliamentary party meeting is where one should raise issues of concern and fight the good fight.
Mr. Stagg: The Deputy was not very effective.
Mr. O'Connor: All the Deputies did it and I am following their example. I do not want to name the Labour Party Members whom I admire but I have watched a number of them over the years and they followed the same path I am trying to follow in trying to do their job. We understand how important the schemes have been in areas including in my own constituency of Dublin South-West, which is no different. People may wish to talk about those of us who bravely put down a motion at the parliamentary party meeting that embraced the whole country. Therefore, it is not only an issue in Tallaght, it is an issue for everyone around the country.
Mr. McHugh: The Deputy should support the motion.
Mr. O'Connor: We should say that to the Government and the Minister. We should support the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, in his hour of need.
Mr. M. Higgins: Fair play to the Deputy.
Mr. O'Connor: We should be saying to the Minister, “You are on the right path, restore the cuts and do the job to the best of your ability so we can all enjoy the community activities that many of these schemes are promoting.”
Ms Shortall: The Deputy should say that to Deputy McCreevy.
Mr. O'Connor: Despite the intimidation – and I am not used to the limelight – I will be voting for the Government amendment.
Mr. McHugh: Shame on the Deputy.
Mr. Quinn: That was a good speech.
Mr. Kelleher: It is nice to see that, at least, the Labour Party is now following the Fianna Fáil Party in tabling motions that are of interest to the community at large. I understand that next week it will have another motion we will have debated this week. Nobody is disputing the important role that community employment schemes have played over many years in areas of social disadvantage by aiding the development and upgrading of personal skills. We must accept, however, that next year's programme will allow for 25,000 places in the jobs initiative, social economy or community employment schemes.
Ms Shortall: That is not the same.
Mr. Kelleher: There will be 25,000 places.
Mr. S. Ryan: It is a different scheme.
Mr. Stagg: It is being cut as well.
Mr. Kelleher: FÁS will have flexibility with regard to the funding issue.
Mr. Howlin: What flexibility?
Mr. Kelleher: The Labour Party does not seem to understand the fact that there will be flexibility with regard to funding for next year's programmes. I support what Deputy O'Connor said in highlighting the importance of the community employment schemes.
Mr. Stagg: Is that why the Deputy's party is cutting them?
Mr. Kelleher: I represent an area that has experienced difficulties of social disadvantage over a number of years. People say the community employment schemes have been very beneficial.
Mr. Stagg: Then why is the Deputy's party cutting them?
Mr. Kelleher: More importantly, they have achieved what they set out to do, namely, to upskill people and move them into long-term employment. That was the objective of the community employment scheme initially.
Mr. Stagg: Why did the Government not keep it going?
Mr. Kelleher: It is disingenuous of the Labour Party to come in here and say one thing when it knows well that unemployment figures have gone down.
Mr. F. McGrath: An exercise in the optics.
Mr. Kelleher: That is a fact. It was outflanked by the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and felt it had to put down a motion on the community employment scheme.
With regard to the obsession of the Opposition about what goes on at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, I will tell it what takes place. Passionate speeches such as the one we heard from Deputy O'Connor are an everyday occurrence, no more and no less.
Ms Lynch: Who is he talking to?
Mr. Carey: I have heard enough craw-thumping, puffery and wind-baggery from people on the opposite side—
Mr. Penrose: What about the Deputy's own parliamentary party?
Mr. Carey: —to launch Richard Branson and the entire Labour Party parliamentary party across the Atlantic.
Mr. Stagg: Deputy Carey is a hypocrite.
Mr. Carey: Many of us have worked long enough in the social community area to remember team work schemes targeted at young people, social employment schemes and community development programmes.
Mr. Stagg: Is that why the Government is abolishing them?
Mr. Carey: Deputy Stagg appears to have an absence of recall when it comes to the development—
Mr. Stagg: I have perfectly good recall. Deputy Carey said last week he would vote against this but now he is voting for it. He should eat humble pie.
Acting Chairman: Please, Deputy Stagg.
Mr. Carey: Why are we issuing 45,000 work permits? This is about people and communities.
Mr. Stagg: We are talking about a Labour Party motion now.
Mr. Carey: Let us be serious for a minute. We are all involved in community employment schemes in our own areas.
Mr. Stagg: We are not involved in them now—
Mr. Carey: We know their shortcomings and the positive contribution they have made.
Mr. Stagg: —because the Government has abolished them.
Mr. Carey: I am involved in them and Deputy Stagg's colleague who is sitting behind him is involved in them with me. We know what we are talking about. We have ring-fenced child care programmes and programmes targeted at recovering drug addicts.
Mr. F. McGrath: What about the crèche in Ballymun?
Mr. Carey: At the request of people in this House, including the Deputies opposite, we have mainstreamed approximately 4,500 jobs in the education area. We are creating real jobs for people. That is progression.
Mr. Stagg: Where are they?
Mr. F. McGrath: Tell us about the crèche in Ballymun.
Mr. Carey: We now need to look at focusing the provision towards communities. There is a need to develop a service to provide community services which undoubtedly need to be developed. I have no doubt that meals on wheels services, community centres and sports complexes need to be underpinned, but not with miserly 19.5 hour jobs. They need to be provided as proper jobs and I expect the Government to provide a restructured scheme to ensure those jobs will be created and that our community, unemployment and child care centres and the meals on wheels services can continue. I see no contradiction in members of the Government party coming in here and calling on their colleagues to do that. After all, the northside four or five, whatever they were called, in the Labour Party at the time created a virtue of that and they did not do too badly as a result. I do not mind if we create positive policies for communities in terms of what we are doing currently.
