Tuesday, 18 October 2016
I am sure the Taoiseach agrees that justice delayed is justice denied. It is a fundamental core function of the Government to ensure the appointment of judges to our courts in a timely and effective manner. It is quite extraordinary that there is still a backlog of up to 1,800 cases waiting to be heard by the Court of Appeal. That court, as the Taoiseach knows, came about as a result of a constitutional amendment and was established in 2014, with delays of up to four and a half years having been seen previously. A recent assessment by a law lecturer in Maynooth indicates that, despite the work under way, the rate of progress means it will take approximately 11 years for the backlog to be cleared. Chief Justice Denham and the President of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, have appealed to the Government to fill vacancies to the Court of Appeal. There are vacancies in the Supreme Court, the District Court and the Circuit Court that have not been filled.
It is said that the Independent Alliance has frozen the appointment of any new judges as a core principle pending the enactment of the judicial appointments Bill. That is unacceptable. The Taoiseach stated that this was not the case but a spokesperson subsequently indicated, after the Labour Party raised the matter, that there would be no appointments until a judicial appointments Bill passed through the House. This is a very serious issue as victims of crime deserve to have their cases heard and see justice achieved. The Government - through the paralysis caused by the Independent Alliance and the weakness of the other side of the Administration in facing up to it - is essentially traversing and interfering with the constitutional right of citizens to have justice achieved.
It is a very basic matter in a democracy. Is it the case that there will be no judges appointed until the Government gets around to passing the necessary legislation? That is unacceptable. I put it to the Taoiseach that a Government incapable of appointing judges is dysfunctional. This must be rectified very quickly.
Will the Taoiseach indicate that it is the Government's intention to appoint judges forthwith and that the opposition of the Independent Alliance will not be allowed to hold sway until the Government's Bill is published?
The Deputy is certainly correct when he says that justice delayed is justice denied. I make the point that when I was elected Taoiseach in the first instance, the delay in getting cases into the Supreme Court was over three years and there was a huge backlog right across the entire spectrum of the judicial courts. One of the issues that arose was that a court of appeal should be set up to deal with cases that the High Court would have dealt with but which should not go directly to the Supreme Court because of the delays there. Instead, those cases would be sent to a court of appeal for decision. It took some time to establish the Court of Appeal but when it was set up, it began to work very effectively.
As I understand it, although I do not have the figures in front of me, the number of judicial vacancies in all of the courts is very small at present. I may be wrong, however, and Deputy Martin may have different information. I do not engage with members of the Judiciary on a regular basis and for very good reason. As I understand it, the number of vacancies in the Judiciary is very small. The Deputy is aware of the appointment process that has been followed for many years.
The Tánaiste has set out her views in respect of putting together a judicial appointments commission. That has been responded to by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and, as I understand it, that response has been sent to the Department of Justice and Equality. The Deputy must understand that the Court of Appeal has requested that a further subsection of the court be set up and this would require the appointment of a number of judges. I am not sure how many would be needed but this is not what was intended. Far be it from me to say that the learned members of the Bench are not able to do their job - they are - but the intention in setting up the Court of Appeal was not to have so many cases lying for years before being dealt with by the Supreme Court.
It is not true to say that judges cannot or will not be appointed. The legislation is being proceeded with to drafting conclusion and will be brought before the House. Clearly, I am quite sure that if it was absolutely necessary to make a judicial appointment or appointments, then that would happen.
I understand that, as and from some weeks ago, the number of judicial vacancies is very small. There are none in the Court of Appeal, as far as I can recall, rather they relate to the District Court, the Circuit Court and elsewhere. I will check the figures and advise Deputy Martin on the situation. That is different to the request to set up a new subsection of the Court of Appeal dealing with X number of judges.
The Court of Appeal backlog could take over a decade to clear. That is not my assessment but that of Mr. Seth Barrett Tillman, law lecturer at Maynooth University. I understand - perhaps the Taoiseach will confirm if this has happened - that the Chief Justice and the President of the High Court have approached the Government with a view to having more judges appointed to the Court of Appeal. Either that has happened or it has not.
