Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Departmental Staff.

2:30 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the facilities or supports available to staff within his Department to meet their child care needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26485/05]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the facilities or provisions available within his Department for the child care needs of his Department's staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30212/05]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the facilities made available within his Department to cater for the child care needs of departmental staff. [32460/05]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

Members of staff within my Department are supported as far as it is practicable to meet their child care needs. Staff members are offered a wide variety of family friendly arrangements taking in to account the organisational needs of the Department.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I do not know if one should express surprise or thank the Taoiseach for the brevity of his reply. Does he agree the child care supports offered to some civil servants are fair compared with those offered to other workers, especially those in the private sector and lower paid workers generally? Is the Taoiseach aware that one of the real difficulties is that entitlements, to which he alluded briefly, exist not as statutory rights but as the result of long, hard negotiations and agreement? For many people the option of parental leave is not a real option because it is not provided for in law. Surveys have indicated that a mere 20% of workers who could exercise the right to take parental leave——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is outside the scope of the question which relates specifically to the Taoiseach's Department.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I know that but in the context of his Department, is the Taoiseach aware that 20% of workers——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It does not arise on this question. The Chair has ruled on this matter and the Deputy must confine himself to the question before the House.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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If the Ceann Comhairle will allow me to finish the sentence, it will become apparent——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has been granted a fair amount of latitude.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I never get latitude. I never seek it and if I were ever granted any, I would be gobsmacked. Only one in five workers can avail——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It does not arise on this question.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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If I am allowed, I ask the Taoiseach if the same figures apply in his Department. If there are reflective statistics for his Department of the figures I have outlined for the State experience, does he agree a right in law to parental leave is required?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise out of this question. If the Deputy read his question, he would see that. I ask him to confine himself to the question before the House.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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This is a good Second Stage speech.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I view child care as other than crèche facilities that have been mooted for this institution for a long time. Child care is a much more comprehensive issue than the mere provision of a room and guardianship.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is correct and that is why he should submit a question to the appropriate Minister.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I am trying to establish, if the Chair would allow a Member of this House to do so, whether the Taoiseach agrees, from his experience in his Department, that we need statutory provisions and not just the options exercised out of long negotiations and agreement.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Chair will implement the Standing Orders and there will be no special treatment for Deputy Ó Caoláin. I ask him to resume his seat and allow the Taoiseach to respond to the question.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Taoiseach reply to my valid questions, which are exactly to what Question No. 1 refers?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach will reply with regard to his own Department. I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to resume his seat.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Legislation governs maternity leave and it is continually under review. Over the past six social partnership programmes there have been improvements and changes. In my Department a number of initiatives are in place to support the needs of a diverse workforce, including work sharing options, flexitime, career breaks, paternity leave, term leave, special leave for domestic circumstances, adoptive leave and maternity leave. The last exists as a right and by regulation but leave is often taken for other purposes.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Taoiseach agree that leave to which workers are legally entitled would be the answer?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Some of the issues raised by the Deputy already exist in legislation. The child care measures in my Department include term leave, for example, which quite a substantial number of people take. It allows them to take either eight, ten or 13 weeks' unpaid leave from June until the end of August to match their working arrangements with their children's summer holidays. A range of options are available across Departments and they assist and greatly help parents.

In the overall child care area, the Deputy knows that facilities are in place for people both within and outside the public service. I do not want to answer for the private sector because that is not my Department but a range of initiatives are available for people to use.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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With regard to child care and the Taoiseach's Department, have his staff indicated any interest in or must they apply for the use of crèche facilities that are coming on stream in Kildare House? Is that a facility that will be available to the Taoiseach's Department and what is the expected completion date?

Are details available of staff in flexitime, part-time or work sharing arrangements in the interests of child care? Will the Taoiseach provide the House with those figures now or obtain that information? It would be interesting to compare his Department with other areas of the Civil Service.

The Taoiseach mentioned, in reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin, that leave of eight, ten or 13 weeks is allowed to tie in with school holidays. Is there any other leave facility staff can take which might appear to be a career break but is in effect parental leave? For example, is taking a year off for child rearing among the child care facilities available within his Department?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I remind the Deputy that his question should only apply to the Taoiseach's Department.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Absolutely. I am strictly confining my question to the Taoiseach's Department.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Sargent should note that the first part of his question relates to facilities in the House and is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas which has responsibility for the crèche.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I asked about the crèche as it might apply to the Taoiseach's Department.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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A crèche for the backbenchers.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The facility will only be available to staff in the Houses. There are some crèches in the public service, in Revenue and some other Departments, that are open to staff and there is a number of private crèches that people can use.

A total of 35 staff across all grades in my Department, up to and including principal officer, avail of work sharing. That is quite a high number out of a total of not much more than 200 people. That obviously helps staff with young children. The type of work sharing options available to staff include four-day weeks, three-and-a half-day weeks, three-day weeks, two-and-a-half-day weeks, two-day weeks, split weeks, mornings-only, evenings-only, week-on and week-off, and so forth. The system is extremely helpful and flexible for staff. The split week is by far the most popular option with staff. The other options are only availed of by one or two individuals, but the split week is very popular. The next most popular option is the four-day week. Those two options cover the majority of the work sharing arrangements.

As Deputy Sargent has said, the term time option is very helpful for people with small, schoolgoing children in the four to seven or five to eight age groups. It allows people to take leave for at least a sizeable part of the summer break, which works fairly well, without totally disrupting the Department. It works for people who are in an EU section or a section that is not as busy in July and August as it is during the rest of the year. It is helpful and useful to people.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I note the range of options that members of staff in the Taoiseach's Department may exercise, but what is the policy? Is there a structured policy for all workers in his Department? Do they know what it is and is it the same for every employee irrespective of rank? What does it consist of in concrete terms? The reply did not give any details?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Deputy asking about a policy for child care?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Yes. If a parent is taken on by the Department what is he or she told by the head of personnel is available in terms of child care facilities? I do not refer to work sharing.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is no crèche in my Department and there are no arrangements for people to bring children. I have given details of how we try to accommodate staff but there is no facility for staff to arrive at work with their children and ask the secretary to look after them.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The Taoiseach might second the Minister for Defence as he enjoys playing with toys.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Or the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely.