It had an item on older people losing their homes because they cannot afford to pay their rent.
Charity Alone has said the number of people, aged over 60 and on the social housing list, seeking help from Alone has grown nationally by 11.4% each year between 2013 and 2016.
In Dublin, it went up by 18% in 2015 and in 2016.
Journalist Cian McCormack spoke to a 71-year-old man called Frank who is likely to be homeless next week as the landlord of the house he has been renting for seven years wants him to leave.
Frank has been paying rent of €1,250 a month.
He gets a pension of €150 a week and does odd jobs to make up the difference to make his rent, his bills and to eat.
Frank told Mr McCormack:
“I’m running to stand still. I’m out there and like there’s some weeks, I don’t have work and sometimes the weather is against me.
“But, I mean look, for the last 10 years or so, 12 years, I’ve been lucky. There’s other people there worse than I am.
“At least I can get out of bed in the morning. But what I fear is the day I can’t get out, that I can’t make money…to pay.”
“I’ve been approved for HAP [Housing Assistance Payment] so HAP, I mean I’ve gone to a few places and looked in and the landlords just look at me and say, like, hang on, they don’t ask me personal questions because they just look at me, my age, and say, ‘what’s wrong?’, to themselves.
“There’s no feedback from them…they have my number. I just don’t get a phone call from them.”
“I have been looking around…seeing if I can get somewhere for maybe €600. They’re just laughing at me.”
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy at the launch of 63-house build in Carlow last month
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
RTÉ’s Education Correspondent Emma O’Kelly spoke to a homeless family who is living in a hotel.
One person Ms O’Kelly spoke to from the family was a young female student.
The girl told Ms O’Kelly:
“Definitely, the past year, it’s been a very huge eye-opener. It’s a huge culture shock and a huge change to how it was for us.
“It’s hard to fit in and to find someone who will accept you and your troubles and, if you get to the stage where you can open up about this situation and the homeless, it’s still the sense will they still be your friend? Or will they find you scum?”
“It’s hard to pick the good people from the bad people and then finding it hard to come out to teachers you’ve never met before… It took me about five or 10 minutes there earlier on to say that I was homeless to my deputy principal. She kept saying to me, ‘take your time’, ‘take your time’ and I just couldn’t say it.
“I could barely say it to her when I did say it so it’s very hard.”
Asked what she would like for her and her family, she said:
“To get our home, to get our space back. Even if it’s, I don’t know, if it was just our privacy back, it’d be ten times better than what we have now because there is no privacy here.
“There’s no time, peaceful time.”
Asked what she would say to either a Government minister or the Taoiseach if she had the opportunity, she said:
“Give us our home, please. We need it. We need it as soon as possible.”
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy spoke to Áine Lawlor during News At One.
From the interview…
Aine Lawlor: “You can’t give her a home, can you? Right now?”
Eoghan Murphy: “I think, Aine, the piece that was broadcast this morning, on Morning Ireland, which we just heard a clip from there, it’s probably one of the most important contributions to this debate that we’ve heard in the past number of months.
“We have a crisis in homelessness and we’ve known that for quite some time and we’re putting in a huge amount of effort and resources to try and help these families who are in this absolutely appalling situation.
“Now those people who’ve been working on the frontline, in a voluntary sector or in local authorities or with me in my department, to try and find these solutions, they’ve heard these stories. I’ve had the opportunity myself to meet with some of these families.
“But the bravery they had this morning to come out and tell the country about their particular circumstances, I think was very brave but very important that people understand what these families are facing because…”
Lawlor: “The problem is not understanding, Minister. The problem is we have a bright, capable young woman living in these circumstances, who believes other people see her as scum because Government can’t deliver on housing and we have, you know, you can say we’re making all kinds of improvements, but are you not just drowning a little bit more slowly, is that not the case?”
Murphy: “With respect Aine, I don’t think everyone does understand what these families are going through, who are living in hotels, and who are going to school, their first day back and actually said, coming out to her deputy principal about the difficult circumstances she is facing, because the amount of feedback is generated already this morning, into the department.”
“We have a particular problem here that has been growing over the course of the year, as more and more families have presented with homelessness. ”
Lawlor: “It’s up by 30% in one year. No matter what you do, the problem seems to be getting worse, not better.”
Murphy: “Well, thankfully, we’ve been able to put in resources to at least make sure they’re not out rough on the streets, we’re able to put them into hotels and put the wraparound services around those hotels. What we’re trying to do is move these families then into permanent sustainable, long-term accommodation. So, if you look at the 12 months, up until the end of May, 1,200 families were removed from hotels, or prevented from entering them. At the end of May though, we still had 650 families still in hotels.
“We have a pathway for those families out of those hotels into social housing homes, into the private rental sector and into hubs.
“But people continue to present and that’s the purpose, I suppose of the summit that was organised over the summer, is to bring the local authorities together, to make sure we are going to be able to deal with this problem.”
Murphy: “We have build more social housing homes and we’re doing that. And at the moment, I’m in negotiations with Paschal Donoghue about how we’re going to, hopefully, scale up our ambition in that regard but there’s not much I can say about that at the moment because we’re at that sensitive stage of those negotiations but in a few weeks time I’ll be announcing my review of Rebuilding Ireland which is a plan which is working. But to see how we can improve it.”
Murphy: “Earlier this summer, when I talked about enhanced CPO [Compulsory Purchase Orders] powers, another broadcaster compared me to Adolf Hitler. I mean we have a crisis here, we need to look at things that maybe we haven’t looked at before to make sure we can properly house families like those that were on the radio this morning.”
Murphy: “There are a lot of vested interests in this area. If I was to start flagging things to you now, that we’re going to do in the next three or four weeks, they would rally against, potentially try and stop the things that we want to do so I have to be careful…”
From top: Joan Burton and Enda Kenny at a JobBridge announcement in 2013; Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar at the launch of the Indecon review of JobBridge yesterday at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin
Long live the new scam!
