Tuesday, 13 February 2007
Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 17, inclusive, together.
I am delighted that Towards 2016, the ten-year framework social partnership agreement 2006-15, received such overwhelming support from within all four social partner pillars and that we are now progressing its implementation. The mechanisms for implementation of the new agreement are broadly the same as applied under the previous agreement and are set out in detail in chapter 4, part 1, of the new agreement.
The steering group representing Government and each of the social partner pillars has been reconvened and is, as before, assuming overall responsibility for the management of the implementation of the agreement as it applies to the wider non-pay issues. Each social partner pillar has representatives on the steering group, while the Government is represented by the Secretary General and an assistant secretary of my Department and senior officials from the Departments of Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the office for social inclusion.
As heretofore, there will be quarterly plenary meetings of the social partner pillars and an annual meeting of the parties with me, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance. The inaugural plenary meeting under Towards 2016 takes place this Thursday in Dublin Castle. The agenda for the meeting will include updates on the recently launched National Development Plan 2007-2013 and the life cycle approach to delivery of social services envisaged under Towards 2016. The first quarterly progress report under Towards 2016 will also be circulated at the meeting.
In addition to the ongoing monitoring and reporting mechanisms which I have described, it has also been agreed that a formal review of the agreement will be undertaken during 2008. As with all previous agreements, the Government and the social partners will keep implementation of Towards 2016 under ongoing review. There are no plans for renegotiation.
In addition to the quarterly review meetings, the national implementation body continues to meet as required to oversee delivery of the industrial peace and stability provisions in Towards 2016. It has met on a number of occasions over recent months to assist in the resolution of industrial relations disputes. Meetings of the body also provide opportunities for informal discussions on some of the broader issues relating to the social partnership process and the industrial relations climate generally.
Under the recently enacted NESDO legislation, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the National Economic and Social Forum, NESF, and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, NCPP, are being established on a statutory basis. Part of this process involves the reconstitution of both NESC and the NESF for a new three-year term of office from 2007 to 2009. Once this exercise has been completed, the priority task for these bodies will be to draw up and agree a new programme of work. As part of any new programme, NESC, the NESF and the NCPP, as constituent parts of NESDO, will participate in a learning society foresight exercise. This was recommended by the Information Society Commission and agreed by the Government and the social partners in Towards 2016.
NESC, appointed in mid-2003 for a three-year term, completed and published the following reports, as well as providing advice and information to the Government on issues of economic development and social justice: Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy, published in December 2004; the Developmental Welfare State, published in May 2005; NESC Strategy 2006, People, Productivity and Purpose, published in December 2005; Migration Policy, published in September 2006; and Managing Migration in Ireland: A Social and Economic Analysis, commissioned by the NESC and undertaken by the International Organisation for Migration, published in September 2006. It is proposed that the reconstituted council build on this work by undertaking the preparation of Ireland's first periodic social report. This is in response to a Government request to carry out this work.
During its term of office, which began with an inaugural meeting in May 2004 and ended on 31 December last, the NESF published reports on the following policy themes: early childhood care and education, care for older people and creating a more inclusive labour market. In addition, work has been completed on a number of reports which are due to be published shortly. These include Improving the Delivery of Quality Public Services, and the Arts, Cultural Inclusion and Social Cohesion. The NESF is also progressing a report focusing on the area of mental health.
The NESF has overseen three meetings to date of the national anti-poverty strategy social inclusion forum. This forum is designed to give those who are not directly involved in the social partnership process an opportunity to input their views and experiences in implementing the anti-poverty strategy, identify barriers and constraints to progress and how best these can be overcome and provide suggestions on new developments and more effective policies in the future. The official reports on the proceedings are published and circulated to all Ministers, the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, all Oireachtas Members and local authorities.
The NESF prepares from time to time periodic reports on the influence and impact of its work on official policies, both at national and local levels. The last such report covered the period 2001-03. The NESF also hosted, in conjunction with the Geary Institute at UCD, a conference on evidence-based policy-making in February 2005. The basic purpose of this conference was to examine both the supply and gathering of evidence and to apply this in the policy-making process and the design of practical policy solutions. The ongoing monitoring and evaluation of policy outcomes was also an important focus of the conference.