Joint Committee on Employment: Motion.

Wednesday, 8 April 1992

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 132 No. 4

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Mr. Wright: Information on G. V. Wright  Zoom on G. V. Wright  I move:

(1) That Seanad Éireann concurs with (1) Dáil Éireann in its Resolution communicated to Seanad Éireann on 7th April, 1992, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Employment) consisting of 15 members of Dáil Éireann and 4 members of Seanad Éireann (none of whom shall be a member of the Government or Minister of State), be appointed

(a) to examine and make recommendations on all aspects of economic and social policy which have a bearing on employment creation and which can contribute to alleviating unemployment and

(b) to consider and make recommendations on any other issues or subjects which the Joint Committee considers relevant to its task

and report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas at least three times a year.

(2) That the Joint Committee shall have power to appoint subcommittees (which may consist of members of the Oireachtas who are not members of the Joint Committee) and to delegate any matter comprehended by paragraph (1) to a subcommittee.

(3) That the Joint Committee shall have power to nominate persons who [328] are representatives from interested bodies to assist each subcommittee in its deliberations.

(4) That the Joint Committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records and, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance, the Joint Committee shall have the power to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it or any of its subcommittees in their consideration of any matters comprehended by paragraph (1).

(5) That, where a matter which has been delegated to a subcommittee under paragraph (2) is to be considered at a meeting of the Joint Committee, members of that subcommittee shall be notified of such meeting and shall be allowed to attend and take part in the proceedings thereof without having a right to vote; and persons nominated under paragraph (3) may be invited to attend such meetings to assist the Joint Committee in its deliberations.

(6) That provision be made for the appointment of substitutes to act for members of the Joint Committee (and members of subcommittees who are members of the Oireachtas) who are unable to attend particular meetings.

(7) That the Joint Committee, previous to the commencement of business, shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote; and shall appoint from among the members of each subcommittee a member of the Oireachtas to be the Chairman of that subcommittee.

(8) That all questions in the Joint Committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.

(9) That every report which the Joint Committee proposes to make shall, on adoption by the Joint Committee, be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith, whereupon the [329] Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report, together with such related documents as it thinks fit.

(10) That the quorum of the Joint Committee shall be four, of whom at least one shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and one a member of Seanad Éireann, and that the quorum of each subcommittee shall be three.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  On this issue, Senator Murphy characterised the attitude of my party as contrary; Fine Gael are probably the only group who have not been contrary on this issue. At the outset, the original idea for what was called a jobs forum came from the Leader of my party, Deputy John Bruton. That idea was not acceptable to the last Leader of Fianna Fáil who saw no useful purpose in such a forum, but the idea was born out of the enormous concern which all responsible persons feel about the provision of jobs for 300,000 unemployed people on an ever-lengthening list. It was in the course of looking at ways to provide new jobs that Deputy Bruton made the proposal for a jobs forum and what he proposed went a great deal further than anything which has come from the present Government.

What Deputy Bruton had in mind was something along the same lines as the New Ireland Forum. I was a privileged member of the New Ireland Forum where various groups were invited to put their point of view and the community was asked to redefine its role as a prelude to action on the question of Northern Ireland. It was intended that the jobs forum would include members of Government and political party leaders. At the New Ireland Forum leaders of the main parties were present daily; the issue was estimated to be so vital that it was necessary to include leaders of the main parties so that they would have the responsibility of leading, directing and taking decisions. It may not have worked out that way but that was the intention. After the present Taoiseach was elected he looked favourably in the early stages [330] at the idea of a jobs forum along the lines proposed by Deputy Bruton which enjoyed widespread support from those most directly concerned, the trade unions and the unemployed. It captured the imagination of many as an approach which certainly would not resolve the problem but which would make a real contribution to its mitigation.

The Government then put forward proposals for a joint parliamentary committee which would not include the leaders of any political parties, or Ministers but which would merely be a back-bench committee. That was the first proposal. At this stage, Fine Gael took the view that this committee would amount to nothing more than another talking shop with no real powers, a committee which, if the precedent set by other Oireachtas committees was observed, would have its reports rarely, if ever, debated by either House. When did we last debate a report by any of the committees? We are two and a half years behind on the reports of the European Community committee. We have never to my knowledge debated any of the reports from the Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies or from the other committees which act on our behalf and which comprise Members of both Houses.

Committees are not taken seriously in the Houses of the Oireachtas; we do not have a developed committee system. We, therefore, said, that this committee would not make any difference. There are 67 or 87 different reports — the latest being the Culliton report — on what is wrong with the Irish economy, on the things that need to be done if we are to generate more jobs. We felt strongly that, unless there was direct ministerial input to the committee, it was unlikely to be more than a worthy talking shop which captured headlines perhaps but which did not have the capacity to exert pressure for the creation of jobs. Moreover, if jobs are to be created, a number of unpopular decisions must be taken.

Anybody who reads the Culliton report will see that virtually every major proposal carries a significant downside, a downside which probably no party is [331] prepared to accept on its own. Our strong feeling was that a prestigious committee could take some of those unpopular decisions. That committee would be more than a talking shop and we made our point of view known with sincerity. We are not against committees or against an extension of the committee system which we have often said is the way to develop this Parliament. We contend, however, that this proposed committee is not the way to resolve the unemployment problem.

Later there was a breach of faith on the part of the Government Whip when he entered into negotiations with the Chief Whip of the Labour Party ignoring Fine Gael and what was then The Workers' Party. Discussions took place and agreement was reached between the Labour Party — I will leave them to speak for themselves on this matter — and Fianna Fáil. I do not impute the good faith of the Labour Party but the breach of faith on the part of the Government Whip with the Whip of the Fine Gael party was not conducive to creating trust in any further negotiations.

Fine Gael accepted the changes made there and insisted that there be ministerial involvement in this committee. By this time Fine Gael had backed off on every request or demand save the demand for ministerial involvement. Our demand was not accepted for spurious reasons; ministerial involvement is not unconstitutional; Ministers were members of other committees in the 1970s and at other times. It is a matter of Standing Orders which can be changed; there is no constitutional bar as the Taoiseach seemed to suggest in the Dáil recently against this sort of thing. Fine Gael reiterated that we want voluntary participation of Ministers in this committee and even that was not accepted.

We are not being contrary, Senator Murphy. We have backed down from our original proposals which would have produced a proper jobs forum to one demand for voluntary participation by Ministers and even that is not acceptable to the Taoiseach and to the Government. [332] I do not believe that Senator Murphy after listening to the recitation of events here, can say that it is we who are unyielding. We have not been unaccommodating. We have backed down on all our demands to ensure that a committee will come into existence.

We are now faced with this proposal for a committee which will not make any significant difference. It will not have political strength. It will be chaired by a backbencher who will not carry the required weight to chair this committee effectively. There will be no involvement by party leaders or by Ministers. The committee will merely report back to the Dáil and Seanad on a couple of occasions each year where the matter will be debated again with no imperative to action.

That is why Fine Gael cannot support the establishment of this committee. I hope it does well but I do not believe it will. The wrong course is being taken. Some accommodation, imagination and a bit of give by the Government at a few crucial stages could have saved use from the impasse in which this side of the House now finds itself. It is for those reasons we will not be supporting the establishment of this committee.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ahern, to the House. It is the first opportunity I have had of congratulating him on his appointment and I wish him well in the years ahead.

I second the important motion proposed by Senator Wright. We all recognise that we are in the throes of the gravest unemployment situation Ireland has ever experienced. That is not because we have been neglectful or unsuccessful in creating jobs in the past.

The situation has changed drastically over the last number of years on account especially of the huge number of people now becoming available for work. We have a young population and there has been a virtual elimination of emigration; many immigrants are, in fact, returning. Unemployment is the most serious problem we face at the moment and a radical approach is needed to tackle it. The [333] Government have been very generous in their approach and has made every effort to incorporate the views of the other parties in setting up this committee.

I take issue with Senator Manning on the reasons he gave for Fine Gael's non-participation in this jobs forum; some of which were highly questionable. There is provision for participation by the social partners in the work of the sub-committees and for all the facilities and financial assistance to undertake research and other related activities. This is a unique opportunity for a comprehensive study of how the problem of unemployment can be tackled. It gives representatives of both Houses an opportunity to become directly involved in finding those solutions and offers access of other expert bodies in that area who would have hands-on knowledge of how to deal with unemployment. In view of the very serious situation and given that this committee will have such important functions, I am extremely disappointed that the Fine Gael Party have decided not to participate. I cannot understand it, particularly as Fine Gael have long advocated the establishment of such a body. The fact that Ministers would not appear before the committee is not a valid excuse for non-participation, given that all reports of the committee will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith.

Section 9 of the motion before us states:

That every report which the Joint Committee proposes to make shall, on adoption by the Joint Committee, be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith, whereupon the Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report, together with such related documents as it thinks fit.

That provides an opportunity for ministerial involvement. Considering we have a jobs crisis, no member of this House would suggest that any report by this Joint Committee would be shelved. Everyone involved in this committee would ensure that when a report of the [334] committee was available it would be debated, in the first instance, in both Houses of the Oireachtas where the relevant Ministers would have to account for their stewardship in their own area of responsibility.

