Dáil Éireann - Volume 603 - 31 May, 2005

Ceisteanna — Questions. - National Economic and Social Council.

  9. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the studies being carried out by the National Economic and Social Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15228/05]

  10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the current work programme of the National Economic and Social Council. [16048/05]

  11. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the activities of the National Economic and Social Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16996/05]

  12. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18085/05]

  13. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the studies being carried out by the National Economic and Social Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18322/05]

[469]   The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 13, inclusive, together.

The National Economic and Social Council has completed its study entitled A Developmental Welfare State, which was published on 19 May. The council completed its report, Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy, in December 2004 and will complete a report on the Lisbon Agenda in the coming months, focusing on the open method of co-ordination. It will also undertake its three-yearly strategic overview of Irish economic and social policy, paving the way to negotiations on a successor to Sustaining Progress. Other studies in the council work programme include migration policy, child poverty and child income supports, Ireland’s first periodic social report, the taxation system in the medium term, competition regulation in the network sectors and a report on innovation foresight.

  Mr. J. Higgins: The work programme for the National Economic and Social Council for 2003 to 2006 provided for nine reports on significant issues. The Taoiseach indicated that the council has completed reports on social welfare and housing, which I did not see on the original list, as well as one other. The council seems to be slow in coming forward with its reports. What is the status of some of the other planned reports, particularly that on migration policy, which would appear quite urgent, and the taxation system in the medium term? Is there a timescale for these and the remaining reports which formed part of the work programme?

  The Taoiseach: The council will complete the report on the Lisbon strategy and the open method of co-ordination over the next number of months. It is undertaking its three-yearly strategic overview of the Irish economy and social policy, which is a large report and is used as the basis for negotiations on the three-year programmes. I do not have dates for the other reports. The council is working on migration policy, child poverty and child income supports and the periodic social report. The report on the taxation system in the medium term is nearing completion. I do not have dates for the reports on competition regulation in network systems or on innovation foresight, but most of the work is ongoing at present.

  Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Taoiseach expand on the process that is followed when the NESC makes a report on a particular subject? Is the report left lying ignored on a shelf or is there a structured process that takes account of the findings, recommendations and thinking in such a report? How is it imported into public policy?

  The Taoiseach: The process is that when it is passed by the NESC it is cleared by the Government. In the case of most reports there would be a discussion at that stage by Government. They would then go to the relevant Department or Departments. Taxation reports would go to the [470] Department of Finance and education reports to the Department of Education and Science. The reports on the broad economy and social policy cover a number of Ministries and usually would be used as the basis for the talks process — practically every Department is involved in that. In some cases Departments recommend legislation. Other times it is included in social welfare Bills and other legislation. It is normal for Departments to report back on the process. In many cases, as in the national infrastructure reports, they may attend some of the Cabinet sub-committee meetings and discussions would be held on some of the issues. That is where they have done work for the process, as they did for the national plan. That would not take place in the case of a normal report but only if they had done work on it. Other reports on improvement of services are followed up by the relevant Department.

In the normal course of events — I cannot say without exception — there is an active link between the NESC work and the Departments. A number of Departments would use it for the basis of much of their own action because they see it as work that helps them, such as the developmental welfare state report, which I am aware is being actively examined and was the source of a conference held some weeks ago attended by people from many Departments and agencies. They will now deal with their own aspects of the report and there is normally follow up on those.

  Mr. Kenny: The Taoiseach mentioned the developmental welfare state report by the NESC. That report states that the welfare state by EU standards uses a moderate to low proportion of national resources in providing services and a low proportion in providing cash transfers. It goes on to state that some of that is due to sections of the Irish population not enjoying the standards of social protection which their counterparts in other countries enjoy. Does the Taoiseach agree with that conclusion of the report? Does he agree that despite being one of the richest countries economically in the world, we remain one of the most unequal countries? Does he concede that, as the NESC points out, the high level of means-testing puts this country’s social welfare system in the shade when compared to a number of those of our European counterparts?

  The Taoiseach: I do not agree it is unequal. There are countries in Europe that are high contributors to the social welfare system. If we look at the charts and compare what we pay and what we fund, we would be termed a high contributor but not high in terms of the taxation level. It is correct that means tests apply to many issues.

I cannot comment on the detail of the other point, although I attended the launch of the report and spoke on it. The report provides a revised account of where the Irish welfare system has come from and identifies that social deficits remain, despite the remarkable progress we have made. It recasts the social debate in such a way [471] as to build consensus in terms of trying to improve the system for the future. That is what it endeavours to do. It highlights the existing deficits and areas where we could be more fair and reasonable. The Tánaiste has picked up on some of these already in the method of social care provision and disposable income. That issue moves away from the strict barrier of the means-tested arrangements and other countries use such a method.

A number of themes are identified, namely, that we should bring the same determination and innovation to social policy as we did to economic success. That is something with which I agree. If we put in the same effort we will remove many of the inequalities that exist in the system. We have done a great deal of that over recent years, such as the pre-1953 social insurance scheme. This was a major problem that has been eliminated.

The report also highlights improvements in services as the single most important route to enhancing social protection. It also deals with many of the profit and non-profit sectors. It sets out a scope and it is to feed into the social partnership process, to examine some of these areas, and to feed into the social welfare process. It is a very useful report in that it considers the deficits as well as the positive aspects of the country. I accept there are deficits and these are highlighted in the report.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes Taoiseach’s questions.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In that grouping I have not had the opportunity to ask the Taoiseach——

  An Ceann Comhairle: It is now 3.17 p.m.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There were two Deputies in that grouping and we should have been accommodated with at least one brief question at the end. To be completely excluded is grossly unfair.