Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Referral of Papers to Joint Committee on Health and Children: Motion

 

11:00 am

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That, in relation to the Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, the papers connected therewith of the Joint Committee on Health and Children established by orders of Dáil and Seanad Éireann of 16 October 2002 and 17 October 2002, respectively be referred to the Joint Committee on Health and Children established by orders of Dáil and Seanad Éireann.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Next we come to statements on the Mid-West Task Force.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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What about the Order of Business?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will move on with that.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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On 23 December, the Minister for Finance indicated he would introduce a measure under which senior public servants would not pay the levy applied to every other public servant. He decided that bonus payments, supposed to be for exceptional achievement, were effectively a part of standard pay. When will this motion be presented to the House? I have not yet seen it on the Order Paper. Will the Minister provide an opportunity for the House to debate it? There is substantial concern about this measure and substantial opposition because it is believed it is unfair to ask people on the lowest pay within the public service to pay their full due, but those up in high posts have slipped out of that position. When will the Minister make time for this?

While I am on my feet I refer to the issues of debt collection and people getting into difficulties with loans. Emergency legislation was introduced to try to deal with the banking situation. Where is the same urgency to update our bankruptcy laws, to regulate debt collectors and to provide a framework in which people can be treated fairly by those pursuing debts? Will we see legislative proposals from the Government, on foot of the group the Minister has stated he intends to establish, to protect consumers at a time of remarkable vulnerability for many families?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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In respect of the protection of homeowners, any required legislation will be brought forward. At this stage, the inter-departmental committee is doing its work and if legislation is required on foot of that work, it will be introduced as a matter of urgency.

I refer to the question of remuneration levels of certain categories of higher public servant. Without opening up the discussion in general terms, a statutory instrument was made in that regard and the decision was made by the Government and me. It was grounded on the fact that were we to have applied the full reduction recommended by the body to the particular group. It would have meant an effective reduction in their remuneration package of an average of 18% for assistant secretaries, well in excess of the reduction accepted by Members of this House and by principal officers at their equivalent grade and well in excess of the amount imposed on Ministers and in excess of the amount imposed on Secretaries General.

It is worth noting also that this group, unlike everyone else in the category, was benchmarked in the report on higher level salaries, which Deputies can examine for the precise arrangements applicable to this category.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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My question, which was in order, was when will we see the order the Minister has made? As I understand, regulations under this Bill must be laid before the House and they can be annulled. Will the Minister make time for the Dáil to debate that order because there is substantial belief that bonuses, which should only be paid for exceptional achievement, should not be regarded, as the Minister has now done, as part of the core pay of those public servants? The way he got to that 18% was by pretending that they were entitled to bonus pay each year, regardless of performance. That was never the intention of a bonus scheme.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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As Deputy Bruton is well aware, this particular bonus arrangement was unique to this category of public servant. As I understand the position, the statutory instrument has been adopted and there are no proposals to make time available to discuss it.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Will the Minister clarify, or perhaps correct, something the Tánaiste told us yesterday? When I asked her about this yesterday, she effectively said that the inclusion of the bonus as part of salary was recommended by the review body on higher level remuneration. She told us the review body on higher level remuneration indicated that the bonus was indicatively part of the salary and, therefore, that justified the way in which the Minister and the Government handled it.

I have looked through the review body report and it says nothing of the kind - in fact, it clearly says the reverse. It makes clear that the Government had already decided that performance-related awards should be abolished and, therefore, the recommendations which it made in respect of the pay of this grade of civil servant had already taken that into account.

The Government has been justifying what it did by suggesting that the review body had somehow recommended that the bonus and basic pay should be consolidated for these purposes but it did not say anything of the kind. Will the Minister for Finance clarify that point?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The commencement order for the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act appeared on the Order Paper on Tuesday. That was a commencement order rather than a statutory instrument and did not include, if I am correct in my reading of it, any reference to the fact the Minister had used his powers under that Act to grant an exception to people in regard to bonuses.