Fine Gael have adopted a dog in the manger approach, and I hope it will be seen as such by the general public. This is too serious a problem to be playing silly party politics. I would appeal even now, at this late stage, to the Fine Gael Party to change their minds in the interest of the many unemployed people who are looking to politicians for a solution to their present difficulties. Ministers are responsible to the Oireachtas when the reports are prepared during the year, the relevant Ministers will have an opportunity to give their side of the argument in relation to any findings of the committee.

Fine Gael's assertion that previous committees included Ministers is just a red herring. The committees they mentioned were informal and were not set up by resolution of the Oireachtas. Even if Fine Gael have reservations about this committee, surely they should consider giving it a chance to work on a trial basis. If what they are suggesting proved to be correct, they can make all the fuss they like subsequently. Surely an effort of this nature is entitled to a trial period. There is no justification for walking away from this situation. I am at a loss to understand what they are afraid of. Could they be worried that this might be a success? It is difficult for me, and even for Fine Gael, to explain their action otherwise.

Other agencies are involved in trying to solve the problem of unemployment. There is the task force on unemployment; Senator Manning mentioned the Culliton report, a special ministerial committee has been set up under the chairmanship of the Taoiseach to look at the Culliton report; there are the EC assisted employment and training schemes; the task force on tourism, which puts special emphasis on the creation of employment and there is the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Substantial tax reforms have taken place with the emphasis on establishing an atmosphere in which [335] employment would be created. We now have this committee involving Members of the Oireachtas which could be extremely beneficial. Even looking at this committee from its worst aspect, no one can say it could do any damage.

What are Fine Gael afraid of? I appeal, in all sincerity, to the Fine Gael to reconsider, to give this committee a trial to see how it operates. I think it has potential for enormous success. Everybody even in Fine Gael, recognises the difficulties we have in relation to unemployed. Fine Gael is the party which advocated such a committee for so long and now that it has been set up, they just walk away from it. I do not know how a party that is serious about the unemployment crisis can walk away from this committee.

I welcome this committee. As I said, it has tremendous potential and I look forward to it working with all the interested parties at sub-committee level. I wish the chairperson and the committee every success in their deliberations. I know it will be a success. Somewhere down the line, I feel Fine Gael will reconsider their position and will ask to join the committee at a later stage.

Professor Murphy: Information on John A Murphy  Zoom on John A Murphy  I do not wish to be seen as someone who is simply here to back up Senator McKenna'a arguments. However, as an Independent, I share his sense of mystification about the Fine Gael attitude. I am glad I stimulated Senator Manning into a spirited defence of their position but it was not convincing for me. Frankly, I think it is hair splitting. Fine Gael can legitimately be accused of fiddling while Rome burns. It is interesting that although not agreeing to the Order of Business, they stopped short at pressing their difference to a division. Obviously, they did not want to face the odium that would inevitably be associated with that. That is highly significant.

The analogies with the New Ireland Forum are misleading. The New Ireland Forum was a free-floating body. It may have been a fairer representative of nationalist opinion, but, in the end, it was not charged with a responsibility to [336] Government. It may be argued that in a roundabout way, the New Ireland Forum contributed to Anglo-lrish Agreement, but there is no real parallel between the New Ireland Forum and what is proposed here. The employment question is of a different order entirely. I would have thought there was sufficient flexibility in the provisions of the motion to accommodate virtually everything they are talking about. Under sections 2 and 3 of this motion, interests outside this House can be represented. Section 3 says that “persons who are representatives from interested bodies” can assist the sub-committee. There is nothing to stop this proposed Joint Committee on Employment from calling on anybody who has any expertise in the matter.

To persist in demanding ministerial participation is quite perverse because in the nature of things, Ministers are part of the Government, the buck ultimately stops there, they cannot be at once responsible for Executive action and be fully participating in and subordinate to a Joint Committee. None of those points struck me as convincing.

Senator Manning said he fears that the Joint Committee will be another talking shop; there is substance in that but the committee he proposes would equally be a talking shop because talking about unemployment will not solve the problem, but rather the strong and unpopular measures that are called for in the Culliton report. This country has lost control and sovereignty over its economy. The decisions necessary to ensure reasonable employment here no longer rest with this country; they have been alienated to Brussels.

The Maastricht Treaty was mentioned here and how important it is that we get other issues out of the way. The unspoken implication was that we must endorse the Maastricht Treaty, as if this were the absolute commanding orthodoxy. There is a strong case to be made not to endorse the Maastricht Treaty for many reasons but chief among them is that there is no evidence that the European Community in any way helps our unemployment problem — in fact the reverse — and [337] there is every evidence that Maastricht and European Union will continue the concentration of wealth at the centre and the continuing neglect of the periphery. It may be unfashionable to say so, but this country can solve its economic problems only by being in command of this country at economic level. If that means retaining the dimension of sovereignty we have left, then I advocate that and I will advocate it during the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.

The motion provides for representation by four Members of Seanad Éireann. I do not know how this will break down — perhaps there will be two from the Government side and one and one on this side — but there should be little problem about the representatives on this side now because as Fine Gael are not interested, I do not think we will have any argument about representation of the remaining Members.

Mr. Farrell:  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. It is the first time I have met him in this House since he took office. I wish him every success in his new job.

I welcome this forum because unemployment is a national problem and a serious one. Without employment we have nothing because the few people who are working provide the wherewithal to keep the social services going. The more people we have in employment the more money will be generated and the happier people will be. I believe in this Oireachtas Joint Committee. I am sad that Fine Gael will not take part in it because they would have made a worthwhile contribution which would have been applauded. However, that is their choice. I would like to congratulate Labour and the other parties who are prepared to work in the Committee.

There are opportunities for creating employment. I have created jobs in my village by encouraging people to get involved. I do not believe a fairy godmother will appear and create jobs. We have the brains, ability, technology and know-how but we do not get together to tap that potential that is out there.

I am delighted that the sub-committees [338] will have power. That is important. It is important also that they can have outside expertise to support them. It may be possible to get people who are successful in business onto the sub-committee and to have the benefit of their expertise and views. It is also important that we have an opportunity to debate the Joint Committee reports in this House.

Unemployment is demoralising. There was terrible unemployment in the fifties but when things started to improve in the sixties, people began to work and there was a new outlook on life. Many people are unemployable. Any young person who went to England in the fifties and got a job straightaway made good, but if they adopted the dole mentality, failed to get a job in the first three or four weeks and started drinking, they were lost. I would like to see our young people coming out of school finding work.

Last week we opened a new laboratory in Sligo. It was a pleasure to meet so many graduates of the Sligo regional college and other regional colleges working in that high-tech laboratory. We must get young people to work before they get hooked on unemployment. Once they are on the dole they are on the road to disaster. There is nothing as important in society as young people. People in my age group can only give advice. When I tried to get employment for my area the IDA would not listen to me. I built an advance factory with my own money and today we have 200 people directly employed, and the spin-off effect must provide another 200 jobs. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Leyden, opened a small factory there which now employs four people, with potential to expand.

I know from experience this can be done; every village and town has the potential to do it. We are not putting our resources together. The IDA and other bodies seem to be hamstrung by rules and regulations. This committee will get to grips with such handicaps.

We could get more small specialist industries. There is a huge market on the Continent for products which we could make and sell. I do not think our selling team are as active or as energetic as they [339] should be, but they are probably doing their best. For the first time the issue has been taken out of the political arena and we have realised that it is a national problem. If the committee deals with the problem in a sincere and dedicated manner it will be a huge success. No points will be scored. People will work for the very highest motives, to tap our resources. At the moment people leave this country and go to work elsewhere. If we can create employment we can keep them here.

I know we will get co-operation from the unions. Some years ago I did not agree with them, but more recently they are being realistic. We no longer see so many wildcat strikes. I would appeal to workforces in new industries to be tolerant and not look for everything to be absolutely perfect in the first year of existence. Any new industry starting up will have teething troubles. They need to be given time to sort those things out.

I would like those who are employed to be more tolerant also. Those involved in the present strike are all highly intelligent people. They should sit around the table and try to resolve the problems. I congratulate the Minister for Labour on doing his best to resolve it. I hope commonsense will prevail and that the dispute will be resolved. If this strike goes on it will create more unemployment as it may bring small businesses down. No one wants to see that happen in the wake of a strike.

I welcome this report. I am delighted that there will be four Senators from this House on the committee. I give it my blessing and support and I sincerely hope it will solve what is a serious national problem at present.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  At the outset I would like to welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his new post. This is the first time I have seen him here. The unemployment problem is the worst ever; it is rapidly approaching 300,000 and we have been assured that it is going to get worse. The forum, at worst, is an attempt to come to grips with the [340] problem, to analyse it, to assess the various options for employment creation and to analyse the implications of the various options.

The establishment of the forum will not be a panacea which will provide an instant or an easy solution to unemployment. The problem of unemployment is profound and no instant solution could deal with it. However, the forum will clarify the issues. It will make the choices clear and will help us to understand what needs to be done. It will also help us, perhaps, to move in the direction of doing what needs to be done. There are no easy solutions. Unemployment is the result of a series of forces and attitudes. These attitudes and interests will not be easily changed. In order to change them unpleasant and unpopular decisions will have to be made. More than that, some very important and powerful people in this country will need to be confronted, and faced down. Important and powerful people are going to lose out if a solution is provided to the unemployment problem. Such people will not easily give way. That is why things are the way they are. They are a result of a whole series of forces. This is the end product. The confrontation of these forces will be very difficult, awkward and ugly from a political point of view. Significant short term sacrifices must be made so that we may be able to reap a long term benefit.

