We stand for legislation on JLCs that will work and not legislation that could ultimately be faulty

July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Following the the recent court decision in relation to JLCs and EROs, Fianna Fáil brought forward a piece of legislation called the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2011 which was discussed in the Dáil chamber last night. 

It is not unreasonable for Deputy O’Dea to introduce this Bill in order that we can have a debate on the issue. Apart from one or two new proposals in the Bill, it is largely the same as the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009, which I supported and spoke in favour of in the Seanad. The Deputy is correct in saying that the 2009 Bill was an attempt to anticipate the likely frailty and ultimate fate of a challenge that was then being brought to the orders and to the JLC system.

While I understand where Deputy O’Dea is coming from as regards the notion of the Government appealing the decision of Mr. Justice Feeney to the Supreme Court as a “tactic”, he will appreciate that such an approach is fraught with danger, particularly for a Government in circumstances in which – according to the Deputy and if I heard him correctly – the prospect of success is “minuscule”. And it would be wrong for the House to have the impression that bringing forth such an appeal would mean the Government would automatically obtain a stay on the existing Employment Regulation Orders. Indeed, obtaining a stay in the context of the High Court decision would be extremely difficult.

It is not unreasonable for the Deputy to introduce the Bill, but the Government is right and the Minister and Taoiseach are correct in the approach they have taken in saying that the Bill is not sufficiently robust. If the legislation is to achieve what people want, a number of matters must be addressed and necessary and vital improvements must be made to make the legislation fit for purpose.

We cannot forget that there were two essential pillars in the Feeney judgment. One was the absence of principles and policies to guide the Labour Court and the JLCs and the other was the issue of whether property rights under the Constitution were offended by the JLC system. As a minimum, a prudent Government and the House would want to proof legislation in the context of the latter issue, given the fact that previous proposals on protective and trade union legislation came up a cropper on this issue. This issue of property rights and their effects presents a considerable problem to those of us who want real reform and full collective bargaining rights for trade unions. It also presents a problem in this instance, in that it would be most imprudent to rush legislation when the High Court has identified that the property rights issue must be addressed. Perhaps it cannot be dealt with in legislation alone. Given the nature of these rights, dealing with them solely in legislation is difficult, but they must be addressed.

The other issue is that referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, and my colleague Deputy Mitchell, namely, the question of principles and policies raised in the judgment. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has signalled an intention to introduce reforms, the Government has committed to reforming the JLC system and there has been consultation and debate on how that should be achieved and what the changes would be precisely. I expect that agreement can be reached on this agenda, and the principles and policies resulting from the agreement should be incorporated in any new legislation. Those contained in Deputy O’Dea’s Bill come from the 2009 Bill, referring to the “interests” of the workers, employers and so on, are somewhat bland and cover a bit of ground but not all the ground. We should use the legislation to provide for those new principles and policies as well. « Read the rest of this entry »

Alex White TD Elected Chair of Oireachtas Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

From Oireachtas News:

Alex White TD for Dublin South was today elected as Chairman to the key Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

Wexford TD, Liam Twomey was elected as Committee Vice-Chair.

The Committee will shadow the activities of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Refom.

Speaking after his election, Deputy White said;
“I am grateful to my Oireachtas colleagues for electing me to chair this pivotal new Oireachtas Committee. I intend to adopt a professional and business-like approach to the way this Committee does its work, so that we can achieve tangible results and make a real contribution.

Clearly, reform and public expenditure will be among the highest priorities for this Oireachtas. I believe this Committee can have an important function in scrutinising the work of this new Department as well as devising concrete progressive proposals.”

Committee Vice-Chair, Liam Twomey TD said;
“I too look forward to job of work ahead of this Committee. We will be addressing some of the most pressing areas of policy and I believe the Committee’s input can make a meaningful contribution.”

The Committee will hold a meeting shortly to identify its work programme and priorities.

Alex on the Finance Bill

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This afternoon, I had an opportunity to speak on the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 in the Dáil chamber.  You can now view my contribution below.

Re-negotiation of EU/IMF programme is a process, not a single event.