Further to the announcement by Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar yesterday that JobBridge is to be wound down and that it will be replaced with another scheme next year – the details of which have yet to be released…
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, presenter Cathal MacCoille spoke to Alan Gray, economist and managing director of Indecon Consultants – which carried out a review of JobBridge and recommended it be changed.
From their discussion:
Cathal MacCoille: “First of all, JobBridge, how good was it for how many?”
Alan Gray: “It’s a very interesting evidence-based survey, Cathal, it was done by a team of Irish and international experts… and what it showed was very high levels of progression to employment. Now, those people previously unemployed, who were on JobBridge, have now found jobs.”
MacCoille: And that’s high is it?”
Gray: “It’s extremely high.”
MacCoille: “How many of those, that’s good for them, but can you figure out how much of that was due to the pick up of the economy anyway, or because of them being on JobBridge?”
Gray: “That’s a critical issue and, as part of the analysis, a very detailed econometric research was done to compare how that group did, compared with a counterfactual of what would have happened anyway. And the result…”
MacCoille: “Let’s stop for a moment. You compared a controlled group who were on JobBridge, with a controlled group who weren’t?”
MacCoille: “And found what?”
Gray: “And it showed that JobBridge enhanced the probability of getting a job by 32%. That’s probably the highest impact on employment of any labour market programme.”
MacCoille: “How do you get to that conclusion?”
Gray: “Basically, what you do is you control for all other factors, it’s like a scientific experiment, Cathal, it’s like medical research. Where you get an exactly similar group on the labour market, who were unemployed, you track their employment outcomes and you compare it with those on JobBridge and you make sure its statistically robust and it showed that JobBridge had really a quite surprisingly positive impact on employment progression.”
MacCoille: “And yet, you’re, this study comes down for a replacement. Why?”
Gray: “It does, I think the merits of giving the levels of subsidy that the State gave for JobBridge – in a labour market where unemployment is much different than when this scheme was introduced has changed. There was also a number of very positive aspects of JobBridge but some areas of dissatisfaction…”
MacCoille: “With the money particularly?”
MacCoille: “No surprise.”
Gray: “No surprise on that, yeah.”
MacCoille: “Now, so, because there is going to be consultation before this, the precise terms and conditions, as I said, of this are announced for the new year. What, from what you’ve, this study, what would you recommend?”
Gray: “So the Indecon economists have recommended a much more targeted scheme. One where employers enhance skills – most employers already enhance skills as part of JobBridge but we want to ensure that a greater proportion of interns are learning new skills. We also want to ensure a lower level of State subsidy and contributions from employers, who are also benefiting…”
MacCoille: “Because there was none on this scheme...”
Gray: “There was none at all.”
MacCoille: “And you’re saying it should be what?”
Gray: “We’re saying that employers should at least pay the top-up level which was €52 and that, after three months, all interns must receive at least the minimum wage.”
MacCoille: “Which is €9.25 an hour.”
MacCoille: “What about, because this came up with JobBridge constantly and you can guess it will come up with whatever replaces it – regulation, investigation, ensuring that the spirit of the thing is actually the reality for everyone?”
Gray: “I think that was important, particularly in a scheme that was so large and was almost an emergency measure to the level of unemployment. It was hard to ensure adequate monitoring.”
MacCoille: “And was there enough?”
Gray: “I don’t think so, Cathal. It was understandable because the scheme was being introduced in a crisis period, it had a lot of benefits and interns but we’re recommending a more targeted scheme, probably a lower number of participants but more active monitoring and control.”
MacCoille: “The new scheme, as I understand it, would be the medium and long-term unemployed?”
Gray: “That hasn’t been decided yet. One of the benefits of the existing scheme is it was early intervention so that people, as soon as they became unemployed, once they were unemployed for a short period, they got the benefits of JobBridge – that kept them close to the labour market and probably enhanced the employment market.”
MacCoille: “Just coming back to the regulation issue…”
MacCoille: “…which is key. In terms of the way the, even the way the thing is regarded by everybody – quite apart from people who may have, you know, are losing out because they’re getting a hard time, they’re not getting what they should get out of the scheme – so, how should the regulation be better?”
Gray: “I think case officers from the Department of Social Protection should monitor it at a number of points during the internship at the start, during the internship and at the end. But I think the regulation aspect has got more media attention than it actually deserves, Cathal. While there were problems, it wasn’t the major issue and 70% of interns experienced that they had quality work experience and that’s different than some anecdotal evidence that was reported in the media. And one thing to say on that is our research surveyed over 10,000 interns. So it wasn’t just a random bits of feedback and most interns were very satisfied/.”
MacCoille: “Sure, I suppose though, the problem is, if you’re one of the dissatisfied ones – and you’ve good reason to be dissatisfied, well then, that’s for you. That’s a real personal setback. And therefore, we need to ensure that that doesn’t happen, in so far as we can.”
Gray: “I fully accept that, Cathal. And that’s why we’ve recommended a tightening of eligibility criteria. A contribution from employers which will minimise the possibility of rogue employers using it and also enhanced monitoring.”
MacCoille: “And give them a greater investment in the thing – if they’re putting some of their own money into it.”
RTÉ’s Southern Correspondent Paschal Sheehy (left) with Apple CEO Tim Cook
On RTÉ One’s Morning Ireland.
A pre-recorded interview between Apple CEO Tim Cook and RTÉ’s Paschal Sheehy was broadcast.
At the beginning of the interview Mr Cook talked about how Apple first set up in Ireland in 1980, how its workforce grew from 60 to 6,000 – before describing Apple’s relationship with Ireland as a “37-year-old marriage”.
“Like any marriage, you go through a pothole here, there, but we stuck together and we stuck together because we’ve always felt so close to the community there and to the people there. And every time I go, it’s just like a, it’s getting a shot of joy being there.”
From the rest of the interview:
Tim Cook: “Apple has always been about doing the right thing; never the easy thing. You know we had a very difficult thing in the beginning of this year with fighting the US Government over the privacy and security of our customer – that wasn’t easy to do but it was the right thing to do..”
Paschal Sheehy: “So, to you mind, has Apple done anything wrong here? Does Apple have anything to apologise for?”