The problem of unemployment is primarily a problem for the Government. Inevitably it will make its way back to the Government's door. In the last analysis it is the Government, who will have to face up to the question of making the unpopular decisions which are necessary. Unless the Government have the capacity to make those unpopular decisions we can expect that the problem of unemployment will continue. It will worsen, fester and create enormous problems unless we are prepared to face up to the sacrifices which need to be made in the short term. The forum will define the decisions which need to be taken and provide an outline of the implications of those decisions. Further, the status quo[341] in relation to unemployment is not an option, because in essence it means things get worse. We cannot allow this problem to deteriorate to any significant further degree because if that happens then we will see very unpleasant and very dangerous political consequences.

The forum may also help to clarify some minor points, such as questions in relation to the cost of creating a job. If we are to believe the data which appeared in The Sunday Tribune recently, enormous sums of money are necessary to create a job, in direct cost and also in indirect costs. It is not possible to sustain such a situation. Important changes will be necessary in some of the key agencies. They will have to alter the way they operate. That in turn will change the power structure in some of these agencies and the manner in which they relate to other agencies, to Government, to the public and so on. Some of these organisations will resist any moves to change them.

However, the people are vigorously looking for a solution. They are turning to politicians. Any politician who meets the public to any extent knows only too well that unemployment is the main concern. Invariably you are asked what are you going to do about the unemployment problem, what solutions you are proposing. I believe we can no longer afford to ignore this problem.

This forum is worthy of being given a fair trial. For that reason the Labour Party will become involved in it in the hope and in the belief that we can clarify the issues and begin to make some movement towards finding a solution to this absolutely dreadful problem.

Mr. Foley: Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  Once again I have great pleasure in welcoming Minister Ahern to the House and again I wish him well in his new appointment.

I warmly welcome the setting up of this committee. It is quite evident that unemployment is at the top of the Government's agenda, as indeed it is for both sides of the Oireachtas. I am very disappointed that in spite of the best efforts of the Government to achieve all-party consensus on this committee, the [342] Fine Gael Party alone have not seen fit to co-operate. I sincerly hope they will reconsider their decision, because in a matter as crucial as this we urgently need to have the collective wisdom of all sides involved. I am sure there are Fine Gael Deputies and Senators whose contributions would be very valuable.

As I see it, their objection seems to be that Ministers may not be members. This is not intended to be a Star Chamber to which Ministers may be called to defend themselves. The cause of the present job situation is not something which may be laid at the door of any individual Minister, past or present. What we are engaged in is a sincere effort to come up with at least some answers to some very complex problems, many of them brought about by the development in recent years of a technology in industry which is designed to manufacture goods with the least possible input of human employment. This is the economic reality which surrounds us and we must obviously look at other avenues to be explored with a view to employing as many people as possible in a wide variety of areas and on a productive and permanent basis.

I am impressed with the manner in which the committee are to be set up and the way they will operate. They will have the power to send for and engage the services of persons who have specialised or technical knowledge to assist them on any of their sub-committees. I sincerely hope that this will not be confined to a group of experts based in Dublin. There are many unemployment blackspots throughout the country. Indeed, one of them is my own home town of Tralee. Many of these areas have problems which are peculiar to their particular circumstances. For instance, these could be problems caused by geographical location with, perhaps, poor infrastructure locally and lack of proper transport facilities to the rest of the country, or problems with regard to the location of education or training facilities. The solution in some areas may be the development of tourism rather than manufacturing industry. We cannot have [343] a factory at every crossroads, there are many other types of jobs which can be created and we must always pay due attention to ensure that no part of our country is denuded of its population.

Recent unemployment figures are the highest ever recorded on the live register. At present, one in five of all persons who would like to work, are unable to find a job. If this trend continues unchecked, the cost to the State in terms of hardship, social exclusion, waste of human potential, drained financial resources and weakened future growth prospects will be unacceptable. These figures add an increased urgency for us to act together in the interests of increased employment. I appeal to Fine Gael to reconsider their position and to become involved in this committee which I believe has tremendous potential for job creation. If this Joint Committee on Employment is to be successful there must be all party consensus and for that reason, it is important that Fine Gael be involved.

With those matters in mind, I hope the people to be consulted who have specialist knowledge will include people from parts of the country which have special needs. They would be in a position to help the committee formulate their proposals to Government. In this regard I would mention, in particular, the unemployed who have a great deal of expertise to offer. They should be consulted because it is only by getting a consensus of opinion that this committee will be successful. As I have already mentioned, in places such as Kerry further tourism development would create more employment. In Kerry 17½ per cent of the population are directly involved in tourism while the national average is 7½ per cent, and this can be further increased; the same could be said for other parts of the country too. I hope the experts selected will be in a position to give the information required.

I compliment the Government on the fact that sub-committees can be set up as a result of this joint venture; I hope that the members will be selected from all [344] parties. Finally, I again appeal to Fine Gael to reconsider their position.

Mr. O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  I welcome the Minster and wish him good luck in his new role.

I am convinced that the future of democracy here hinges on how we act and, indeed, on how we are perceived to act in relation to unemployment. There is a cynicism outside this House arising from the fact that we spend the first four of the past six months discussing business scandals, mainly the Sugar Company, and the past two months discussing the minutiae of words and the complex issue of abortion. The fact that six months of Oireachtas time has passed without any substantive analysis of the unemployment problem is frightening and is giving rise to considerable cynicism among the general public.

My good colleague, Senator McKenna, seems to be suffering from chronic amnesia manifested mainly by the fact that he is unable to recall that the concept of a jobs forum and a national consensus on unemployment had its origins in a succession of speeches by our party Leader, Deputy John Bruton. There is no doubt that the concept of a jobs forum, consensus on unemployment and national participation in solving the jobs crisis is very much the brain-child of Fine Gael and Deputy John Bruton. For that reason the amnesia of Senator McKenna and, indeed, the chronic amnesia of many of his colleagues in this area is regretted by people on this side of the House.

It was Fine Gael's contention from the outset that what should be established was a national jobs forum. What is at issue here is the establishment of a sub-committee on jobs, effectively, a parliamentary committee rather than a national forum reflecting and capable of creating national consensus on unemployment. That is what bothers us. We are consistent believers in Oireachtas reform. We know there is merit in a range of Oireachtas committees and sub-committees, and we would not question the efficacy of those committees, but what we would question is this national [345] emergency which, I submit, challenges democracy in the same way as the Weimar Republic challenged pre-World War II German democracy. There is need for a radical national solution, but in our view this committee falls far short of what is desirable to deal with the unemployment crisis.

We wanted two things to be incorporated into the jobs forum. We wanted the jobs forum to have accountability, and to achieve accountability Ministers should be answerable to the forum, participate and work in it. People at the top of all political parties in the Oireachtas should also participate in the Forum.

It is through that kind of mechanism that you establish accountability. The second thing we wanted to achieve was participation in the broadest possible way. We were so committed to the idea that we were prepared to go along with the dilution of the role of the social partners in the forum. At the outset we wanted an up front, open participatory role for the social partners. We wanted accountability and participation because in our view, that was the only way you could have action and real results.

With all due respect to the very well intentioned people, and I am sure excellent people from both Houses who will be on this sub-committee, all they will achieve will be the preparation of a couple of reports a year and submitting them to the House where, invariably, they will be taken as read. They will achieve nothing more. That is why we are concerned that there might not be adequate action in regard to unemployment. This is regrettable and contrary to what my colleague, Senator Foley, said when he appealed to Fine Gael to participate in the proposed committee. It is possibly not too late yet to change, but this is a lost opportunity if the Government do not take on board such a magnaminous and patriotic gesture from the major Opposition party. We have said we will participate in a jobs forum, put our political future on the line, our whole party's future on the line, get involved, give our best ideas and work within a forum. That was a great opportunity [346] for Government; it was little short of an offer of national Government, if you like, on such an important issue.

It is clear that because of the difficult decisions that will arise in solving the unemployment problem we need consensus and participation at the highest levels. There will have to be significant changes in our taxation structure, fundamentally shifting the burden of taxation from human resources to other physical resources in terms of machinery and so on. There will have to be radical attempts to develop high-tech industry.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Get involved.

Mr. O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  We offered you the first opportunity of participation on this issue. There will have to be a whole new range of incentives for industry and a tourism development programme. As recommended in the Culliton report and generally acknowledged, radical change is needed in education to being about an entrepreneurial culture in our schools because of the difficult and invariably unpopular necessary decisions. This further underscores the need for national consensus. I appeal to the Minister and to the Fianna Fáil Senators to give this further thought and to again attempt to have ministerial involvement, to have the kind of changes that will enhance the value of any committee and, in reality, turn it into a jobs forum. I ask Fianna Fáil, even at this 11th hour, to reconsider their position and to grasp the opportunity for consensus and for national participation in a properly constructed jobs forum.

Once again I want to put it on the record that we are only opposing this because it falls short of the ideal and because in essence what is involved is a backbench committee of the Oireachtas. We thought it necessary, in view of the grave national crisis, to establish a national forum, not a subcommittee of the Oireachtas. We do not have a national forum. It is regrettable, but we are still willing and ready to participate if the Government are willing to change [347] their perception in regard to this matter. It is a tremendous opportunity for them.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I welcome the Minister. I congratulate him on his appointment and trust he will have a long tenure.

I welcome this motion to set up an Oireachtas joint committee to examine unemployment. I am very pleased with the way it will be constituted. I note it will consist of 19 Members, four of which will be from Seanad Éireann. I am intrigued, disappointed and surprised at the attitude of Fine Gael to the proposal to set up an Oireachtas joint committee on employment. The motion states:

That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Employment) consisting of 15 members of Dáil Éireann and 4 members of Seanad Éireann (none of whom shall be a member of the Government or Minister of State), be appointed

(a) to examine and make recommendations on all aspects of economic and social policy which have a bearing on employment creation and which can contribute to alleviating unemployment and

(b) to consider and make recommendations on any other issues or subjects which the Joint Committee considers relevant to its task.

What surprises me is that a similar motion was put forward in Private Members' Time in Dáil Éireann on 19 November 1991. It was moved on behalf of the Labour Party by Deputy Quinn and stated:

That Dáil Éireann, alarmed at the projected increase of unemployment to over 300,000 in 1992; conscious of the deteriorating economic situation within Ireland; concerned about the changes which will affect agricultural output as a result of the GATT talks and the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy; determined to act [348] decisively to deal with the wide range of problems in the delivery and extent of our social services, in particular, health, housing and education; resolves to establish on a statutory basis an Oireachtas social and economic committee with not less than 18 members drawn from both Houses.

Of all the Fine Gael Members in Dáil Éireann, only one contributed — Deputy Michael Noonan, Limerick East. I am glad that many more Fine Gael Members in this House are interested in employment.

Senator Manning said that they have reservations about this committee because of lack of ministerial involvement. Senator O'Reilly held a similar view and stated that because of lack of ministerial involvement they could not participate in it and he appealed to Fianna Fáil to amend the motion to ensure there would be ministerial involvement. I have read Deputy Noonan's speech in the other House and he did not once mention ministerial involvement.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McMahon): Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  I have already permitted the Senator to read from the proceedings of the other House, but they are not relevant here.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I believe they are relevant to the motion before us because of the similar motion in the other House. Fine Gael have one priority in this House and another policy in the other House.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator may refer to the proceedings of the other House or paraphrase them, but he may not quote from the Official Report of the other House.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I will quote.

Acting Chairman:  I cannot permit the Senator to quote from that report.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  This has been done before.

[349]Acting Chairman:  Give me the reference.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Column 246, volume 413, Tuesday, 19 November 1991, Deputy Noonan, Limerick East in his contribution said, “First, the Fine Gael Party will support the motion of the Labour Party unamended.” Later in his contribution he said, in column 24: “Such an arrangement would have to go further than this motion proposes. The traffic envisaged in the motion is one way.” He said there should be a committee of this House consisting of 18 Members and made no reference to a Minister or ministerial involvement in that committee. Why the sudden change? Is it that Fine Gael do not want to co-operate, or are they more concerned about political point scoring than job creation? Job creation is much more serious than political point scoring. I commend the Minister and the Government for introducing this motion.

We have had an increased unemployment level. The recent closures of the UMP factories have created high unemployment. A Deputy recently highlighted on television the job losses in his own constituency, but he also sought petitions for the closure of a factory because of environmental damage caused by a fire there. Is that consistency? I am referring to Deputy Jim Higgins.

Acting Chairman:  I would ask the Senator not to refer to Deputies. They are not in this House and cannot defend themselves.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  When the statements are outlandish the Senator must refer to them.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Such conduct is very inconsistent. I am informed that after the fire people were concerned about the odour around the town of Ballaghaderreen and that a Deputy, whom I will not name, sought petitions to close the factory, which would add to the unemployment in the area. The same Deputy is on television night after night [350] talking about the unemployment crisis in the west because of the collapse of the UMP factories. I know the hardship caused by these closures because I live 11 miles away from one of the factories and I hope the Government will resolve this situation.

I hope the jobs forum will create employment. As I said in my contribution on the Appropriation Bill, there is high unemployment, but is it all real? The Joint Committee on Employment should examine the social welfare system, where some people draw the dole while they are in employment and others abuse the system. That should also come under their brief.

The motion also states that the joint committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees, which may consist of Members of the Oireachtas who are not members of the joint committee and may delegate any matter comprehended by paragraph (1) to a sub-committee. The joint committee shall also have power to nominate persons, representatives from interested bodies, to assist each sub-committee in their deliberations. This is most welcome. We need knowledgeable people from interested bodies contributing to this committee to ensure that it operates successfully.

I am surprised by Fine Gael's attitude. At this late stage they should reconsider their decision and get involved in this committee to ensure its proper working, to help job creation and to contribute in a major way to our economy.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  A number of issues need to be addressed on this debate on a jobs forum. The ordinary punter is a casual observer of the political sconce. All I and, I am sure, other Members of the House hear is that the difficulty we experienced over the past two months in getting around the table to discuss this most serious social problem — and it is the most serious social problem, even though other people might be of a different view — does not reflect well on us. That is the point of view being expressed outside this House. Although I do not share Fine Gael views, I respect them. I do not cast [351] them aside. I am very unhappy with the way this committee has been structured. I sympathise with many of the points raised by the main Opposition party here and in the other House and in different debating fora over the past number of weeks. They have made many valid points, the majority of which I agree with. However, it behoves us all to take a reasonable line on this issue. The Government, I always claim, are elected to govern and the Government having taken a decision it must be followed up by the rest of us. Do we go along with it or do we stand outside and snipe at it? That is the problem we are facing.

I spoke on the setting up of the jobs forum at the ICTU conference last July. The forum which I proposed at that time would be the type of forum which the Leader of the main Opposition party has been seeking for the past number of weeks and with which I agree. I regret that we have not set up a committee which goes outside the Oireachtas and that we are not considering a committee which would be drawn from all who have an interest in job creation — the unemployed, organised workers, employers and other various interests. I regret that and I would like that to go clearly on record. I also regret that this is only an advisory committee: they do not have the authority to make decisions, only to make reports. I am on record as having said this almost a year ago, so it is nothing new.

However, the deed is now done. The elected Government have take a certain decision and the question for the rest of us is: what do we do? Do we stay outside or go alone with it? For many politicians this is a serious issue. I do not believe anybody has the magic formula to resolve the unemployment problem here. Therefore there is a major temptation for an Opposition party to stay outside and spend time sniping at the non-effectiveness of the committee. That might be politically attractive. I appeal — and I do not say this in a patronising way — to the Fine Gael Party to look at their difficulties, to register and record them, and [352] to see if this committee can work. Let us give it a chance and then let us not be afraid to say, after the first, second or third report, that this is not working, either because we have not got the resources or because the Government are not listening or because they are not putting into effect the recommendations of the committee.

Outside of the vested interests and the hidden agendas somebody has to take an overall view with one objective in mind — to create sound, real employment. That is not being done at present. In the late eighties there was extraordinary growth in the Irish economy but it did not translate into jobs. That lasted from 1987 to 1991. There was unprecedented growth in the economy, growth which had never been matched previously in the history of the State, but again our economists let us down.

They promised in the mid-eighties that if we got the interest rates right, reduced inflation and increased growth to a significant level, the jobs would flow from that. The jobs did not flow from that and the first question that this committee should examine is what happened to all the wealth created in the late eighties. It did not create new jobs. It did not increase the wealth of workers or increase the tax revenue to any significant extent. We did not have tax growth or jobs. We did not have wealth creation for workers. Somebody made a packet during the late eighties, but it did not translate itself into job opportunities. The Minister or the Government should state whether we will give this committee the teeth to examine such matters.

While we read about gloom and doom in the financial pages of the newspapers and hear from business people that things were never as bad, the figures are different. Exports last year were far beyond what anybody had anticipated; we had very high export levels during the final quarter of 1991; and retail sales during the first part of this year are very high; VAT returns are up again this year — higher than expected pre-budget; tax revenue is higher than was expected the Minister for Finance said in the Dáil last [353] week and there was an increase in wealth during this period.

On the other side, the latest figures show that unemployment has gone up again. Unemployment for this year, which was expected to be 260,000 to 270,000, is now more likely to be 280,000 to 285,000. There are very few facts about demography, but one is certain and, that is, the birth rate has been established so we know the number of people who are coming onto the jobs market every year. At the moment, we are talking about 25,000 to 30,000 people. That is fact and is not open for discussion. The number of jobs we create each year is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000. It is significant that the Culliton report — I disagree with a lot that is in it — talks about creating 10,000 to 12,000 jobs a year. With 25,000 people coming onto the workforce per year and 10,000 to 12,000 or maybe 15,000 jobs being created unemployment will increase. It is a simple sum. Let us not be surprised when the unemployment figure hits 300,000 by the end of 1993 or early 1994. This inexorable move forward will continue unless we take urgent action. That is why despite my reservations about the non-representative aspect of the jobs forum the fact that it is not a decisionmaking one and, therefore, cannot insist on the implementation of its recommendations, I would still say to every elected public representative that they have the right to query, criticise and enter reservations about the greatest social problem we face.

Unemployment is the greatest social problem we face despite the fact that many people in the media and around the country have other moral issues which are more important to them. The impact of unemployment on families, schools and the infrastructure of the State cannot be estimated. We need to address this problem and public representatives should make every effort to make any facility work in order to create movement in this area.