The Taoiseach did not answer my question. Is it the case that the Independent Alliance has said that no more judges can be appointed until the judicial appointments commission is established? Yes or no. Is that the actual position as we speak? We are being told by the media week after week that the Independent Alliance has frozen any more judicial appointments.
Deputy O'Callaghan will be publishing the legislation that is required today. The Independent Alliance knows all about it because Deputy O'Callaghan, who is quite a learned man in this domain, enlightened its members during the Government formation talks. I suspect that members of the alliance have taken many of Deputy O'Callaghan's lessons on board. We did not think they would take them as enthusiastically on board as they are currently doing, namely, by freezing or paralysing the process relating to the appointment of judges. The legislation to which I refer will can be adopted by the Government. I ask the Taoiseach to answer my question. Is the Independent Alliance saying,"No more new judges" and is the Government acquiescing to that? If that is the case, the situation is dysfunctional.
When the most recent tranche of judges was appointed, the intention was that they might be the last appointed under the old system and that the new legislation would come through-----
-----we inherited a system that was not working effectively. The Judiciary set out what needed to be done with the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court to clear this. We were told we needed to set up a Court of Appeal.
That is what the previous Government did. It filled that with a very good president and all the numbers that were due. A backlog has now built up because of the number of cases that moved through the High Court and off to the Court of Appeal.
The Taoiseach will attend a meeting of the European Council later this week. It is the first EU summit since the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced to the Tory Party conference that she intends to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty by the end of March 2017. As the Taoiseach knows, Brexit is already having serious effects on the Irish economy. The declining value of sterling is hurting Irish businesses that export to Britain. Five of this country's 60 mushroom farms have gone out of business since the referendum, including two last week alone. Brexit has serious implications for Border counties, including my own constituency of Louth, where there is real concern within the business community. Last week, we saw the prospect of price increases for consumers across the State. Has the Taoiseach considered the measures he might be able to put in place to deal with the currency crisis that Irish businesses are facing and will face in the coming period?
I suggest that the work of the all-island civic dialogue will be key to allaying our concerns. I am glad the Taoiseach eventually agreed to put the dialogue in place. I have sent him Sinn Féin’s proposals for the structure and work of the dialogue. In our view, the principal objective of the dialogue must be to secure the position of the island of Ireland within the EU, in line with the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the North. That needs to be the starting point. There should be no deviation whatsoever from that. The all-island civic dialogue must deliver an inclusive process of open policy debate that meaningfully informs the Government's political and policy responses to the British Government’s Brexit plan. Beyond that, it should agree a policy framework that shapes the Government’s strategic direction in respect of the EU-wide negotiations that will take place when Article 50 is triggered.
I am concerned that the Taoiseach has not been sufficiently strategic on this issue. Rather than waiting to see what the British Government will do, the Government should be proactive about setting out contingencies to protect and promote the national interests of the entire island of Ireland. It has yet to do this. Sinn Féin has proposed the establishment of a committee under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council to harmonise and maximise all-Ireland co-operation. We have also proposed the establishment of a Border economic development zone to harmonise trade and maximise returns for Border businesses alongside additional investment in the A5 and the Narrow Water Bridge, to be matched by the Northern Executive. I have commended these measures to the Taoiseach, but he has not yet responded to me. Will he tell the Dáil what plans are now in place in terms of participation in the dialogue? Will he give us an insight into its work programme? Will be provide us with the full details?
I thank Deputy Adams for his question. I understand the invitations have gone out for the civic dialogue, which will take place on 2 November next.
The opening session will provide an opportunity for those who attend to set out their views in an open forum, including their views on Brexit, the Border with Northern Ireland and so on. My priorities and those of the Government include our citizens, our economy, our trading links with the United Kingdom, the peace process, the common travel area, no return to a hard border, as well as our connections, interests and engagement with Northern Ireland.
