Dáil Éireann - Volume 438 - 01 February, 1994

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - New Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

5. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the way in which he proposes to involve the unemployed in the negotiations in regard to a new Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

6. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed with the social partners on 10 January 1994 regarding a new Programme for Economic and Social Progress; if he will give his assessment of the prospects of a new Programme; if job creation will be a priority in any new Programme, especially in view of the increase in unemployment in the December live register figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.

On 10 January 1994, together with the Ministers for Finance, Social Welfare, Enterprise and Employment and Agriculture, Food and Forestry, I met representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation, the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Farmers' Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society and Macra na Feirme, to open discussions on a new programme.

I outlined the Government's view that a new programme must, as an essential requirement for increased employment, continue the emphasis on moderate competitive income increases, on macro-economic stability to maintain low inflation, to continue the trend towards lower interest rates and to maintain progress in the reduction of the national debt. The social partners accepted the Government's view that the key objective [11] of a new programme should be employment and that the elements of the programme should be judged on their contribution to the growth and maintenance of viable jobs. Each side outlined the priorities they saw in that regard, including, in particular, structural changes in policies for job creation and maintenance, policy for macro-economic stability, human resource development, tax reform, competitiveness in all its dimensions from costs to innovation, development in agriculture, food and the rural economy and developing social equity.

It was also agreed at that meeting that discussions would commence on 11 January on the negotiation of a new programme using the mechanism of the central review committee and that these discussions would proceed quickly so that progress could be taken into account in the budget.

On 25 January, accompanied by the Tánaiste and Ministers for Finance, Enterprise and Employment and Agriculture, Forestry and Food, I met representatives of the social partners to review progress in the negotiations.

It was agreed that considerable progress had been made on substantial elements of the programme in relation to work, agriculture, pay, socio-economic stability and social equity.

The overall approach to pay in the emerging programme was aimed at improving competitiveness and the environment for employment growth, while enabling further progress to be made on social issues. All sides noted the important steps foreshadowed in the material discussed on work in particular in relation to small and start up businesses, the development of the services sector and increased community-based work for the long term unemployed and those in disadvantaged areas.

It was noted that a number of key elements remained to be finally determined in the pay agreement in the public and private sectors. It was agreed that these and the other remaining issues [12] should be progressed quickly to a conclusion.

The Government and the social partners indicated their satisfaction with the progress made in the new programme. The various social partner organisations indicated that they hoped that, following on the budget and the successful finalisation of the outstanding items, they would be in a position to recommend to their members and councils acceptance of the new programme. The Government confirmed that, in the light of this, the Minister for Finance would be in a position to introduce a budget which would complement and underpin the programme.

I compliment the various parties for the commitment which they have shown in the time and effort devoted to the negotiations over the past three weeks.

It will be clear that employment and the needs of the unemployed are central to these discussions. They are the primary concern of the Government in its participation in this process. Furthermore, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions represents some 30 centres for the unemployed throughout the country. The discussions have taken careful account of proposals for a new programme which were prepared by the National Economic and Social Forum on which groups representing the unemployed are directly represented. In addition, officials from my Department and other relevant Departments, on behalf of the Central Review Committee, met representatives of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed and the Conference of Major Religious Superiors to discuss their views on a new programme, especially as they relate to the unemployed.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach aware that as far as unemployment is concerned the Programme for Economic and Social Progress was a complete failure in that unemployment went up by 40 per cent during the period of the outgoing Programme for Economic and Social Progress?

[13] The Taoiseach: I do not accept that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress was a total failure. The consensus on programmes since 1987 is that they have shown very direct results in the successful management of the economy. It is true that the problem of unemployment remains unsolved but we have made significant progress along that road, although it is not anything like what we would like to have achieved. Unemployment is the biggest single challenge to members of the European Union. I am glad that after a long time they have finally put it on top of the agenda and strategies being pursued by the member states, in conjunction with the signing of the GATT agreement and the NAFTA agreement, will help to raise world trade which will boost our economy. Jobs in the Irish economy depend very much on what happens in the world. When we get out of the recession we are undoubtedly very well placed and the projections in this year's budget are to have an extra 21,000 people at work at the end of the year.

Mr. J. Bruton: If unemployment has been put at the top of the Government's agenda, how is it that when the Government sits down to negotiate what it calls a programme for economic progress not a single unemployed person or a person exclusively representing unemployed people is there? Is this not an indication that the Government says one thing about unemployment and does the opposite?

