Dáil Éireann - Volume 536 - 16 May, 2001
Private Members' Business. - Industrial Relations: Motion (Resumed).
The following motion was moved by Deputy Higgins (Mayo) on Tuesday, 15 May 2001:
That Dáil Éireann, conscious of the escalating industrial unrest, particularly in the public sector, as evidenced by difficulties and disputes
–in Aer Lingus
–among secondary teachers
–in the CIE group of companies
–in the Electricity Supply Board
–among nurses and junior doctors
–in the clerical grades of the Civil Service,
concerned that these difficulties may undermine the stability of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness resulting in industrial chaos throughout the economy;
deplores the Government's policies which have led directly to inflationary pay demands and the Government's abject failure to address the growing industrial unrest and its underlying causes.
 Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann:” and substitute the following:
commends the Government's economic policies, its ongoing commitment to ensuring stability in industrial relations, including through the work of the National Implementation Body and the innovative but firm approach it is taking to the determination of public service pay through the benchmarking process; and reaffirms the importance of continuing adherence by all parties to the terms of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, which provides the essential framework for sustaining the country's economic and social progress.
–(Minister for Finance).
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: I was a supporter of social partnership before its latest manifestation in 1987 and in terms of the understanding of a wider social wage and contributing to our social and economic progress, it has been an important development in Irish industrial relations.
The cement of social partnership has been pay restraint. In today's environment after almost a decade of economic growth, this cement is no longer adequate. This does not mean that social partnership ought to be abandoned. Rather it means that what is encompassed by social partnership and expressed in social pacts must be refined and expanded. Performance and reward must become key factors. Investment in training and upskilling, in manpower planning and human resource development and child care provision must be given higher priority.
Tax changes, in combination with pay increases, may help resolve living standards but do not address relative differences in a dynamic society. It is right that modern Irish workers have higher aspirations than their progenitors but, if these aspirations are to be met, productivity increases and change must be faced up to, and not just in certain sectors of the economy. Social investment must continue to have the highest priority. Housing need alone is probably a key driver of unrest in the modern industrial workforce.
If social partnership is to survive, it requires careful management and guidance. It has largely been abandoned by the Government, other than in times of high tension. There has been no functioning Minister for Labour during the lifetime of this Government. Access by the social partners in times of conflict is directly to the office of the Taoiseach or to the Taoiseach himself. There is no adequate nurturing of the process, nobody with hands-on political responsibility, nobody looking around corners for problems coming down the track, nobody anticipating difficulties that might easily have been foreseen, nobody involving the main players in developing the concept of social partnership. There are grave dan gers if the perception is allowed to develop that social partnership is only for the lead players and is of lesser relevance to the daily needs of the workplace.
The strains and stresses now manifesting themselves in the social partnership process are hardly surprising, against a background of neglect of that process and in the context of a period of the most dramatic and unprecedented change. We have become a net importer of labour. The workforce has expanded rapidly, there have been enormous improvements in productivity and we have had almost a decade of unprecedented growth. All those have produced their own peculiar pressures and tensions. Huge infrastructural deficits have been exposed but less remarked on are the deficits in human resource management and practices. The old one-company loyalty has gone out the window and workers are functioning in an environment of increasing materialism and individualism. If trade union members were to emulate some of the practices being exposed on the part of their employers, this economy would not function at its current rate. Meanwhile there is enormous pressure on a public service still unable to shake off the archaic practices of a more hierarchical era. There is still a refusal to invest sufficiently in human resource development. The public sector and much of the private sector still fail to recognise that people-quality is a key factor in maintaining social and economic progress.
The fact is that, generally speaking, we have over recent years had fewer demarcation disputes than used to be the pattern. There generally has been commonsense respect for the congress procedures. Too much significance can be attached to a couple of high profile disputes that have developed a definite inter-union dimension. These are very probably a symptom of deeper problems in the sectors affected. If Government pleads inability to become involved, there is no bar to their becoming involved belatedly in the underlying endemic problems neglected for so many years. Some of the other disputes adverted to in this debate highlight the need for renovation of social partnership.
I have heard and seen foolish and presumably mischievous comment on the broadcasting media about the supposed comparison that can be drawn between anti-competitive practices in business and anti-competitive practices in trade unions, meaning that competition, that is, several unions in a single employment, is a good thing. This is utter nonsense and betrays no understanding of the origins, practices or purpose of the trade union movement. Workers have no vested interest in representative fragmentation and most certainly managements have no desire to have to do business with several unions for the same category of worker.
As someone who has supported and continues to support the need to remunerate teachers, commensurate with their critical contribution to society, I have been puzzled at the apparent  unwillingness to face up to necessary change as the quid pro quo for decent salaries. Therefore I supported the benchmarking process at the outset as a rational method to bring both necessary change and appropriate reward to different categories of employee throughout the public sector. However, I now worry that the process of benchmarking has been undermined and devalued by some of the public comment, including by Cabinet Ministers, and that there is a danger that it has been relegated now to the status of yet another dispute-resolution mechanism.
The reputation of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, during his term as Minister for Labour is justified, even if I recall that his ability for timely intervention when others had done the spadework was his hallmark. Regrettably the Government has been trading on that reputation while withdrawing from the current industrial relations environment. The chickens are now in danger of coming home to roost and unless there is a change of approach, the next Government will inherit a legacy of neglect, alienation and unrest that will threaten social and economic progress.
My central point is that the process of social partnership requires nurturing, leadership and development. There has to be a Minister with political hands-on responsibility for the industrial relations portfolio. There has been no Minister for labour functioning during the lifetime of this Government. As a result, the present manifestation of an outbreak of problems in different areas threatens the very continuation of social partnership.
Of course, social partnership is also threatened by the present inflationary environment. Workers who signed off for what looked like a reasonably good agreement, when taken in the context of tax reform as well as moderate pay increases, now find themselves in an ongoing inflationary spiral. The Minister for Finance and his Department told us that this was a temporary blip which would not continue throughout the lifetime of the PPF It now looks like continuing. In the context of our living in one of the highest priced economies in the European Union, it is easy to see why so many workers in so many different employments are concerned about current developments. Having regard to the inability of young people in reasonable employment to put a roof over their heads, it is not at all surprising that we have the unrest which is now emerging in the public sector.
The occasional, nowadays infrequent, inter-union dispute ought not to be taken as the norm. Provided there is hands-on political direction and leadership, social partnership can be renovated in such a fashion that, whatever the hue of the next Government, it can be continued as the cornerstone of economic policy but not at the rate that it is rapidly going downhill at the moment.