I agree with Fine Gael's reservations and with what has been pointed out, but I still say give this a try and see how far [354] we get with it. If after the first, second report or third report it is not working, we can do a Grattan's Parliament on it and vote it out of office if that is what is required. We can then point the finger at the Government and say they have failed to deliver and stand indicted. I would be the first to say that. They have been elected to govern and have proposed a jobs forum. Even with all the flaws I see in it, we must attempt to make it work.

It does not reflect my views or the very strong representations made by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to the Government. It is not what congress or the main Opposition parties were looking for. I do not believe the Government have all the wisdom but they have been vested with all the authority of the State. This forum is what they propose and we should give it a chance to work.

Whatever we do regarding the operation of a jobs forum, we must try to focus all the expertise on job creation. There are many people involved, some of them on the fringes of society, some of them in various political parties and different groups ranging from those dealing with poverty, wealth, the unemployed, the employed, the trade unions and the employers. We must all pull together and pool our expertise.

The jobs forum has the power:

to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it or any of its subcommittees in their consideration of the matters comprehended by paragraph 1.

I envisage that groups such as the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed would be asked to make a worthwhile contribution to this committee. I have no doubt that they will have the same reservations about the committee I and Fine Gael expressed. Nevertheless, I cannot see how any group can just walk away from the forum.

One will never see the effects of unemployment in Dublin. The city is too big. I uselessly appealed to this House two weeks ago to try not to sustain the artificial divide which is being created by unscrupulous public representatives [355] between town and city and between east and west. It is too easy for people who have a genuine problem, whether in Shannon or Ballyhaunis, to say it is the people in Dublin who are responsible for that decision. I have seen two towns wrecked by unemployment, where teachers have told of children coming to school crying because their parents do not know where the next salary cheque is coming from or how they are going to live. I saw that happen over the last couple of months in Ballyhaunis. The same happened in Magherafelt, a tiny market town in the North, where 500 or 600 jobs have been lost in the shirt factory this week. That town is destroyed and there is no comeback. No factory in Ballyhaunis or Magherafelt will ever again employ 500 or 600 people. That is the reality.

That is why we need to address these issues in a non-political way if possible. We must try to make this forum work. We must be clear and deliberate about it. We must throw away the baggage of generations and look at our position in Europe. I will not comment on the Maastricht Treaty, but I am conscious of the fact that in the United States, which is the other major trading bloc, people do not think about moving from Dallas to New York for work. We need to look at the opportunities that will be created inside the European Community with or without the Maastricht Treaty.

Last year in Germany 15,000 positions for trainees were not taken up. Should we look for a share in that activity or do we see it as a diminution of our sovereignty and neutrality if we look for jobs in other parts of the Community? It is all right to sell to the Community but not to work within the Community? These are the real issues we must address, despite the fact that every time we say it somebody will say, “there is another politician who sees emigration as the answer to our problem”. I am not saying that. What I am saying is that Air Rianta can run duty free airports in Moscow and various parts of Europe. In those cases we are selling a service to those countries and we can [356] continue to do that in a way no other country in Europe can because we have one major disadvantage and one major advantage, both tied to each other. The disadvantage is that we have almost the highest level of unemployment in the European Community and that creates an advantage in that we have a workforce ready to take up employment. Two other things flow from that.

We have the population profile which allows us to take advantage of employment opportunities wherever they come from. Employment is of its nature age specific. One does not retrain a 45 year old general operative or labourer to be a stockbroker. One does not take somebody who is burned out in the money market at age 35 and retrain them to work on a building site. Those are two extreme examples but the point is the same: people do not train to be a teacher at age 50 or 60, they do it between the ages of 19 and 22. Employment opportunities are age specific. It is not that people of a particular age are unemployable but there are certain perceptions of the age at which people engage in employment opportunities.

We have the best population profile in the European Community and we can use that. We also have a highly educated population. This brings me to one of the problems I have with the thinking in the Culliton report, which has been overtaken by developments around the world. It is the view that one moves from education into the training area, that one trains people for jobs and that is the answer to the unemployment problem. The thinking in many of the major trading blocs is changing for a variety of reasons.

The best example I could give is in the computer industry. Somebody aged 60 who began work in the computer industry at age 20, would now be retrained for the fifth time to deal with the fifth generation of computers. A computer that would have filled this room 40 years ago would now fit into the palm of my hand. In order to keep up with that level of change, what is needed is not somebody who was trained 40 years ago but somebody who [357] can be trained and retrained. If our education system is to service the needs of industry and employment, it does not need to product people who are trained to do specific tasks but rather people who are adaptable, flexible and have the potential to be trained and retrained a number of times during their career, at manual, blue collar, white collar, managerial or professional level. It does not matter whether one is a dentist or a computer operative, things will change.

There was not even a FAX machine or a word processor in this House six years ago. A person who was specifically trained in shorthand typing nine years ago and got a job in this House would now be dealing with a level of equipment which was not in existence then. We need people who are flexible, who can be retrained and are able to deal with changes in society. The large corporations in America are no longer looking for marketing graduates or business studies graduates because they have learned that if they take somebody with a good general education who is bright and adaptable they can teach them the skills they need in a few months. Then they can retrain them at a later stage if that becomes necessary. The people who are offered jobs in the large corporations in the US at the moment have good, solid, old fashioned general degrees. I am not saying that as an unalterable fact but to indicate that there are changes and that we need to look at how we respond to them and exploit any opportunities they create.

Our population profile is such as to enable us to have our people at the top of every large corporation, major industry and political movement in Europe within one generation. It is a matter of taking advantage of that fact and casting aside our insular or parochial views. We must take advantage of the new Europe, exploit it on behalf of this country and bring wealth from Europe into this country. He must insist that Brussels, does not become a vessel which will retain all the wealth of Europe. We must look at practical issues and note that any business or professional person going from Ireland [358] to Brussels in the morning will pay an exhorbitant cost for doing so.

We must be realistic and note that by the end of this calendar year we will be the only island state member of the European Community. We must recognise that when the initial plans for a rapid rail network for Europe was put together it included an under-sea link from Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead. That does not appear on any maps or plans I have seen recently. Because of our geographic position and the fact that we will soon be the only island nation in the EC, it costs our citizens much more than our competitors to travel and sell on the European mainland. We need to look at that.

The question was raised here today in a different context about the need to look at Iarnród Éireann. A new rapid rail system is being created in Europe that it will now be quicker to go by rail from Paris to Brussels than to fly taking into account the amount of time spent travelling from one airport to another and then into the centre of the city. We are not getting any of that action. In the west the rail transport is disgraceful and the only people who are shouting about it are politicians from the west. That should be the concern of all politicians who want to create opportunities in this country.

We need to pull together the specialist knowledge available in the employment area. We need to look at the work of organisations like FÁS and to see how that ties into employment creation. We need to ensure that the FÁS projects will be useful in terms of job creation. We must look at the different areas in this country. There was an old fashioned notion that the only way to create jobs was through manufacturing industry; that is not the case. I heard Senator Raftery talk on a number of occasions, and indeed be shouted down, about the development of Irish agriculture.

There are some points with which I would agree and some with which I would disagree but I am one of the few people in this House who maintain that the Common Agricultural Policy is costing us jobs and depressing agriculture, and the sooner it is changed the better. There has [359] been a slight softening in that regard on the Government side of the House because they have been told to do so by their political masters. I was one of the few people who agreed with Commissioner MacSharry when he said it first. Nobody said anything last year. People were ready to bury him when he first said it. It is significant that this week a small meat company in Kilbeggan, Tara Meats, was given the Irish standard ISO——

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  ISO 9000.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  That company should be brought to the notice of Goodmans and all those other people who never sold a pound of meat. I would put those people working behind a butcher's counter for a while to learn about selling meat and not selling into intervention or using the system. The people in Tara Meats, Kilbeggan, are a classic example of people who said: here is a product, Irish meat. It is the best in Europe. We can sell it and there is a market for it. I challenge any meat company to give me a refrigerated truck load of meat, properly put together, properly cut and packed and I will sell it in Europe, because I know what it is like to walk into European supermarkets where you cannot buy meat. The meat which our farmers cannot sell cannot be bought for love or money in Europe. What is happening along the way? What is happening is intervention.

Last week I drove out towards Balbriggan, beyond Swords, and I saw a new cold store there. The amount of meat going into intervention is increasing. The profit people make who hold meat in intervention means they can afford to build huge cold stores and pay for them before building is finished. That is a disgrace. I drove past that cold store and then I reached a town in north Donegal. I met a number of people there who were giving out free intervention meat on behalf of the St. Vincent de Paul society, just to get rid of it. Next week we will hear of it being sold to some other country. What we are doing is daft. We are [360] trying to create jobs, yet here we are wasting money that could be used for real job creation. Tara Meats do not sell to intervention nor are they dependent of Common Agricultural Policy. They put a product together and marketed it. They had no trouble selling their product. They are going from strength to strength. They are increasing profitability and creating employment. It is the kind of model we need to look for.

We had better get our act together. Those elected politicians and public representatives who thought that the Tony O'Reillys, the Michael Smurfits and the Larry Goodmans were in some sense employment creators have learnt that they were profit takers and makers and that they employed people if they needed clones or drones to do their work for them. They walked on people if that was necessary. I do not speak those words for the first time. It is a heartfelt view that I hold. I do not have any difficulty about people making a profit. That is what industry is about. I do not have any problems about that, but we should realise that those people do not set out to create employment. We know that every time they can get rid of workers they will do so. They set out to make a profit and if they create employment as they go along, well and good.

