December 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
I welcome today’s announcement that Leopardstown-based SSE is to become the first large business in Ireland to become a ‘living wage’ employer. From New Year’s Day, the energy utility will guarantee to pay all its employees at least €11.50 an hour.
The announcement was an important boost to the Labour Party’s ‘living wage’ campaign, which is designed to ensure that all workers are paid enough to cover their basic living costs including housing, bills, food and travel to work.
Like this month’s restoration of the Christmas bonus and the minimum wage increase, which comes into force in January, our ‘living wage’ initiative demonstrates Labour’s determination to ensure that the recovery delivers improved living standards for all our citizens. SSE’s announcement shows that large, successful corporations also see the value of paying their staff a living wage. That’s because it’s good for business, as well as being good for working families and the local communities where they shop.
The SSE announcement was made this morning at SSE’s Ireland headquarters in Leopardstown, at an event which was attended by Tánaiste Joan Burton TD and Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash. SSE, which employs almost 750 staff in Ireland, is also the first major energy company to sign up to the ‘living wage’.
December 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today (Wednesday) I announced €20 million in grant funding for local communities under the 2016 Better Energy Communities scheme. The scheme, which is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), has supported 260 community energy efficiency projects over the last four years. As a result over 12,000 homes and community buildings have received energy efficiency upgrades, supporting several hundred jobs each year.
This funding will enable the Better Energy Communities programme to continue to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions, while improving living standards and quality of life for the people and communities it supports. The building upgrades funded under the programme support local construction jobs, demonstrating that lower-carbon communities also reap positive economic and social benefits. The programme has grown year on year as communities work together to bring about real and lasting change in the energy efficiency of their homes, businesses and community buildings. Putting communities in control of their own energy usage will be among the core themes of the energy white paper, which I will publish next week.
Better Energy Communities 2016 will open for applications in the New Year and potential applicants are being encouraged to start engaging early with community partners for large or small projects. The 2016 programme will see a particular focus on innovative financing models and SEAI is encouraging applications from communities that haven’t previously availed of the scheme.
December 8, 2015 § 1 Comment
I campaigned against the eighth amendment to the constitution in 1983, and I look forward to the day it is repealed.
It prevents Ireland from having a humane framework to deal with tragic cases like the pregnant women whose babies have been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.
It has created a constitutional morass that doesn’t even deliver what its advocates said they wanted. Worse, the amendment endangers the health and wellbeing of Irish women.
But we shouldn’t make the assumption that achieving a repeal of the eighth will be easy. The vast majority of the Irish people sit in the middle ground on this issue. They are uneasy about abortion, but they are no longer prepared to tolerate a regime that puts their sisters, mothers and friends at risk.
Calling for a referendum is not enough. It would have to be won and, for that to happen, we need to explain the merits of the case in a respectful but forthright way. And we will need to debate a new legislative framework that would replace both the amendment and the existing draconian legislation on termination.
The progress of the X Case legislation is instructive in this regard. For 20 years the Oireachtas avoided legislating for that Supreme Court decision. And even after the European Court of Human Rights issued its damning judgment, it took the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar – and Eamon Gilmore’s determination to secure the support of Fine Gael – to achieve legal certainty for the protection of women’s lives.
Achieving the repeal of the eighth amendment will require the same determination, and a level of political sophistication that has been wholly absent from opposition posturing on this complex legal, medical and moral issue.
We will have to convince a majority of members of Dáil Eireann to support a referendum. We will have to convince a majority of the Irish people to vote for repeal. And we will have to put a medical and legal framework in place to address the legitimate concerns that many citizens have.
In the Labour Party we understand that delivering on this issue means putting in the hard work to bring people and politicians along with us – just as we did on marriage equality and the X Case.
One of the most under-appreciated successes of Labour in Government has been our ability to influence a larger coalition partner on these issues. In contrast, it is impossible to imagine those opposition TDs who are periodically vocal on the social agenda supporting a government long enough to actually deliver repeal of the eighth.
Brave voices are now emerging from within Fine Gael to support the change we need. Being in government with Labour gives them an influence they would surely lack with any other potential coalition partner. It also gives them the confidence to say what they think.
It is a plain fact that there will be no repeal of the eighth amendment unless Labour is in government after the next election. Other potential Fine Gael partners (if they actually exist) have shown no commitment to dealing with this issue. Can you imagine the issue progressing through a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil government, for instance? Notwithstanding the progressive position of some Fine Gael deputies and ministers, it simply wouldn’t happen.
The Taoiseach is right to say that Irish society needs to have a debate about the eighth because, while most people believe the status quo is unsustainable, there is no settled view on what should replace it.
To this end Labour Women have published a bill that sets out a basis for legal termination on four grounds: cases of incest, rape and fatal foetal abnormality, or a threat to the life and health of the mother. This is a position that can gain wide support, and all political parties should either sign up to it or clearly set out their own position.
Some argue that we require a new constitutional provision to replace the eighth. But the Constitution is no place for an issue as complex as this. The amendment was introduced as a block on parliament’s democratic role to legislate. In that sense it has been successful, apart from the X Case.
But the people elect a parliament to make these decisions, and legislation is the appropriate place to reflect the considered outcome of a national conversation on abortion.
That said, debate and consultation cannot be an endless excuse for inaction when our mothers, sisters and friends remain at risk. We’ve been discussing this issue for over 30 years and it must be addressed by the next Dáil.
