Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Order of Business
Darragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
The debate last week on the Private Members' motion on investment in education was useful and many good contributions were made. Have Government Members been briefed by the Minister for Education and Skills on the outcome of the review of DEIS schools and the proposed cuts to be made in disadvantaged schools? I note Senator Ivana Bacik's colleague, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordán, said at a public meeting in Dublin that they would be satisfied with the outcome of the review. I was not aware that Deputy Ó Ríordáin was at Cabinet. Can the Leader confirm if he, himself, was briefed by the Minister for Education and Skills? Perhaps Senator Bacik can advise given that the Minister is a member of the Labour Party. Have they been briefed? What is the review? Will parents of pupils in disadvantaged schools be satisfied when the review is published this week?
I give a guarded welcome to the action plan for jobs published by the Government yesterday. Any Government initiative on jobs is to be welcomed and we need a debate on the plan. I am sure the Leader will allocate time for one in the coming weeks. I am concerned about a number of items in the plan. The main issue is a lack of access to credit for businesses which we all know about and discussed in the House. The action plan is aspirational and is a rehash of many other initiatives, such as Food Harvest 2020 delivered by the last Government, so a lot of announcements have already been made.
The most important part of the action plan is on financing. The Government has said that micro-finance is not in the document and it will produce it in next quarter or the one after. Can the Leader confirm that the plan for a much vaunted strategic investment bank is gone and there will not be one? NewERA, which is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, does not have anything to do at the moment because a new era has not happened. Is the strategic investment bank plan finished? My party is concerned about a number of items in the action plan, particularly the scrapping of the county enterprise boards, which is unwelcome. We need to tease out these issues in more detail.
Finally, can the Leader raise the following issue with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, as I did not get an opportunity last week when we discussed energy legislation because the issue was not appropriate to it. There is a ludicrous situation whereby ComReg proposes to fine An Post €11.9 million for not meeting service targets. An Post has already, in difficult times, made substantial savings over recent years. It does not make sense for the communications regulator to fine a State company nearly €12 million because he does not believe An Post met a 94% next day delivery target, which the firm disputes. It is also critical of the fact that ComReg does not provide sufficient or timely information to enable An Post to improve its performance. All of us will agree that An Post has made major strides over recent years and has saved over €100 million in operating costs. I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister and ask him if it is sensible for the communications regulator to fine a State company €12 million in the current climate. It makes no sense at all. This is the same ComReg that took no action against multinationals like O2 and Vodafone when they suspended their bill pay service and stopped the option of paying a bill at the post office. Such a measure went against ComReg's advice but the companies were not punished. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister, as a matter of urgency.