One Ireland: Jobs, Reform, Fairness

February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The election that will take place two weeks from today will set the direction in Ireland for the next two decades. At this election, we must, all of us, ask the question: where do we want to take our country. It is a question for each of us, but one that we can only answer together. Le Cheile, as One Ireland.” Eamon Gilmore, Leader of the Labour Party

We launched our Manifesto at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin early this morning. The 89-page document is split into the three themes of our election campaign: Jobs, Reform and Fairness.

The party is committed to providing a detailed plan to get people back to work and to create a modern, outward looking economy. The manifesto sets out how we would fix what is a broken democratic and governmental system. It also commits the party to a basic threshold of decency – a bottom line below which nobodyshould fall.

If ever there was a time to adopt the 100+ proposals contained in the 2011 manifesto, now is the time. We cannot become an insular, conservative-thinking country. Labour believes that Ireland’s best days are yet to come.

To download and read the Manifesto, visit http://labr.ie/manifesto11

Alex on The Last Word

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, I featured on The Last Word with Matt Cooper on Today FM to discuss public service reform and the Croke Park Agreement.  Also on the panel was independent Paul Somerville.

To listen, click here and select Part 2 of the Last Word. The discussion begins at 41.30.

New Year, New Government, New Policies

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Happy New Year! 2011 brings with it renewed hope and an impending general election.  It may, with hard work, bring the first Labour-led government in the history of the State.

Labour has started the year by launching an ambitious plan to reform Irish democracy.  New Government, Better Government sets out 140 ways to improve how government works, how politics works and how to reform the public service. It is, I believe, the most radical reform document ever published by a political party in this country. You can take a look here.

Although a new government will faces challenges in the economy and elsewhere, Labour believes priority must be placed in restoring public confidence in our political system.

Where in this Budget is there a plan for recovery?

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday’s budget was severe on all sectors of society. There are many people who cannot afford to take the cuts handed to them by this government. Yet, because the devil of this budget is in its detail, it may take until January for the full realisation of these measures hit home. 

Today, I spoke on the budget in the Seanad. You can view the video below…

We must sit down and work out what we cherish, rather than slash indiscriminately

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the United States yesterday, as we have seen overnight on the news, there has been another change election. From my perspective, I am sorry to see that there would appear to have been a sharp shift to the right in American politics on foot of this election. Much of what we have seen happening in the United States in recent weeks has some resonances in this country because there are many candidates in those elections who appear to think that the way forward for a modern democracy and modern economy is to cut, slash and emasculate the state and cut the heart out of public services. That has been elevated almost into a political mantra in the United States. It is not as if it is something new, but certainly it has come back very much as a major agenda item in that country.

It has resonances in this country. Unfortunately, there are many people in the debate in our country who seem to think that all we must do is to cut the heart out of the State and out of public services, and have an effect on public services and public entitlements, for example, those who hold pensions.

There is a genuine concern, shared by me and my party, about areas of waste in public services. We must look at that and consider it carefully. Can we begin to have a debate on public services about what we want to have in this country, not what we want to cut? I refer to this indiscriminate slashing of the knife for two or three weeks in public before a budget. Can we sit down and work out what we cherish, what we want to have and what is worth keeping, rather than taking the debate from the other perspective? That would be a useful exercise for us to undertake here.

Of course, one of the areas that we should be considering as part of that debate is education. I have made the point in this House previously, we all have areas that we will say in the debate that we want to see preserved. It must be the case, and I believe this to be the position of the Green Party, that education at all levels is an area which should be preserved, nurtured and fostered. Particularly in the case of third level education, it would be a terrible pity if the Green Party was to abandon its previously stated position, for example, on third level fees or third level fees being introduced by stealth through a hugely increased registration fee. It would be a great pity if they were to abandon that. I appeal to them not to do so.

It is easy enough to say about education that there are many who can afford a higher registration fee and maybe it is the case that most Members in this Chamber could afford a higher registration fee for their children. That is not the point. The point is that higher education should not be the preserve of the well-off. We have made a commitment to higher education and education at all levels, that it is not a commodity to be parcelled up and sold off to the highest bidder and that it is something that we believe to which all children and all young people should have access irrespective of the wealth of their parents.

Six months on from Croke Park Deal, when will implementation start?

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

There has never been a time, good or bad, when there has not been a debate about the need for reform in the public service. I cannot remember any such time. I make that point, not because I want to diminish in any way the importance of this debate and of achieving real reform in the public service. I do not doubt that for one second. However, it is interesting to note that it is a constant dynamic in public debate and discussion.

As we approach the weeks leading up the budget, people are free to say what they wish to but I hope they will not contribute unwittingly to the re-emergence of a period of paralysis such as we had last year concerning the public and private sectors. I refer not only to the Government side but across the board to commentators, Members of this House and others, to questions put about what the public sector is getting that the private sector is not, and all the other arguments that led to a toxic atmosphere, especially during the debates which took place at this time last year about what needed to be done.

I do not wish to diminish the necessity for reform in the public service because it clearly exists and has been demonstrated. The OECD report in 2008 gave us a lot to chew on regarding various steps that needed to be taken. There were a number of positive points in that report regarding the Irish public service. It pointed out the progress that had been made in areas that required reform, going back to the 1990s, if I am not mistaken. One of the report’s highlighted conclusions – I speak from memory – was that while many of the reforms were internal and process-led there was a need to look outwards and have a much more citizen or customer focused approach in the public service. I absolutely agree with that. Nobody could disagree with it. It is essential and will affect people. It may mean there will be fewer public servants; it will certainly require more flexibility and transferability across services. It may require or call for fewer agencies in order that core services can be reintegrated and provided within the public service. There are all kinds of changes that will impact on individual members of the public service. That is the case and it would be wrong for anybody in this House or anywhere else to think that public servants are not aware change is needed and is coming.