Mr. Kelleher Mr. Kelleher
Mr. Kelleher: I welcome this motion. It gives me an opportunity to outline the many positive  policies being pursued by the Government. It is an indication of the success of the Government that, in referring to various issues, previous speakers, including Deputy Rabbitte, suggest they almost support the Government's amendment. Those issues are the high growth rates, low unemployment, tax cuts, the fact that 1.8 million are working and the huge amount of jobs continually being created. Definitely there are many positive aspects to what the Government has achieved.
Reference has been made to the problem of industrial unrest. One of the reasons we have an element of industrial unrest is that we inherited, from a poor period in the early 1980s, massive debt, high unemployment and massive emigration and then suddenly moved to a form of social partnership which has helped to transform the country. Nobody in this Chamber could condemn the positive aspects of social partnership and what it has contributed to our economy.
As a person who left second level school in the mid-1980s, I distinctly remember many friends and colleagues having to leave the country to find work. That continued right into the early 1990s. People talk about the Celtic tiger. I am concerned that young people feel that the Celtic tiger has been around forever. It is only in the past five or six years that it has impacted on the whole of society and we still have a way to go in certain areas. The generation younger than me seems to have the view that the Celtic tiger was always there because they do not remember the dark days of the 1980s.
The Opposition is trying to highlight the issue of industrial unease. If we wanted to be negative we could highlight a few of the industrial disputes that have taken place. There is the argument, however, that social partnership has worked and should be supported by all. It would be disingenuous of us to try to remove ourselves now from social partnership. The Government has been very supportive of social partnership, which was founded by the Fianna Fáil Party in the late 1980s. This Government is committed to partnership and working with members of trade unions which see its benefits. Where there are difficulties within the framework of social partnership, industrial relations machinery is available to address grievances, either through the Labour Court or through the benchmarking process.
I would encourage all unions to look at the positive aspects of the benchmarking process and I reject the criticism that the process has been undermined because of comments by Ministers. It is independent and I am confident that when it reports and assesses the pay of people in the public sector, they will be content with the result. The ASTI and others who have concerns should now come on board and see the positive aspects of benchmarking and social partnership. It has created huge employment across every strata of our economy. If unions walk away or are not supported by Government and Opposition, we will find ourselves back in the dark days. As a 33 year  old, partnership has made a difference to me and my peers.
The success of this economy has of course brought problems too. There is a huge number of people returning to the country and we have an infrastructural deficit, acknowledged by the Government, which has published the national development plan to try to address these issues. We must accept that we have come from a very low base and up to a few years ago there were public spending cuts rather than increases. We have a lot to make up to get to where we should be but the national development plan is positive and when it comes to full fruition we will see dynamic change with regard to the problems outlined. Road structure, investment in public transport etc. will improve enormously and everyone will benefit. That is another reason everybody with influence should strive to ensure that the most important pillar of the success of our economy, the social partnership, is supported and encouraged.
Some people say that central pay bargaining is an anathema to a free economy. I reject that. It is important that we have a system that protects the rights of workers and a procedure to address grievances and to guarantee that incomes are protected from inflationary pressures. Most trade unionists, employers and the Government accept that this is the way forward.
There is a difficulty for young people in terms of housing. Union representatives highlight the fact that many double income families are unable to purchase a home. That is something we have to address because if we do not address the underlying problem it could have serious repercussions and a ripple effect right across the social partnership. We have invested huge amounts of funding through various initiatives to open land for development. The pressure on the economy and on the whole construction industry to meet the demand must be addressed. An increase in public spending, particularly in infrastructural development, will have a knock-on effect in increasing the pressure already on the construction industry to meet a house-building target of 60,000 houses a year to address the present housing deficit.
All in all, over the next few months some of the disputes raised in this motion will be resolved. Those who have a grievance can use the industrial machinery available to address their problems. It is important that employers accept that they have a fundamental duty to ensure that social partnership is supported and that it will continue. It disappoints me to hear of employers paying less than the minimum wage, paying cash under the counter and not ensuring that workers' entitlements and contributions are fully paid. I am particularly concerned about employers who use or abuse persons who have entered this country either legally or illegally. It is scurrilous that people who have migrated here are sometimes paid less than the minimum wage. That is an abuse of the system and it should be addressed.
 Overall, this motion is timely because it gives us an opportunity to highlight the many positive aspects of what this Government has achieved. On this 75th birthday of the party, we can look back and point out the proud tradition of service to the country. Since 1987 the concept of partnership has encouraged all sectors to come together to address the problems of our economy. I congratulate the Government and others for moving forward with social partnership.
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: Happy Birthday.
Mr. Kelleher Mr. Kelleher
Mr. Kelleher: Thank you, Deputy.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: It is a pleasure for me to support the Government's economic policies. From a backbencher's point of view, I could not have an easier task than to speak for ten minutes on the issue. I genuinely extend my sympathies to Fine Gael and the Labour Party who have to speak against the Government on this issue. They are scraping the barrel most Wednesdays trying to find a motion to embarrass the Government, but they hit a new low tonight in putting up a spurious motion on real or imagined industrial disputes which, in some way, says that the Government is causing inflation, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a matter of working the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to its fulfilment and when we do that there will be improvements for everyone.
We must ask where the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness came from. In 1987, when Fianna Fáil came back into Government, it brought about the innovative, first social partnership Programme for National Recovery. It was the first of its kind in Europe and was the envy of member states. They cannot believe that we are so successful in achieving national agreements voluntarily without legislation. National consensus and co-operation is the way forward, not conflict.
When we came to Government in 1987, Fine Gael and the Labour Party had doubled the national debt from £12 billion to £25 billion in their short time in office. We immediately—
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton: Will the Deputy give way?
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: I will not give way because it is a statement of fact. I reiterate in case Deputies misheard me. Those parties in two years of Government doubled the national debt from £12 billion to £25 billion. We had to tackle that debt which was crippling the economy. We spent the rest of the 1980s bringing—
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: As the Deputy's own party did ten years earlier.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: —the debt under control.
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: I am talking about the 1970s.
Ms. McManus Ms. McManus
 Acting Chairman (Ms. McManus): Deputy Fleming has the floor.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: I know nothing about the 1970s. The Deputy is going back in history. I am in the real world and the new millennium.
