Tuesday, 4 December 2012
I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that Cabinet collegiality is important in terms of the smooth running of Government and honesty between colleagues, in particular, is important. When Fianna Fáil tabled a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, in September last we were conscious of anonymous leaks to the media from some of his Cabinet colleagues that they did not have confidence in him. They were complaining on an ongoing basis about him and notwithstanding that, they voted for the Minister in that debate.
However, there is now the extraordinary revelation, reported in the Sunday Independent and other newspapers, that on Wednesday last the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, spoke clearly about his lack of confidence in Deputy Reilly's ability to do the job. It was following a discussion at the parliamentary party at which some Deputies expressed strongly held views. The Sunday Independent reported that Labour Party chairman, Deputy Keaveney, railed against Deputy Reilly's "privatisation agenda" of health and that Deputy Ó Ríordáin stated that the Minister was the "elephant in the room"-----
and was quoted as stating: "We are going to have to do something about Reilly and soon. Clearly he is not up to the job of being Minister, and in my view he should go. He simply can't do his job, makes a hash of everything he [does]". The key intervention was made by the Minister, Deputy Quinn's, when he responded that "your sentiments are shared by your cabinet colleagues", but he then went to state that the party "can't be seen to be looking for a head".
The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is fast becoming the poster boy of breathtaking political cynicism in this House. He did not speak during the debate on that confidence motion, but he voted confidence in the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and acquiesced in the principled resignation of then Minister of State, Deputy Shortall. Now we have learned that all along he did not believe any of that.
I believe that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, did speak thus at the Labour Parliamentary Party meeting.
Did the Taoiseach meet the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and has he asked him to confirm or deny that he made those comments at the Labour Parliamentary Party about a ministerial colleague?
It is not so long ago since there used be 12-hour meetings of the parliamentary party of the party in which Deputy Martin is involved.
I notice that Deputy Martin has moved from a point of accepting everything he reads in the newspapers to be the truth. Let me inform him that I have spoken to both Ministers, Deputy Quinn and Deputy Reilly. They are absolutely at one concerning the job we have to do. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, has full confidence in the Minister, Deputy Reilly. Deputy Martin has been spouting on about motions of no confidence, so he should put one down again whenever he wants and the Government will deal with it.
Our job is to fulfil the mandate given to us, to sort out our public finance problems, to deal with the creation of jobs and to continue to provide opportunities for job creation so that people can go to work. In addition, we want to improve the climate for investment in the country both from abroad as a foreign direct investment location and to improve the circumstances of our own indigenous economy.
Deputy Martin can speculate all he likes and can give truth to speculation, rumours or quotes in newspapers if he wishes. I want him to understand, however, that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, will fulfil his mandate as Minister for Health.
This Cabinet is focused entirely on the mandate given to us by the people to sort out the mess that Deputy Martin left behind him. We will do that irrespective of the claims or allegations that he makes.
I was not at the Labour Party meeting. I asked the Taoiseach a simple question. I know that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has come out to say he has confidence in the Minister for Health, but did he make those comments at the party meeting or not?
He neither confirmed nor denied making those comments. We know that the Labour Party Deputies agree with opposition Deputies on the Minister for Health's performance, including all those whose home help hours have been cut, the debacle over primary care centres and the attack on people with disabilities. That is why Labour Deputies do not have confidence in the Minister for Health.
We are on the cusp of yet another major health Estimate that will wreak further damage on health services. I just want to ask this simple question: did the Minister, Deputy Quinn, confirm to the Taoiseach that he made those comments at the Labour Party Parliamentary Party meeting, "Yes" or "No"? Did the Taoiseach talk to him about it and did he confirm it?
If Deputy Martin was not the leader of his party I would say something else to him about the nature of his questions. I do not have to speak for the Minister, Deputy Quinn, or anybody else. I can assure Deputy Martin that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has full confidence in the Minister for Health. Far from Deputy Martin saying that he made no claim, he is just after saying that what he read in the newspapers is the truth, as if he was there. It is the same old story, as when Deputy Martin had the opportunity to say if the IMF was in the country, if our banks were solvent and were we ever to have what he termed the cheapest bailout in history. His amnesia is setting in at a very early stage politically speaking.
Deputy Martin has not made a claim, yet he claims that something written in a newspaper is the truth, as if he was there. Let me repeat for him that the Government has a challenging position ahead. We never said that this was going to be an easy remit, but we are not lacking the courage to sort out the mess Deputy Martin left behind him.
In that sense, let me assure Deputy Martin that the Ministers, Deputies Reilly and Quinn, are part of a Government that is focused on dealing with our problems - that is, to improve the state of our public finances and to continue to provide opportunities for investment, growth and employment. That is the Government's remit and all members of the Government are focused on it.