Cook: “No. We haven’t done anything wrong and the Irish Government hasn’t done anything wrong. What we have done together is, you know, built a great relationship that is great for the community and, by the way, let me be very clear on this because I think there’s been a lot of misinformation and false information out there. We’re subject to the statutory rate in Ireland, of 12.5% – we paid $400million in taxes to Ireland in 2014 which is one of the years that is getting a lot of discussion. That, from our understanding, is about 1 out of every $15 of corporate taxes that were paid in the entire country and I understand there’s around 40,000 or so companies there and so we believe we’re the largest taxpayer there. And we’re proud to be. We very much want a great citizen in the communities that we live and work in.”
Cook: “Go ahead.”
Sheehy: “Can I ask you so, some direct questions? Were you given deals that were only available to Apple and weren’t available to any other companies?”
Cook: “No, not a single time.”
Sheehy: “Were you treated differently to everyone else? Were you given special treatment? Or sweetheart deals?”
Cook: “No. Never.”
Sheehy: “And the European Commission yesterday [Wednesday] said, Commissioner Vestager said that, in 2014, Apple paid an effective corporate tax rate of 0.005% – that’s €50 out of every €1million profit you made at one of your subsidiaries, Apple Sales International which is based here in Cork. Do you accept this?”
Cook: “No, it’s a false number. I have no idea where the number came from, it is not true. Here is the truth: In that year, we paid $400million to Ireland and that amount of money was based on the statutory Irish income tax rate, of 12.5%. In addition to that, because our folks there, our 6,000 employees, do various functions for all of Europe, if we sold a product in another country, there was also, in addition to that $400million, income tax paid in that specific country, you know, dependent on what rate they charge.
And what’s even larger, in terms of the actual dollar value is, as you probably know, our worldwide profits are subject to additional US income taxes and the current US federal rate, which your viewers may be interested in, is 35% and we provisioned several billion dollars for US and so, when you sort of zoom out and look at this, I know there’s a lot of numbers and so forth, but here’s the way I would kind of describe it, at a summary level. In 2014, our worldwide income tax rate was 26.1%.
I recognise some people would hear that number and think it should be higher. I also recognise that some people hear it and think it should be lower. Others look at it and say, ‘hey that sounds about right. But I would like it to be paid to different countries or allocated to countries in a different manner to the way it is. I think, actually, discussions on all of those are fair discussions and reasonable people could agree and disagree on those. But I think we could all agree: that that conversations should be about future taxes, not retrospective taxes. The EU Commission’s overreach, in this regard, is unbelievable to us. We’ve never heard anything like it. It’s sort of like playing a sports game, winning a championship and then, later, finding out that the goals count differently than you thought they did.”
Sheehy: “OK, so…”
Cook: “You know, it lacks any level of fairness.”
Sheehy: “That comes to the crux of your difference with the European Commission and we’re probably not going to be able to resolve that there. So just, for a moment, leaving aside the legality of your tax arrangements, can we address the moral issue. You said there that, in 2014, you paid $400million in tax in Ireland, another $400million in the US, a total of $800million but given the billions of dollars in profits your company makes every year, do you regard this as Apple paying its fair share?”
Cook: “Let me correct something Paschal that you said that I think is very important. We paid the $400m to Ireland and we paid $400m to the US and we provisioned several billion dollars for the US, for payment as soon as we repatriated and, right now, I would forecast that repatriation to occur next year and so it’s not true that we paid just $400m or even just $800m. The number is materially larger…”
Cook: “The tax system itself is so complex. You could stack up paper from your floor to your ceiling and the tax code, you’d have to carve out, you’d have to blow out the ceiling to stack the tax rules up. This is not a system that we think is good and I think the bulk of the people in the world – even some of the people that wrote it – also don’t think it is. And so, the good news is there’s actually work going on that I now worry about, going forward. But there’s work going on that many countries have participated in to make this system simpler and more straight forward and I hope that that work goes forward.”
Sheehy: “Several politicians here in Ireland have said that there should be no appeal, that this is money which Apple owes to Ireland and this is money which is badly needed for public services like hospital beds and new schools or perhaps even paying the national debt here which is huge. What do you say to those people?”
Cook: “Well I think all those things, they’re very, very important for people. But I think it’s very important. First of all, it’s Ireland’s decision, it’s not mine but, from my point of view, if I were sitting there, here are things that I would think about: It’s clear, I believe to the Irish Government, because they’ve been very clear, it’s clear to us and it’s clear to the US officials as well, that have looked at this, that what was done was very consistent, that there were no special deals and so I think it’s important that, you know the Government stand strong on that because the future investment for business really depends on a level of certainty, a level of, you know, not where there’s floating laws, people need to know that the rule of law will be upheld. And so, where it might feel good for the moment, if you think about the long-term for the country or, broadly, the union, I think it’s very important to uphold these principles and not retroactively change them.”
Sheehy: “And what if the Government here decides that it’s not going to appeal the decision? For whatever reason, I’m not sure how up-to-date you are with developments here but we had a special meeting of the Cabinet today to discuss this issue. That Cabinet decided to defer the decision and will meet again on Friday [tomorrow]. And even prior to that Cabinet meeting, there were certainly hints that this decision and a decision on whether to appeal or not, may expose fault lines within the Irish Government here. And it’s not guaranteed that there will be a decision by the Irish Government to appeal this decision.”
Cook: “Yeah I look at it, much like I said before, is that: we’re very committed to Ireland. We’ve been committed for 37 years, we have a long-term romance together and I’m pretty confident that the Government will do the right thing. And I think the right thing here is to stand up and fight against this overreach and clearly the sovereignty of the country is at stake and the rule of law and the certainty of law is at stake and I think when those large values, those principles are at stake, we all have to stand up and fight for what’s right.”
From top: Audrey Carville; Eugene Cummins, chairman of the national sub-committee on housing of the Local Government Management Association and chief executive of Roscommon County Council
Further to the publication of Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness earlier this week, which included plans to provide 47,000 new social housing units between now and 2021, RTÉ’s Audrey Carville spoke to Eugene Cummins about the plans on Morning Ireland earlier.