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: I thought the Deputy was talking about history.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: We spent the 1990s creating employment and will spend the next decade improving the infrastructure. We will be remembered for, in these three decades, clearing the national debt, increasing employment and improving the infrastructure – simple, basic and to the point. We delivered and will continue to do so. In 1987, when we came to power, there was 1.1 million in the workforce, and there is 1.8 million today, which is a testimony to the Government's policies. How anyone on the other side of the House can find fault in a situation where 700,000 more people are in the workforce is beyond comprehension. I am proud of that record.
I acknowledge that inflation can be the by-product of a prosperous economy. However, inflation would be higher were it not for the Government's actions. Inflation might be out of control if we had not been so diligent in managing the national finances. The key element of that was the pay deals. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness is the latest version of the original Programme for National Recovery. We brought about the biggest single reduction in income tax rates and cut indirect taxes and fuel prices in the recent budget. Above all, we introduced a concept that had gone out of date in encouraging people to save instead of squandering money unnecessarily. I hope that will lead to a culture change.
An important aspect of the current programme is the national implementation body, whose job is to ensure industrial stability. It will work with the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission. They are achieving progress. I am most concerned about the public service benchmarking body. It is the way of the future. It is independent, under the chairmanship of a judge. Everybody in the House, employers, trade unions and the voluntary sector will say what they think it should do, but it will make its own decisions.
I understand the frustration in the public service. People feel that they are not getting a fair share of the Celtic tiger. The reason is that the extra 700,000 in the workforce are the principal beneficiaries of the booming economy. The benchmarking body should commission a detailed actuarial valuation of employment in the public sector versus the private sector. A public sector job is for life and a value should be attributed to that. A private sector job may be for life or a year. There is a risk that is not in the public service. In prosperous times, pay rates are higher in the private sector but in a recession public service  jobs are secure. The benchmarking body should conduct detailed research into this and take into account a fair balance between job security and pay rates. If it makes recommendations in this area, it will not only set the scene in this social partnership agreement but will be the cornerstone for any new agreement, which our party in government will, I hope, steer through.
Employee share option schemes in semi-State bodies is another measure implemented by the Government. Employees have a 15% option in the ACC and ICC banks and in Eircom. There is legislation to give employees shares in the ESB, to work for a programme for change to make it more adaptable in the modern economy. They will be able to buy additional shares, giving them a reasonable shareholding in the ESB and a stake in its future.
Some ill-informed comment was made about introducing legislation to ensure stability in essential services. Anybody who thinks along those lines is misguided, misinformed and does not understand the situation or the psyche of the Irish people.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton: The Tánaiste said that.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: My comments are across the board and they apply to whoever thinks like that. I am not distinguishing between who has those views and who does not. I say to whomever the Deputy mentions, if the cap fits, wear it. It is a difference I have with anyone on that issue.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton: The Tánaiste.
Mr. Fleming Mr. Fleming
Mr. Fleming: The Fianna Fáil Party will not introduce legislation compelling people to stay in work when they have a legitimate grievance and a right to strike. That right cannot be taken away. Anyone who thinks that industrial relations can be run through the Four Courts misunderstands the people. I oppose that idea.
Benchmarking and the implementation body will bring the present national understanding to success. These innovations are the way forward and will survive the next decade bringing benefits to people in the public and private sectors. Inflation is decreasing. Some is home grown. I criticise retailers, builders and publicans who take advantage of the booming economy to put up prices and increase profits. This adds to inflation and causes problems for everyone. I commend the Government's economic policies. We are doing a good job, on target for our fifth budget which will be delivered on the first Wednesday in December. I look forward to continuing prosperity under a Fianna Fáil led Government.
Mr. McGuinness Mr. McGuinness
Mr. McGuinness: I take up a point raised by Deputy Fleming about the use of Private Members' time on this and other motions. Over the past few months especially, this time has been a whinging session for the main Opposition parties. Instead of promoting their own policies and  encouraging constructive debate, they whinge about what the Government is or is not doing. It does not make for good political debate and it shows a deficit on the Opposition benches in regard to good sound policies. I said a number of months ago that the Opposition is increasingly coming across as an Opposition in a coma rather than a Government in waiting. That has been underlined here every Tuesday and Wednesday night. There is nothing constructive coming from that side of the House.
The Government policies in the area of the economy have been extremely successful and very far reaching. The agreements with the Government and the successful national agreement in which we are now involved have brought this country from a period of slow economic progress to where we are progressing quite rapidly in national development. Every sector is now involved. The rising tide has lifted the boats of almost everyone in this country and we are now moving forward. Looking at the comment from our European colleagues, it is quite obvious that we are the envy of Europe. The Minister for Finance is to be complimented on the stand he has taken both at home in terms of our economic policies and abroad in defending our position and ensuring that our economic success is held up as a model for all other European countries to follow.
Our growth rate has been 10% per annum over the past four years. It is four times higher than the European Union average. That speaks for itself. Let us focus on some of the issues. The main issue in terms of economic policy is the challenge for all of us to understand the change taking place within our economy, to master that change and to move forward. We also have to be conscious that we need to understand the expectations of the public. We need to understand that some of those expectations will not be reached and that some of them are unrealistic. We need to understand that we cannot be too excessive in our ambitions for the development of this economy. We need to move forward at a steady pace and to bring every sector of the economy with us. We need to ensure we do not run into inflationary problems. We had a problem with inflation which ran at 7% but because of the measures introduced by the Government, the rate of inflation has been reduced to 5.6% in April. That has to be recognised. It is not just a political fact; it is an economic fact and an undisputed one. If that is the case, then our economic policies are successful.
If Members cared to look at any of the marginalised communities, which exist in most constituencies, they will see the investment by this Government has resulted in their inclusion in terms of education and advancement in their careers and employment and in terms of skills in the areas of information technology and communications. That has only come about because this Government has recognised where the shortfalls are and is anxious to move in and bring forward investment and proper pro grammes to be supported over a number of years and not just one year. A number of these programmes run for five years and success has been recorded there. This year alone there have been record increases in employment. The figures forecast have been increased further by 60,000 jobs.
We are not blind to the fact that a number of areas need attention. One of those areas which requires attention concerns the deficit in terms of local government and the infrastructure being provided. Given the amount of money that has been invested through local government in terms of the national development plan, it is obvious that a commercial outlet or activity would not be able to take on that amount of money at the drop of a hat and spend it immediately.