The Taoiseach: Certainly not. I reject the suggestion that Members of the House or members of the Government do not represent the unemployed. The Congress of Trade Unions represents 30 centres for the unemployed. The Economic and Social Forum has received a wide range of views on unemployment and it too represents the unemployed. There is no shortage of input on behalf of the unemployed to the negotiations for a national programme.

[14] Proinsias De Rossa: Could the Taoiseach indicate what proposals he intends to put in place for this House to approve or otherwise of the agreement, assuming one is reached between the people concerned? What arrangement is proposed for any ongoing review by this House of the agreement as it may evolve? Is it still the intention which was expressed in the 1991 agreement that the Government will prepare a ten year-long term strategy for the economy? When, after three years, might we expect to see that strategy published?

The Taoiseach: We are proceeding with the negotiations in relation to the national programme. When these negotiations are, as I hope, successfully completed, this House will have an opportunity to debate the various facets of the programme.

Proinsias De Rossa: Could I draw——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Mary Harney is offering. I will call the Deputy again.

Proinsias De Rossa: I am not seeking to cut Deputy Harney out——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy. The Chair must be obeyed in this instance.

Proinsias De Rossa: ——but the Taoiseach did not indicate what arrangements there are——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry Deputy, but the Chair must be obeyed in this instance. I said I would call the Deputy again; I call Deputy Harney now.

Miss Harney: Does the Taoiseach accept the findings of independent research which shows that if we can improve wage costs by 1 per cent we can create 4,000 extra jobs; that we should have had a general pay freeze and that the Government should instead have concentrated on take-home pay and employment costs? Second, does the [15] Taoiseach agree, given that there are four organisations which focus on agriculture involved in this process, that it is not justifiable that the National Organisation of the Unemployed which focuses only on unemployment is not involved? While I accept that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is concerned with unemployment, its main concern is the interests of those at work.

The Taoiseach: Apart from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, one will find that the farmer organisations and all the other organisations around the table have a deep interest in the unemployed. I accept what the Deputy said in relation to the findings of independent research; national plans are a matter for negotiation between the parties and have served this country well. In whatever agreement is reached which must be acceptable to all concerned we must take into consideration the contribution it can make to employment creation and maintenance. The objective of the budget was to complement and underpin such an agreement to improve take home pay without increasing wage costs. The tax reductions will complement this. The budget contains 21 separate measures to try to create jobs for the unemployed and expand the small business sector. There are 100,000 small business and in my view that sector has the capacity for job creation. Specific measures were taken to make it easier for people and to obtain a better return on their investment. There is a package of measures. There is no simple answer to the unemployment problem; it will require a combination of measures over a period of time to make an impact.

Proinsias De Rossa: May I draw the attention of the Taoiseach to the fact that he did not reply to two parts of my earlier question? First, what procedures will be put in place to provide for an ongoing review by this House of any agreement that is reached and, second, when may we expect the ten year strategy which was supposed to form the basis of the earlier [16] Programme for Economic and Social Progress and which has not yet been produced? May I also point out to the Taoiseach that it was indicated in the last agreement that in getting the so-called fundamentals of the economy right there would be a substantial increase in employment and a major assault on long term unemployment but neither of those objectives has been met despite the success, apparently, in getting the fundamentals right? Does the Taoiseach think that proceeding along the same lines in the next agreement will also fail?

The Taoiseach: The Deputy is missing the point; the Programme for Economic and Social Progress covers the first three years of a ten year strategy involving a national consensus to tackle various problems in the economy. While it is true that we would all like to see an improvement in employment creation we must not forget that there are more people at work now than for a long time. If the budget strategy is successful, and we all expect that it will be, even more people will be in employment.

Proinsias De Rossa: Fewer people are in employment now than in 1921.

The Taoiseach: Indeed, we are making far more progress than any other member state in the EU despite our size and the constraints on resources. We would all like to think that we could solve the problem tomorrow morning but that is not possible. I have no doubt that at any time this House wishes to debate the national programmes it will find a way to do so within its structures.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: On the point raised by Deputy Bruton about the representation of the unemployed in these discussions and, indeed, the 40 per cent increase in unemployment under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, does the Taoiseach agree that while there were general expressions of concern, and many pious platitudes, about unemployment in the heel of the hunt when the unions are negotiating percentages [17] and push comes to shove their primary interest is their members and what they can achieve for them all of whom are working? From that point of view all of us should accept the point made by Deputy Bruton that the unemployed do not have a voice in the negotiations dealing directly and solely with their concerns?