The last few days have been filled with Government-inspired leaks in the media, which are causing great concern to citizens. I have picked this up this morning in Dublin city and over the weekend in my own constituency. I note it is the Taoiseach's normal practice when asked about the budget to say that he will not comment on what may be in it. That might be fair enough if there was not so much speculation quoting Government sources. There is a responsibility on the Taoiseach to remove some of these fears. I will not take the Taoiseach through all the issues but there is a particular annoyance about Government leaks that there will be more cuts to child benefit, on top of last year's cuts and on top of cuts introduced by Fianna Fáil in its time in office. These have hit the most vulnerable parents and children hardest.
Just a few weeks ago we had the referendum to strengthen the rights of children in the Constitution. It would be an outrage if, in the wake of that constitutional amendment being passed, the Government was to attack child benefit. People want to know why the children of the State should suffer while high earners have their incomes protected. Maybe this speculation is wrong. I ask the Taoiseach to make it clear and assuage the fears of these citizens that he will not cut child benefit in this budget.
Some of the speculation that I have been reading and hearing about in the past couple of weeks has certainly been fuelled by Deputy Adams and members of his party making outrageous claims and spinning rumours of this, that and the other.
Let me assure Deputy Adams that as regards tomorrow's budget, we have made no secret of the fact that our country faces a challenging time. We have never been talking about green shoots or having turned corners. Everybody knows that economically our country faces a challenging period and we are going to deal with that. Tomorrow's budget will be a further step in the direction of recovering our competitiveness, making this country an attractive location for direct investment, and the opportunities - such as they are - to stimulate our own indigenous economy by opening doors for access to credit for small and medium-sized enterprises, whereby jobs are created.
The Deputy is clearly interested in what will happen in tomorrow's budget and he asked me for clarification on one particular issue. He has less than 24 hours to go before details of the budget - not rumours, speculation or allegations - will be unveiled by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. On that occasion, the Deputy can talk on the basis of fact instead of speculation, innuendo, rumour or allegation.
I thank the Taoiseach for his best wishes. I can tell him that my eyes are much better and will hopefully continue to improve in the time ahead. Of course, I can wait until tomorrow but these rumours and speculation in the media are quoting Government sources. That is what is causing public concern. The only way in which I can interpret the Taoiseach's answer is that he is confirming that he will cut child benefit, but I hope I am wrong.
I also want to directly address the Taoiseach's colleagues in the Labour Party. During the last election campaign, the Labour Party called on the public to vote for them to protect child benefit. The Labour leader said it was a red line issue. These posters were displayed across the State by the Labour Party.
If they are not to cut it, fair play. That would be a good thing for our children, but if they are there is still time to pull back from that. I ask the Taoiseach to do that and to look again at tax increases for those earning over €100,000 because they can afford cuts. The children of the State cannot afford cuts in their benefits.
Deputy Adams has again asked me for confirmation regarding issues in the budget that will be delivered tomorrow by the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. Let me confirm a number of matters for him. Interest rates have fallen from 14.4% to 4.3%. A total of 20,000 jobs have been created in the private sector whereas when we took office, 300,000 jobs had been lost in the private sector.
These are facts I can confirm for the Deputy. As for the details of the budget, everyone will have all the details tomorrow. As I stated, these are challenging times but this budget will build on the platform already made and moving in the right direction of dealing with our public financial problems, of creating opportunities for jobs and employment and of continuing to make Ireland competitive and attractive for foreign direct investment by organisations such as Mylan, PayPal, Apple and all those which have invested and created, and continue to create, serious job numbers here. In addition, it will pertain to a real concern shared by everyone, that is, stimulating the indigenous economy, making it easier for young people to be employed and providing opportunities in small and medium-sized enterprises to have access to credit in order that the spend can move through the economy and people can plan their lives with a greater sense of security and strategy for the times ahead. This is what the budget will be about tomorrow.
The Government has tried and has worked hard to make it as fair, equitable and affordable as is possible. These things are never easy. This is a major challenge for Ireland and the budget tomorrow will be a step further in this country's exiting of the programme we are in, in retrieving our economic sovereignty and restoring the opportunity to grow our economy and to create jobs, which is in everyone's interest. The people know this. Deputy Adams should believe it is not with any great sense of satisfaction that any Minister must deliver on or to deal with hard challenges. In that sense, the Minister for Finance will spell out all the details of the budget tomorrow while the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will outline the spending arrangements.
