Later in Leader’s Questions: the Taoiseach will discuss his trip to Davos, the cost of running his press office and his cabinet’s subcommittees.
ENDA KENNY IS taking the stand in the Dáil as Opposition deputies take the opportunity to grill the Taoiseach on the cost of running his office and his trip to the World Economic forum, among other issues.
However, he has pre-empted Leader’s Questions with the announcement that Ireland will hold a referendum on the EU fiscal compact treaty.
The Taoiseach has just confirmed that the people of Ireland will be asked in a referendum to ratify the EU fiscal compact treaty.
The Attorney General gave her formal advice this morning that on balance a referendum is required. She said the latest treaty is outside that of the formal architecture of the EU.
Kenny said he looks forward to a debate. He told the Dáil he believes ratifying the treaty is in the national interest of Ireland.
The ratification of the treaty will be a historic milestone for Ireland’s economic recovery, added Kenny.
More binding and enforcement of fiscal rules will be good for Ireland, according to the Taoiseach as he called for a yes vote.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, speaking in the Dáil after Kenny’s announcement said ratifying the treaty will give Irealnd access to emergency funds if we need them.
The Tánaiste added that the Government doesn’t want to access the ESM but the facility itself is a backstop that will grow international confidence in Ireland (and Europe as a whole).
Both Kenny and Gilmore said they were confident of a yes vote in the referendum.
Gilmore on a yes vote:
A vote for economic stability and a vote for economic recovery.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said that he believes the decision on holding a referendum is the “right one”.
Fianna Fáil is supporting the ratification of the treaty but Martin said the people need to be engaged on the issues.
“The people need to be taken on our journey through the EU.” – Martin
The Fianna Fáil leader has also called for less partisan commentary among political parties on such an important issue.
Martin reiterated his party’s support for the treaty but warned that it will only pass if presented to the people as a series of measures – and not the only major reform on the agenda – to create jobs and improve the economy.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams welcomed the “unusual” decision for the announcement to be made in the chamber by Kenny and Gilmore.
He said it marks another failure by the Government – which is a good thing, according to Adams.
The referendum is on an issue of profound and longlasting importance. Adams asks:
Will the Government accept the outcome? Or will there be a rerun or replay? Will there be an informed debate or bullying tactic of the past employed?
Shane Ross and Joe Higgins both stand at the same time, vying for the first opportunity to address the chamber.
Ceann Comhairle says he called Ross, who he is told is the spokesperson for the technical group.
Despite that call, Joe Higgins won out and is now addressing the Dáil.
Oh scrap that, Deputy Ross gets to speak first from the technical group. Higgins accuses the Ceann Comhairle of breaking precedent.
Ross again welcomes the referendum but criticises the Government for seeking the AG’s advice on it in the first place.
It is a pity that the Government did not voluntarily go down this road.
Ross agrees with Adams – this is a fiscal union pact on austerity. It is not a product of Irish input.
It is dictated by Germans, French and other people.
He argues that tighter fiscal union will come after this EU treaty. It is a road we should not wish to go down, continues Ross.
Ross told the Taoiseach that he should seek a credit write-off for the Irish people as a minimum request in exchange for signing off on the treaty.
Richard Boyd-Barrett has called for more time to be afforded to the treaty before leader’s questions continue.
More time will be given tomorrow to discuss the treaty and the referendum, confirms Kenny.
Micheál Martin takes the first question and brings up the issue of health AND community care.
Kenny said the relevant medical teams are looking at smaller, local hospitals and their futures. Work on the grouping of larger hospitals with smaller ones is being finalised and will be put forward to public consultation.
Gerry Adams is up next and is discussing Government promises about transparency at NAMA.
He asks, “How much has NAMA paid for the properties it controls? Why does the agency remain cloaked in secrecy?”
NAMA transfers are very transparent, Kenny said in response to Adams claim that there are 16 firms advising on loan sales that have links to the agency.
If he has evidence of a conflit of interest at NAMA, Kenny said Adams should bring it to public attention.
The Minister for Finance has received advice on the structure of NAMA and is currently considering that advice, Kenny told the Dáil.
Deputy Finian McGrath challenges the Taoiseach on what he calls silent cuts to carers’ allowances.
Kenny reminds McGrath that there has been no cuts to headline social welfare payments.
Minister of State’s Kathleen Lynch’s report on disability strategy is practically ready and will outline pathways for the future on caring, adds Kenny.
That completes the leader’s questions for the day but now we move onto questions to the Taoiseach on Davos, the press office and other issues.
The Taoiseach is outlining what he did during his trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum last month.
The Taoiseach said he briefed finance ministers on the success Ireland is maintaining in its IMF/EU programme.
He said he told a group of international business leaders at an event about how Ireland is highly rated by the World Bank as a country in which to do business.
Kenny said the World Economic Forum at Davos is an “exceptional opportunity” to engage with influential political and business leaders.
Martin is asking about some of his public comments made at the time. He makes sure to note that Kenny’s positive comment about Budget 2011 came even though he voted against it at the time.