Staff in local government and the Civil Service are constantly being head hunted by the private sector. We have a booming private sector which defeats the argument of those opposite. As regards civil servants and local government officials, all we need to do is to bring in a system where they are benchmarked. That too is catered for in our economic policies but we need to fast track it and to ensure that those who are employed in our local government and Civil Service are well paid because there are good, honest people working in that service and young people who are anxious to get on and participate in the development of this country, implement the national development plan and spend the money which this Government has put in place. I encourage the Minister for Finance to do whatever he can to ensure the benchmarking process is fast tracked and that the people employed as regards the national development plan strategy at local level – those in the planning areas, engineers and senior executives in local government – are paid as quickly as possible given the new salaries required by comparison with the private sector. That is the only way we will get them to stay and will get the highly educated young people to take an interest in the Civil Service and particularly in local government because that is where the spend is directed.
If we deliver in terms of infrastructure, then we are supporting local economies, the development of the regions and the infrastructure nationally which will ensure the local, regional and national economies are served to the best of our ability. That is one of the areas which requires action.
As regards the strike issues raised by the Opposition, every commercial activity goes through a restructuring from time to time. This has not ever been more necessary than in regard to Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta or any other company one may wish to name. Companies need to be modernised and brought up to what is required in commercial terms in a developing economy which is well financed and driven by this Government. That is all that needs to happen. When that takes places – the structures exist within the PPF to make that change take place and to assist it – one will find that each and every one of those  companies will be better structured, leaner and well capable of dealing with the economic changes put before them in terms of the delivery of their services, because that too is an issue. We have to deliver a far greater service now. Given the Nice Treaty and the enlargement of the European Union, there is a definite need for every operation in this country to be lean and competitive, whether it is under State control or is a commercial operation. All that is happening in Aer Lingus, which the Opposition mentioned, and in other organisations is that they are growing up, moving on, facing the challenge and resolving the difficulties that have existed within them for quite some time.
My only concern is that during the course of this change which is taking place, particularly in those companies, the only ones to suffer are the customers and the country as a whole. There needs to be a review of the mechanism within the PPF to ensure that what was agreed within the partnership between the Government and the unions is adhered to because it is in the interest of the economy and not just one section of it or one company. There is a need to focus our attention on ensuring that all the mechanisms within that structure which has been agreed are adhered to and that the change can be structured and can take place without the hassle and trauma created by a number of these strikes for the consumer. I support the economic policies spelled out yearly by the Minister for Finance. The closer we stick to those policies – another budget will be introduced this year – the greater the success of this economy and every sector within it.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: I wish to share my time with Deputies Stanton, Reynolds, Fitzgerald, Durkan and Carey.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: Before I address the points in the motion, I will address a point Deputy Fleming raised in his contribution. He touched on the issue of Eircom. It is important to raise one issue in relation to Eircom, which is now privatised under this Government, the public having bought shares and paid into the State coffers so that could be done. Now Eircom is closing telephone kiosks throughout the country in many rural areas, kiosks which have been used by the elderly, the poor, children trying to contact home, etc. I hope, given that the Minister of State has responsibility for the elderly, that he will contact Eircom which is now a private company—
Dr. Moffatt Dr. Moffatt
Dr. Moffatt: They all have private phones now.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: —and have this decision overturned rather than turning his back on the people of rural Ireland, because that should have been written in before the company was sold off.
There is a head of steam building up in the public sector which has been highlighted by the  recent industrial unrest and disputes. We are witnessing the crumbling of partnership agreements and the destruction of the national consensus which has been the foundation of our current economic prosperity. We are facing a return to the serious industrial unrest experienced in the 1970s and 1980s when Ireland had one of the worst industrial relations records in the developed world. Today, however, we are facing industrial unrest in the public rather than in the private sector. We are still working with an archaic system of management and government, and without an efficient well run public sector, our prosperity will soon decline.
The current situation can be resolved only by good management and partnership both within the public sector and within Government. This very day large sections of the IMPACT trade union, the State's second largest public sector trade union which has over 40,000 members, expressed opposition to social partnership in its current form. This is a union that voted four to one in favour of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness just over a year ago.
Last Tuesday, 100,000 commuters were left stranded by Iarnród Éireann. The response of the Minister for Public Enterprise was that it was not her problem. On Wednesday, train services to the south were paralysed and on Thursday the west was badly hit. Again, the Minister failed to become involved and did not appoint a mediator in relation to this dispute. The leadership that is so badly needed is not present either in the Taoiseach or in the Minister for Public Enterprise. The Taoiseach refuses to take tough decisions, and this permeates right throughout the Government to the various Ministers and their Departments, whose different sectoral areas cover the industrial chaos which has now broken out.
Questions also have to be raised about the running of the industrial disputes in Aer Lingus. In early April, employees of the ESB warned that there would be strikes unless the Government conceded a 28% pay increase. Within days the Government and the company had conceded a 20% increase. We have also had disputes in the nursing profession, in the Garda Síochána, and the teachers' dispute is ongoing.
The Minister for Finance said recently that wage moderation and tax reform were fundamental to the State's economic performance, but the public and our workforce also demand a first rate health service and proper infrastructure. We still do not have a proper health service. Not only are public patients but private patients are queueing for beds. We do not have the social services. We do not have infrastructure in place. We have heard speaker after speaker from the opposite side of the House talk about fast tracking. We do not even have tracks in relation to Luas in Dublin yet, even though it has been announced on numerous occasions. Our education system is crumbling and bursting at the seams.
I commend the motion to the House.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
 Mr. Stanton: It is disappointing to have to raise these issues but it is our duty to do so. We would like to be able to put forward our very many positive policies, but we must deal with the Government's inactivity first and try to get it on the right track
At a time of unprecedented wealth and prosperity, 215,587 man days were lost in 1999 through industrial disputes. Last year things were a little better with 100,000 man days lost through industrial disputes. One would have to go back a fair number of years to find a record like that. Most of these man days were lost in the public sector, and today a union representative spoke about the quality of life and the quality of services provided to citizens. The Government is blinkered and talks about nothing but the economy. It has lost its way, and it is up to us to get it back on track or to get it out of office and do the job ourselves.
Deputy Fleming was not very generous in his comments when he talked about the turnaround in 1987. He did not allude to the fact that without the Tallaght Strategy that could not have happened. He did not allude to the fact that it was unprecedented generosity on the part of the Opposition that enabled the Government of the day to undo the mess of decades caused mainly by Fianna Fáil. Now I do not want to go into history but if a Deputy opposite takes credit for the progress made since 1987, he should at least be generous and honest enough to acknowledge the role of the party that was on this side of the House at the time and without whom it could not have happened. It was totally unprecedented. So let us take the blinkers off and be honest about it.
