Thursday, 14 October 2010
Order of Business
At the close of the Order of Business yesterday I gave an undertaking to the House that I would endeavour to deal with the matter Senator O'Sullivan had brought to the attention of the House regarding the Shannon LNG Terminal at Ballylongford, County Kerry. I have received a detailed response from the office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Senator is satisfied at this stage that this is as much as the Government and the Department can do. The project is at a very advanced stage and I am confident everything is proceeding with speed in order to have 500 to 1,000 jobs created at the site in Ballylongford. I can provide a copy of the correspondence for any Member who wishes to read it.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the national spatial strategy update and outlook report 2010, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to reply ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons.
Will the Leader consider writing to the Chilean ambassador to offer the congratulations of all Members of the House on the successful rescue of 33 miners?
The issue of a debate on the need for consensus is now moving quickly and I am pleased that this is the case, as Fine Gael is a party which always looks for solutions to our problems-----
Our first responsibility is to the people, both young and old, not to international bondholders and meeting their concerns. That is the reason we are moving towards a consensus approach. Some 440,000 people are unemployed and our fastest growing export is our well educated young people.
Members on the Government side of the House will have been well informed that the public finances are in a parlous state. We have to ask who put us here and what will be the outcome. However, we have to look forward also. If we do not take radical action quickly, we will put the future pensions of the elderly and retired civil servants at stake. The salaries of public servants will also come under pressure because of the state of the public finances, which is a concern. We have to be worried about what will happen because of the deterioration in the public finances. The problem requires a rapid solution. It is, unfortunately, a mess into which the Government has walked us. That is one of the reasons Fine Gael wishes to see if it can contribute to finding a solution. The Government is highly discredited and it is with gritted teeth that we will go into discussions with the Government that has landed us in such a mess.
I am glad someone was listening to us over recent days when we were urging people to get together, hold hands and meet around the table. It is good to see this happening and I look forward to hearing a response from the Labour Party later today. The Labour Party seems to be taking its time on this decision and it is the first time in a while that Fine Gael got out of the traps ahead of the Labour Party.
It is interesting to watch this from the sidelines and we wish them all well. I apologise for raising the matter of public sector reform day after day. We had a long, important debate in this House yesterday. The Government's policy on public sector transformation must have a trickle-down effect to every part of the public sector. If it does not, it will not work. A superb report was produced by Mr. Pat McLaughlin on local government in the summer. My colleagues elected to the Seanad from various panels may not be enthusiastic about the idea to merge county councils and local authorities. There is supposed to be a moratorium on jobs and a reform and review of local authorities. Week after week, I see jobs at senior level in local authorities being advertised, including advertisements for assistant directors in the HSE and senior positions in Cork local authorities. In today's newspaper, one sees senior jobs advertised by Offaly County Council and Meath County Council. My understanding is that these posts must be approved by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Although I stand to be corrected, I guarantee the Minister has never been told a word about these jobs.
Why is there a lack of political traction on the matter of public service reform? Why is there administrative inertia in dealing with it? Why are senior civil servants taking decisions that are undermining Government policy on public sector reform. I would like answers to these questions. Who is clearing the advertising of these jobs? They could be filled in an acting capacity until the review has taken place. The key issue in public sector reform at senior level is flexibility so that people can move from one place to another. If we start filling jobs now, that process becomes more difficult. There is a lack of joined-up effort in this regard. Government policy is not in sync with administrative operations and that is unacceptable. I gave the example of the local authority in Offaly but I have no problem with it. I have no interest in how it does its business. This example in the newspapers is undermining everything that was said by the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, yesterday. I am sure he knows nothing about these jobs. Someone must get back on track on these issues.
We will give a considered response in the course of the day to the letter the Taoiseach sent at 5 p.m. yesterday. The Labour Party has no difficulty talking to anyone, including the Government, about economic issues. It is odd how this has come about after a period of four or five days. The Taoiseach initially appeared to pour a lot of cold water on what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, said and then decided to write a letter yesterday. It is interesting to read the letter, which does not mention consensus or the basis for the meeting. It mentions that a meeting should take place in order for the Opposition parties to confirm their agreement that the deficit should reach 3% of GDP by 2014. There is no difficulty in having a discussion about that but it remains to be seen what else is in mind.
I can be excused a certain amount of cynicism, or at least scepticism, about the Government's intentions because of my direct experience. Two and a half years ago, a committee was set up to examine amending the Constitution to enhance children's rights. A member of that committee was the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform attended the meetings from time to time. After much heavy lifting, serious work, careful analysis and consensus across all parties, excluding the Green Party, the committee came up with the wording and presented it almost one year ago. Some ten months later, the Government says that it is not really sure about this and believes there may be unintended consequences. The Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform have all the advice available from the Attorney General and Departments. If they were serious about participating in consensus and working across the Houses to improve something in a tangible way in this country, they would have participated in a manner that showed they were dealing in good faith. That is the best example of when the Government says one thing and does something else.