The Minister said a statutory instrument does that. If that has occurred, it has not been on the Order Paper, or at least I have not seen it on it. It needs to go on the Order Paper and this House and the other one have the right to challenge that within 21 days. The Minister might clarify that.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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As the Tánaiste said yesterday, bonuses are indicative but all the literature previously available on bonuses state that they are performance-related and reward for outstanding performance and excellence and that they are not automatic.

Will the Minister clarify who, in the upper echelons of the public service, is affected by his and the Government's approach? County managers, directors of services and senior executives in the Health Service Executive all have bonus arrangements. The Government indicated, when it introduced the various emergency financial arrangements, that the bonuses had been brought to an end and that, therefore, they had already been stopped by Government as surplus excess payments which would be made in good times to reward very good performance. That is what the reports and the replies to parliamentary questions on bonuses, since they were first introduced, suggest.

The Minister will understand that more junior public servants, many of them now taking home less than €500 per week, feel very aggrieved that special arrangements have been made for people who, although they are not necessarily hugely well paid, are certainly far better paid than people in the lower ranks of the public service who face big reductions as well as big tax hikes.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Varadkar raised an issue on the Order of business and I will communicate with him about the precise status of the statutory instrument in order that he and the House can consider their options in that regard.

A Civil Service clerical officer on the mid-point of the scale has suffered a net loss in the last three budgets since autumn 2008 of approximately 11.7% of pay. I accept that is a very significant loss. It should be compared to the net loss to those in the higher paid grades. In the same period, an Assistant Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 24% of pay while a Deputy Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 27% of pay. The highest paid civil servants, level one Secretaries General, who volunteered to take an additional pay reduction, have seen their net pay reduced by more than one third.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Does that include the bonus?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Will the Minister clarify-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Burton we cannot have a debate on this matter.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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What is the position in regard to the HSE-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister has volunteered the information and we cannot have a full scale debate on the matter on the Order of Business.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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-----and people at senior management level in local authorities?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot have a full scale debate at this time. I wish to revert for one moment to the Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2010.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will come back to the Deputy when I deal with this matter.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The original question, which is of interest to the entire House, including the Ceann Comhairle, concerns the misleading of the House yesterday by the Tánaiste. That was the original question asked by Deputy Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party. That is the question to which we need an answer and not the opinion on the other-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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There will be opportunities to raise these points at a later stage. We are not going to deal-----

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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A Cheann Comhairle-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not really a point of order.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It is a point of order. I would be interested to hear-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Lynch will have to find an alternative way to deal with this.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Minister should answer the question.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy will have to find an alternative way to deal with this.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I have not seen the blacks.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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We can bring them in for the Minister.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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As the person responsible for the orderly running of this House, the Ceann Comhairle should insist the question is answered because the Dáil was misled and that needs to be put right.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We must get notice of any of these matters. I cannot be expected to have this information available for the Order of Business.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The Minister finally wrote to me the other day with a copy of the Government order in regard to this salary issue because, as Deputy Gilmore said, it was not available in the Library or in Iris Oifigiúil . He said there were difficulties with the printing-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot have a full scale debate on this matter on the Order of Business. The Minister for Finance has volunteered the information.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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In his letter to me, he advised that there were difficulties with the printing of the circular.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sure there will be other opportunities to elicit even more information on the matter.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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This has been raised by many Members of the Opposition. The Minister is in the House. He wrote to me the other day and said that there were difficulties with the printing of the circular but attaching a copy of the circular.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy will have to find an alternative way to pursue this.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The Minister is obliged to answer reasonable questions.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is being disorderly on the Order of Business. We are moving on. To come back to Deputy Lynch's point, any allegation against a Member must be made by way of formal motion in the House. If the Deputy wishes to take up that option, she may do so.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I am not making an allegation. I said that the leader of the Labour Party asked for clarification but was not given it.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy alleged that a Member misled the House. I ask Deputy Stagg to move that the Whisteblowers Protection Bill 2010 be taken in Private Members' time.