Mr. Ellis: When we talk about CE schemes, many people do not realise the purpose for which they were originally set up. They were set up to take people from the long-term unemployment register and get them back into employment. That is where the scheme originated and it has been successful, and anyone who says it has not is codding themselves. We have heard a good deal of rhetoric about this and that scheme but this measure came in when unemployment levels were very high.
Mr. Costello: It is still high in Leitrim.
Mr. Ellis: Deputy Costello should check the live register because since he left it has gone down enormously. This scheme has made a tremendous contribution in terms of people in rural Ireland in particular. People who for generations were totally dependent on welfare got back some dignity by having a job to go to, even if it was only a part-time job. That was the first effect of the scheme. People who were classed as unemployable became eligible for work. Another sector that developed was those who saw it as a scheme to keep themselves on CE and other schemes which supplemented the black economy in which they were involved. There was an amount of that going on, and we cannot deny it.
Mr. Quinn: It was specifically designed to do that.
Mr. Ellis: The scheme eventually brought them out of the black economy and into the real world. That is what it was designed to do and it has been successful, but we all forget that the number of people in that category has declined significantly across the board. Some of the urban areas may have a worse problem than we have in rural Ireland but we are now facing problems with trying to get people who are qualified to take up CE schemes.
Mr. Quinn: That is because the regulations were tightened to drive people out of them.
Mr. Ellis: I did not interrupt Deputy Quinn and I know he will not interrupt me again. We all support the idea of community employment schemes and the various schemes operated by FÁS, from apprenticeships right up to qualification, but what everyone here is forgetting is that the FÁS budget is not being cut. FÁS is being given the latitude to deal with this area and spend the funding as it wishes. That is the one fact nobody here will admit. Deputy Howlin shakes his head but it is a fact. Can he show me where the FÁS budget has been cut? It has not been cut and the amount of money being provided for CE and all the other schemes will now be left at the discretion of FÁS. That is important because for too long FÁS people have told every public representative that their hands were tied and that they had no latitude to take the common-sense approach.
I will support the Government motion. I admit I was one of those who signed the motion last week—
Mr. Howlin: That was last week.
Mr. Ellis: —because I support the continuation of community employment schemes, but in doing that I am making it clear that they should be targeted schemes aimed at those who need them. The beneficiaries of the schemes should be the needy of this country.
Mr. Quinn: What has changed in a week?
Mr. Howlin: A week is a long time in politics.
Mr. Ellis: I have no doubt we will see progress on the economic development of this country. What is killing everybody on the opposite side of the House is that the Government has brought the economy back into the black.
Mr. Glennon: With my colleague, Deputy Ellis, I want to make my position clear. I was one of the signatories to the motion at last week's meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.
Ms Lynch: Three Hail Marys and one Our Father.
Mr. Glennon: I am happy to support the amendment and I will vote accordingly. I have been listening to a good deal of barracking both on the monitor in the office and here in the Chamber. Perhaps the Labour Party Members are so well informed that they know it all, but it is important to put a few matters in context.
Mr. Stagg: Another signatory.
Mr. Glennon: The motion before the parliamentary party last week was not in any way in conflict with the amendment before the House. The motion before the parliamentary party was on the review of the CE scheme which is ongoing and which I totally support. My colleagues in the Labour Party might be interested to hear that there were no standing ovations. There were not 40 speakers.
Last evening Deputy Howlin referred to Mickey Mouse and, as Deputy Seán Ryan will attest—
Mr. S. Ryan: I hope the Deputy is not insinuating anything.
Mr. Glennon: —there has been a lot of talk about Mickey Mouse in north County Dublin over recent months.
Mr. Durkan: This is not Mickey Mouse.
Mr. Glennon: Walt Disney had done his research when he launched Mickey Mouse, but the Labour Party did not have its research done when it took the opportunity of floating this motion. I have no hesitation in saying that good management of any project demands ongoing review. All Members know that community employment schemes have been of huge value to this country and have done enormous social good—
Ms McManus: Why has the Government cut them?
Mr. Glennon: —in the inner city, the outer suburbs of Dublin and in rural constituencies. It is time for a review. The circumstances that existed when the scheme was established no longer apply. There was 17.5% unemployment when the scheme was established. This figure has been reduced to 4.5% and I do not see the Labour Party blowing its trumpet on that. There were 35,000 on the original scheme and there are still 25,000 places—
Mr. Quinn: It is not so.
Mr. Glennon: —despite unemployment being at only 25% of the level it was when the scheme was originally conceived. Is anyone in the Labour Party saying that good management does not demand ongoing and regular reviews? This is what is going on at the moment and I fully support it.
This matter was discussed at an excellent meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last week. I know that scale is something the Labour Party has difficulty with. Indeed, the only vote on Fingal County Council in favour of the Walt Disney style theme park was from a Labour Party member. Difficulties of scale are something the Labour Party should become used to. There were 30 contributors to the Fianna Fáil debate and another 51 members did not have time or were not in a position to contribute. That may be the difficulty the Labour Party has.
Mr. Howlin: What did the Deputy say at the meeting?
Mr. Glennon: I supported the motion—
Mr. Howlin: Which motion?
Mr. Glennon: —and had no hesitation in doing so as it relates to the review of the scheme. I was happy to do it then and I am equally happy to support the amendment to this motion and will vote accordingly.
