Dáil Éireann - Volume 489 - 22 April, 1998

Adjournment Debate. - Publication of Reports.

Mr. Broughan: In the past couple of weeks two key reports were published by the Government. About a fortnight ago the report of the Commission on the National Minimum Wage was published and last weekend the National Employment Plan was published.

Both these reports were “launched”, if that is the correct word, in an extraordinary way. First, the report of the Commission on the National Minimum Wage, which was three or four months late, was effectively released by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney to the “This Week” programme where a few key details were mentioned, including the £4.40 per hour rate.

For the following 24 hours or so, I and other Opposition spokespersons were continually queried by the media about the contents of the report and of course we did not have a copy of it. I had to mention it to the Taoiseach the following day, Monday, when, finally, it became available at about midday.

At that stage it turned out that there were fewer than 100 copies of the report available. We have become used to glossy reports from Government and semi-State bodies, but both of the reports in question look like something which would have been produced in about 1950, and I wonder why.

With regard to the report of the Commission on the National Minimum Wage, we were given very little information, very late. Then last weekend it was the same story with regard to the action plan on employment. It was selectively leaked to Independent Newspapers. Copies were not made available to other newspapers and the political spokespersons, mainly Deputy Owen, Deputy Rabbitte and me, until late on Monday. I was also told by my party's research department that we received only one copy when it finally appeared. I still do not have a copy of it, which is a disgrace. Three and a half days after Minister Harney supposedly launched this document there is no sign of it, a few, well-thumbed copies are circulating in the Oireachtas.

I warmly welcome these reports. The report of the Commission on the National Minimum Wage is courageous and timely. The National Employment Plan of course is something which the Government is required to do by the EU. The latter report, the employment action plan, offers little which is new. It seems to be largely a conjuring trick by the Minister concerned.

The basic point in both instances is that the treatment of the Opposition in this House by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, has been disgraceful. At least, we might have expected a weekday press conference on both these important documents, followed immediately by publication. At best, we might have expected that they would have been launched in this House at the start of a significant debate on both key policies.

When Deputy Harney sat on this side of the House she would have been merciless with any Minister who refused to be open, transparent and accountable to this House.

She is now behaving in a disgraceful way in her treatment of the Opposition. She has done so for two reasons. First, she has been trying to garner the kudos from the National Minimum Wage Commission and in regard to the second document she has been trying to avoid me and other Deputies who wish to ask her detailed and searching questions on the employment plan. I call on the Minister, Deputy Harney, or her representative here tonight to apologise to the House for playing politics with two very important national policy documents and to initiate a full debate in the House. I would welcome the opportunity, as I think would the other Opposition spokesperson, to be briefed by senior officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I welcome both reports and look forward to spending a number of days discussing them. The method of their publication was disgraceful. Yesterday we witnessed the launch of the Freedom of Information Act and in this case senior spokespersons representing major interest groups have been treated in a most cavalier way by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I would ask that that will not happen again so that we will not be forced to put down a confidence motion or pursue more stringent remedies of redress. I would appreciate if the Ceann Comhairle would ensure the Opposition is treated fairly in the publication of key policy documents. Many of the interest groups involved still have not received a copy of the National Employment Plan.

[1605] Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy): I am very happy to reply to this debate on behalf of my ministerial colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. The Tánaiste published the report of the National Minimum Wage Commission on Sunday, 5 April 1998. Copies were placed in the Oireachtas Library on the following day, Monday, 6 April 1998. The Tánaiste published the National Employment Plan on Monday, 20 April 1998. Copies had been in the Oireachtas Library since Thursday, 16 April 1998, four days ahead of publication.

The method of publishing and publicising reports of this nature are matters entirely within the discretion of individual Ministers and members of the Government. I do not believe, and there is no evidence available to me or to this House to suggest, that the practices being adopted by the Government are any different from those adopted by our predecessors. In terms of transparency, openness and accountability, there is much more transparency nowadays than when the people who created this wonderful system were in office.

It is somewhat extraordinary to hear the Deputy complaining about “the method” of these reports' publication. They were published in the time honoured way. I can only surmise that the Deputy's relatively short tenure in this House may be putting him at some disadvantage, or perhaps his discomfiture with the Opposition benches is beginning to show.

As the Tánaiste stated on 5 April, publication of the report of the National Minimum Wage Commission represents a major step in the process towards implementing a national minimum hourly wage in Ireland. While I do not want to make an overtly political point of it, it is noteworthy that the Deputy's party, although in Government for a number of years, made no moves in the direction of introducing a minimum wage. Their support for the commitment in this Government's Action Programme for the Millennium is, nevertheless, to be welcomed.

As regards the Action Plan on Employment, for the first time the Government has committed itself to a firm target in its drive to reduce unemployment. The action plan's key objective is to reduce unemployment to 7 per cent by the end of the year 2000. The Government believes this will be done through sustained and enhanced macro-economic policies and by adopting a preventative approach to unemployment. This latter approach involves interacting with all persons aged under 25 years who are six months on the live register with a view to offering them a job or employment support. This preventative measure will be extended on a phased basis to everyone over 25 years who has been 12 months on the register. I hope the Labour Party can see its way to supporting this imaginative new approach to reducing unemployment.

I assure the Deputy that adequate time will be [1606] made available by the Government to have these two very important reports debated in this House in due course. We look forward to the active positive participation of Deputy Broughan and all Members of the House in debating and analysing the optimism and practical proposals in these two reports. I hope there will be a collective effort, with positive political leadership and co-ordination, to ensure we create opportunities for those who did not have them in the past.