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Dáil debated the revised EU/IMF programme this week, in advance of the publication next Tuesday of the Jobs Initiative. The debate was good, if a little surreal at times, with some people appearing to believe that we can wish away our problems. This is going to take a lot of time and effort. It is nothing short of the biggest challenge ever faced by an Irish government and people. Some real changes have been made in the bailout programme. I believe that more changes will follow through patient and dogged negotiation. Re-negotiation is a process, not a single event. How we get out of the terrible bind we are in will dominate our politics and public life for years to come. This is some of what I said in the Dail today:

I detect from Deputy Calleary and some of his colleagues mounting frustration over the extent to which Members on the Government side and, perhaps, public commentators argue that policies promulgated by the previous Government are at the heart of our problems. But that argument is unanswerable. I will not repeat it; suffice it to say it goes way beyond the normal rhetoric people somewhat cynically expect from any new Government, the kind that every new Government allows itself to indulge for a few weeks or months.

What happened over the past 12 to 15 months and also the past 12 to 15 years has created a legacy not only of incompetence but also of manifestly failed policies. These were then matched with even worse failure in the attempt to reverse the effects of the decisions that were made. We have discovered that every decision made from the guarantee onwards was not only substantially wrong in itself, but actually had the effect of reducing the options the Government would have available subsequently in seeking to rectify what had been done. This was the case right up the bailout. Yesterday Deputy Michael McGrath said that before Christmas the then Opposition parties described the bailout as an “obscenity” and a “disaster” and stated those parties are not saying that now they are in government.

Not so. In truth, it remains the case that what was done constituted an obscenity and a disaster.

There is no use in criticising people for using the word “straitjacket”, which is not a word discovered only after the election. I distinctly remember the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, using it prior to the election when assessing what had been done in respect of the bailout and agreement. I remember using the term myself. We stated the bailout would constitute an enormous constraint on the economic independence of the country for years. Deputy Brian Lenihan, who was Minister for Finance, told me in the Seanad that he had written the next four budgets for this country. He was revelling in this. Let me quote him almost exactly verbatim: “I have written the budgets for the next four years in this country and you will depart from them at your peril.” He did not tell us at that stage what he told us later, namely, that he was not actually holding the pen when writing those budgets, and that the budgets and economic decision-making were being done outside the country. That government surrendered the economic independence of the country on key budgetary and economic issues in the course of the bailout they entered into.

The new Government is criticised for embracing the bailout in a manner that suggests we think it is a good thing. This is not the case at all. What the Government must do is live in the real world. That is what it is doing in addition to setting up a track of renegotiation, pursuing changes in the agreement and seriously raising the question of burden-sharing. The government was told that burden-sharing would not be countenanced by the European Central Bank, or our “Frankfurt masters” as Deputy O’Dea described them yesterday, but it pushed it in a robust way. By the way, whose fault is it that we have “Frankfurt masters”? We will have to return to the issue of burden sharing because the level of debt is not sustainable in the medium to longer term. This is my personal view from what I observe and read. The debt will not be sustainable without serious concessions, be it through restructuring of the interest rate or the payback time or otherwise.

Addressing this is the challenge the Government is confronting. But the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, is absolutely correct in saying that it was never believed this would be a “sprint” or that renegotiation could take place in 24 hours, and that everything would be delivered. It is a marathon not a sprint. Deputy Donnelly made the fair point that we should put together a team and work together – we should get going on this – but prolonged engagement in the rhetoric that the Government parties are “acquiescing” in the bailout, as suggested by some Opposition parties, is not beneficial. Living in the real world is what we are doing. In addition to keeping gardaí, nurses and others paid and the State functioning, we are turning our attention to bringing about serious change and surmounting the problems we face.

There are three broad areas we must address.

First, we must address how we reached the current position, and we can do this through committees of the House or the banking inquiry mentioned by Deputy Dara Calleary, on which the Government has started the ball rolling. Second, how do we get out of this situation? The Government is turning its attention to this question. I heard two colleagues describe the jobs initiative to be introduced next week as a damp squib. I could not describe anything I have not seen as a damp squib. Deputy Willie O’Dea said he thought it would be, but, to be fair to him, he said he hoped it would not, which is something. Let us wait and see next Tuesday.

The third issue is how to ensure we never return to this position. That is a challenge for the Government which is also being addressed, whether it is through a change in the way the Houses operate and scrutinise business, or wider reform including constitutional change. All of the areas the Government has indicated it intends to pursue will be addressed.