Ms Sexton: I wish to share time with Deputy Grealish.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Sexton: I am strongly committed to an effective community employment programme that provides an opportunity for disadvantaged people to reintegrate into the labour market while providing a useful service to their local communities. As an active participant at local level from the beginning of my political career and now as party spokesperson on regional affairs, I have worked hand-in-hand with community-based schemes and have seen the benefits they bring to communities. However, an effective community employment programme cannot operate on the same basis today as it operated in the period of mass unemployment in the mid-1980s. We must recognise the changed circumstances that exist and fashion schemes that meet present needs rather than simply going back to the type of schemes we had when there were well over 100,000 long-term unemployed.
I would appreciate if my fellow parliamentarians would afford me the opportunities that, since I came to this House, I have afforded them and allow me to make what I believe to be a legitimate contribution. Labour Party Deputies will have plenty of time for rebuttal should they require it. I would appreciate the same.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Deputy must have written that down as no one has interrupted her.
Acting Chairman: Order, please.
Ms Sexton: Of course, they really do not want us to have our time. We must recognise that in a tighter labour market it is more difficult to reconcile the needs of sponsors and participants and that a consultation process is vital. It is therefore important to review the scheme to agree with sponsors the type of project that can operate effectively even as people progress into the labour market.
This brings me to my second point. As a result of needs not being met in other ways, community employment schemes have been used to provide people for tasks that should be undertaken on a full-time basis. An obvious example is the provision of personal assistants to people with disabilities. These services should be provided independently of community employment schemes. While I know that because of what happened in education people have reservations about mainstreaming, it is essential that some way is found to fund these activities in a way that provides continuity of service to the people involved.
We must also recognise that there are people who will not obtain jobs in the open labour market no matter how much training and other help is made available. However, these are not as numerous as some would have us believe. Of the 100,000 long-term unemployed in 1997, almost 80,000 are documented as having returned to the workforce. We need to be careful about assuming whether people are or are not capable if given the opportunity.
Nevertheless, we need to make provision for people over 55, particularly in rural areas, and those with disabilities who would welcome the opportunity to contribute to their communities without the pretence of being in training. I believe these people can and should be catered for by a form of community employment, linked closely to the RAPID, CLÁR and Leader programmes. I will continue vigorously to argue for these changes, and I am supremely confident that the Government is cognisant of this reality and will, in the short, medium and long-term, address the issue. My fears are for the vulnerable in our communities, particularly those in rural Ireland, and I believe the Government is fully committed to supporting these sections of society in a wide-ranging consultation process.
I wish to correct the record of the House regarding misleading comments made by Deputy Howlin in last night's debate. At all times, and in all media interviews – which I can give to Deputy Howlin should he require them – regarding my proposals for the community employment review—
Mr. Howlin: I am quoting from the media and I can give the Deputy a copy of it.
Ms Sexton: —I stated that while I would contribute to the debate, I made it crystal clear that I would not support the Opposition motion as it is inconsistent with my views.
Mr. Howlin: No one said the Deputy would.
Ms Sexton: I do not write the headlines. I issue press releases and have records of interviews I gave to Shannonside Radio and newspapers—
Mr. Howlin: I am quoting the Deputy from a newspaper article.
Mr. McHugh: Where is Deputy Fiona O'Malley?
Ms Sexton: The remarks do not become the Labour Party, a party that consistently espouses the virtues of honesty, truth and transparency. I await Deputy Howlin's rebuttal. I do not write the headlines.
Mr. Quinn: It is not in a headline.
Ms Sexton: I have never spoken to Gene McKenna in my life and know nothing about it.
Mr. Howlin: Deputy Sexton has used the Bart Simpson defence, “It wasn't me”.
Mr. Grealish: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. I listened to the debate on this motion last night with interest. Let us consider why community employment schemes were initially set up at a time when unemployment ran at 17.5%. The schemes were hugely successful and fulfilled their purpose by training people to re-enter the workforce. The job market that exists today is different. The unemployment rate is now extremely low and the schemes have done great work in rural areas. I think of my own area in Galway. If one drives from Turloughmore, through Lackagh and towards Monivea, one will see how the towns have been revitalised by the works carried out in these schemes. Many of the people that worked on the schemes have returned to the job market and that is the huge success of it. I compliment the Minister who initiated the scheme as it has provided a great amount of work.
While everybody in this House recognises the enormous benefits the community employment schemes have provided in local communities, the labour market has changed. The scheme was introduced more than ten years ago and must be looked at. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is going to look at this and hope that something can be put in place which, while reflecting what has happened in the labour market, will look after these schemes, particularly with regard to community centres, schools, local churches, people with disabilities, people who live alone and meals on wheels.
No Deputy or party can claim a monopoly on this. Community employment schemes have provided useful training and opportunities for the long-term unemployed to re-enter the labour market. Several people I know, who never went outside their door into the local area, benefited greatly and secured jobs from community employment schemes, which is the reason they were set up. This is a credit to a scheme which provides essential support to community and voluntary organisations in undertaking vital work in communities. I see at first-hand the significant benefits of the scheme in my constituency, particularly rural areas.
Like my party colleague, Deputy Sexton, I also recognise that the economic environment is significantly different from the time community employment schemes were introduced when there were more than 100,000 long-term unemployed. Thanks to progressive economic policies, this figure is now much lower and the operators of the community employment schemes need to take account of this, which is what is happening. Given the benefit of community employment to local communities, I am confident the Government will take on board the views expressed by Deputies from all parties, the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties and the Opposition. I hope it will be possible to introduce measures to support the schemes in future.