We are concentrating on the public sector because of the problems being experienced. For the first time in the history of the State, nurses went on strike. They had a conference and are planning a strategy for further industrial action because they are unhappy with the way they are being treated by Government. The last thing they want is to go on strike. However, because of the inept policies of the Government, they are forced to do so.
On the question of benchmarking, nobody seems to know what it is all about. Different people have different interpretations of it. Obviously it involves some form of extra payment, but will it be linked to pensions? I note that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance has come into the House. Perhaps he can answer that question. Will benchmarking be reflected in people's pension entitlements later on? I would like clarification on that.
Industrial disputes in the public sector are bad for our image abroad. A strike in Dublin Airport creates a very bad image for the country. If people cannot leave the country, if they cannot get a taxi or a train, if there is uncertainty about any of those things, that creates a bad impression. If people get sick and have to go to hospital and have to wait on a trolley or perhaps even a trolley  cannot be found on which to put them, that is a problem. If there is a strike in school, that is a problem for children. If there is a danger that power will be disrupted and the lights might go out, that creates a bad reflection. All these problems in the industrial area in the public sector are being monitored abroad, and they do our image no good. l call on the Government, therefore, to take note of what IMPACT and other unions are saying and to really look at the partnership model and accept that it has to evolve and change with the times. What people are crying out for across the country now are better public services. They want quality of life improved, and that is something the Government will have to get to grips with.
I commend Deputy McGuinness on his speech. He touched on the need to enhance the careers of people working in the public sector. We know, for instance, that planners are leaving local authorities and that there is a major bottleneck in planning right across the country. Unless we do something to enhance the careers of those people and make their jobs more attractive and less stressful, the problem will get worse.
We need to be careful because of the possibility of an economic downturn. Interest rates in America have been cut a number of times in order to try to boost the economy there. If the economy there goes into a nosedive or gets into trouble, we will be in trouble here as well. It is very important that we take note of that and insulate ourselves against such a shock. It is important we all work to ensure that industrial unrest in the public sector is dealt with and that those working in that sector can find satisfaction in their jobs. There is an opportunity over the summer to deal with the problems in the teaching sector. People will leave teaching if we do not.
Ms Fitzgerald Ms Fitzgerald
Ms Fitzgerald: There are serious stresses and strains in social partnership. That is quite clear and was illustrated on “Morning Ireland” today by Peter McLoone when he outlined his concerns. This motion is clear in that it calls the Government to account for these stresses and strains and we are asking the Government to examine its role in those strains.
This is a quality of life issue for our citizens because it affects the public services that are available to people. We all know about the stresses in the health services. We have seen teachers on strike. We know that 100,000 people could not get trains last week. We know people are being held up in airports. We see these problems week in, week out and I would have been more impressed if Government speakers had acknowledged what is going on in a more open way. People would be more reassured if there was an acknowledgement of the reality and a discussion about how the Government intends to address that reality.
The motion calls the Government to account and there is no doubt that the disputes listed, in  Aer Lingus, among teachers, in the CIE group and the ESB, among nurses and doctors and in the clerical grades of the Civil Service, are very serious and are undermining a process that has helped the country enormously and that has provided the base for much of the economic success we are enjoying as a nation. These are the only cases where the Government is the only other partner as both the employer and as Government. In the State sector the social partners are the workers and their unions, the employers, Ministers and the Government. This is an important point when looking at partnership in the public sector. We must focus on how the Government does its business and the question we must ask is how is the Government managing its relationship with its partners – its own workforce? How are the Government and Ministers actually managing the State and public sector and their relationships within that?
There is now a huge focus on hiring outside management consultancy firms, costing millions of pounds, to investigate and advise. If one listens carefully to Ministers they often say they will decide what they will do when told by the experts. So, if things subsequently go wrong, do not work out, or cost more than initially planned the Government is off the hook. While this is going on the public sector workforce knows the entire sector is being examined, assessed, reassessed and reviewed by consultancy firms; in effect, they are almost stalked by consulting firms and I make that claim against the Government as opposed to the consulting firms. Look at the delays with Luas in the transport sector and the number of consultants' reports. Look at Aer Lingus. Look at Eircom and how badly thousands of people lost out there when we know what was paid to the consultants concerned. Hiring consultants gives Ministers a foil, something to hide behind. It keeps Government decision making away from parliamentary scrutiny and comment and costs a fortune.
Some of my colleagues have referred to how demoralised public sector workers are, at managerial level in particular. Ministers are not managing their departmental functions. Consultants should never replace ordinary managerial decision making but that is what is happening. Is it any wonder that as well as failing to tackle the problems in the public sector in delivering an improved health, education and transport service to the citizenry, the employee-employer relationships in the public sector are at a low ebb with an ill-managed and demoralised workforce? All this is taking place at a time when there is more money to improve and manage public sector service delivery than ever before. This is a total failure of Government at a time of unprecedented wealth.
Partnership in the public sector is the direct responsibility and under the direct control of Government in that it is in effect two of the traditional three partners – the public sector's manager and the Government. If partnership in the  public sector is breaking down, as evidenced by the motion, the Government is doubly responsible. Nurses want sufficient facilities to offer a decent health service. Teachers want sufficient resources and rewards to attract young graduates into the profession of shaping future generations' minds. Bus and train drivers have seen their companies under-resourced for years and part of the transport sector's under-resourcing has also been to starve it of salaries sufficient to attract and retain high quality managers.
It is also a fact that Civil Service clerical grades have been appallingly paid for years. Partnership as a notion cannot replace a living and attractive wage for low paid clerical staff. Various groups of public sector workers cannot be simply dismissed as failing to be partners and causing the underlying reasons for future inflation. There is one common factor in all these partnership-relationship failures, which is the way their employer manages these relationships. The Government is the employer, the manager and the partner all rolled into one.
The 250,000 workers in the public sector deserve better. The Government must take responsibility for these failures of management and stresses in partnership and act to bring about change. It has failed to tap in to the expertise of the teachers, health service workers and to deal with the challenges of our time effectively. This is a serious governmental and political failure.
Mr. G. Reynolds Mr. G. Reynolds
Mr. G. Reynolds: It is unfortunate we have had to put this motion down due to the amount of industrial unrest in the public sector. We have to be honest about this. A number of Government speakers spoke about how the economy is growing at unprecedented levels but they refuse to take into consideration the difficulties we are experiencing in the public sector. My colleagues listed the industrial disputes and those continue in Aer Lingus, the ASTI, the health service and the CIE group. Many other sectors are suggesting they will take industrial action also.