The whole country knows the Government is sharpening the knives to inflict even more suffering on struggling families, pensioners, students and those who depend on the health services. People also know from yesterday's events that Ireland's European Union partners are completely unimpressed with the Government's slavish obedience and willingness to impose such suffering on its own citizens. They intend to give us no debt relief whatsoever. The people of this country are looking into a dark and endless night of austerity and suffering if the Taoiseach continues down this failed path. When workers, unemployed people, pensioners and community groups assemble to protest outside the Dáil tomorrow afternoon against what the Government plans to do to them-----
-----will the Taoiseach go out and tell them how they are supposed to pay their bills? Will he tell them which meals they should skip or that their children should skip to pay the Government's home taxes, its car tax increases, its new taxes on pensions, its cuts in child benefit and its increased registration fees? The Taoiseach has proven to be highly adept at using other people's money to pay off the loan sharks of the international financial markets. Will he go out tomorrow and tell these citizens how they can use his skills to pay off the street loan sharks from whom they are obliged to borrow money to pay for groceries and bills? Perhaps the Taoiseach might offer to swap places with one of those families who are dependent on family income supplement or social welfare----
Will he tell it that the poor, the pensioners, the unemployed and the working poor of this country cannot take any more? Will Taoiseach finally stand up for the citizens of this country instead of protecting the interests of bondholders and financiers?
Unlike the Deputy, I did not have the benefit of a private school education but if one studies what is happening, this country is in a very different position and on a different path than are the citizens of Greece. As for the decision of the Minister for Finance in respect of the arrangements made for Greece, they are very different than the position in which this country finds itself. Deputy Boyd Barrett will appreciate the Greek Government now has a target of reaching a debt-to-GDP ratio of 124% by 2024, whereas the Irish Government expects to exit its programme in 2013, to retrieve its economic independence and to be able to grow the economy. In that sense, the Government is already working with the troika on the arrangements that will be most appropriate for Ireland in exiting its programme.
The Deputy speaks of all the different sectors and mentioned the unemployed, workers and those who are in receipt of social protection. Does the Deputy not think the Government appreciates the challenges these people face? Does he not understand such individuals approach all public representatives with their genuine concerns and anxieties? This is the reason the Government, in the circumstances it faces, will do its best to ensure that the budget is as fair and as equitable as possible. Not everything can be done tomorrow and it is a case of putting this budget clearly on a platform of progress for the entire country and the economy in order that investment and jobs can be created. It is never going to fix itself and with his private school education, Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware of this. While the Deputy might be highly gratified to have another protest outside the gates, I assure the Deputy that where I come from, we know all about that.
We know all about challenge and adversity and all about the difficulties the people have faced for many years. Deputy Boyd Barrett should not come into this Chamber and lecture us about all of that.
It does not matter what school one attended because any schoolchild could work out that if one has nothing, one cannot pay any more and 1.3 million people have €50 or less at the end of the month after paying for essentials. How will they pay €300 or €400 in home tax? How can they pay hundreds of euro extra in car tax? How will they deal with cuts in child benefit or other cuts and austerity taxes the Government plans to impose on them? Simple mathematics makes it clear this cannot be done. This is a recipe for driving hundreds of thousands of families into poverty.
The Taoiseach states he has no choice but there is a choice. The Government should impose the taxes on those who can afford them and tell the bondholders and financiers that the ordinary citizens of this country cannot take it any more. If he intends to persist with this madness, I again ask the Taoiseach whether he at least will go out tomorrow to explain to those pensioners, workers and ordinary struggling families how they are supposed to pay their bills or live as they must for a week or two to see how he manages?
The Government has a particular ask in respect of our colleagues both in Europe and with the ECB and that is to restructure and re-engineer the level of the bank debt the country has faced. Patience is an important element of what we must do here. I agree that I would love to be able to come into the Chamber tomorrow and tell Members this has all been sorted out. However, the Deputy should believe me when I tell him it is neither as easy nor as facile as he attempts to put forward.
I can confirm that a great deal of work has been done and is ongoing in respect of the promissory notes with the European Central Bank, with a view to having the issue resolved before March next year.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware that the discussions were progressed yesterday in respect of the banking union requirement, a decision of the European Council, which can only take place once the legal framework allows that to happen. I hope it can be in place by January and that the discussions on that element of banking union and a supervisory element over the banks of Europe can take place. I hope the framework will come together during the course of 2013.
Tomorrow's budget will be presented on the basis of it being a challenging but positive step towards putting the country on a continued path for recovery, economic growth and opportunities for job creation. That will not happen unless we continue to understand that we must continue to make the country competitive and attractive to investment from abroad, where opportunities exist for credit to be available here and where people can avail of a facility to create jobs.
The Deputy seems to have the impression that we should have a population that is entirely unemployed. I have never heard the Deputy speak about opportunities to create jobs in his constituency or anywhere else.
-----around the country. People are striving and winning. Some 20,000 jobs have been created in the past 12 months in the private sector, which is an indication of confidence that those people have in putting their money where their mouth is to invest in job opportunities for the good of the country.