Ms Lynch: I wish to share time with Deputy Michael D. Higgins, Deputy Gilmore and Deputy Upton.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Lynch: From listening to the previous speaker, one would imagine that he intended to vote with the Labour Party on the motion on community employment schemes. I have not heard a single speaker from the Government side state that they are a bad idea. The first meeting I had with a Minister following my election to this Dáil was with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey. The meeting, which was held to discuss the issue of community employment schemes, was attended by all the Deputies from Cork, including Deputy Kelleher, on behalf of the centre for the unemployed on North Main Street in Cork. It took place in September last year soon after the Government had been formed. The Minister of State informed us he planned to undertake a review of the operation of the community employment schemes and agreed that they had assumed a different form from what was originally intended in that they were no longer a market initiative but, to all intents and purposes, a service to communities desperately in need of them. We were happy with the outcome of the meeting and the proposal for a review. As usual, however, the review took well over a year to complete, during which community employment places were consistently cut.
Like Deputy Morgan, I was surprised and bewildered by a report on TV3 News last week in which a group of women in Galway, who were well prepared as they held up printed rather than hand-written placards and banners, protested about cuts in their community employment scheme. One of them stated they would not be able to remain in work or education due to cuts in community employment schemes which would force their crèche and the centre offering their course to close. Towards the end of the report, another woman stated the protest was organised in support of the campaign by the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, to reverse the cuts. A Deputy mentioned Walt Disney earlier, but on that occasion I felt I had tuned into Channel 16 or a different planet.
Mr. Howlin: Fantasy land.
Ms Lynch: At the end of the report, who emerged from the building at which the protesters had gathered, dressed all in white like Steve Silvermint? It was none other than the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey.
Mr. C. Lenihan: If we had a decent Opposition we would not need—
Mr. Quinn: The Deputy should stick to editorialising in the newspapers.
Ms Lynch: I note Deputy Conor Lenihan is in the House, which is a rare event when there is no journalist in the Gallery.
Mr. Howlin: He writes his own articles.
Ms Lynch: I will give a few examples of the effects of cuts in community employment schemes on the communities Deputy Kelleher and I represent. One of the first adult education courses outside University College Cork was held in the Cathedral Family Centre. It is no longer available because no one is available to open the door, despite the area in question being in a RAPID programme area. The Government is a disgrace cutting schemes in such areas. A gang of four would be a different matter but the gang of 40 on the Government benches does not have the courage of its convictions. These Deputies have a cheek to tell the House they will have decided not to stand by a motion they signed last week. When it was put up to them they did not have the courage of their convictions.
Mr. Glennon: It was a different motion.
Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the motion. It relates principally to those who are dependent on community employment schemes and it is on this that the House should concentrate. The debate is not about bad tempered exchanges, strokes pulled in any part of my constituency, relative work rates or anything else, but about trust and the bad faith shown with regard to community employment schemes.
I will confine my remarks to discussing the people involved in the schemes, including some whom I met last week. I have been meeting the type of person who has participated in or been dependent on community employment schemes in the poorer areas of Galway city and Galway West since 1969. As the Minister of State is aware, I have been around for a long time and while he had success in burying the former Deputy, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, he had no success in my case.
Mr. Fahey: I would never want to bury the Deputy – he taught me too much.
Mr. M. Higgins: Last night, as the Minister of State described how he placed brick upon brick in his constituency, I recalled that his erstwhile colleague regarded these bricks as knives. I will stick, however, to the more important issue of community employment schemes. I have listened to Government Deputies argue that the community employment schemes were never intended for many of the people who are on them. If one accepts this argument, one would then ensure mainstreaming took place before any reduction in numbers.
To return to our meetings last week with those involved in the centres for independent living, a debate is under way as to the nature of personal assistants and the circumstances and form in which they should be provided. The Minister of State and those members of the Fianna Fáil Party who objected to what has been proposed and imposed, as it was described by the Minister for Finance, would have received our support if they had given a commitment that those dependent on community employment schemes would remain in place until the proposed mainstreaming had been implemented. Instead they have been guilty of bad faith and have broken trust by agreeing to let go of the community employment content and stating there will be an adjustment some time in the future, after the review has been completed.
They have taken a cynical approach to the need they have professed to support and with which, I accept, they are familiar. This is interesting given that one of the characteristics of the Fianna Fáil Party is its ability to listen to local needs. On the other hand, it has a poor record of opposing a version of the economy which is now causing the greatest possible grief and desolation. To an extent, this version of the economy was reflected in the contributions of members of the Progressive Democrats Party which regards those who work in such schemes or provide social care as not being in the real economy.
Again, let us stick to facts. The three schemes now being bundled together to produce a gross figure and the fiction that there are no cuts have entirely different types of qualification. They are not the same in terms of conditions, entrance, participation or transition on completion. Community employment is different from FÁS and the social economy programme and it is dishonest to suggest one can roll all three together. Those of us who have been listening to needs on the ground in places such as the centres for independent living I have described will know the difference between the schemes.
It is a debating trick to claim, as Government Deputies did last night, that most of the cuts are not taking place this year. They took place last year. If one takes last year's cuts and the projected cuts which will arise from this, one can see the full impact on people who depend on such work.
People should discuss politics in this Chamber, not exchange personal insults. There is a difference between the Government and me on this issue and between me and those in my constituency, such as the Progressive Democrats Member, Deputy Grealish. He subscribes to the idea that there are many cheap jobs which should be filled and that we should drive people out of community care jobs into those because, as was stated, we are in new circumstances or the number in need of such jobs has considerably reduced. I oppose that version of the economy and of society. The suggestion that the idea has been thought out and that, like the old Duke of York, the troops can be led up the mountain on a bogus social campaign against the Minister for Finance and then marched back down again is nonsense and disgraceful and shows bad faith.