The notion has been put forth by some Sinn Féin Members that the Government has comfortably slipped into the chair of governing and decided that this deal is wonderful and that it will just sit back. That is not the position and I do not believe Deputy Pearse Doherty really believes it is. However, his position appears to be reduced to the following proposition, that if we remove Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, whom Deputy Dara Calleary has fairly indicated are very experienced people, from the negotiating table in Frankfurt and replace them with Deputies Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald or Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the great Sinn Fein negotiating skills will be of such strength and power that they will overwhelm the ECB and the European institutions and that when they return from Frankfurt 24 hours later, everything will be grand. The proposition with which the Deputy has sought to persuade the House on more than one occasion is that the Government lacks negotiating skills and that its members should take a crash course from Sinn Féin on negotiating. I thought he was joking, but his face was serious. The party would want to do better than that. I have no wish to offend anybody, but Sinn Féin had leverage in the negotiations that took place ten or more years ago which presumably is not available to it now.

Let us have a serious debate instead of this nonsense, whereby people think we can wish something away. Every time Deputy Mary Lou McDonald stands to speak, she seeks a vote on this issue. Will voting make the problems go away? She wants to see the Labour Party Members walk through the lobbies, the same lobbies her party’s Members walked through to support the bank guarantee in September 2008. They now say they had to do it to maintain money in the ATM machines. It is a new found interest in ATM machines. If we were to pursue the policies advocated by Sinn Féin in recent months, that we should turn our backs and tell the ECB to shove it, there would be nothing in ATM machines.

Alex on Morning Ireland

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was interviewed on yesterday’s edition of Morning Ireland to discuss Labour’s Plan for Enterprise, Innovation and Growth, released on Sunday.

Also on to discuss jobs were Leo Varadkar TD, Fine Gael and Niall Collins TD, Fianna Fail.

Click here to listen to it again.

Issue of health funding must be tackled

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, Aviva announced its plans to increase its health insurance charges. While we can all rail against this and the fact that people are being obliged to deal with increased charges at every hand’s turn, we must highlight the fact that it again points to a serious policy failure on the part of the outgoing Government with regard to the funding of health. The Government has flunked the test in respect of this matter on every occasion. The issue to which I refer was brought before both the High Court and the Supreme Court, where the Government lost. I was sorry it lost in the Supreme Court because the position it took in respect of risk equalisation was correct. However, the matter was then just abandoned and no action was taken. It must be two years ago since the decision of the Supreme Court was handed down. The Government applied a sticking plaster in successive Finance Acts in the context of tax relief.

The issues of health insurance and the funding of health must be tackled. The Labour Party will be publishing policies on these matters in the next couple of weeks. I accept this is a political matter which will be dealt with during the general election campaign. I will, however, be interested to discover the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party on health. That party has had nothing to say on this issue for many years. It left it to the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has not been a member of Fianna Fáil for some years, to speak on the matter. What is the Fianna Fáil Party’s policy on health? Does it have a policy? We have not seen such a policy but we would be interested in seeing it in the coming weeks.

If Cowen did not ask Fitzpatrick about Anglo, why not?

January 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The issue of easy access has been raised as a concern for people in recent days, due to revelations regarding the Taoiseach’s golf outing with Sean Fitzpatrick. I agree that easy access is a question of some concern, but while it is important I do not agree it is the most important issue. For months and months in 2008 there must have been exchanges and contact between the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, the Central Bank, the regulator and Anglo Irish Bank.

It would be extraordinary if such contacts were not made. We know that as early as March 2008 the bank was sliding. Even though I am very critical of the Government I cannot believe there was no contact about it. We know the Taoiseach took a phone call on the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. There are many questions concerning whether he followed up on that. He said he would raise the issue with the Central Bank. Did he ask the Central Bank or the regulator after the meeting on 21 March what happened at the meeting? He must have taken an interest. It would be a dereliction of duty if he did not. Fianna Fáil sometimes seem to think that an independent regulatory system is a way of hiding away from making decisions. It is not; having independent regulators is an important, prudent way of doing business. It is not an excuse for the Government to say it has nothing to do with it.

For months in 2008 there must have been contacts. It points to the real failure of the Houses to have a genuinely robust examination of what the Government was doing and saying, what inquiries it made and what concerns it expressed to the regulator and the Central Bank throughout 2008. The issue I have in regard to the golf outing is not easy access, which is wrong and should be criticised. Why, as Deputy Pat Rabbitte said recent days, is it believable that the Taoiseach, who spent a day with the head of a bank that was going down the toilet in July 2008, would not ask him a question on how things were? It beggars belief. If he did not ask him, why not? He must have asked him. The Taoiseach and the Government must have known what other people could see was happening in 2008. I do not buy the contention that nothing was said throughout the period in question. I would be critical of the Taoiseach and Government if nothing was said. Something must have been said. Those questions deserve to be answered.

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