The reason I want a jobs forum set up is to examine that kind of activity and ask where is our money going. What happened to the wealth that was created in this country in the late eighties? It did not create jobs. It did not create wealth for workers or tax revenue for the Government. Where did the money go? Those are the questions that need to be asked.

Similarly, we see what is happening in the tourism industry. Tourist figures dropped last year compared to 1990, but they were up significantly on 1989. The Gulf War in 1991 had an adverse effect on tourism. In general terms tourism activity in this country is increasing and will continue to increase. We have a duty and responsibility to see to it that real jobs are created. If one is in the local lounge bar at the end of August and sees [361] the same 13 year old child who served breakfast that morning in the hotel is now serving drinks at 11.30 at night and falling asleep, one must say that is wrong. Those are not the kind of jobs we are talking about. That is not the way employment is to be created.

It is nonsense to say that we would not be competitive if we had rules and regulations governing employment. Every other European country can be competitive by having a minimum wage, proper standards and conditions of work and service. We also need to have those. We must ensure that we create real jobs that allow people to maintain their dignity and a decent quality of life. That means that there must be proper payment for those jobs.

There is a black economy working in the tourism industry which needs to be addressed. I have been in Galway on a number of occasions. The figures show Galway to be a major employment black spot. I have been in many employment black spots in this country, but I have great difficulty in seeing Galway as an employment black spot. I may be completely wrong about this, but the only explanation is that it is a major tourist centre. I feel that there are a huge number of people involved in the invisible workforce of the black economy. We need to address those issues. When one walks down the streets of Galway one does not see a black hole of unemployment. It is not a Darndale or a west Belfast. It is a place where there is wealth. Where is the wealth going? How is it being created? Why is it not reflected in employment? The area of job creation and the job forum is one where it is easy to cover many different issues. I see my colleagues are getting a bit uneasy.

Acting Chairman:  I allowed the Senator a lot of latitude and I am not stopping him.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  We need to create jobs and develop small industries. We need to develop education and we need to do it as part of a plan. We need to look at our resources. We have a young population [362] and a reasonably healthy environment. I mean that in the sense of the physical environment. We have the cleanest seas and waters in Europe. We have the best skies and some of the nicest scenery in Europe. The fact that we are an island state is something that could be exploited. We could be the garden for Europe, the good food source. I differ from Senator Raftery about the use of such things as angel dust, to which I am opposed.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  I am opposed to the use of angel dust.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator has dealt with the Continent.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I did not get to the rest of the world yet.

Acting Chairman:  He is now travelling the highways and byways of Ireland. This is a procedural motion. My concern is that a number of other speakers wish to contribute and this debate is due to finish at 6 p.m. The Senator is being unfair to his colleagues.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  The Chair is being absolutely diplomatic in his approach. I will take the advice of the Chair. I have made a number of points. We have an opportunity and should take advantage of it. I have grave reservations about the jobs forum.

To summarise what I said earlier to the Fine Gael speakers in particular, I have grave reservations about this jobs forum. I am not sure that anybody has the solution. It is an opportunity to get all the interested parties together. We have a responsibility to try to make is work. We should give it a run, see how far it gets and be critical in assessing and monitoring its effectiveness during the course of the next year. Thank you for your leniency, a Chathaoirligh.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  All I can say to Senator O'Toole is that, given that wide ranging jaunt, he would be a great man to be on this committee; but I would hope he [363] would not keep the other members of the committee waiting as long as he did the few speakers left here today.

I welcome the Minister for Science and Technology to the House. He is a good Corkman, a good friend of mine, and I am delighted with his appointment. I have no doubt that he has the capability to do an extremely good job in that position. It reminds me that four years ago on research and development we were spending £2 million and to date we have something like £28 million budgeted in that department. It is an indication of the emphasis that this Government are putting into research and development and growth of indigenous industry.

I would like to congratulate the Minister on setting up the programme for advanced technology, where industry, the universities, the RTCs and Department officials are coming together and working in unison to ensure that in a short period of time they will produce useful and sustainable jobs within the Irish economy and particularly useful in terms of the development of our indigenous industry.

I welcome the fact that we are having an Oireachtas committee set up on the job issue. All of us are agreed that unemployment is one of the greatest social afflictions facing our society. Therefore, the 270,000 unemployed out there looking at us politicians arguing about this, that and the other are asking what in the name of goodness is going on in the Oireachtas. Why can they not get down and debate the issue that is pertinent to each and every one of us, that is pertinent to the country, to the young people and to the future of the country? This committee is an opportunity for us to get together, to pool our ideas and to come up with something useful to ensure that we will cut the major dole queues. Fine Gael have quite rightly stated that they have asked for this Oireachtas joint committee. It was a good idea, but——

[364]Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  We asked for a jobs forum.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  ——I have to question the sincerity behind that call. I remind them that this request came when the former Taoiseach was head of the Government. They were aware that the former Taoiseach was not in favour of that Oireachtas committee, so it was easy for them to call for a jobs forum in the likelihood that that was not going to be granted. Time moves on. Fianna Fáil have a new leader and we have a new Taoiseach, who in his wisdom has said that consensus is an absolute necessity to eradicate unemployment. Therefore, he and the Government agree to an Oireachtas committee on jobs, and suddenly Fine Gael — those who called for it — have misgivings. There was no difficulty, as Senator Kiely said, when Deputy Bruton was asking for it in the other House; there was no difficulty with 18 members of the committee; there was no question about Ministers coming in. But, suddenly, when it was placed before them and when they were asked to stand up and be counted, they were found wanting.

This Government have been as accommodating as they possibly could have in bringing all parties together on this issue. They have waited for weeks, they have pandered to Fine Gael, they have made changes. But, suddenly, Fine Gael are saying to the Government: we want to have Ministers, we want to dictate to Ministers, to tell them what do do, we want to govern. The facts of life are that in the last general election Fine Gael did not get a mandate to govern. There is a Government in place and it is their duty under legislation to carry out that function. Look at the record to see if Government Ministers have attended committee meetings up to now. It has not happened. Deputy John Bruton at one stage attended one meeting, but in an advisory capacity. When Fine Gael and Labour were in Government they as Ministers did not attend any committee meetings because——

[365]Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  The New Ireland Forum.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Under the Constitution their job is to govern and they are subject to the Dáil. What is being asked for — and Fine Gael know this quite well — is not feasible, is untenable, and for them not to participate will subject them to the charge of operating a charade.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  It is the committee that is the charade.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  That is sad because the people who are unemployed will not thank that party for not standing up and being counted and not being willing like the other parties to contribute their share to trying to find a solution to this major issue.

I was amused at Senator O'Reilly when he said “We conceived the idea”. I grant him that, but he reminded me of the eunuch in a harem, where the eunuch had the idea but unfortunately was not able to perform. What Fine Gael want to do is usurp the power of Government, to try to take Ministers into this committee, to try to subject them to harrassment, to try to put the blame on the shoulders of the Government, if the committee fails, rather than putting their shoulders to the wheel and contributing in a meaningful way, which the unemployed, the country and the economy deserve. I accuse that party of copping out at this stage. Why not try it? Changes have been made. They have been facilitated in major ways. The only issue on which they cannot be facilitated is in the ministerial issue. Under the Oireachtas system that cannot be done and Fine Gael know it.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  That is not true and the Deputy knows it.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  I am very cynical. Last week in the House I saluted Senator Raftery for the independent stand he took from his fellow Senators on another issue. I was hoping today — well, I was not, because I heard the Senator on radio yesterday and I was disappointed in what [366] he had to say. I expected something more constructive. I felt the Senator personally would have a lot to offer if he was made a member of this committee. I am saddened that he could not see the light on this issue and stand apart from the hoodwinked thinking of his fellow members.

The Government were accused that the NESC, the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress were running this country. As part of the call from the Opposition for a jobs forum, it was pointed out to us that the economists were the people running the country, that they were telling us what to do, when to go and how to improve our situation. Now, all of a sudden, when the opportunity arises it is not taken.

Take the sad example on the Order of Business today. Senator Manning, a man for whom I have tremendous respect, stood up at the Order of Business; Senator Raftery and the others on that side of the House have been calling for reform in this Seanad, asking that this Seanad be made more meaningful; the Leader of the House asked today that the Order of Business be changed so that we could facilitate the setting up of a jobs forum, but what did Fine Gael do? Fine Gael opposed the change in the Order of Business. This is sad coming from a party that wanted to make this House more meaningful, but when it is being made meaningful, when something is being done here which affects the 270,000 people unemployed it is sad that on the Order of Business they oppose it.

This committee is now being set up and I am glad the Government have taken the initiative. It is my personal view that they have dithered for too long. We cannot allow any more time to elapse before taking on board this major social affliction. Anything that any of us can do to alleviate the problem let us do it. I am throwing out the olive branch, particularly since Senator Ross has come in, to say that it is not too late, the opportunity is still there. There is a lot of wisdom on that side of the House and the Government are saying: let us pool that wisdom; [367] let us get our ideas together. This is not a political issue, this is a national issue in the interests of all our people, and in the interest of the future of our young people. To be apart from that would be reneging on the future generation and Fine Gael will not be able to say they played a meaningful role.