Mr. Gilmore: A succession of Government speakers have make the argument that community employment schemes are not needed as much in an era of higher employment. I would like to hear the Government Deputies who represent my constituency translate that for the people who live in disadvantaged communities in the areas we represent. In October 2001 there were 2,589 people on the live register at Dún Laoghaire labour exchange. Today that figure is 3,174, which is an increase of more than 22%. The figure at Nutgrove employment exchange increased from 1,543 in October 2001 to 2,146 today, which is an increase of 39%. That means there are 5,320 people unemployed in one of the areas which is considered to be one of the wealthiest in the country. In addition, there are more than 6,000 on lone parent payments, 2,200 on disability payments and 6,000 who depend on social welfare payments. In total, there are 45,000 people living in disadvantaged communities in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county area.
What has happened to community employment schemes over that period of time? Last year the number on community employment schemes was officially cut to 680. However, they were really cut to 653 because of the way in which the approvals were administered and because of the short time given to the sponsors of the schemes to apply for renewals for the people who were on them. That was cut again this year to 470, which was more than 30%. Can someone on the Government side of the House, who is arguing that community employment schemes are no longer needed, explain why, in an area where unemployment has been rising by on average of approximately 30% over the past two years, community employment schemes have been cut by 30%?
There may be a change nationally in terms of the employment position, but there has also been a change which no one in Fianna Fáil seems to have acknowledged, namely, in the amount of time spent voluntarily by people in community organisations. The running of community organisations, particularly in poorer communities, such as youth clubs and community crèches or centres, are entirely dependent on community employment schemes. When community employment schemes go out of existence, as they have done, the fabric of those communities is ripped apart. Anyone who saw “Prime Time” this week on the behavioural problems of young people, particularly in disadvantaged communities, must ask themselves two questions, what will happen in those communities and, where a community employment scheme goes out of existence or where the numbers and services are cut, how much longer will it take to put back together the fabric of that community and the services on which they depend.
Fianna Fáil Members, the 40 political pygmies who cannot distinguish between a meeting of their parliamentary party and a meeting of the national Parliament, are turning their backs on disadvantaged communities.
Mr. Fahey: When the Deputy does not have an argument, he insults people.
Mr. Gilmore: If they have any feelings for what is happening to poor people, they must vote for the Labour Party motion, which does nothing more than to ask them to call on the Government to reverse the cuts in the number of community employment places, to approve the creation of an additional 5,000 places, to protect the jobs initiative scheme and to ask the Minister for Finance to provide the money with which to do so.
Dr. Upton: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I have failed to figure out the reasons for the cutbacks in the community employment schemes. Everything about it flies in the face of logic. There is a loss to the community, the individuals who have participated in the schemes and many lone parents in the community. There is also a loss of educational opportunities for some of those people. There is no net financial gain, at best, it is penny-pinching. The people who were on those community schemes will now be thrown back on the live register. The overall financial gain will be minimal. It is nothing more than an absolutely miserable attitude of mind to suggest that there should be cutbacks in CE schemes.
I give the House an example of one CE scheme in my constituency. There is a crèche called Small Wonders, which is a community playgroup based in Mater Dei primary school in Basin Lane. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most disadvantaged areas in the community and the constituency. At present, it has 40 children divided into classrooms and there is a large waiting list. It had nine CE workers. However, since May of this year it has lost four of these positions due to the cutbacks. One of them was for a one-year rather than a two-year term. FÁS is continuing to state that funding is still not available for these schemes. If that continues, Small Wonders will be reduced to two CE workers by December. If that happens, one of the classrooms will have to close and 20 children will be without child care places. If the grant from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the two senior child care workers is not approved, they will lose their positions at the end of March 2004. If there are only two CE positions left in December, with one to finish in February and the other in June, given that this is the final year, it will be a disaster not only for the children but for the area because the playgroup will have to close. Is there any logic or common sense in doing that to a community?
I am pleased that my constituency colleague, Deputy Mulcahy, is in the House. He knows exactly what I am talking about. He will be able to support me in my request for the constituency of Dublin South-Central. I also speak for community employment schemes in areas such as Rialto, Cherry Orchard, Ballyfermot, Drimnagh and Crumlin where the benefits have been enormous and the people have been given a lift by doing something constructive. It has given dignity back to those people who were unemployed for a long time.
It is an absolute disgrace that the CE scheme is being cut for those people who are most disadvantaged, vulnerable and at risk. We have had many incidents recently, as highlighted on “Prime Time” and referred to by Deputy Gilmore, and such incidents will continue. The CE schemes provided those communities and the people from those areas with some hope. However, that hope is now being destroyed. I ask this miserable Government to reconsider and stop the nonsense of cutting back CE schemes.
Mr. Mulcahy: I wish to share my time with Deputy Finneran and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Mulcahy: I am delighted to contribute to this important debate today. Although I know the Minister of State is well capable of defending himself, I was dismayed yesterday when I saw that he was unable to finish his speech and properly address the House due to the constant barracking of the Labour Party. I felt I should come into the House to put the record straight.
Mr. Rabbitte: My God.
Mr. Mulcahy: There he goes again. It compares remarkably to the contribution by Deputy Howlin – the record shows that during his contribution there was hardly one interruption.
Mr. Howlin: The Deputy was not here.
Mr. Mulcahy: I will tell the Deputy why there should have been interruptions during his speech.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Deputy cannot do that because he was not here last night.
Mr. Mulcahy: It was extremely badly thought out and lacking in intellectual depth. It referred to long-term unemployment while failing to state that when the then Minister, Deputy Quinn, introduced these CE schemes in 1995—
Mr. Quinn: It was 1985.
Mr. Mulcahy: —unemployment was 15% or 17%. Unemployment is now at a level of 4.4%.
Mr. Howlin: That was the point.