When I was elected in 1987 we had major difficulties creating jobs. For every ten jobs created 7.8 were in the public or Civil Service. Thankfully we have moved away from that to a situation where for every ten jobs created now only 3.9 are in the public sector. That shows the private sector has increased its provision of jobs enormously. For our economic growth to succeed it was essential that the private sector became involved in job creation.
Speakers have said that social partnership has played a fundamental role in the good relationship between the social partners and Government and that is correct. However, social partnership is now crumbling because of frustration in the public sector. I do not know if it is necessary for a country our size to employ the numbers we do in the public sector and in the Civil Service. We seem to have a clatter of different organisations.
I believe in the free market and in privatising as many semi-State bodies as possible. We have  not benefited much from our experience with Eircom. Many individuals who worked hard for Eircom for many years took redundancy payments and now find it almost impossible to find work. Workers in companies like Aer Lingus and CIE fear privatisation as they think it will endanger their careers and that they will not have an opportunity to find other jobs. The train strike in the west last Thursday meant that no trains were running. Last year's train strike, which lasted ten weeks, meant that a lot of business in tourism and other sectors was lost.
I am bothered by the Government's attitude to industrial relations disputes in the public sector as the Minister for Public Enterprise has abdicated her responsibility. Deputies have been elected as custodians of a number of semi-State companies. The Minister must take responsibility for difficulties in this area rather than setting up a plethora of different organisations and then saying it is no longer her responsibility. She cannot simply shake her shoulders and abdicate responsibility and neither should any of us as elected public representatives as we are all responsible. There is a lot of disquiet within the public sector as workers feel the Government does not care and does not have proposals to deal with problems.
We must look at a form of social partnership other than that which we have had in recent years, successful as it has been. Public sector workers are voting with their feet by taking industrial action. More strikes have been threatened in the last 12 months than in the previous 20 years, which presents the Government with a huge problem and it cannot afford to just stand by. If there are strikes in Aer Lingus or CIE, there is mayhem throughout the country and if it happens in the provision of health or educational services, problems follow in other sectors.
As well as coming up with new ideas regarding partnership, I ask the Government to bring a stop to the abdication of responsibility by Ministers. Regardless of who is in Government, responsibility has to be taken when these problems arise. If somebody is honoured by being appointed to a ministerial position, he should not be afraid to take decisions central to the running of the public service if they are relevant to his jurisdiction. Before I conclude, I would like to deal with another issue.
Deputy Kirk Deputy Kirk
Acting Chairman (Deputy Kirk): I do not encourage the Deputy to expand too much on the point as he has only about 23 seconds left.
Mr. G. Reynolds Mr. G. Reynolds
Mr. G. Reynolds: Incentives must be given within the public sector to keep higher paid civil servants. The private sector provides so much employment that public sector workers are leaving and it would be remiss of us to lose their experience to the private sector.
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: I do not know where to start as one does not know whether to feel happy or sorry  for the Government in its present crisis. At a time when we should be relaxing at the peak of our strength and endeavours and ready to reap rewards, what have we got? The Government has indulged in a little fantasy over the years, although I am not sure if they lean towards Ali Baba or Don Quixote. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, could hallucinate further before the night is out.
Five years ago, one would have been able to catch a taxi, get on a train, enter Dublin Airport, fly on an Aer Lingus aeroplane, send one's children to school and enjoy all the things to which one had become accustomed without encountering strikes or impediments. There were good industrial relations here five years ago, but there have been changes since then. At a time of unprecedented funds available to the Government, it set out to delude the public and itself. It tried to create a feel good factor which would encourage people to live in a more expensive house and thereby feel much better. As a result, houses have become a luxury. Five years ago, one would have expected to be able to buy a house at a reasonable price but that is no longer a realistic aspiration.
The culmination of these negatives is that those in the public sector are fed up and have had enough. They can no longer tolerate the pretence as they have paid the price. Eircom investors were carried along by a feel good factor, made to believe that they would make millions of pounds and that everyone would be a millionaire. They felt they had to invest in Eircom shares, which I admit was a good project other than the fact that it was overpriced. Having collected billions of pounds, the Government walked away with its hands clean, leaving the management of Eircom and investors to solve the problems left behind.
In all of this, very little was said about the consumer or about those who depend on the delivery of service. To whom do they go with their problems? If they usually use trains, they now have to walk, take a bus or stay at home. There are unlimited funds at the Government's disposal. This needs to be emphasised. However, if this happened at a time of deprivation, we would understand and would not mind as much. Nobody can afford to buy a house anymore unless they take out a massive mortgage. As a result, people have to seek higher wages, which means they contribute further to inflation and increases in house prices and all other services. It is strange.
In the last couple of hours I have heard Government Members speak of saving the country from destruction in 1987. I apologise to the Chair for raising this matter and I assure him that these remarks are not personal. Fianna Fáil claims to have saved the country from annihilation but forgets to mention that it set the country up for its greatest fall. It took the people of this country almost 20 years to pay for Fianna Fáil's lunatic policies of 1977, such as free car tax. People were led to believe they could live for free  forever more, but they were led astray. When this Government came to power four years ago, it set about leading the people astray again, 20 years after it had first done so.
Those who wonder why we have poor industrial relations should meet those who provide services or who work in the areas that have been mentioned by Members tonight and ask them about their disposable income. Ask those who have sons or daughters in their twenties who are thinking of buying a house what the chances are of their children being able to purchase at a reasonable price. Ask house buyers if they expect to continue to be able to live on their current salary given the rate of house price increases.
What has happened during the last four years is nothing short of a disgrace. This motion calls on the Government to wake up as it has been snoozing for the last four years and has been led astray by self-delusion. The time for inaction has passed and it is time for the Government to join the real world by recognising that people are waiting for something to be done. I refer not only to those who have gone on strike but to the entire electorate, which is waiting to have its say on this Government. I hope people are more benign in their treatment of the Government in the forthcoming election than the Government has been in its treatment of those who are the subject of this motion.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): The answer to a question posed by a Deputy when I came into the House is that any increases in pay resulting from benchmarking will also be applied to the relevant pensions.
The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness sets out the fundamental economic and social policy framework for this country until 2003. It forms a basis for our fiscal and budgetary strategies and provides the frame of reference for pay developments. As was acknowledged in this House last evening, it contains a number of innovative measures which are clear evidence of the Government's commitment to stability in industrial relations, development of the public service and reform of the process of pay determination.