The meeting will take place on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. In one way, it is a normal European Council, except that on this occasion one of the members attending, namely, the British Prime Minister, intends to trigger Article 50 to remove Britain from the European Union. She intends to move the article at the end of March 2017 or, indeed, beforehand, if that is her wish.
I want Deputy Adams to understand that this is not just about any one party; it is about our island and our people. I have addressed some of Deputy Adams's questions previously. However, I will say this much to him - when we get to the North-South Ministerial Council on 18 November, I need to know what it is that we are talking about in respect of the Executive of Northern Ireland, because we are not going to get any specific or particular circumstances right unless we know. If there is a division of opinion about what Northern Ireland wants, I cannot sort it out unless there is consensus and agreement on what the horizon or objective is on the part of the Executive in the North. Deputy Adams's party can help to realise that.
The issues that will be part of the discussion and negotiations are already framed in the contingency work that the Government and my Department have been involved in since before the Brexit vote. I outlined for Deputy Martin last week some of the measures contained in the budget and other measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises where currency fluctuations are causing difficulties and where confusion from the consequences of statements being made leads to a certain degree of instability and lack of certainty.
In the same way, when Article 50 is triggered and we get to the North-South Ministerial Council, all Ministers will have had discussions with their counterparts. However, I need to know what it is that the Executive in Northern Ireland is actually seeking. If there is a division of opinion, it is not going to help anyone's case or help to make the case for the particular circumstances that apply, including the need for no return to a hard border, the continuation of the peace process and support for it from the European Union, as well as the opportunity for us to work with the citizens of Northern Ireland in the context of the development of the island economy that we know we can have in the time ahead.
Did the Taoiseach talk to the First Minister? Did she not tell him that she is for Brexit and that she does not recognise the votes of the majority of the people in the North? The Taoiseach should recognise the majority vote of the people in the North. That is the crux of the matter. The Taoiseach says this is something our party can solve. It is the DUP that is taking this position, not Sinn Féin.
I stated previously the Taoiseach is not strategic enough and I am repeating that assertion. I note the remarks of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire. On 9 October he said there is a "high level of collaboration on a joint programme of work" between this State - that is to say, the Irish State - and Britain. He said, "We have put in place a range of measures to further combat illegal migration working closely with the Irish government". He also stated, "Our focus is to strengthen the external border of the common travel area [CTA], building on the strong collaboration with our Irish partners." In other words, the British Government is hoping to move the front line of immigration controls to Irish ports and airports to prevent illegal migration into the British state. This clearly is not feasible and I am not enamoured of the response of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to these claims.
Are such measures in place? Will the Taoiseach make a statement on this and update the Dáil on the dialogue between his officials and British officials? He should tell the Dáil now what is going on between his officials and the senior British officials and if these measures are in place.
Yes, and the point is that all the Secretaries General of all Departments were in London last week for two days talking to the permanent secretaries of the departments of the British Government, going through each and every detail as we understand them at the moment-----
-----and what issues have to be dealt with or may have to be dealt with in the future. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not, I understand, a member of the committee dealing with Brexit on behalf of the British Government.
To go back to the Deputy’s point, he says I need to know what the Executive’s view in Northern Ireland is-----
They deserve to have their case heard, argued and negotiated. We want to help but the Executive is made up of different parties. There are a First Minister and deputy First Minister.
When we meet on 18 November at the North-South Ministerial Council, I would like to think that there is a consensus opinion as to the approach that the Executive and the Northern Ireland parties want us to take because we will have to argue that for them and on their behalf at the European Council in time to come. It is very important that despite political differences we at least have a common view as to where the parties in the Executive and Assembly want Northern Ireland to go so that we can help them and work with them and that is our intention.
The Deputy should please resume his seat.