Mr. Mulcahy: What is the philosophy of the Labour party?
Mr. Quinn: Full employment.
Mr. Mulcahy: Would they like the entire country to be on CE schemes? The reality is that with unemployment reducing there is less need for community employment schemes. As my colleague from Dublin South Central has correctly stated, in disadvantaged areas there is a need for community support in vital sectors. My colleague has also predicted that schemes will close. She has not given one example of a scheme that closed.
Dr. Upton: I just did.
Mr. Mulcahy: The Government cares. I challenge my colleague to give one example, in a disadvantaged or RAPID area, where a scheme has closed. There was no evidence of it in her speech. The Labour Party makes dire predictions but cannot produce one example in a disadvantaged area of one of these schemes closing.
Mr. Howlin: Rubbish.
Mr. Mulcahy: Neither did I hear Deputy Howlin say that in 1999 there were 6,000 applications for work permits. In this year there were 47,000 applications for work permits.
Mr. Howlin: What has that got to do with anything?
Mr. Mulcahy: Why did he not mention that in his contribution?
Mr. Howlin: It is irrelevant.
Acting Chairman: The Deputy's time has expired.
Mr. Mulcahy: Unfortunately my time is up, but I have put the point to the Opposition.
Mr. Quinn: Other Deputies should look out.
Mr. Finneran: This will be a short contribution. The allocation for employment schemes in 2004 is €351 million, which will support 25,000 places across the three schemes, namely the community employment scheme, the job initiative scheme and the social economy programme. FÁS has been given responsibility for the management of these financial allocations to maximise the progress in the labour market while facilitating support for community schemes.
The Estimates provision for 2004 ensures that there will be no further reductions in participation levels during the year, which will allow for both FÁS and the scheme sponsors at local level to have greater certainty when planning which of the services is to be supported.
The commitment to fund a continuing pool of up to 25,000 places amounts to a significant level of activity at a time when some 44,000 work permits have been issued to employers in 2003, to date, in respect of what are generally low-skilled and unskilled personnel from overseas. More than 23,000 of these were renewals of existing permits.
It should be borne in mind that CE schemes were originally conceived as an active labour market measure intended to assist the long-term unemployed back to work in the labour market. The present situation, with the review of the community employment schemes, is something I welcome. The community employment programme is under review and an overall appraisal of the labour market is being carried out. The report is expected before Christmas this year.
There is an area on which I would like the Government to focus, namely, those over 55. I hope the review committee will do this. These may be people who have participated in CE schemes for years and still did not find full-time employment. There should be a scheme in place where these people would become part of a long-term community support framework and gain employment in their communities where they would have an active and fulfilling role to play. I hope that section of the community is supported. The Government has already placed 7,000 to 8,000 people in mainstream education.
Mr. Quinn: Not true.
Mr. Finneran: There are positive elements to what is happening now. Let us hope that it results in a further step in the scheme as we head towards 2004, 2005 and 2006 so that we can address the issues in a way that represents what is needed now and into the future.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern): I listened to the various contributions with interest last night and today. I am disappointed that Opposition speeches in general have confined themselves to the matter of the volume of community employment activity and have not shown concern about the priorities for services provision in the years ahead.
Substantial resources have been allocated in the Estimates for 2004 for employment programmes. The total allocation for employment schemes is €351 million, which will support up to 25,000 places. This allocation is similar to the budgeted amount provided in 2003. There will be no reduction in the level of provision for the schemes or in the combined participation levels next year.
The commitment to fund a continuing pool of up to 25,000 places not only brings clarity to the levels of activity which will be supported, it will enable FÁS to give a clear commitment to the support of local community services over an agreed period. Community employment was established as a scheme to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups towards gainful employment. It has, for a variety of reasons, broadened its focus to include the development and resourcing of community services. CE has made a valuable contribution in carrying out both these roles, and recommendations for the future must provide for both.
There will be a warm welcome in local communities for the Government guarantee of funding for up to 25,000 employment places in 2004, of which not less than 20,000 will relate to CE. The Government's decision goes a long way towards meeting the demands from such communities in recent years that there would not be arbitrary cuts in CE and that uncertainty about participation levels and future funding would be removed. The fact that these needs have been met will soon become apparent to the Deputies opposite.
Mr. Quinn: What about the Deputies behind?
Mr. M. Ahern: I look forward in the time ahead to their seeing the support and satisfaction of local communities.
Mr. McCormack: That is a valuable script.
Mr. M. Ahern: It is undoubtedly true that there has not been the desire to progress from CE to the open market by participants. This has happened at a time of unprecedented demand for labour, including semi-skilled and low-skilled labour, by employers. For example, my Department issued 6,000 work permits in 1999 and, as the Deputies are well aware, this has grown to 47,000 permits by the end of 2003.
Mr. Quinn: That is irrelevant.
Mr. M. Ahern: Against this background we cannot say that jobs have not been available for persons leaving CE at the end of their participation. We must ask if the nature of the existing participation engagement is appropriate and in the best interests of the participants. Future participants in a restructured CE programme would benefit from a more focused engagement than that provided by the existing part-time engagement which may not be the most conducive to their successful progression to employment in the local labour market.
It has also been suggested that people in areas such as the health service and child care, etc. would lose out in this change. As the Minister has said, all health service-related CE projects, including those providing services for persons with disabilities, have been ring-fenced against reductions that have taken place as a result of reducing the CE programme to 20,000 places by the end of 2003. Other services ring-fenced against reductions include drug task force activity and child care service provisions. Services in RAPID areas are given priority.
Ms McManus: Child care is not protected.