Mr Cummins is the chairman of the national sub-committee on housing of the Local Government Management Association and chief executive of Roscommon County Council.
Ms Carville introduced her interview by posing the question: how many of these social housing units will be built by local authorities.
Audrey Carville: “How many houses will local authorities build, under this plan?”
Eugene Cummins: “Well, over the life of the plan, the local authority social housing stock will increase by 47,000 units and we are confident that that figure will be achieved, if not exceeded.”
Carville: “But how many houses will you build?”
Cummins: “Well, over the life of the plan – and in the first years of that – we will be focusing on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), acquisitions and the returning of units, void units into use. It will of course, the size of the scale of the investment, it will require the planning for estates, it will involve the private sector getting back into building so it’s going to take a few years, a few years, until we start actually building. But, over the next two years in particular, we will continue to acquire properties and to bring social housing by way of the Housing Assistance Payment.”
Carville: “So out of those 47,000 houses, how many will you build?”
Cummins: “In terms of the 47,000 units, some of those units, a considerable number of those units will actually be acquired from the private sector…”
Carville: “But how many will local authorities build over the next five years?”
Cummins: “We will, we have to have regard to the market. We will be building where it is cheap to buy units, we will buy units from the private sector, but we will be building a considerable number over the next few years to make sure that, at the end of the plan, that whether we acquire them or build them, there will be an additional 47,000 units added to the social housing stock in this country.”
Carville: “But you don’t have a figure for how many you will build between now and 2021?”
Cummins: “As I said, Audrey, we will be acquiring properties, we’ll be leasing properties and we will also be building considerable numbers of properties to increase…”
Carville: “But you’re not giving me actual figures. How many? That’s what has been absent. Simon Coveney, this week, said he believed that local authorities would build 26,000 houses in five years. Is that a realistic figure?”
Cummins: “Yes, that is a realistic figure.”
Carville: “But you hadn’t mentioned it, so…”
Cummins: “What I have said..”
Carville: “Where does that fit in with local authority plans?”
Cummins: “What I’ve said is we will be increasing the social housing stock in this country by 47,000 units and we will be doing that by acquisitions and by building.”
Carville: “But I’m asking you, how many will you build? And you haven’t given me a number.”
Cummins: “We will be increasing the social housing stock by 47,000 and that is all that matters.”
Carville: “No. The 47,000 is between, there’s no breakdown, we don’t know how much will be local authority housing, we don’t know how much will be private housing.”
Cummins: “But as long as the social housing stock is increased by 47,000 units, that’s all that matters and that’s what we will be doing. And we will be working with the private sector. Remember this is not just about the local authorities. There are many stakeholders, including the private sector, that are involved in providing solutions to this problem.”
Carville: “But people say it does matter how many local authorities are building because, when the private sector gets involved, it becomes a for-profit venture. And the targets and the figures rarely materialise.”
Cummins: “No, what I’m saying is that local authorities will build social houses but we will also buy social housing from the private sector. We will not be expecting the private sector to provide social housing per se; we will be acquiring them from…”
Carville: “How many?”
Cummins: “47,000 units, in total, we will be increasing the social housing stock by. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, Audrey. We will be having a significant build programme and we will be acquiring properties and we will increase the social housing stock for people who are on our housing list by at least 47,000 units over the life of the plan.”
Carville: “Why aren’t you able to start sooner than two to three years? Alan Kelly’s plan was laid before the councils nearly two years ago – why aren’t you in a position to begin building sooner?”
Cummins: “Because, first of all, the solution to his problem requires a collaborative approach from all of the stakeholders, that will mean a huge increase in building output. And that can’t start overnight because there’s a plan in process, there’s a tendering process, there’s a procurement process…”
Carville: “But you have all those powers at the moment. You can give yourself those powers to give yourself planning permission to build. Why isn’t the process going to happen sooner?”
Cummins: “No, it’s important for your listeners to understand that there’s a process involved when a scheme of houses is planned. It has to go through the planning process, it has to go through a tendering process and all of that takes time.”
Carville: “But what have you been doing in the last nearly two years, since the previous plan by Alan Kelly? Which this one [plan] has built on?”
Cummins: “Last year alone local authorities brought 13,000 units back into social housing stock.”
Carville: “But you only built around 70.”
Cummins: “That is correct because that’s all the money we had and the reason we got out of building houses in the past was because, in recent years, is because money hasn’t been provided and the minister – and indeed the Taoiseach – at their announcement on Tuesday, they’ve clearly allocated €5.35billion… We didn’t…we stopped building houses because the funding stream stopped. Now that the funding stream has been committed, we will start building again but that takes time.”
Carville: “So are there any sites, so? There must be sites at this stage? That are shovel-ready? That are ready to begin building on?”
Cummins: “There are sites and, as we speak, houses are being built.”
Cummins: “In Dún Laoghaire Rathdown and in other areas around the country..”
Carville: “How many are being built there?”
Cummins: “There are hundreds of houses being built but it’s not near enough. But, again, can I say we’re not just relying on building. When we exited the boom, there were tens of thousands of units vacant, there still are 200,000 units vacant in this country..”
Carville: “And you have the power to make compulsory purchase orders so how many of those homes, vacant homes, derelict homes, how many have you bought in the past year?”
Cummins: “Last year, we bought 1,000 units. We’ve bought over 2,100 units from Nama over the last couple of years; there are another 500 units in the process of being delivered through Nama and we’re also, as I said, we required 100 units.”
Carville: “How many more do you plan to buy through compulsory purchase orders?”
Cummins: “We don’t need to exercise our compulsory purchase powers to buy on the market. We are successfully buying properties every day…”
Carville: “But how many? Because there are 100,000 families on the social housing waiting list.”
Cummins: “There are actually more and that’s why this action plan is so important and that is why we and the Government, and indeed the minister, are committed to increasing the housing stock by 47,000 units and we will do that. But it requires all of the stakeholders to get together in a collaborative way and we are up to the challenge.”
Carville: “But how many…”
Cummins: “We did it before…”
Carville: “Yes, you did, absolutely. But we’re trying to establish how many properties you are going to buy through compulsory purchase orders or other measures over the next five years.”