A major innovation is the provision for the establishment of the benchmarking body which, it was acknowledged, will undertake a comprehensive comparison of pay and jobs across the public service with pay and jobs across the private sector. In providing for this process, Government and the social partners are moving away from the old system of cross-sectoral relativities and catch up claims. It will ensure that pay rates in the public service are comparable with those in the private sector. It has the capacity to address many of the concerns of the unions and employers, including the issues of recruitment, retention and reward in the public service. The benchmarking body is absolutely independent and will make its recommendations on the basis of its research and analysis. It will not be influenced by any other body, employer or trade union.
A further innovation in the promotion of stab ility is the establishment of the National Implementation Body, representing Government, IBEC/CIF and ICTU, to ensure delivery of the industrial peace provisions of the PPF. While responsibility for the resolution of disputes continues to rest primarily with the parties concerned and with the pre-existing industrial relations machinery of the State, this body has already assisted in the resolution of disputes, for example, in the construction industry, Aer Lingus and Iarnród Éireann. It demonstrates the real and continuing commitment of Government and the main employer and trade union organisations to industrial peace and stabililty.
The partnership process, contrary to some suggestions last evening, has not reached its sell by date. On the contrary, it is a valuable process, with features unique to Ireland, which has allowed us to agree key economic and social imperatives and to set about achieving them. An essential feature underlying the durability of our model of partnership is the flexibility and adaptability built into it. Pressures and problems arise but the partnership system has shown itself to be resilient in its ability to cope with such difficulties. It is a dynamic model which can continue to facilitate and underpin continued economic growth, the sharing of benefits throughout our society and the strategic development of our public service.
Social partnership can only continue to deliver those benefits if the national agreements are maintained. This requires realistic and responsible attitudes from all elements of society – the social partners and Government.
I remind the House that currently no days are being lost through strike actions on pay claims over and above the terms of the PPF. There is effective provision in the National Implementation Body and the well established industrial relations machinery of the State for the conduct of industrial relations and the resolution of disputes in accordance with the terms of the PPF. The work of the benchmarking body is in full swing and its report, due by 30 June 2001, will provide for fair rates of pay comparable with those in the private sector. It is worth emphasising there is an enormous commitment on behalf of the Government to ensure we retain the quality of people who are spread throughout the public service and who serve us well. There is an obvious recognition it would not be correct to have a growing imbalance between pay rates in the private sector and public sector. It is also worth acknowledging that people who work in the public sector have a great loyalty to service to the country and to the State and have served many Governments faithfully.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: The Minister of State had better close the sluice gates.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: I fully accept adjustments need to be made. The benchmarking process will underpin the process of change in the public service facilitating long-term stability. The partnership  model and, in particular, the current Programme for Prosperity and Fairness offers the best means of sustaining our country's economic and social progress. This depends on continued adherence to the terms of the PPF and responsibility on all our parts.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: I wish to share my time with Deputies Flanagan and Sheehan.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: That is agreed.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: Last Friday in Geesala in County Mayo a presentation was made by three Ministers on the task force employment report for north Mayo. Each Minister repeated in turn the mantra of the Celtic tiger, unprecedented growth, low inflation, unprecedented opportunities and this continued for an hour. A housewife from north Mayo, a former employee of the Warner plant in Belmullet, addressed the three Ministers. She said it is all very fine for the Ministers to come down here or be driven down here, but when she looks out her kitchen window tomorrow morning, she will see the same lack of opportunity, the same no hope and the same no change as she saw last year and the year before. She said she was listening to this rubbish from them every day, every week and she was sick of it. She asked them where was their mission statement translated into opportunities for her home, family, people and area. The answer is there is no hope and no change for those people.
In reply to a question I recently tabled, the Tánaiste spoke of Ireland's competitiveness. She said we are losing our competitive edge in a big way, and not just through economic costs. A financial controller of a major pharmaceutical company approached me recently and told me the company has a subsidiary in China, that the Chinese made two and a half million units of the product this year and its subsidiary had the same quality control, the same product contained in the same bottle with the same label, but employees there work for $1 per hour as against employees of the subsidiary here who work for $18 per hour. How long can that last? The product manufactured here has been damaged in transit on more than one occasion – for which the Minister of State shares part responsibility – by virtue of the very poor road structure leading out of the west. What did the National Roads Authority say when we raised such matters with it? It told us that road will be done in 2019. What age will the Minister of State be then?
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: I will not be here then.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: What Ministry will he hold? Will he be writing his memoirs? Will he have written about the proceedings at Cabinet meetings?
The Tánaiste's reply to Question No. 94 on 3 April is more Civil Service, departmental, ministerial-backed waffle. It refers to the quality of our physical infrastructure, the costs facing business,  the services needed by business, the regulatory environment and the effectiveness of public administration. We live will beyond the Shannon, in many ways, in what is prehistoric Ireland, given the comparative features of what is happening elsewhere. We are told by the Government that there are unprecedented opportunities and that this is a golden age.
The same Minister replied to me the other day and said there are 78,000 job vacancies here which accounts for 6% of the workforce. Why are those jobs not being filled? Where is the training that will help that woman from north Mayo and her family to get a job and have hope and opportunities? When our people living in Boston, London or wherever answer the call from Erin's Government to come home to Ireland, they are then told they cannot build a house on their land because of a particular snail or a particular type of grass blowing in the Atlantic breeze that must be protected for foreign and international visitors to look at and say “isn't this a wonderful place”.
I believe there is a parallel situation beyond the benchmarking process. The Minister for Education and Science has usurped the benchmarking board by saying that teachers will get at least 10% extra from the benchmarking process. If there was not a common pay strategy and relationship between the three teacher unions, would the ASTI be able to pursue a legitimate pay claim outside the forum of the PPF or are they being forced by Government to comply with a strategy they voted against? Is it that there is a common pay structure that they will get whatever comes out of the benchmarking process and they could not lose in that sense? If another union of major import decides to make its case outside the benchmarking process, what procedure will be followed? Is this legitimate in modern Ireland or are we all to have nice cosy social consensus?