The House has made an order in respect of how Leader’s Questions would be done. Included in that order was the provision of specific time for questions and answers which people are ignoring completely. We will be here till midnight tonight. Those of us who will still be here at midnight would like to think that we could at least be efficient in the use of the time made available to us.
The decision of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, to withdraw from working on four days during November means we are now facing a full Garda strike in all but name. The deployment of reservists who do not have the power of arrest will hardly reassure vulnerable people or communities about how public safety will be preserved during these days.
The decision of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, to withdraw from supervision and substitution work also means that there may well be significant closure of secondary schools, and half-baked notions put forward by the Minister for Education and Skills about using parents to cover these duties have been quickly shot down by the National Parents Council. The overall response of the Government to date to these very serious matters has been to repeat ad nauseamthat the Lansdowne Road Agreement is the only game in town. I negotiated that agreement, as the Taoiseach knows, and I believe it was the right start for delivering pay recovery for all public servants who have contributed so much to the economic recovery of the State.
I also believe that it needs to be accelerated, and I said that a long time ago. The Lansdowne Road agreement was negotiated before the end of the Haddington Road agreement and in fact was collapsed into that agreement because of the visible improvement in our public finances. Exactly the same is true now. In the alternative budget that the Labour Party produced before the budget was introduced in the House last week, we allocated a sum of money to allow for the acceleration of public sector pay as a signal that we needed to have provision for a new discussion with all the public sector unions. Sadly, the budget presented last week made no such provision. It called for a new forum on social dialogues that can involve public servants in discussions about investment in public service as well as investment in their pay.
The key to getting success in the previous rounds was to be very honest with public servants about the options available to Government. The Taoiseach has resisted that idea also.
As the Taoiseach is aware, over recent years I have supported the granting of trade union rights to members of An Garda Síochána and conveyed those views to both the current and former Ministers for Justice and Equality. Today, we understand that the Taoiseach will establish a public sector pay commission but that this body will not report until next summer. That is hardly likely to be a timescale that would be of any assistance to the State in dealing with the current issues. The Taoiseach will not accept a proposal that the implementation of the Lansdowne Road agreement should be accelerated with a new discussion round with public servants. He will not accept a proposal relating to a new social dialogue, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality appears to be in no rush to grant rights to gardaí to avail of the machinery of trade unions. Does the Government intend to take any action that might prevent the further unravelling of the very hard won industrial peace in the public sector?
Deputy is Howlin correct when he says that he negotiated the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements, and he had a lot of support from the then Government. This is a very serious situation, and the Government takes it very seriously. Nobody wants to see a situation where Garda Síochána na hÉireann are not on public duty as the only link between criminal activity and the safety of citizens. I have always respected that in terms of the men and women of the Garda who have given of their time, and in some cases their lives, in the line of public duty, sometimes when officially off-duty. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality takes a responsible and clear view of this matter, and she is to meet with the Garda Representative Association, GRA, later this week. She has extended an invitation to the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI. There is still an opportunity to deal with this matter before the dates mentioned by the gardaí.
I want to make it perfectly clear that there are constraints upon the public purse, and we are not in a position to meet claims being made outside the Lansdowne Road agreement. Evidence of that is the negotiated settlements agreed between the Minister for Health and nurses in respect of incremental scales, the achievements and agreements reached by the Minister for Education and Skills with the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, the substantial amounts of money put on the table to deal with payment rates for young teachers and so on. Those are evidence of the success, and the possible success, of the agreements drawn up by Deputy Howlin.
This morning, the Government approved the setting up of a public pay commission. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will give details on that at 3 o'clock this afternoon. While claims were made that particular sectors should be represented in the body of the commission, that is not the Minister's intention. What he will do, however, in the terms of reference is that if the public pay commission wishes to have expertise provided with an analysis of sectoral payments, conditions or whatever in respect of any particular sector, is make that available.
With regard to the issue I saw referred to in some of the media, the review of An Garda Síochána currently under way under the chairmanship of John Horgan will be completed in December. It is not true to say that the findings of that review will not feed into the public pay commission. Of course they will.
