Genuine accommodation of obvious concerns needed before ‘Lisbon 2’

December 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

 The Report of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in European Union provides and interesting and timely opportunity for us to revisit the issues we have previously discussed in the House. Like others, I do not want to repeat all the arguments in which we have engaged on the various occasions we have discussed the Lisbon treaty.

I welcome the report and congratulate Senator Pascal Donohoe on this extremely detailed and readable document. It begins by placing this debate and the moment we are at in true terms. We cannot shirk from those terms, as they point to a choice that must be made by the Irish that is of enormous importance. It cannot be shirked by people on either side of the argument. Those of us who supported the “Yes” vote did not do so on the basis that we would not have liked to change some elements of the treaty. Anybody engaged in a political activity knows that an international treaty involving 27 governments will require compromise and elements that are not liked.

Those of us who argued for a “Yes” vote now have a choice as to how and in what circumstances we might revisit the question. It is a difficult choice because we know and respect the decision of the Irish people, which is the right action. Is it being suggested that we let the issue go? Those on the “No” side also have a choice to make, as I have repeatedly heard people almost pleading that they are as European as the next person. They believe in a strong Europe with Ireland at its heart but they do not like the treaty.

It is incumbent on all of us, including those who argued and voted against the treaty, to come forward not just with repetition and a rehashing of those aspects of the treaty they do not like but to help us point the way. The people should advocate how we can ensure that we are at the heart of Europe in future, particularly through a method other than what I term ‘Lisbon Plus’. There should be some genuine accommodation of the obvious concerns that many Irish people have and had with the Lisbon treaty.

There are 26 other countries that propose to proceed on the substantial basis of what is in the Lisbon treaty. When this point was made before the referendum, it was referred to practically all the time as bullying. It is now a simple fact. There is a choice to be made. If the other 26 countries take the view that they are not prepared to slow progress to the pace Ireland might advocate following our decision in June, what can we say? We should be absolutely blunt. This is a choice between some form of real accommodation post-Lisbon treaty or, at a minimum, a semi-detached status for Ireland in the European Union. If I am wrong and there is a third realistic option, I would like to hear what it is. I do not just mean a theoretical option that someone might advocate. The debate has been put in true terms by the sub-committee. It is no exaggeration for it to say, as it does in its report in paragraph 4 on page 3:

Ireland’s standing and influence in the European Union have diminished following the people’s decision not to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. In immediate terms, this inhibits Ireland’s ability to promote and defend its national interests at a European level. This is likely to affect Ireland’s ability to influence key upcoming policy discussions within the Union. These include, but are not limited to, the development of the EU’s climate change package [by which we mean the future of the planet and our ability to influence it through being involved in discussions]; the negotiations on the future shape of the EU budget beyond 2013 including provision of adequate resources for the Common Agricultural Policy; and responses to the global financial crisis.

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Alex on the Economy

December 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Last Friday, I participated in a Senate debate on the current economic situation. Watch the video above and leave a comment if you wish.

More :: Read Labour’s plan for economic recovery (PDF)

Pay deal or no pay deal?

December 4, 2008 § Leave a comment

What is the Government’s position on the pay freeze contained in the recently agreed wage agreement? The trade union leaders appeared to glean from what the Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday that the matter should be re-opened. When the Taoiseach returned from Berlin last night he indicated that he did not propose to re-open the matter. Senator Boyle, presumably on behalf of the Green Party component of the Government, said that the 11-month pay freeze should be extended beyond August of next year. What in fact is the Government position?

There is a strong argument to be made that in agreeing the pay deal in September, the Government acted precipitously and it should have waited until the budget statement was made and the true position on the public finances was known. A very compelling argument can be had as to why it entered into that deal at the time. However, having entered into it, the credibility of the Government and all the social partners is greatly undermined by these suggestions that it might be re-opened eight or nine months prior to its actual implementation, in August of next year.

Does the Minister think FÁS expenses are acceptable?

December 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

The series of revelations in relation to FÁS has been commented on in the media over the past 10 days. Yesterday, the Seanad called the Minister for Labour Affairs, Billy Kelleher to attend a debate on the body. Below is my own contribution.

We are all aware we are in a serious economic crisis. On 15 October the House had statements on unemployment. When I rose to make my contribution then, I complained that the Minister of State’s speech did not seek to address the jobs crisis and the growing problem of unemployment. I invited my colleagues on the other side of the House, and the Minister of State, to show me anything that was new in that speech. It was tacitly accepted there was nothing new.