The single intent of the Government, which is a political intent, is to do whatever they must do to answer whatever questions they must answer but to be back in Government after the people have exercised their franchise and to hell with equality for rural Ireland and places which are not close to Dublin.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: The Deputy does not believe that.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Deputy Kenny, you have exceeded the time considerably.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: The woman from Erris, when she next addresses the three Ministers, will still look out her kitchen window and say, “Thank you very much for your contribution about economic opportunities but things have not changed down here for me”.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: They should have got the new Leader of Fine Gael. They would be better off.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: I warn the Minister of State,  Deputy Cullen, that the Government is drifting like a ship without a rudder, that it is living in cloud cuckoo land. Is the Minister of State aware of the escalating industrial unrest which has set in at Aer Lingus, among the secondary teachers, at CIE, at ESB, among nurses and junior hospital doctors, among farmers and shopkeepers, in the hotel industry, in the tourism industry, in the fishing industry and in several other industries? All are waiting for leadership from a Government which has sadly lacked it, not giving any commitment to boost the natural resources of Ireland. Our only natural industries are fishing, farming and tourism. What is the Government doing to maintain stability in those great industries? The Celtic tiger economy is losing its bite. In fact, the print of its paws is indiscernible in rural Ireland.
Country roads are disintegrating at such a rate that soon they will not be there at all for the want of finance to maintain them. Is the Minister of State aware that Cork County Council is operating in an area one-eighth the size of the country and yet it got £6,000 less per kilometre than much smaller county council areas received for this year? Is that justice? The Government sadly lacks it as far as Cork is concerned.
The Government seems to have lost its vision when it comes to looking after the people of that part of the country. We have had no railway system for the past 57 years. South west Cork is bigger than many counties yet we have been sadly and sorely neglected. We do not have an airport, a rail service or one mile of national primary roads. Where have the fruits of the Celtic tiger economy gone?
The Central Bank bulletin for spring 2001 forecasts a slowing of output growth to about 7%, mainly reflecting a smaller contribution to growth from net exports. The honeymoon period of the Celtic tiger economy seems to be disappearing rapidly. Fate seemed be very kind to Fianna Fáil and the Government. They took over in 1997 when the tide was turning in their favour. The old saying states that a rising tide floats all crafts, but alas this Government's craft of State seems to have sprung a leak. The signs are evident that the buoyancy of the Celtic tiger economy is rapidly disappearing. Unrest has appeared in all sectors of the community and we now face a dismal tourist season. What aid will the Government give to the small hoteliers who have lost thousands of bookings because of circumstances outside their control, and to the small publicans and the small shopkeepers who are saddled with high rates which are escalating throughout the country? Will the Government give them any remission? Will it take into consideration the serious situation in rural Ireland today? We all cannot live in Dublin, Galway, Cork city, Waterford or Limerick. Rural Ireland is fast disappearing and the Government does not seem to be that concerned with its disappearance. It seems to be consigning it as a wildlife park for wealthy European and international tourists in the future.
Mr. Flanagan Mr. Flanagan
 Mr. Flanagan: I thank the Members from all parties who contributed to this debate. I thank the Labour Party for its support and Deputy Jim Higgins for his introductory remarks yesterday evening.
More than anything else, the fact that there has been no response from the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the fact that there is no Minister for labour is indicative of the present state of affairs in industrial relations.
The lack of engagement on the part of the Government was encapsulated neatly last week by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, throwing her hands in the air and stating that there was nothing she could do to prevent a national rail strike. Her actions confirmed that the Government remains immobile and detached on the vital matter of industrial relations. Industrial disputes in Aer Lingus and Iarnród Éireann have seriously questioned the existence in the State of rail and air transport services in which people can have any real confidence.
Recently there have been a succession of disputes in air transport, with baggage handlers, caterers, pilots, ground staff and cabin crew all seeking better pay and improved conditions. Last week's rail dispute, still not settled, could yet result in a summer of rail transport chaos similar to what we experienced last year. The damage which will result to business, enterprise, commerce and tourism will be enormous and a prolonged rail strike would cost the economy millions of pounds. Equally important is the damage that would be inflicted as the image of Ireland abroad as a place in which to invest or engage in business would be severely tarnished. As the sole shareholder, the Minister needs to show a measure of leadership. While both management and trades unions have particular responsibilities, the Minister must act positively and decisively and be on hand to facilitate and encourage.
In an era of industrial unrest, leadership is required more so than in times of peace. When the icebergs appear the ship needs a steady hand and a clear thinking captain capable and willing to engage in positive action and to be on hand to inspire confidence. What we are experiencing now from Government is a hands-off approach from people who convey a distinct impression of not wishing to know.
There is a clear duty on the part of Government, employers and trades unions to commit themselves towards reaching agreement on appropriate codes of practice within the partnership model to ensure the maintenance of essential services at all times. The maintenance of essential services is vital to avoid chaos throughout the economy and huge loss and damage to business, enterprise and commerce.
 While new pay guidelines are needed to sustain the current social partnership model there is a corresponding duty on all concerned to promote industrial peace and harmony and an advanced code of practice on dispute procedures is vital for the maintenance of good order throughout the economy.
Much of our current difficulty surrounds the manner in which the fruits of the Celtic tiger economy are distributed throughout society. In this regard particular notice must be given to inflation and its consequences.
Inflation figures for last month indicate that we are on course for an annual average of about 5%, which is well ahead of Government predictions and expectations. The Government can no longer blame the price of oil, the weak euro and international factors as rising food and drink prices, along with the transport, telephone and child care costs and medical fees, have all contributed to an inflation increase for the third month in a row. Food inflation is now 7.7%, the highest for 16 years. This must be particularly worrying and urgent action is required on this particular issue about which we have very little in recent times.
Inflation figures are adding further to new wage rounds which will threaten our competitiveness and thereby stifle economic growth. This growth is already forecast to be down on last year and it appears that the economy is slowing to about half the pace of this time last year. Inflation, along with the slow down in the US economy and job losses in the high-tech industry here, will result in a reduction of confidence and a cycle of bad news which may well damage consumer confidence even further. The Government appears to have no concrete plan of action. There are no proposals on the table that we know of to deal with this issue. Nothing we heard last night from the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, could do anything to inspire confidence regarding the current difficulties and, as I said, we have not heard from the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, whose area of responsibility seems to be directly in the area of enterprise and industrial relations. There is no sign of the Ministers of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputies Tom Kitt and Treacy or of the invisible Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke. The majority of Cabinet members have been in office for far too long and they lack focus. They give the impression of being tired and disinterested. They should actively consider vacating their positions due to an inability on their part to deal with the matters in any co-ordinated and pro-active fashion. I urge the House to support the motion this evening.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: That concludes the debate on Private Members' business.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
 Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.
Dáil Éireann 536 Private Members' Business. Industrial Relations: Motion (Resumed).