Cummins: “As I’ve said, at the very start of the interview, by the end of the plan we will have increased the social housing stock by at least 47,000 units and we will do that by building, leasing, by bringing voids back into use and we are committed to doing that and we will do that.”
Carville: “But is that exclusively through your management, through the management of local authorities?”
Cummins: “As I said, it requires a collaborative approach from all of the stakeholders, not least of all the private sector…”
Earlier this morning, Fine Gael TD from Clare, Pat Breen, spoke to Morning Ireland presenter Dr Gavin Jennings about the ‘agreement’ reached between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on a Fine Gael minority-led government.
So, any concessions?
Grab a tay.
Dr Gavin Jennings: “I gather unanimous backing at your own parliamentary party meeting for this document last night?”
Pat Breen: “Yes indeed, we had a full house for the parliamentary party meeting and it was a unique meeting because it was the first time we had our almost complete parliamentary party together since the Senate results, we got new Senators in place. Minister Coveney went through the document in detail and there was unanimous backing in relation to it. Questions were asked by a lot of members, of course but I mean it was constructive, it was a good meeting and it got the unanimous backing of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.”
Dr Jennings: “Fianna Fáil conceded to a Fine Gael-led minority government, what has your party conceded to Fianna Fáil?”
Breen: “Well it’s not a question about conceding, it’s a question of a compromise. I mean, look, we faced a situation, after the general election, where we didn’t get the majority we needed to return the outgoing government, we returned as the largest party in the Dáil, I think there was an onus on Fine Gael to try and form a Government, we’ve been trying to do this over the last 67 days, talking to Independents, talking to Fianna Fáil, and eventually coming up with this document which reflects the broad policy principles, agreed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiators and today of course we’re making progress with the Independents and hopefully before the end of the week we may be able to put a Government into place.”
Dr Jennings: “Now it’s in writing, it’s been published, we can see it, it contains a lot more policy than I think many of us expected, albeit, in some places, it’s a little vague. Can I just read out some sections just to see…”
Dr Jennings: “These might have been some of the questions that might have been raised by you and other members last night. You spent a long time talking about water with Fianna Fáil and we know about the commission that’s going to be set up and the suspension of water charges. ‘We affirm that those who’ve paid their water charges to date will be treated no less favourably than those who have not’ – what does that mean?”
Breen: “Well it means that anybody that has paid their bills will have paid their bills in full obviously. It’ll take six weeks to set up this commission and to suspend the water charges. So everybody will have to pay their water bills for the first half of this year. And obviously the law has to be upheld in relation to those people, we want to treat people equally here, to that haven’t paid their water bills and that’s the situation at the moment. Water bills are live right up to the time when legislation is put into place, probably in six to seven days time which will probably bring the water bills right up to the end of June.”
Dr Jennings: “So those who haven’t paid will be pursued?”
Breen: “Those that haven’t paid will be pursued, the law will have to be upheld in relation to this.”
Dr Jennings: “How will they be pursued?”
Breen: “That’s a matter for the Irish Water, obviously they’re pursuing people at the moment. Over 65% of the people that paid their water bills – that water, any arrears that are in place will be there for those people to pay at some stage.”
Dr Jennings: “And if you don’t pay?”
Breen: “If you don’t pay then that’s a matter for Irish Water to decide how to deal with the situation.”
Dr Jennings: “The other questions that arise, and there’s a few of them, under the heading ‘Securing affordable homes and tackling homelessness’. You promise to provide greater protection for mortgage holders – how?”
Breen: “I think that’s all, this is, first of all, I have to say this policy is a statement of broad policy principles..”
Dr Jennings: “Very broad.”
Breen: “It’s a bit broad. That’s all you’d expect it to be Gavin, really, at this stage. It’s not going to be a programme for Government. Obviously a programme for Government would be much more comprehensive. You have to understand this is a minority-Government and that Fianna Fáil will be in opposition and we’re going to be in Government, so the document that was agreed was always going to be very broad, a broad policy principles of both parties in agreement. On the issues that were raised at the doorsteps during the election campaign, you mentioned mortgage relief and that’s something that’s extremely important – that’s now been extended now right up to, it was supposed to end in December 2017 – that’s going to be extended as well. Rent supplement is going to be increased as well – up to 15% as well. So, you know, what we have done in this document is that we haven’t compromised in the core Fine Gael policy, I think that’s important as well.”
Dr Jennings: “At all?”
Breen: “No, not in a lot of issues. We’ve, if you look at the document in detail, a lot…”
Dr Jennings: “Did you compromise at all?”
Breen: “A lot of the Fine Gael manifesto is included in this here, of course you have to compromise on certain issues…”
Dr Jennings: “Like what?”
Breen: “Well we compromised in relation to Irish Water. First, you know, Fianna Fáil did as well. We wanted charges to be brought in immediately. That didn’t happen because we didn’t get the numbers in the Dáil… and Irish Water is still there. I think that’s the important thing to point out.”
Dr Jennings: “Have you compromised on USC?”
Breen:“No, well, we haven’t compromised in USC, what we have, we have compromised a certain amount in USC...”
Dr Jennings: “You said you wanted to abolish…”
Breen: “What we want to do here is eventually fade out USC, but we are, it’s going to, I mean we are going to ensure that low-paid workers and middle-aged workers, middle-paid workers, that it’s going to be reduced on them, so it’s going to take a little bit of time…”
Dr Jennings: “Are you going to abolish it?”
Dr Jennings: “Are you going to abolish it? Have you had to compromise?”
Breen: “Eventually, we will abolish USC…it was always going to be a temporary tax, it was never going to be a permanent tax for people. And, you know, at the doorsteps, people, during the election campaign, people were very much in favour of this tax which was, again as I said, a temporary tax, it was never going to be a permanent tax.”
Dr Jennings: “‘We will take all necessary action to tackle high variable interest rates’ – what does that mean?”
