Friday, 17 October 2014
Social Clauses in Public Procurement Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members]
I am not addressing Fianna Fáil, but the debate. I am trying to be inclusive. At the time it was said that under EU regulations and directives it could not be done, but other countries were doing it. Although not many people would cite what was happening in Greece, and maybe rightly so, when Greece got the Olympic Games, companies were coming in to build new infrastructure in Athens, one of the oldest cities in Europe. They delivered a new infrastructure of metro, trams, roads and cycle ways. If a foreign company came in, a Greek company was working in tandem with it. It was like the early days of this State with Ardnacrusha, with German companies coming in and training Irish workers. I argue for something similar here.
The key to what they tried to do in the North was the apprentices. In the South, particularly in Dublin where there was much construction, apprentices could not follow through with their apprenticeships and were in limbo, back on the dole, because there was no work. Many of us asked if anything could be done by the Government or anybody. I went to the local authority, sat down with the county manager and talked about how we could draw these young people in, follow through and get them to finish their apprenticeships. They were reasonable suggestions. Everybody was scratching their heads.
By working together, Opposition and Government, hopefully we can all see the commonsense of this proposal on moving forward with social clauses. If the legislation is not radical enough, let us radicalise it. That was the point Deputy McDonald made this morning. If the Minister feels it is not strong enough, we will consider changing it. Is that not a commonsense approach? This is how the House should approach all legislation. Nobody is trying to score points on this. Let us park what happened in the past. All of us, even Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, accept that we made mistakes. We are talking about what we will do in the future for those young people who are leaving Ireland in their droves.
There are barriers to SMEs. It is about unbundling and breaking up the contracts and making them smaller. It is difficult for an SME to reach a threshold of, say, €20 million. Deputy McDonald will respond to many of the points made about the North, bearing in mind that it is a forced coalition. Despite the negativity about what is not happening, some positive things have happened in the past and will continue to happen. With my local authority we examined minority groups such as Travellers and what could be done. The local authority recognised that there was a need for positive role models in the Traveller community. The role models would usually be people in boxing or other sports. The local authority asked itself what it could do to support young Travellers going through education. Again, it is about the social clause. The local authority put some Travellers on the front desk so that people coming in to deal with housing issues or to pay their rent would meet them. That is what we are talking about, making minority groups part of society.
The suggestions in our Bill go some of the way. We are talking about contracts worth €9 billion. The Minister said there are areas we cannot break up or to which the legislation may not apply. We are not closing anything off and we must have an open mind. We collectively agree that what happened in the past was wrong and we need to change it. This idea of the dictatorship of the lowest price must change. We must examine where we are investing. Many people talked in very positive terms about the programme for schools.
Again, however, if one talks to people who are involved in the construction game - many of my family traditionally have been involved in bricklaying and block-building for generations - one difficulty at present is that in many of the contracts awarded for schools, universities and so on, many of the workers are involved in the black economy. I refer to the subcontractors and so on, as well as to the current scandalous situation involving the striking workers from J.J. Rhatigan, who were outside the gates of Leinster House on Thursday and who are fighting for a living wage on a Government-funded contract. In this case, there has been talk of €5 per hour with many of the contractors. They are seeking a review of the compliance mechanism to ensure that workers on building sites are paid the rate for the job. If the Minister of State has any influence in this area, I ask him to note that my party has raised consistently what was happening on these school contracts with both the current Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Quinn. Moreover, members of Deputy Quinn's own party who were involved in construction work raised this issue directly with him.
The proposal being put forward by Deputy McDonald is highly positive. Moreover, the debate has reflected this, albeit with one hiccup, involving a Deputy who has since left the Chamber. However, this is a positive measure and I reiterate that it is welcome that the Minister of State wishes to engage in this debate and is positive about it, which is a good signal for a way forward.