Mr. M. Ahern: It has been suggested that good schemes outside the ring-fenced or prioritised areas have been squeezed out by poor schemes that are protected by ring-fencing or prioritisation. When the various reviews are completed in coming weeks, there will need to be a greater degree of flexibility at local level, whereby FÁS and local communities can identify and agree on local priorities which might be supported by CE participants. I commend the amendment to the House.
Mr. Sherlock: I wish to share my time with Deputies Seán Ryan and Rabbitte.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Sherlock: The Labour Party motion advocates reversing cuts in the number of community employment places and approving the creation of an additional 5,000 places for next year. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, should take note. I am glad Deputy Kelleher has come to hear me, because the cuts in Cork city mean that Fianna Fáil has taken over the electoral areas of Millstreet, Kanturk and Fermoy in north Cork. That means that the Government has already cut the number of CE places in Cork city and consequently has taken those areas of north Cork.
Training and increasing the skills of unemployed people is commendable. However, the fact that rich racehorse owners have arranged for the taxpayers to fund much of their racing prize money—
Mr. M. Ahern: There are many of them in north Cork.
Mr. Mulcahy: The Deputy should change the record.
Mr. Sherlock: —proves that this Government is for the rich and not for ordinary, working class people.
Mr. M. Ahern: The Deputy is getting a little mixed up.
Mr. Sherlock: This is a similar issue to the 18% VAT on clothes and footwear which brought down the Government in 1982. Fianna Fáil voted against the Government on that occasion. Now it should be voting for a motion calling for additional places on CE schemes. Those over 55 have been caught out completely in the areas to which I referred.
Mr. Morgan: Well done.
Mr. M. Ahern: Are they moving Mallow to the north west? What about Kanturk?
Mr. S. Ryan: As politicians we are well aware of the impact of the cutbacks in the community employment scheme on communities both rural and urban. The reduction in participants in the scheme is having a devastating effect on the work of community-based voluntary organisations which provide child care and cater for the needs of those with disabilities and the elderly. It is also affecting community centres, arts groups and local sporting organisations.
My colleague, Deputy Glennon, will be aware that because of ring-fencing, there has been a 40% reduction in the availability of community employment schemes in our constituency. This year the number of places was reduced by 4,000 to 5,000. Furthermore, a significant change in the criteria for eligibility for the scheme has resulted in many people aged 50 and over, who have no prospect of permanent employment, being left on the scrap heap for the sake of €24 per week. This is discrimination based on age. For the sake of €24 the Government is depriving those people of the dignity to which they are entitled.
Mr. Costello: It is a disgrace.
Mr. M. Ahern: There was 17% unemployment when the Deputy's party was in Government.
Mr. S. Ryan: In all my time in politics at local and national level I have never before come across such breathtaking hypocrisy as that of the fighting 40.
Mr. S. Ryan: These are the 40 Fianna Fáil backbenchers, led by the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who have taken to local radio and submitted press releases to their local papers. They have at long last realised the implications of their actions in voting for these vicious cuts in the House over the past two years. This hypocrisy reached new heights when the Minister himself organised a rent-a-crowd protest, which included many of his own cumann members, as a face-saving exercise. He tried to convince people that the cuts were not his fault but that of the Minister for Finance and suggested taking on the Minister.
I would have expected the fighting 40 to come out last night and make their contributions.
Mr. M. Ahern: Is the Deputy that naive? He has been here long enough.
Mr. S. Ryan: However, they were told this morning to support the Government. At long last the general public has copped on. Government backbenchers can no longer get away with supporting Government policy in Dáil Éireann and then opposing the same policies for which they have voted when they are out in their constituencies. They have been caught out.
Mr. M. Ahern: That is rubbish. We have been doing that for 70 years.
Mr. S. Ryan: In future they will have to stand up for the people who elected them on the basis of commitment and loyalty.
Mr. Cregan: That is what we are doing.
Acting Chairman: I remind the Deputies to refrain from interrupting. Everybody is entitled to make his or her contribution to the House.
Mr. Rabbitte: I thank my colleagues on this side of the House who supported a motion for decency and fairness which was promoted by Deputy Howlin on behalf of the Labour Party. We must defend the people who do not have the means of defending themselves. I thank Deputies for their contributions and note there is a large measure of agreement. For example, there is agreement on the value and merit of the community employment scheme and the damage being done by the cumulative effect of the cuts to the scheme. There was agreement about the hardship imposed on people such as those in my own constituency who were made redundant this morning. They are being let go less than three weeks from Christmas. Like my colleagues, I would like to have the time to deal with some individual cases. I would like to explain how the hearts have been torn out of some disadvantaged communities by the impact of these cuts, but time does not permit.
The things that have been said about certain areas being ring-fenced are not true. During Question Time a few weeks ago I was obliged to raise the question of a community drugs treatment project in my own constituency, Jobstown Against Drug Dependency, which lost its CE people. It turned out the sponsor of the scheme was the county council so the scheme was not protected by ring-fencing. Since I raised the matter in the House the Taoiseach has given authorisation for those places to be restored, but the fact is that even ring-fenced areas have been affected by the cuts.
I am glad that the self-professed intellectual wing of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Mulcahy, drew my attention to the RAPID programme, because it is important to see this motion in the context of what the modern-day Fianna Fáil is doing to the disadvantaged in our society. The Labour Party has not only been highlighting in the House the €58 million cuts in social welfare but also the RAPID programme. The media still do not understand it, but 18 months before the general election the nice former Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, in whose mouth butter would not melt, came out with the Taoiseach to launch a €2 billion transfer of resources to the most disadvantaged areas in our society.
Mr. McCormack: And he got the sack.