Breen: “Well, exactly, I mean obviously what’s important here, in relation for people, is to ensure that people are kept in their homes, that they can pay an affordable mortgage, I think that’s extremely important as well. And you know when we put the programme for Government together, obviously it’ll be much more comprehensive in relation to…”
Dr Jennings: “What does ‘take all necessary action’ mean?”
Breen: “Well it’ll mean ensure that we work for the people, we’re in a situation now we’re in a minority government, we have to ensure that we’re working for the people and to ensure…”
Dr Jennings: “Yes, I know that but just, the phrase is put in here after weeks of talks, what does it mean – ‘take all necessary action’. Is it just thrown in there just to make us all feel good or does it mean something?”
Breen: “No it’s put in there for a reason, it’s put in there for a reason because we know the difficulties that people are facing in relation to mortgages, we know the difficulties people have in relation to a payment, paying their mortgages and you know every effort has to be made to ensure that people are kept in their family homes.”
Dr Jennings: “Like what?”
Breen: “Well, whatever is, you know, can be decided by the Government when it’s set in place. It’s not for me to decide on that at the moment. Obviously that’s something that’s going to be put into the programme for government. There is going to be a minister for housing put into place and, you know, there’s going to be Dáil committees as well. I think the Dáil is going to be a very important place now for Dáil deputies because a lot more work is going to be done there and, obviously, you’re going to have corresponding committees as well, so the new Dáil is going to be far more transparent, it’s going to be far more accountable and a lot more work is going to be done there – particularly in relation to the preparation of budgets.”
Dr Jennings: “When will there be a Government?”
Breen: “I would hope there would be a Government in place before the end of the week, if not early next week, but I would hope that it would happen sooner rather than later. I think a lot of progress has been made with the Independents over the last couple of days. There’s going to be a lot of work done today with the Independents as well. There are some outstanding issues to be dealt with but, you know, most concerns have been dealt with the [Independent] Alliance and with the rural group.”
Dr Jennings: “What are the big issues left to be dealt with?”
Breen: “Well, obviously, the individual deputies, Independent deputies will have their own issues, I’m not privy to those issues at the moment because obviously those talks are taking place within the confines of Leinster House with our negotiators but I’m happy to report that a lot of progress has been made and I’m confident that we will be in a situation in the coming days to form a minority government and there’s going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt about that out there. The reality here is for all deputies, 158 deputies is that the careful management of the economy and the public finances will remain a priority for them, this minority government and there’s a challenge for all of us in this, including the Opposition.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Bruton said in the event that charges continue in the future then those who were in default will have their bill pursued.
If water charges are to be scrapped in the future, then people who have already paid their bills will have to get their money back, he said.
It is proposed that Irish Water will be retained while the funding model for water will be examined by an independent commission and then an Oireachtas committee before a Dáil vote takes place on its recommendations.
Social Democrats TD Stephen Donnelly spoke to Rachael English on RTÉ One’s Morning Ireland this morning about the matter of Irish Water amid the Government formation talks.
Mr Donnelly said the future of Irish Water should not be solely discussed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiators behind closed doors but that it should be discussed among all elected TDs in the Dáil.
At the end of the interview, Mr Donnelly explained that he hasn’t paid his water charges, saying:
“Anyone who’s paying out €160 is essentially being asked to go out into their front garden and set fire to the money”.
Grab a tay.
Rachael English: “It’s 60 days without a Government and the talks are stuck over water charges. The Social Democrats have said that the water issue must be discussed in the Dáil and not confined to a closed room among Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiators. One of its three TDs, Stephen Donnelly, joins us now, good morning.”
Stephen Donnelly: “Good morning.”
English: “You would have had a say had you remained in the process of talking to find a Government.”
Donnelly: “Well we do have a say, we’re a political party elected to the Dáil and that’s where this should be debated. The Greens entered talks in good faith and had to leave, a lot of Independents entered talks in good faith and had to leave, the Social Democrats met both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil at the start, we had very constructive talks with both parties. And then we said the numbers are such that you two need to go and come to some sort of agreement and that we would then engage. And we were right: those who did engage before that spent a lot of time in there in good faith and they had to leave. We have now reached out to Fianna Fáil, to Fine Gael, to Sinn Féin, to the Greens, in the last week, because the talks are back on and therefore we are very much in the process – we’re not going to go and prop up a Fine Gael minority government, we said during the campaign we wouldn’t do that…”
English: “But you’ve left Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to it, in terms of making the arrangements for whatever Government needs to be formulated so they have to do an agreement on Irish Water.”
Donnelly: “No they don’t, the Dáil has to have an agreement on Irish Water so, people are really fed up. We’re on day 60…”
English: “But the Dáil did agree on Irish Water, I mean the thing was discussed, it was debated, it was voted on, it was established…”
Donnelly: “It was and then it was a general election and then the majority of TDS elected ran partly on the basis of changing that decision. Let’s not forget: Irish Water was only one of, I think, only two times in the last Dáil term of five years where the Opposition walked out. If you remember Phil Hogan, the minister, then rammed it through, the whole thing through in three hours. And it has been a disaster right from its beginning and continues to be a disaster. And we now have, what it really is, a totally unacceptable situation where we have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael locked away in a room, potentially about to collapse the 32nd Dáil on the issue of water. What the Social Democrats are saying is, ‘Look, water was one of the key issues of the election. Obviously there are arguably more pressing issues, like homelessness, like people having to wait 25 times longer on public waiting lists than private waiting lists…'”
English: “Murder on the streets…”
Donnelly: “Like murder, right, like the guards are being 20% under resourced and so forth. There are very, very serious issues. We have one in eight children in the country now in daily poverty. The Dáil needs to get about doing its business.”
English: “So is it ridiculous that the 32nd Dáil is being threatened with collapse over an issue which, you can break it down, to €3 a week per household?”