Nobody has a magic formula and obviously we are all wondering if this committee will be worthwhile and will produce everything we want it to produce. But let me put the other scenario. If we do not have this committee is it more likely that we are going to achieve anything? Here we have an opportunity with this Oireachtas committee and its subcommittees. We can bring into the subcommittees outside expertise and ask them for their views. We can collate this with the Culliton report and all the other reports we have on the creation of employment. At least we can say that, together, we are going to make a sustained effort to ensure that this committee produces something worthwhile for this economy.

I have heard Senator O'Toole mention the fact that we have a highly educated population. I have no difficulty with that. We have an exceptionally well educated population. Despite all the things that have been said about cutbacks in education — and I know Senator Raftery will agree with me — our young graduates coming out of the universities and RTCs compare favourably with their counterparts in any other country; in fact, they will be head and shoulders above most of them. That is why foreign companies are very anxious to employ some of our graduates; you see them knocking on the door at graduation time to ensure they can get the cream of the crop.

Recent developments would suggest that R and D is being located here much more by foreign companies. We have a problem. I remember in 1987, when Deputy Haughey came into Government, he said that public spending was too high, that foreign borrowing was too high, that we had to cut inflation and cut [368] our costs. The general perception at that time was that if that was done——

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  What did he say when he was in Opposition?

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  ——jobs would follow. We have a particular problem here in Ireland. That Government and this one have been particularly successful in all they tried to achieve to create a climate for investment. Investment has been created, but jobs have not followed. That is a dilemma this Oireachtas committee will have to pursue. When the climate for investment is right why have the jobs not followed? I am pleased the Minister for Science and Technology is here, because I think science and technology have a major role to play in the development of our economy and of our indigenous industry.

Heretofore we placed no emphasis on science and technology and on R and D, but we are dealing with that in a meaningful way by providing £28 million for it this year. We have two good examples of that. We have Intel in Kildare and Fort Dodge in Sligo coming in with R and D. The IDA suddenly got a brainstorm and looked at the multinationals that are here. They looked at the linkage programme again and said we could create 3,000 jobs through linkage. Everybody in the universities, the RTCs etc., have been saying that this sector is crying out for us to examine and to benefit from. These companies are sourcing material outside this country that is not being manufactured here. That is a retrograde step and something must be done about it. I am glad that, at last, we are looking at science and technology; and not before time.

The IDA may be criticised in many respects — and when we are talking about the Culliton report tomorrow we will have a lot more to say about that — but I think it would be remiss of me, as a Government Senator, if I did not mention what the Government have done. Apart from cutting costs, cutting back on external borrowing and ensuring that we have low inflation and low [369] interest rates, we now have a Government who have set up a task force on employment; we have the Culliton report; we have the EC assisted schemes which will take 25,000 people off the live register and we have a major success in the tourism area, which has greatly enhanced the reputation of this country as somewhere to visit and somewhere to locate. I cannot stress that enough. There are major schemes, but we, as an Oireachtas, need to address ourselves to this major issue of unemployment. I see the jobs committee as the ideal opportunity for us to put our heads together and to call on everybody who has something to offer in terms of ideas and expertise.

Before I conclude I would say to Fine Gael that it is not too late. There is an opportunity for them to be part of the future, they will be thanked by future generations, but if they stand back, they will be the subject of ridicule.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  I begin by referring to some comments Senator O'Toole made, since he referred to me by name, and Senator O'Keeffe too. I think Senator O'Toole is under the impression that I was one of the people who opposed the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and that he was the first and only person in Ireland who welcomed Commissioner MacSharry's reform proposals. I would like to put it on the record that I was proposing that the Common Agricultural Policy be reformed while Commissioner MacSharry, as an MEP, was arguing that we should consider our place in Europe if the Common Agricultural Policy were tampered with. Let me also put it on the record that I am adamantly opposed to the type of reforms which he has brought in.

I would also like to place on record for Senator O'Toole that I am not in favour of using “angel dust”, as he seemed to think and, in fact, I predicted five or six years ago in the European Parliament that if we went down the road we were going when we opposed the World Health Organisation's view on the subject, [370] we would get what we got — the use of illegal and dangerous substances.

With regard to this proposal for a jobs committee, let me begin by saying that we have the worst unemployment record by a long margin in the entire European Community, and one of the worst in the world. Had we not the safety valve of emigration, our unemployment would not be 20 per cent, it would probably be about 35 per cent; so the real situation is, in fact, a lot worse than the unemployment register would indicate.

If I look at my own city of Cork, there are areas in that city, like Mayfield and Knocknaheeny, where there are as many as 80 per cent of the people there unemployed. Indeed, in relation to Senator O'Keeffe and all his talk about sincerity and job creation, I would point out to him that back in 1987 every corner I turned in Cork county I saw billboards with the photograph of a passport on it and the slogan “There is a better way, Vote Fianna Fáil”— in other words, implying once we are in power we will solve it. Let me point out the record. In 1987, after the closure of Dunlops, Fords and the shipyard, there were 14,000 people unemployed in Cork; today, in 1992, there are over 19,000 people unemployed. That is the record Senator O'Keeffe is so proud of. That is an increase of over 30 per cent in that short period.

I agree with all that has been said about unemployment being a social evil. It is a terrible social evil. It is for that reason that I feel strongly — and probably much more strongly than my party in general feels — that we need something far better than just another backbench committee. Let us face the reality. We already have 93 reports on unemployment. What good is another one going to do? We will not solve this unemployment problem by just political consensus in this House. The only way we can solve the unemployment problem is to have national consensus with the politicians, the employers, the trade unions, the unemployed and the workers. The only way that can be achieved is by having what was originally suggested by Deputy John Bruton, a jobs [371] forum where all these people would have an input and where we could arrive possibly at a consensus.

Make no mistake about it. The difficult task of getting rid of our very high levels of unemployment will involve sacrifices, and it will involve consensus. Unless we have that consensus across society — as you have, for instance, in Japan — you will not get the results. The Government refused the jobs forum and offered an Oireachtas committee. Fine Gael asked that the Ministers would play a part in this; that was refused. Fine Gael asked that Ministers could be involved on a voluntary basis; that was refused — and we are accused of being difficult. I think this activity of another backbench committee is nothing more than a charade——

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  All the Fine Gael front benchers can go on it.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  ——whitewashing exercise designed to take the blame off the Government for their abject failure to do the job they promised they would do, which was to solve the unemployment problem. When this was announced first you may remember, or perhaps you have forgotten, the Leader of the Labour Party described it as a cop out. Then, when it was politically opportune, he said they would go along with it. I heard him on radio myself describing the Oireachtas committee on jobs as a cop out on the unemployment situation.

Let me point out again that we have 93 reports already. I cannot see that a backbench committee will add anything further, anything worthwhile, to this. All I can see it doing is creating more cynicism among the unemployed. As I read the situation, there is no commitment on the Government side when they will not allow Ministers to act on the committees, when they will not allow Ministers to be voluntarily present at the committees. That is not commitment to solving the problem, and that is not trying to arrive at consensus with the second largest party in the country.

[372] It is regrettable that the unemployed are once again being conned by this kind of cynical political exercise. I, for one, think it is a sad day for the country. I sincerely hope that, at this late stage, the Taoiseach could agree to having Ministers participate in a voluntary way in these committees. Otherwise I can only read it as a whitewashing exercise and an attempt to spread the blame for the failure of the Government across all the political parties in the country.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I am very rarely grateful to the Fianna Fáil Party for anything, but I am grateful to them for one thing this afternoon, that I think it is the first time I have noticed that they have stopped talking about full employment. There was a time, when the Fianna Fáil Party were in Opposition, when the subject came up day after day they promised full employment. It now, I suppose, can be put in the same category as their commitment to the restoration of the Irish language and to a United Ireland — and the draining of the Shannon; I did not realise there was a fourth one. Full employment has now been dropped as part of Fianna Fáil folklore now that they are in Government. They talk glibly about improving the employment prospects of our people. The fact is that they have presided for five years over a disastrous employment situation. The wonder is that it is being tolerated by the unemployed.

What never ceases to amaze me — and it still amazes me today — is that there are 300,000 unemployed and they are not storming Leinster House by the day. The problem is enormous and the Government have sat back and tolerated it because there has been nobody to speak for the unemployed. That has been the reality. There has not been an enormous lobby group to make them feel the breeze. The wonder is that they do not form a political grouping that puts Fianna Fáil out of office once and for all, because Fianna Fáil do not care about the unemployed as long as a fair number of them come in and vote for them on election day.

[373] That, unfortunately, is the truth; and I do not think that in the ten years I have been in this House I have heard more cynical contributions than those from the other side of this House today. This is a debate on an issue which matters; yet the contributions have offered nothing but empty rhetoric and attacks on the Opposition position. The unemployment crisis is about human beings and the reason Fine Gael have taken this position is undoubtedly a difficult one to explain; and it is difficult because it is slightly more sophisticated than the simplistic Fianna Fáil trap which is being set on this issue. I would like to take to task one or two——

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  Is that word admissible?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Mullooly): Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  Senator Ross must be allowed to make his contribution without interruption, please.

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  That is a lapse into the vernacular. It is not parliamentary language and it should be withdrawn.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Thank you very much indeed for your protection, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I hope I do not require it again in the next few minutes.