Mr. Rabbitte: Nothing has happened since. The one debate I heard on this matter on the radio focused on the assertion of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, whom I can never understand, that €5 million had been spent and the interviewer concentrated on whether that was so. It was a €2 billion programme – the €5 million was spent on recruiting people before the election to devise plans under the RAPID programme, although since they were devised and submitted none of them has been funded. That is the kind of deception that is going on. That is the kind of treatment and betrayal of these areas that is being perpetrated by Fianna Fáil.
The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, told us last week that this was a defining issue for Fianna Fáil. He said that if Fianna Fáil was to retain its left-of-centre image it must reverse these cuts. He spent the last 24 hours trying to tell us there are no cuts. What is one supposed to make of a person in ministerial office who says last week that it is a matter that he has to challenge the Minister for Finance on and this week asserts that there are no cuts and never were any? He came into the House last night and we got a little bit of history and self-flagellation, a bit of an attack on the Labour Party—
Mr. Mulcahy: He was not allowed to speak.
Mr. Rabbitte: —a bit about our respective education in UCG, a little bit of this and that and a great dollop of hypocrisy.
Mr. Cregan: That is not true.
Mr. Kelleher: It is like he is in two places at the one time.
Mr. Fahey: Correct the record.
Mr. Rabbitte: There is little point, as my colleague Deputy Michael D. Higgins has indicated, in going back to our years together in UCG, from whence Deputy Fahey has risen without trace. Some 40 people felt last week that this was a sufficient crisis on which to sign a motion challenging the Minister for Finance. Half a dozen of them come in today. None of them was available last night—
Mr. Cregan: On a point of order. That is not true.
Mr. McCormack: The Deputies did not use the time available to them.
Acting Chairman: Deputy Rabbitte has the floor.
Mr. Rabbitte: —and now half a dozen of them come in today—
Acting Chairman: No more interruptions. Let the Deputy continue.
Mr. Rabbitte: —all with the same confessional statement, “I want to tell the House that I signed the motion.” They are like a crowd of schoolboys coming out from behind the bicycle shed and admitting they were smoking. These are the rebels in retreat. Before I forget, I must refer to Deputy Sexton, whom I have always taken at face value as a decent Member of the House. I was flabbergasted by her contribution. It is not that Gene McKenna misquoted her as she said. I saw her on television slap down Deputy Fiona O'Malley, who can be excused as she does not know too much about CE schemes. Deputy Sexton does and she said she was utterly opposed to the cuts brought in by Government. She comes in today and says the opposite. More seriously, she says that anyway many of these jobs should not be CE. She instanced personal assistants for people with disabilities. She said she wants mainstreaming.
What have we got so far? We have got flexibility and mainstreaming. On the Cabinet memorandum referred to by Deputy Howlin, let me draw Deputy Sexton's attention to this conclusion on page 4 which states: “In the light of the experience of mainstreaming in the education sector, it has been decided not to pursue mainstreaming in the health related areas of CE.” That is the fact of the matter. She is giving an entirely disingenuous impression that people should not worry about the CE schemes, that the Government is going to mainstream and that her “personal favourite” is people with disabilities who should all have personal assistants. That theme has been running right through the contributions from the Government benches. The story is about 40,000 to 46,000 work permits. What is the connection? The connection is that CEs are not real jobs.
Mr. M. Higgins: That is it.
Mr. Rabbitte: They are about low-skilled, poorly-qualified people who should be doing the kind of jobs that we give to foreigners who come here on work permits.
Mr. Howlin: That is the subtext.
Mr. Rabbitte: The subtext is to get them back in the kitchens doing the cleaning up and keep the foreigners out.
Mr. Mulcahy: Unemployment is down.
Mr. Rabbitte: That is it. That is the Fianna Fáil solution. If it is true that the Taoiseach is in trouble from these 40 backbenchers, he is a weaker man than I think. I believe the Taoiseach is not in trouble, but—
Mr. McCormack: He is not in trouble.
Mr. Rabbitte: —the unfortunate participants on CE schemes are in trouble. Members heard the anguished tortured constituency colleague of mine, Deputy O'Connor, slinking around the House last night and today. “Charlie O'Connor,” he says, “is not happy 24 hours a day.” That is supposed to give some relief to his constituents in Killinarden, Jobstown, Tymon North and Brookfield where people have been sent home. Schemes have been amalgamated and people have lost their jobs despite the immensely valuable work done in communities that otherwise would not possess the vitality they have in terms of organisations to do with women's groups, self-help and artistic circles, the administration of community centres and so on. That is a great pity, because it is an absolute shame at a time when the finances do not merit it that a scheme which has become such a useful tool for various forms of community activity should be undermined in this fashion by a Fianna Fáil Party that has grown far from its roots.
Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Nolan, M. J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
Wright, G. V.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Cowley, Jerry. Crawford, Seymour.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed.”
The Dáil divided by electronic means.
Mr. Stagg: It is important to give an opportunity to all those who talked the talk all week to walk the walk now.
An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy—
Mr. Stagg: My constituency colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has been saying that for a long time.
An Ceann Comhairle: —it is not appropriate to make a speech. I propose to suspend the sitting until 2.30 p.m. if the Deputy does not wish to say something relevant to the vote.
Mr. Stagg: Will you allow me to call a vote?
An Ceann Comhairle: Does the Deputy want to call a vote under Standing Order 69?
Mr. Stagg: As a teller I demand, under Standing Order 69, that the division be taken other than by electronic means.
An Ceann Comhairle: As Deputy Stagg is a Whip, under Standing Order 69 he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.
Question again put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed.”
Fox, Mildred. Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Nolan, M. J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
Wright, G. V.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
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