As a politician going about one’s daily work around the constituency and going to meetings, one meets many people from both sectors. The most discerning – I hesitate to say intelligent because that implies looking down on others – and thoughtful people in the public and private sectors can see the value of and necessity for both sectors. One talks to private sector workers who may be in business. They require services such as public transport and child care for their workers and health services as part of the make up of any modern economy. They recognise the importance of a vibrant and proper public service because they need it, as do their staff and their families. Equally, people in the public service will say, “We know we are nothing without the private sector. We can’t self-fund. If there isn’t a dynamic economy and private sector there is no money to fund the public service”. « Read the rest of this entry »

Public Representatives need to be careful not to politicise pay deal

May 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

There was a debate on the Croke Park Pay Deal in the Seanad this afternoon. This was my contribution.

I listened carefully to what Senator Martin Brady said. I have rarely heard a more balanced and fair-minded treatment of the current situation in regard to industrial relations and the Croke Park deal throughout any of the debate in recent weeks. What he said is right and fair. It evinces an experience he clearly has had, as I have had over quite a number of years as a trade unionist and as someone who worked within trade unions and understands the complexity of the situation. People are faced with a proposal which possibly could be characterised as trying to make a decision between something that is deeply unpalatable on the one hand or catastrophic on the other hand. People are trying to make a decision based on two options that are presented to them, neither of which is palatable and neither of which they wish to take. However, there are being asked to take one or other option and that is what they will do.

I endorse what my party leader, Deputy Gilmore, said, on the publication of this agreement – when he welcomed and commended Mr. Mulvey on the work he had done and the parties who took part in the negotiations – that it will need to be considered by trade union members in a calm and rational way – as Senator Brady has said – taking into consideration all factors, including the need for public service reform, for which I agree there is a pressing need, the state of the national finances, the level of unemployment and conditions in the private sector. They are grave issues which must be taken into account and I have no doubt they will be by the many thousands of people who will vote on this agreement in the coming weeks.

My party was mentioned on a few occasions during the course of this debate, which is not entirely unexpected and perhaps not entirely unrelated to a certain recent opinion poll about which many people seem to be very excited. A question that arises is what is the role of public representatives in circumstances where a deal or a draft agreement such as this is being voted on. I am not aware in all my years of observing public affairs and trade union affairs of Opposition parties ever endorsing an agreement or a draft agreement or being asked to do so. What is behind this, far from being an attempt to pull back from politicising is in truth a lamentable attempt to politicise what is happening. People should be very careful and should pull back from doing so.

In this context I will refer to Jack O’Connor. He has been praised and it has been said that he is doing a very difficult job and so on. This is a man people were very happy to demonise up to a few weeks ago, and are now happy praise as someone who is at the heart of what needs to happen and people are being encouraged to go with what Jack O’Connor recommends. I have enormous respect for Jack O’Connor – he is somebody I know well.

What do we seek to achieve or what do we believe we can achieve in this debate? Is it that we believe that by taking a particular position we can encourage or change people’s minds as to how they will vote? I do not accept that people seriously believe that what is said in this Chamber, for which I have great respect, this afternoon or what is said by political leaders will be in any way decisive as to how people will vote on this agreement. People have to take into account what their union executives say, whether it is the CPSU or otherwise. They have to make a decision based on their and their family’s future and the situation they face on practical level every day.

It is noteworthy that people say that we should look to what Jack O’Connor is saying, and that he is the person on whose judgment we should be relying; I would have thought there would be a premium on his judgment in terms of how this deal can be got across the line. What individual in this country has the best judgment as to what is required in order to get this deal across the line? I believe it is Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Begg. What do they say in relation to public representatives and political parties on this issue? What Jack O’Connor in particular said is that he has appealed to politicians in all parties to refrain from commenting on the proposed Croke Park agreement in order to allow trade union members time to focus on the intrinsic merit, or otherwise, of the proposals during the balloting period. I will not be told, anymore than anybody else here will be, what to say or not to say or whether to speak or not to speak by Jack O’Connor but it is interesting that this is the person who people are now lauding as being the man who will get this deal across the line.

The Minister of State’s speech today was quite calm, he did not oversell, overtalk and over-extend himself. That is exactly the tone that should be adopted. I agree with very much of what is the agreement. It is a framework which presents a necessary agenda for public service reform. The Minister is correct in saying that it will go a long way towards ensuring the engagement of public service workers in their future, which is what we want to see happening. As I have stated previously in this House, one cannot impose change on people in terms of getting their co-operation. One can cut staff and move people around by stealth but at the end of the day if one wants a working professional loyal public service, the only way to achieve this is to allow people themselves to negotiate on all the issues of flexibility and change required, which I accept are required.

The best way forward in the circumstances is to allow the experienced trade union leaders and their members to carefully reflect on what is at stake. I do not believe it is a matter on which political parties should call for a vote one way or the other, although we have been called on to comment and have done so. Let us hope that we now have a real opportunity for public service reform, contrary to the dreadful crisis before Christmas when that attempt appeared to blow up in everybody’s face.

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