Given the nature of the circumstances a Government found itself in a number of years ago, it has made significant progress in dealing with the many problems and frustrations gardaí experienced on the ground in terms of facilities, conditions, investment in reopening the training college, and the commitment now to increase the number to 15,800 to be trained, with 500 civilians going in as well.
This is far too serious a matter not to have the real focus of Government, and it has that focus. There are three groups involved - the GRA, whose representatives the Minister will meet this week, the AGSI, whose members voted 70% in favour of the agreement just a few weeks ago, and the ASTI.
Many other public sector unions have negotiated and accepted these terms and they are moving on with the country as we come out of a very difficult period of recession. I invite the GRA and the AGSI to sit down with the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and to work within the constraints that are upon us, taking into account announcements to be made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform later. The same applies to the ASTI in respect of its dealings with the Minister for Education and Skills.
The Taoiseach will be aware that all public sector unions, not just those that are formally in dispute, are watching very closely what is happening here. Does the Taoiseach agree that what is now required is a whole of public service approach? Striking bilateral deals with any single union is not the way forward and there needs to be a clear pathway to full income recovery and the full unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, in an orderly and affordable way. People do not see this happening, though, and I have not heard anything from the Taoiseach to give me any comfort. The establishment of a pay commission, to report next summer, is not going to sort out the real pressures that are bound to mount, not diminish, in the coming weeks and months. Will the Taoiseach recognise that there is now a need to begin negotiations for a successor agreement to the Lansdowne Road agreement? Will his Government embark on that with all trade unions in order that every public servant will feel included in the pathway to full income recovery?
A number of trade unions had particular difficulties with the existing Lansdowne Road agreement, including the TUI, the INTO and some of the nursing fraternity. The agreements were reached and the progress which has been made is fairly significant but others still have difficulties. I accept that there has to be a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement. One of the terms of reference of the public pay commission will involve inputs into how the unwinding of the financial emergency provisions Act should proceed. These matters are a genuine focus of Government and nobody wants a situation in which gardaí are not on the streets doing their public duty, as they have always done. I urge them to accept the invitation from the Tánaiste and take into account the decision of Cabinet this morning for a public pay commission. The Horgan report will also deal with the roadmap which is necessary for unions to be able to avail of the statutory machinery of the State, such as the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court.
As was mentioned and as the whole country knows, teachers and gardaí have felt forced to embark on a significant campaign of industrial action over the next few weeks in pursuit of fairness in respect of pay. There will also be mass meetings of nurses over the coming couple of weeks to discuss pay issues. One of the several things at the heart of this looming industrial action is the anger and frustration felt by teachers, gardaí and, increasingly, by nurses over the issue of equality of pay. The call was clearly articulated last Thursday by the ASTI, in a demonstration in which I participated outside the gates of this House, when young and older teachers stood together demanding equal pay for equal work. It is a basic and simple principle.
I was struck by the sight of newly qualified and new entrant teachers explaining how angry and frustrated they were after coming out of college, getting their qualifications, in some cases at very high levels, and getting paid €6,000, €7,000 or €8,000 less than a teacher with the same qualifications working in the same school just because they had entered service after 2011. Will the Taoiseach accept that such inequality in pay is unacceptable and that it breaches the most fundamental principle of treating people equally?
In the 1970s, we got equal pay for women, which did not exist previously, and nobody would dare to suggest we should have anything less than equal pay for men and women. We have equality legislation which outlaws discrimination against people on pretty much any basis. Is it not in line with the fundamental principle of equality that teachers, nurses and gardaí should get the same pay for doing the same work? Will the Taoiseach commit to re-establishing that equality and ending the pay apartheid which is one of the burning issues angering teachers, nurses and gardaí and which is forcing many young people who might go into those professions to leave this country because the Taoiseach continues to allow that discrimination against them?