The Taoiseach: I emphasise again that I consider Members represent all the interests outside this House and I do not accept that Members do not recognise the unemployed. Neither would I accept that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Farmers Association, the ICMSA, Macra na Feirme or ICOS have no interest in the unemployed. Members of these organisations have families and they are just as interested as the Deputies and I in this matter. Is a Member seriously suggesting that the Minister for Enterprise and Employment has no interest in the unemployed? They are well and truly represented in the negotiations and everybody is trying to do the best job they can but Deputies should not forget, as they like to, that we have an increasing population and that it will not begin to level out before the end of this decade. We will then be in a position to create enough jobs in the economy to meet the increase in the labour force each year thereafter.

Proinsias De Rossa: Is the Taoiseach proposing contraception to solve the unemployment problem?

An Ceann Comhairle: There are three Deputies offering; I will call them provided they are brief. I call first Deputy Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that the main purpose of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress is for the Government to purchase the silence of organisations which would otherwise publicly criticise its policy by involving them in decisions and creating a sense that they are also responsible? Will he agree that the main political function [18] of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for National Recovery was to ensure that the Government of the day did not face the legitimate criticism that the members of those organisations would usually level at their leaders and that their leaders are now unable to voice their opinions because the Government has sucked them into the honey pot at enormous public expense?

An Ceann Comhairle: It is evident that we are having much repetition; I appeal for an avoidance of repetition.

The Taoiseach: That is pure rubbish; I believe industrial peace has a major contribution to make to job creation and exports.

Mr. J. Bruton: All the Taoiseach wants is industrial peace.

The Taoiseach: I refer Deputy Bruton to the reports of the OECD which compliment us on the model we use in Ireland.

Mr. J. Bruton: The truth is that OECD reports are chiefly written by the civil servants in the Department of Finance for the OECD and they say whatever the Government wants them to say.

The Taoiseach: Back to basics.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: There has been a 40 per cent increase in unemployment.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach knows that as well as I do.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: There is no need for disorder of this kind.

Proinsias De Rossa: Does the Taoiseach agree that it is inequitable that the representatives of the 300,000 unemployed are not included in these talks while the representatives of the farming community have at least two people [19] present? They make up less than half the number unemployed in our society and for the purposes of equity the unemployed should have a place at the table in these negotiations. Does the Taoiseach also agree that it is stated in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress that the key objectives of the strategy are sustained economic growth based on increased enterprise, efficiency and competitiveness and the maintenance of a low inflation economy——

An Ceann Comhairle: It is bad enough to have repetition without having quotations at Question Time. It is out of order.

Proinsias De Rossa: I do not want to be accused of misrepresenting the agreement——

An Ceann Comhairle: The time available to us for dealing with Taoiseach's Questions is exhausted.

Proinsias De Rossa: I should point out that that philosophy has failed and that unemployment is higher than it ever was. Fewer people are working in the economy now than when the State was founded. The philosophy underlying the Government's approach has been changed and it will not tackle unemployment in any serious way.

The Taoiseach: If Deputy De Rossa, or any Member opposite, has any new solutions to the unemployment problem to offer we will be glad to take them on board——

Mr. Carey: The Taoiseach has none, only the fundamentals.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Carey should desist from interrupting.

The Taoiseach: ——but in the many debates that have taken place I have not heard one idea that will work. Many theoretical ideas have been put forward but I am only interested in ideas that [20] will work. Second, I would point out to Deputy De Rossa that there has been sustainable growth in the economy during the past four years. Our performance has been better than that of any of the EU economies which are more developed. The Deputy should face reality and if he has an answer to the unemployment problem we will take it on board.

Proinsias De Rossa: Where are the jobs? There has been a substantial increase in unemployment. There was supposed to be a major assault on long term unemployment but it failed.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach does not even stay for the debates in the House.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Another pious platitude.

An Ceann Comhairle: A final question from Deputy Harney.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach does not even stay for the debates in the House.

The Taoiseach: I can listen to them without being here and the Deputy knows that.

Miss Harney: Why is the Taoiseach objecting to involving the National Organisation of the Employed in the process?

The Taoiseach: The unemployed have a strong voice there. Many other organisations make the same case to try to get around the table. If we were to let in all those organisations, we would not have a table big enough.

Proinsias De Rossa: It is not big enough for the 300,000 unemployed. That is certain.

The Taoiseach: To make the case that the unemployed are not represented is absolute nonsense. At the risk of repeating [21] myself I could go through all the organisations that sit at the table which have the same strong views about unemployment as Members of this House.

An Ceann Comhairle: We now come to Priority Questions for which 20 minutes is provided.