Donnelly: “Well we think it’s outrageous that it is potentially going to be collapsed and so what we are saying to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is: there is clearly an impasse. Both parties ran on quite different positions. We actually don’t believe that either position is a tenable position, either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael’s position but that’s fine. That’s up to them to decide. We’re saying look: clearly this has reached an impasse. The rest of us want to get on with the job we’ve been elected and paid to do – as I’m sure more Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs. Take the issue of Irish Water out of the talks, bring it back to where it belongs – which is in the Dáil – like let’s not forget, about 90 TDs were elected with a very clear mandate: To end domestic water charges. There are about 90 TDs who would vote accordingly. So let’s not collapse the 32nd Dáil on the issue of water, let’s bring it back..”
English: “So how do you change it? Would you change the system of having a national utility called Irish Water, managing the Irish Water project, and having water charges? What would you change?”
Donnelly: “Yes, there’s three things we would do. First of all, we would call for a referendum on public ownership, probably to change Article 10 of the constitution. There is a very real fear of privatisation – probably not in the next few years but in the future. So we would look for a referendum to make sure that could never happen. We would reconstitute Irish Water, you could say end Irish Water, abolish Irish Water but not do what Fianna Fáil is looking to do which, quite frankly, is bonkers – which is send it back to the local authorities – but have a national water board. Because whilst the Government made and unholy mess of Irish Water in the last Dáil, actually the engineers are doing a very good job like they are doing the business that needs to be done on the water system which is great. And the third thing we would do is we would end domestic charges and, partly, and it’s a message people really need to understand, partly because the money that is being raised from domestic charges does nothing other than cover the cost of raising the money. So none of the money that anyone is paying out or not paying out is being used to maintain the system or upgrade the system…”
English: “So all the money to fund water and the repairing of the system should come from the Exchequer, is that what you’re saying?”
Donnelly: “Should continue to come from the Exchequer. Let’s not forget, it costs twice as much in Ireland to provide water as it does in the UK, including northern Ireland where the population density is more or less the same. So what should be done is the engineers should be allowed get on with the job of identifying the leaks, of upgrading the system, that creates very, very significant cost savings. You reinvest those cost savings into upgrading the system. So both from an engineering perspective, from an economic perspective and from a political and democratic perspective, there is a very clear argument that says: end domestic charges, use the savings which are being generated to reinvest and upgrading the system which obviously has to be done…”
From top: Yesterday’s Sunday Independent and Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy
Yesterday the Sunday Independent reported that there have been discussions between Labour, the Greens, and the Social Democrats about “forming an alliance of the Left which would enter a rainbow coalition arrangement with Fine Gael”.
Further to this, Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy spoke to Gavin Jennings on RTÉ One’s Morning Ireland this morning.
Grab a tay…
Gavin Jennings: “The Sunday Independent was reporting yesterday that secret talks have been held within the confines of Leinster House and elsewhere in Dublin between Labour, the Green Party and the Social Democrats– is that true?”
Catherine Murphy: “No it’s not. We’ve had no formal or informal talks with the Labour Party about joining any coalition.”
Jennings: “And Roisin Shortall or Stephen Donnelly haven’t been involved in any such talks either, no?”
Jennings: “The paper was also reporting that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has been in constant contact with Fine Gael’s chief negotiator’s Simon Coveney. He strongly believes that the next government – this is Eamon Ryan – needs to be more balanced in terms of political ideologies and has been urging Labour and the Social Democrats to join him in providing this balance. Has he been urging you?”
Murphy: “He has, yes. We wouldn’t share his view that, we campaigned saying we wouldn’t support more of the same and we pretty much reaffirmed that commitment but we believe we’re in an entirely different situation and, indeed, the Dáil Reform Committee has been busy rewriting the Dáil rules to reflect the new reality and we would be, for example, quite, we would encourage and would be involved for example in setting out a framework for the Dáil with all the other strands of the Dáil in setting out a programme for the Dáil as opposed to a programme for Government because there has been a shift in power and that’s the message that the voters gave, there’s been a shift in power from Government to the Dáil and the rules have been rewritten, or are being rewritten, to reflect that so I think we’re in a very different scenario where, for example, if there was a broad strategic approach taken on major issues like health, like housing, we feel that there is a programme there that, there’s lots of possibilities of support for.”
Jennings: “But in terms of making up the numbers to make up this Government, are you ruling the Social Democrats out?”
Murphy: “We did some weeks ago…”
Jennings: “And that’s still the case?”
Murphy: “It is still the case.”
Jennings: “When you mention an election, there is a possibility that we may have another election quite soon. Why do you think that voters would be more favourable to you for sitting aside and allowing a Government to be formed rather than getting in there and trying to do something about it?”
Murphy: “You see I actually don’t believe that’s the case. I think that the shift in power in the Dáil, the rewriting of rules actually opens up a really exciting prospect of sharing that power in a way that we haven’t seen before. And, as I said, it’s a question of drawing up a programme for the Dáil so as that the 158 TDs in the Dáil can participate, that it’s not confined to 15 members of Cabinet and everyone else is, you know, kind of has influence but there the only ones with power. It’s an entirely different prospect and it’s one that we would be very constructive and enthusiastic about participating in. So, essentially, this is a changed environment and, as I say, the Dáil rules have been changed to reflect that or are being changed to reflect that.”
From left: Pat O’Flaherty, Eddie Downey, IFA president and deputy IFA president Tim O’Leary
Tim O’Leary, acting President of the Irish Farmers’ Association, spoke with Dr Gavin Jennings on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland earlier today.
It follows reports that the IFA’s president Eddie Downey is to “step back from his role” as the organisation’s chief economist Con Lucey reviews the governance structures within the IFA.
Last week, the IFA’s former general secretary Pat Smith resigned after it emerged he received a salary worth €445,000 in 2014 and €535,000 in 2013.
From the interview this morning…
Tim O’Leary: “The best way to deal with this is through the process we put in place with the chief economist to look at it, to put a proper perspective on all these things. And to give him that space, this is, I’m reiterating, to give him that space, Eddie felt it was best to step back and not be involved in the process. We have a renumeration committee of which it is a part so that would be the body, dealing with the salary and that needs space to do this properly.”
Dr Gavin Jennings: “Why did Pat Smith resign?”
O’Leary: “Same issue, the salary.”
Jennings: “He resigned over his own salary?”
O’Leary: “The size of it. The scale of it, the difficulties…pardon?”
