Dáil Éireann - Volume 351 - 12 June, 1984

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Authority Workers.

3. Mr. Hyland asked the Minister for the Environment the number of local authority workers in each county who have lost their jobs or are on a reduced working week as a result of the cutback in Government grants and inadequate financial provisions; and if he will establish, by contacting each county manager, the number expected to be so affected by December 1984.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Kavanagh): The Deputy's question refers to cutbacks in Government grants and inadequate financing and I would like to take this opportunity to correct some misconceptions which have been expressed in this regard. In so far as grants to local authorities are concerned, total Government grants and subsidies to local authorities will this year show an increase of £52 million or 10.3 per cent on 1983. Capital allocations will be up by £12.5 million in spite of the limitations on public expenditure and borrowing. In so far as the rate support grants are concerned, we have managed not alone to maintain the additional £31.5 million which we provided in 1983, but have provided an additional £2.27 million, bringing the total of the rate support grants to almost £280 million. Apart from the various increases in [681] grants and allocations, local authorities have had restored to them the discretion to strike whatever rate they consider appropriate and have been given extended powers to supplement their resources by way of charges for services.

I do not, therefore, accept the implication underlying the first part of the question in so far as it refers to cutbacks in Government grants. Statistical information as to the extent to which workers may have been put on short-time or laid off by particular local authorities as a result of local circumstances is not available in my Department.

By way of clarification, I should say that decisions as to the employment of local authority workers are a matter for the local authorities concerned, taking account of their circumstances. Local authorities are not required to inform me as to their plans and intentions in this matter but, in view of my concern to see that workers are not laid off or put on short time unless all other reasonable options are exhausted, I am monitoring the situation on a regular basis and will continue to do so throughout the year. For this purpose, I recently introduced a revised reporting system covering local authority employment levels, as well as explanations for changes in these levels.

I do not propose at this stage to contact county managers along the lines envisaged in the final part of the question.

Mr. R. Burke: I have a number of supplementary questions to which I should like to get some answers with your permission, a Cheann Comhairle. First, I should like to ask the Minister if he would not agree with me that it is a disgraceful situation for a Labour Minister to stand up in this House and say——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is argument.

Mr. R. Burke: ——and say that he has not available to him the number of workers laid off or on short time.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not try to shout down the Chair.

[682] The Deputy started his question by argument but he should not use argument at Question Time.

Mr. R. Burke: Obviously there is but limited information on the Minister's file. Will he tell the House, even under this new monitoring system, the number of workers who have been laid off or who are on short time?

Mr. Kavanagh: I do not have that information.

Mr. R. Burke: Does the Minister consider it would be to the benefit of this House and the country generally if he had such information as he is Minister for the Environment and responsible for the local authorities?

Mr. Kavanagh: In reply to the question, I said I had initiated a system whereby I would gather this information and keep in touch with local authorities to see what was happening. At the moment that information is not available to me.

Mr. R. Burke: The last part of Question No. 3 asked the Minister if he would establish, by contacting each county manager, the number to be so affected by December 1984 and the Minister said he had no intention of doing that. Will he reconsider that decision because it would be of benefit to the workers involved know what was ahead of them?

Mr. Kavanagh: I did not say I had no intention of doing what was suggested said that at this stage I had not envisaged doing it. I said I was initiating a procedure whereby this information would be got from my Department.

Mr. R. Burke: The Minister tried to claim as a major plus in local authority funding the fact that he has given them an increase of 8 per cent in respect of rates support while inflation is running 10 per cent. Does the Minister not accept that local authorities are grinding to halt, that, for example, the road networks is disintegrating because he has given [683] local authorities an increase of only .8 per cent in respect of rates support at a time when the Government approved an 8 per cent increase for local authority workers?

Mr. Kavanagh: In my reply I stated that an additional £52 million over the amount given in 1983 was being given in various grants this year which represented an increase of 10.3 per cent over 1983. In addition, an extra £31,500,000 over the Estimate brought in by Fianna Fáil was allocated last year and I am maintaining that this year as well as giving an extra £2.7 million. The whole rate support grant will amount to £280 million——

Mr. R. Burke: An increase of .8 per cent.

Mr. Kavanagh: The Estimate of the Deputy when he was in the Department of the Environment was considerably increased by my predecessor.

An Ceann Comhairle: We must move to the next question.

Mr. R. Burke: The funding of local authorities is a very serious matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: It may be a serious matter but we cannot debate it at Question Time.

Mr. R. Burke: I do not intend to debate it. The Minister made a number of statements in his reply and I am merely referring to them. He gave an increase of .8 per cent in respect of the rates support grant——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is debate.

Mr. R. Burke: It is not debate; it is a fact.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy got information from the Minister——

Mr. R. Burke: Yes, and I am asking him about it.

[684] An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy disagrees with the information or if it is not the information he wants he can make a speech about it but not at Question Time.

Mr. R. Burke: I am not making a statement about the matter. I am merely asking a question and I understood I was entitled to ask a question at Question Time. The situation is that the Minister came into this House and replied——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a question.

Mr. R. Burke: The Minister refused to give information regarding the number of workers unemployed and on short time. He said he was not interested enough to contact the local authorities——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a question.

Mr. Kavanagh: That was not the reply I gave.

Mr. R. Burke: The Minister gave an increase of only .8 per cent for rates support when inflation is running at 10 per cent. The Minister is not interested in the local authorities, the workers, the road network or the housing situation.

Mr. Kavanagh: This is all good stuff at the moment.

Mr. Bell: Is the Minister aware that the policy now being adopted by local authorities is such that we have a natural wastage policy? In other words, people who retire prematurely because of bad health are not being replaced. People on short-time working or who are laid off are being paid by the State by way of social welfare. Does the Minister not agree that it would be preferable to transfer the money being paid to these people by way of social welfare for doing nothing——

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy please put a question?

[685] Mr. Bell: Does the Minister not agree that these people should be paid by the local authorities for cleaning the streets? In many places, including Drogheda, the streets have gone to hell.

Mr. Kavanagh: The task force of Ministers is considering at the moment the suggestion made by the Deputy.

Mr. Barrett (Dublin North-West): Is the Minister aware that 288 men employed under the environmental works schemes by Dublin Corporation have been informed that they will lose their jobs unless additional finance is provided? Is the Minister aware that those men are doing an important job around the city and will he agree to provide additional finance to enable them to retain their jobs?

Mr. Kavanagh: This information is being considered in my Department and no decision in the matter has been taken.

Mr. R. Burke: It will be taken after Thursday.

An Ceann Comhairle: Before we deal with the next question I wish to make the following point. Some days ago at Question Time I refused a request from a Deputy to raise a matter on the Adjournment. I asked the Deputy if he had any particular reason or if there was any urgency in raising it then and he said there was not. I understand that Deputy Taylor has some difficulty about the matter he has in mind.

Mr. Taylor: Yes. My request is to raise the matter of Soviet citizens seeking political asylum at Shannon Airport.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will communicate with the Deputy.