I should like to make a few comments on some of the speeches made today. I will begin with the eloquent but empty contribution of Senator McKenna. Senator McKenna echoed — if that is not an inaccurate word — those from this side who went before him. He said that this would be a great committee for examining, studying, analysing and clarifying but this means nothing. He did not offer a single solution, contribution or constructive suggestion about creating a single job.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  That is what the committee is being set up for.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  He said that the reports of this committee would be laid before the Oireachtas. What a wonderful thing to happen. That is the only commitment Senator McKenna made to this House [374] today as lead Government speaker on this issue.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  On a point of order, I am being deliberately misquoted.

Acting Chairman:  That is not a point of order. Senator McKenna.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  He said that reports would be laid before this House, if he did say for a debate then that is even better and I am glad he interrupted because of all the other committee reports laid before this House none was ever debated. Let us lay it before the House for a debate, but let us see if we follow precedent and have no debate.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  Senator Ross conveniently omitted to say what I went on to say.

Acting Chairman:  Senator Ross should not invite interruption.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  If Members of the House are obstreperous it is not within my control. I am sorry.

Senator McKenna went on to say, in his own words, that the committee can do no damage. That is a direct quote because I have it down here. What a wonderful recommendation for a committee taking people's time and money — that it can do no damage. I can think of many committees we could set up that could do no damage.


Acting Chairman:  Order please.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I am delighted that a criterion for Fianna Fáil setting up committees and ramming them through this House against the wishes of the Opposition, is that at least they can do no damage.

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  Does Senator Ross want jobs in Wicklow and Wexford?

Acting Chairman:  Senator Lydon must [375] allow Senator Ross to make his contribution.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  There will be very many other committees which Fianna Fáil will set up before they eventually leave office of ignominy which will do no damage. Let us set that in stone as a criterion for governing this country. Fianna Fáil will be the “no damage” Government, all their actions based on that simple criterion.

I have a memory of committees of this sort. There is a tradition in this House which is not a noble one and extends to all political parties. When they have a problem they kick it off to a joint committee of all political parties where it can do no harm and is taken out of the immediate political arena. It is obvious from the way Fianna Fáil play this particular committee that they decided it was the only way to take this issue on board. It was too hot for Fianna Fáil to handle; they did not want to take the blame for the 300,000 unemployed so they thought they would rope the Opposition into another toothless committee so that they would then share the blame for the 300,000 unemployed. The Opposition are not going to take that blame because they are not going to allow another toothless committee to sit on such a serious issue and it is cynical of the Government to have taken that position.

The Labour Party come out of this with no glory either. I listened to Senator Upton's contribution which was no better or no more constructive than Senator McKenna's. They were both on a par in cynical reaction to the jobs forum. Senator Upton said the great virtue of the jobs forum would be to analyse——

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  Senator Ross is the greatest exponent of cynicism I have ever met.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  He also went on to state that the status quo was not an option. The jobs forum, as far as Senator Upton was concerned, was not going to achieve anything in particular. The reason it is [376] important that Fine Gael do not participate in this forum is that this committee will be seen for what it is by the people. Anybody serious about unemployment knows that the problem is not under the control of those who live and work here. A large number of us admit that unemployment is a consequence of reduced emigration, the world recession and other national problems. We have a noticeable structural problem in times of growth, times which Senator McKenna may find hard to recall at this stage. Employment does not increase or expand as the economy grows and that is where it would be useful to have a fundamental examination of this country's employment problem.

An Oireachtas committee is not qualified to come to conclusions or to reach solutions about employment. There are possibly ways forward by including greater numbers of people with more varied experience than TDs and Senator's; for all the good TDs and Senators do, they do not have enormous expertise in this area. The subcommittees — and I would like to thank Senator McKenna through the Chair for that interruption if not for any other — will be a means of diluting the power and effectiveness of this committee because what the committee needed above all was full membership from the unemployed, from the so called social partners and full ministerial participation and accountability.

If a Minister had to publicly act on the recommendations of this committee, it might have commanded some sort of public respect. In its present form the committee will be a dead letter and add to the cynicism of politicians because it is not going to contribute towards the creation of employment in this country. It will be a very useful but toothless little body for Fianna Fáil to refer all its problems to. It will deflect some of the blame which exists and the opprobrium rightly attached to the Government about employment. The Fine Gael Party have taken the right, if the more difficult choice, of stating that they will not tolerate a cynical effort to deflect responsibility [377] for the employment problem away from Fianna Fáil. In the long term we will be proved right; in the short term Fianna Fáil may have gained a cheap victory.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  It will be long term.

Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (Mr. M. Ahern): Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  I am glad of the opportunity to address this motion. I thank Senators who welcomed me to the House this afternoon. I am, glad the proposals for a Joint Committee on Employment have received so much support in this debate from all speakers, except members of the Fine Gael Party. Their contributions remind me of the mother who watched the FCA marching by and said: “They are all out of step except my Johnny”.

The proposals deserve our support because the unemployment situation is so grave that any proposals which give a prospect of finding new ways and measures to increase employment should be supported. We are facing the highest unemployment rate we have ever known and that should encourage us all to cooperate constructively to try to remedy that appalling situation. The Government have made a generous and sincere effort to accommodate their original proposal to the views of other parties. The amendments made include fuller participation by the social partners in the work of the committee, a system of subcommittees with specific terms of reference and financial assistance to the participating parties to enable them to undertake necessary research. These amendments to the original proposals have resulted in a structure unique in terms of such committees and show clearly the desire of the Government to enable the committee to function effectively and efficiently in accordance with views expressed by opposition parties.

There is one amendment to the original proposals which, however, the Government could not accept. Fine Gael proposed that Ministers should attend the committee. It is clear that the intention behind that proposal is to make Ministers [378] responsible and answerable to the committee for the unemployment situation. Instead of the committee developing its own ideas and proposals for employment, the Fine Gael proposal is to have Ministers up before the committee to account for what they are doing or not doing.

The answer of the Government to that naive proposal is, first, Ministers are fully responsible to the Oireachtas for what they do or do not do. There is, therefore, no question of Ministers shirking their responsibilities. All reports and recommendations of the committee will be fully considered by the Government and the relevant Ministers will respond to the Oireachtas as regards the feasibility and implementation of any such report and recommendations; second, in accordance with the constitutional position, Ministers are answerable to the Oireachtas not to a committee. I emphasise they will respond fully to the Oireachtas regarding any proposals the committee make; thirdly, this is not only the constitutional position, it is also the practice and the precedent in these matters.

Reference has been made to attendance by Ministers at committees dealing with specific Bills. That is not relevant since it is a proper function of a Minister sponsoring a Bill to discuss that Bill with a committee formed expressly for that purpose in order to facilitate the work of the Oireachtas. Reference has been made to committees established in 1967 and 1973 with ministerial membership to consider the Constitution and Northern Ireland respectively. These were informal committees set up by the political parties and were not committees of the Oireachtas set up by motion of the Oireachtas.

Failure by Fine Gael to support this motion will be seen by all impartial observers as Fine Gael running away from the concept of a jobs forum which would involve political parties. The Government regret that Fine Gael could not agree to the proposals now before the Oireachtas and I urge them to accept that the proposed committee cannot but make a worthwhile contribution to solving [379] the grim unemployment situation we face.

If they do not support this motion one must question their sincerity in putting forward their original proposal last year. One may be forgiven for thinking it was put forward as a cynical party political ploy to be seen to be offering to assist in solving the unemployment problem in expectation that their offer would not be accepted by the Government. Now that it has been accepted in generous measure by the Government and the other parties they should not be seen to distance themselves from it so as to avoid having to disclose whether they have any worthwhile proposals to make about creating employment.

Many efforts are being made to solve the employment problem. The Government have taken the following specific actions directed at creating employment: (a) the task force on employment combining the views of the social partners, Government Departments and the commercial State companies; (b) the Culliton report is being implemented by a committee of Ministers chaired by the Taoiseach and a task force mainly composed of departmental secretaries to make proposals to the ministerial committee; (c) the new EC assisted employment and training schemes for 25,000 persons on the live register; (d) the task force on tourism which has employment as a primary objective; (e) the 12 area based companies throughout the country under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to deal with long term unemployment in areas of high unemployment; (f) the EC funded study being organised by the NESC into the connection between economic growth and employment. This study will compare our experience with that of other EC economies where job creation has been greater relative to growth than in Ireland; (g) the macro-economic policy pursued by the Government which has created the conditions of low inflation and cost competitiveness which are the only basis on which our economy and employment can grow; and (h) the dramatic tax reform [380] already far advanced to encourage enterprise which is the motive power which will create greater employment. Since 1989 the top rate of tax has been brought down from 58 per cent to 48 per cent and a standard rate from 35 per cent to 27 per cent with the intention that within the lifetime of the Government it will be reduced to 25 per cent.

What is lacking in all I have listed is the insight and ideas that Members of the Oireachtas, whether in Opposition or Government parties, could contribute to solving our enormous unemployment problem. The Government think it most important to give this opportunity to Members of the Oireachtas to contribute their ideas and proposals on how to increase employment. I can promise that the Government will carefully consider all proposals the committee makes and will fully implement every proposal which is feasible and practicable. The relevant Ministers will come before the Oireachtas in accordance with the normal practice in relation to reports of committees and will respond on each and every proposal the committee makes.

I hope that the prolonged negotiations which have taken place in regard to this committee will now bear fruit in all parties agreeing to establish and participate in the committee. Any other decision will be a great disappointment and discouragement to the unemployed who look to this House, to this Oireachtas, in hope and expectation that we can combine across party divides to identify measures which can alleviate the deprivation the unemployed suffer in our society.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.

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