Jennings: “Or the revelation of it?”
O’Leary: “He resigned before it was revealed. So that was the issue that was bothering farmers. It was becoming a huge issue and it was getting in the way of us doing our business.”
Jennings: “But he wasn’t resigning over the size of his salary, he was resigning because people found out about the size of his salary.”
O’Leary: “He was..no. The salary was not revealed before he resigned. It was the size of it and it was the concern over the size of it, or the potential size of it. Remember what was happening. There were leaks and there was speculation and there was talk about what was the size of the salary and we had to, or he had to move to deal with this. And it is distracting us from the work of the organisation. I accept completely that this is important stuff now, to be dealt with. And we’re going to deal with this and we’re going to work through it.”
Jennings: “Who signed off? Who agreed to pay the IFA general secretary over half a million euro in 2013? And just below that last year?”
O’Leary: “The general secretary of the Irish Farmers’ Association was hired by the organisation and a package was agreed with him. The package at that time would have been agreed by the president and the treasurer and I think that was in 2009. And in subsequent years, that salary would have been reviewed on an annual basis and signed off by the president, the treasurer…”
Jennings: “And was it signed off in…”
O’Leary: “That was signed off in 2013 by the then president, the then treasurer. Now in 2014, we received a letter from Con Lucey expressing concerns about the procedures and the structures in place which we took on board and that salary was not signed off in 2014.”
Jennings: “Why not?”
O’Leary: “Because we wanted to strengthen the oversight of the bonuses and the salary going forward. So until that was done, we were not prepared to do that. This is accountability if you want to call it that or this is the way we felt we had to work here.”
Jennings: “Will Pat Smith get a payoff? A severance package?”
O’Leary: “There is very strong law here to govern and protect employees and we’re bound by that law. It’s in the process at the moment and we’re having some difficulties with that. But I think this is a confidential process…”
Jennings: “What difficulties?”
O’Leary: “No this is a confidential process that has to be worked through now and we have to, in fairness, to everybody, we have to work through this and when we have arrived at a settlement it will be made known.”
Jennings: “Will you tell members what his payoff will be?”
O’Leary: “It will be made known to everybody, yes. It will be published. It will be published in the general council.”
Jennings: “When did you first learn, as an IFA member, what your general secretary was earning?”
O’Leary: “When we heard, when we decided that we were going to reveal this or we were going to explain this to the executive council, we got very clear figures at that stage from our Chief Financial Officer so…”
Jennings: “When was that?”
O’Leary: “Last week, last week..”
Jennings: “So you… only last week you found out that your general secretary was earning half a million euro?”
O’Leary: “The role of the deputy president did not encompass the salary of the general secretary. It never has. The role of the president and treasurer did, so I did not know.”
Jennings: “What did you think he was earning?”
O’Leary: “The common expectation or the common understanding was that he would be benchmarked off the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture…”
Jennings: “That’s about €185,000…”
O’Leary: “Now, it is €185,000. It would have been substantially higher when his contract would have been signed.”
Jennings: “So were you shocked?”
O’Leary: “Yes, I was.”
Jennings: “There were members, also last night, who are expressing a little surprise over what Eddie Downey was being paid. Did you know what he was being paid?”
O’Leary: “At the same time, when he told us, last week.”
Jennings: “So you only knew that last week?”
Jennings: “What did you think he was earning?”
O’Leary: “I would have expected he’d have been on a pretty good salary, I didn’t speculate on that. I’m on €35,000 a year, I didn’t negotiate that, that was the package offered to me when I came in. I’m a dairy farmer, that is sufficient for me, to pay a replacement labour on my farm. So, ok, that allows me then to do the job that I do for the Irish Farmers’ Association. It’s practically a full-time job, I tell you, it’s a job and a half these days. But it’s practically a full-time job to do this. So I left my farm to do this and that allows me to do so.”
Jennings: “You don’t need me to tell you there are farmers up and down the country who are, I think it’s fair to say, livid that the general secretary was earning over half a million euro in the year before the crisis was earning less than half a million euro last year. Some of them will be pretty annoyed that a president was earning nearly €150,000 this year and last year. What would you say to them this morning? Many of whom are threatening to withdraw their membership. And are also questioning whether they should continue to pay fees for every transaction they undertake.”
O’Leary: “Yes, well, what I’d say to them first of all, on behalf of the organisation, I apologise for the mistakes we’ve made in that area, I think we are now going to review everything again. We’re going to look at these payments, through the renumeration committee, that’s what this strengthened committee is set up to do, to look at the payment of the general secretary and the stipend of the president and make recommendations on that and we will do that and we will do that in the light of current circumstances, I think is the best way to describe it. And I cannot take responsibility for the decisions of others in the past but what I can do is give a commitment on behalf of myself and the executive board and the executive council at the Irish Farmers’ Association that we will have transparency and accountability going forward, into the future now. We do everything by the book, as everything that needs to be done, we will do it. And we will be guided on that, Gavin, by Con Lucey.”
Jennings: “Will you go into it with the same level of eyes closed as you did before? When you weren’t questioning how much your boss or your president was earning?”
O’Leary: “I’m in this position two years. Before that, I was not an honorary, a national honorary officer…”
Talk over each other
Jennings: “Weren’t you curious about what your boss was earning? No?”
O’Leary: “I think the honest answer here is that the vast majority of people, members of the Irish Farmers’ Association, their concerns are about making a living, their concerns are about having enough income to educate their children, to put food on the table, to pay all the bills and to get on with it. And that is what they have this organisation for.
And I’ll be very honest with you here Gavin, the bulk of the time I’ve spent in this organisation, the vast majority of it up to this, all of it has been taken up with dealing with this issues and I want to get back to dealing with those issues and I think that we won’t let our members down. We will keep doing this, we will serve our members and we will represent our members on every facet of agriculture that needs to be done so we will deal with this issue. This is another problem we have to deal with. We are good at solving problems in the Irish Farmers’ Association. We solve this one and we will get on with the business and we will get our organisation back on track. That is the clear decision of the executive board yesterday and I’m going to carry that out.”