I was listening with heightened interest to learn if there would be anything new in this speech. I accept the Minister of State is dealing with the specific area of FÁS and the question of job creation and the Government’s economic policy extends further than FÁS. However, the Minister of State claimed “the Government is putting measures in place to ensure those who become unemployed are provided with effective employment service and training supports.” He also referred to the increased budget allocations provided to FÁS, an additional €5 million for training the unemployed and an additional €4 million to subsidise redundant apprentices in 2009. Whereas I am not suggesting these points were made in the debate in October, they seem not to include anything new in the past six weeks.

The Taoiseach has said Ireland is in a dire crisis. The people look to the Government to come forward with proposals as to how we can address this. There is no sign of the Minister of State or the Government doing this. From his speech today, there is no evidence, with all respect to the Minister of State, of anything new being presented to us regarding the deepening employment crisis, which all commentators agree will get worse in early 2009. I accept the Minister of State can criticise me for not resisting the opportunity to make a political point. The Government announced last week some initiative on research and development. When can we expect a plan from the Government? When can we expect direction and policies from the Government to address the unemployment crisis? Will it be next week or in January? Will it ever come?

It is not just the case that unemployment is rising but the type of unemployment. A few days ago David Begg of the ICTU pointed out that unemployment is biting at the new services industries, such as financial services, legal and architecture, that have located in Ireland in the past 12 years and account for much of the expansion in employment. There are large numbers of young people in their 20s and 30s, highly trained and educated, who are losing their jobs. I am not arguing that the Minister of State can employ them all but what I am looking for is some sense of initiative, urgency and concrete proposals from the Government.

The Minister of State said the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is carrying out a review into the efficiency and effectiveness of labour market programmes delivered by FÁS and Skillnets from which a new labour market strategy will be completed by the middle of 2009. That is too far away – up to six months. It is not good enough. This issue does not appear to be treated with a sufficient level of urgency given the ferocity of the problem with unemployment.

I am sure there will be a measure of political co-operation across the board in the event of a serious economic crisis. However, we look to the Government in the first place to come forward with the proposals. It is not happening. I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.

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Govt must act on shameful exploitation of workers revealed on Prime Time programme

December 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Prime Time Investigates programme on RTE last night revealed a shocking story of the exploitation of immigrant workers that demands urgent action by the government.

There can be little doubt that a minority of employers are engaging in the shameful exploitation of workers. What was revealed last night was nothing less than a systematic pattern of failure to pay even the minimum wage, provide contracts of employment, honour tax and PRSI regulations and adhere to safety standards.

One of the most disturbing revelations in the programme was the blatant disregard shown by a number of haulage companies for safety regulations which restrict the number of hours and days that a driver can work without a break. Failure to adhere to these regulations involves not simply unfair and unjust abuse of workers, but it also exposes other road users in Ireland and abroad to real danger.

Of course exploitation by some employers is not limited to immigrant workers, as many Irish workers also have to endure similar conditions. We now need far more effective action at government level to stamp these practices out and to ensure that all workers are protected from abuse and exploitation.

There are a number of measures that were promised when the Towards 2016 Agreement was concluded more than three years ago that have still not been implemented. For instance the Employment Law Compliance Bill, which is designed to put the National Employment Rights Authority on a statutory basis was published in March, but nine months later the government has still not started the legislative process. Other promised legislation to regulate the employment agency sector has not even been published and we still do not know when the EU Directive on Agency Workers will be given effect in this country.

While there has been increase in the number of labour inspectors, additional personnel and resources are still required if we are to stamp these sort of practices out and ensure that all workers get fair treatment.

More :: View the RTE Prime TIme Investigates Programme by clicking here

Alex at Conference 2008

December 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

Eamon Gilmore gives his keynote speech at the Labour Conference on Saturday night

Eamon Gilmore gives his keynote speech at the Labour Conference on Saturday night

We had a busy and productive conference this weekend in Kilkenny. The mood among party members was one of optimism and bouyancy, much encouraged by Eamon Gilomore’s superb speech  on Saturday night.

I got to speak myself over the weekend and the videos are below. Firstly, I spoke as Party Spokesperson on Children in relation to the National Recreation Policy and the lack of forward thinking on policies affecting young people. View this video by clicking here.

Secondly, I spoke on the aftermath of the Morris Tribunal report and in particular, the unwarranted criticism of my colleague Deputy Brendan Howlin. View this video by clicking here.

Finally, I was priviliged and honored to be asked to introduce Leader Eamon Gilmore to the stage for his keynote address. View this video by clicking here.

More :: Visit the Labour Party Conference website by clicking here
More :: Watch the RTE’s ‘Week in Politics’ special from the Conference including my interview
More :: Labour beginning to savour political freedom of single life (Irish Times)

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