The Fianna Fáil leader asked the Taoiseach did he go “too far” in his controversial comments about greed in Ireland during the boom years?
Kenny said at the panel discussion with leaders of Poland, Denmark and Finland he discussed the reckless lending that happened during those years.
Joe Higgins also asked the Taoiseach whether he should apologise for the “indiscriminate” insults to the people about how they “went mad borrowing” and garnered “personal credit” that spawned uncontrollable greed.
Kenny tells Higgins that he may not be aware of the instances of people buying up to 12 apartments “on their mobile phones”.
Higgins also asked why he did not challenge some of the leaders of financial institutions while in Davos. Kenny retorted that Higgins may not travel out of Dublin. He said that he spent his time at Davos to speak to a number of CEOs – some of who were considering investments here.
Gerry Adams says he’s going for third-time lucky and asks Kenny to clarify his remarks about his “mad with borrowing” remarks.
Kenny said he made the point while giving background to the Irish situation to a group of international business leaders.
Kenny: What I said in the State of the Nation address I stand over – that the people were not responsible. However, they were victims of incentivised schemes.
Richard Boyd Barrett tries to sneak in a question about the just-announced referendum. He is swiftly rebuked by the Ceann Comhairle.
He claims that there is a link to Davos (what deputies are allowed to grill the Taoiseach on today). He says that the Government is saying one thing to the people at home but quite different to thsoe at Davos and the EU.
Kenny refutes the claim that he said “all of the people were responsible” for going “mad with borrowing”. He again brings up the idea that banks were “firing out” money in incentivised schemes.
He accuses Boyd-Barrett of not travelling outside of his own area enough.
We’ve now spent 26 minutes on the subject of Davos, says the Ceann Comhairle. The Taoiseach has not apologised or taken back the remarks made at the WEF about people going “mad with borrowing”. He has tried to clarify that he did not mean that all the people of the country were responsible but has, again, pointed the blame at financial institutions who gave out credit on incentivised schemes.
“Victims of incentivised scheme” is the buzzword of the session.
Kenny wants to re-iterate the Government’s commitment to prioritise job creation in Ireland. He continues to detail how he used the WEF in Davos to hold face-to-face meetings with the heads of various companies, including Facebook and EMC. He said he found the experience “fruitful and interesting”.
There is now a suggestion that Ireland should hold a similar conference on the creative industries, such as film, acting etc.
Now onto the cost of the Taoiseach’s press office – which has reduced its cost by 9 per cent in 2011, said the Taoiseach.This has been achieved through greater efficiencies.
Adams asks for the total number of people working in the office. Kenny details the three staff working at MerrionStreet.ie.
If that is not the correct number, Kenny said he will come back with another answer.
Merrionstreet.ie has three staff. Its editor is an assistant principal in the Department of the Taoiseach. There are also two editorial assistant poisitions, one of which has just been advertised on PublicJobs.ie. It comes with a salary of €27,000.
Gerry Adams is bemused that after asking a question about families in mortgage distress, Kenny spoke about credit to medium and small businesses.
Kenny said he has held constructive meetings with the three banks. He said that each bank is anxious to get back into being available to people to help grow the economy.
Following another question by Adams, he said the Government had “of course” raised the question of sustainable agreements between banks and those who are in mortgage distress.
Each bank has set out its strategy on such cases but each will be dealt with individually as each situation is different.
Micheál Martin is standing again now and talks about people’s anger towards recapitalised banks.
Previous to that, Kenny told Adams there will be a review in a few months time on the banks’ arrears figures and how they are being dealt with.
Martin says that the fastest way to job creation is to get meaningful access to credit for businesses and to deal with the mortgage arrears issue, which is detrimental to households and dampening consumer demand and consumer sentiment.
Kenny says it is fair to say that small businesses are more than willing to get into the act of borrowing so they can employ or begin exporting. He said he spoke to a bank manager yesterday who had just authorised a loan to a small business which was taking on new employees.
The evidence given by a number of banks is that there are signs of things beginning to move – even though there is a long way to go.
Martin has the final word on the banking crisis/access to credit question and tells the Taoiseach the review mentioned earlier should take place within weeks – and not months.
Moving onto climate change now…
Kenny details the numerous milestones marked out over the next twelve months in terms of climate change policy. He said a public consultation will be carried out and a report on potential climate policies and measures will be completed by the end of June 2012.
By the end of this year, a Climate Bill will come before the Government for approval.
Joe Higgins is up again and puts forward a proposition – which Kenny says is unusual for him. Higgins wonders why home loans cannot be written down to match the current value of their property.
Kenny reiterates that borrowers have to sit down with their lenders on a case by case basis.
Dáil deputies have been reacting to the announcement that a referendum will be held on the EU fiscal compact treaty on Twitter (where else?).
Most believe today has been a good day for democracy. We’ve compiled a slideshow of everything else they had to say.
That’s the end of leader’s questions for today. It’s onto the order of business so we’ll leave them to it. Thanks for joining us.
Now brace yourself for yet more referendum campaigning. We’re excited. Are you?