That will only happen if the next Government includes a political party that is wholly committed to repeal, and that knows what it takes to deliver change. In a Government that will undoubtedly be led by a Fine Gael Taoiseach, Labour is the only party that will deliver repeal of the eighth amendment.
November 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today I welcomed a new €500,000 Enterprise Ireland Competitive Start Fund, which will help ambitious business women to start new enterprises.
The initiative is part of Enterprise Ireland’s drive by to boost the number of innovative, export-oriented businesses being set up and led by female entrepreneurs.
The fund is open to female-led start-ups in manufacturing and internationally-traded services. Applications will be considered on a competitive basis, with financial support in the form of equity investment. Applications to the fund, which provides for up to €50,000 for each successful applicant, must be submitted by 3pm on Wednesday 25th November 2015.
We have many innovative and ambitious female entrepreneurs in Dublin Rathdown, and the Government is supporting this initiative to encourage more. By targeting female entrepreneurs, the €500,000 Competitive Start Fund will give a real boost to women who want to get involved in starting international businesses, and create more jobs in Dublin.
Julie Sinnamon, CEO Enterprise Ireland, said: “Ensuring that innovative and ambitious business women realise their full potential is critical to Irish economic prosperity and a major priority for Enterprise Ireland. This Competitive Start Fund represents a strategic investment by Enterprise Ireland in female-led start-ups. The Fund will support women to expand their business horizons and set up viable companies that can win business in international markets and create jobs at home”.
Full details of the Fund and the application form are available on the Enterprise Ireland web site: http://www.enterprise-ireland.com/ambitiouswomen. Closing date for applications is 3pm, Wednesday 25 November 2015.
November 11, 2015 § Leave a comment
Minister for Communications Alex White today (Wednesday) said the announcement that the Six Nations Rugby Championship will continue to be broadcast live on a free-to-air terrestrial TV channel until 2021 was a positive development, which he would take into account when considering the future designation of the tournament.
It was announced today that the championship will be broadcast by TV3 between 2017 and 2021. An existing arrangement with RTÉ is in place for the period up to 2017.
Minister White said he had yet to decide whether to re-designate Irish games in the tournament, under the Broadcasting Act 2009, so that they are legally required to be broadcast live on at least one free-to-air Irish TV channel.
Minister White said: “The agreement announced today is a positive development, which will be warmly welcomed by rugby fans across the country. I will certainly take it into account when making my decision on the possible live designation of Ireland’s Six Nation ties in the longer term.
“I have been consulting with sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public on this issue, and I understand that the rugby authorities want to maintain free access to live TV coverage of Irish games in this championship. My role is to decide whether, in the long-term, this is best done by designating the events or by leaving things as they are.”
Contracts agreed between broadcasters and the sporting bodies have resulted in live free-to-air broadcasting of Six Nations matches in recent years. But there is currently no legal requirement for this because the event is only listed on a ‘deferred’ basis. This means the Irish games must be broadcast free-to air, but not necessarily live.
Earlier this year, Minister White said he was considering designating three additional events as events of major importance. They are: Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship, the All Ireland Senior Ladies Football Final, and the All Ireland Senior Camogie Final. Over 600 submissions, received in a public consultation, are currently being considered before a decision is made.
November 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
I urge local primary and post-primary schools to apply to the latest Summer Works Scheme, which opened today, before the November 27th deadline.
A total of €40 million is being made available for the scheme next year. It funds small and medium scale building works such as gas, electrical and mechanical works, roof and window upgrades, and structural improvements.
This is an incredibly important scheme which supports those schools who need to get minor but nonetheless urgent repairs carried out. There is always a certain level of wear and tear that occurs over course of an academic year, and the Summer Works Scheme, led by my colleague Minister Jan O’Sullivan, helps meet those needs.
Each school in Dublin Rathdown can apply for one small scale project and will be responsible for the completion of those works. A great aspect of the Summer Works scheme is that it causes minimum disruption to pupils as the majority of works will be carried out in the summer months. It also generates local construction work.
I’d encourage local schools to submit their applications as soon as possible before the deadline of November 27th. The process is now fully online and a dedicated helpline has been set up to assist schools who have queries about the process. Schools are also welcome to contact my office where someone would be happy to step them through the process.
In the meantime, I am hopeful this latest Summer Works round will benefit many of our schools in Dublin Rathdown, as it has done in previous years.
October 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today I welcomed the announcement that Aer Lingus is to operate three new US routes from next year, creating over 200 jobs for pilots, cabin crew and ground staff.
In the largest single expansion of its transatlantic network, Aer Lingus is to operate a direct service between Dublin and Los Angeles from May 2016 with five services per week. Direct daily year-round flights will start in early September from Dublin to Newark in New Jersey. And a third new route will start in late September with a daily service from Dublin to Hartford, Connecticut.
The announcement is the first evidence that the merger of Aer Lingus with IAG would improve Ireland’s connectivity and boost employment. It means that we can look forward to the biggest single expansion of the transatlantic network in the history of Aer Lingus, which is a huge vote of confidence in the company and its future. We will see the creation of over 200 high-quality jobs in the company, and many more jobs will also be secured and created by the increased visitor numbers that come with an expansion of this scale.
This also bodes well for Ireland’s sustainable, jobs-led recovery, which is seeing continued employment growth across the economy and in every part of the country. The policies that have cut our unemployment rate from over 15% to 9.4% and falling – and which have seen over 130,000 jobs created since 2012 – are delivering for the people of Ireland.