The previous Government once removed made a decision not to pay young graduate nurses particular increments and it is only now that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has been able to deal with that and approve those.
Deputy Boyd Barrett makes the point about teachers. This is obviously a matter of serious concern for teachers. It was of such serious concern to and members of the TUI and the INTO that they sat down with the Minister for Education and Skills under the existing arrangements, and a new deal for new entrant teachers was implemented for the INTO and for the TUI. That deal is on offer also to the ASTI. That means that the starting pay for new entrant members will increase by 15% between 31 August this year and 1 January 2018, that is, from €31,009 to €35,602. It also means that an individual member recruited since 1 September 2015 will see a 22% increase in his or her pay between 31 August 2016 and 1 January 2018, that is, from €31,009 to €37,723. That agreement will be implemented in two phases, in January 2017 and January 2018, respectively. It results in an increase of up to €2,000 per year for new teachers at the start of their careers and an overall earnings increase over the course of that career of approximately €135,000.
That agreement will apply to members of the teachers' unions which have signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement, that is, the TUI and the INTO, and cannot apply to ASTI as matters stand but will if it decides to do business with the Minister.
Following the announcement, the Minister wrote to the ASTI to inform it that he is quite willing to conclude a similar agreement with it within the framework of the Lansdowne Road agreement. The ASTI, as Deputy Boyd Barrett will be aware, is now the only trade union within the education and training sector to have rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement.
These are very substantial figures on the table and agreed with two major unions, the INTO and the TUI. I again ask the ASTI to engage with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who has been in the position to bring about an arrangement under the Lansdowne Road agreement for the two other major unions and which is now being implemented.
The only groups of workers who have balloted on this issue are the ASTI and the Garda representative unions.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, and the gardaí have democratically made a decision and, I suspect, if it was put to the rank and file of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, and to the nurses, we might have a different response. The young teachers at that rally were not political or radical people. There were just young teachers and they have thought about this deeply. They do not want to be on strike but they are raging about the question of inequality. The Taoiseach referenced figures of increases, with which I am well familiar, but they are not equality. That is the point. It was clear from those young teachers that they want equality. I asked the Taoiseach if he accepted that this pay inequality, pay apartheid and discrimination against young people coming into this profession simply because they happen to come into it after 2011 is unacceptable and if he accepted that it must be done away with. That is what they believe. It is pay apartheid. The scale of it is such that even with the increases the Taoiseach's is proposing, teachers who came into the profession after 2011 will earn about €160,000 less over their lifetimes. That is a very significant chunk of what it would cost to put a roof over their heads over the course of their lifetimes, even with the Taoiseach's proposed changes. Will he commit to equality? That is the question. Will he acknowledge that the teachers, the gardaí and any other group who choose to fight for equality and, if necessary, take industrial action to achieve it are right to pursue the principle of equality?
The INTO balloted to stay within the Lansdowne Road agreement. The figures I read out to the Deputy are very substantial. We have had debates here in the last period about the minimum wage, low paid workers, a reduction in the universal social charge and the abolition of income tax for those who are very low paid. These figures for young teachers starting off in their careers are quite substantial, up to €35,000 by 1 January 2018. These figures have been negotiated within the range of the Lansdowne Road agreement in respect of which the INTO balloted to stay. Obviously, if it has been successful for two major teacher unions and an agreement has been reached-----
-----was introduced. That is why the Lansdowne Road agreement has been brought in as a successor and why we will have to have another successor after that. These are issues that can be dealt with by political decisions, but they require people to sit down and talk about the role and the strategy to bring that to fruition. Here is evidence of substantial numbers of teachers at primary and secondary level having agreed a timetable-----
-----with the Minister for Education and Skills. I hope the same can apply in the case of An Garda Síochána, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA.
That concludes Leaders' Questions. We will move on to the Order of Business. I call Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh who will be acting as rapporteur of the Business Committee to announce the business for the week and to move the proposal regarding arrangements for the taking of business.