Fine Gael And Labour’s Statement Of Common Purpose (Ireland)

Fine Gael and Labour’s Statement Of Common Purpose For The Irish Government by Annette J Dunlea

On the 25th February a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away. The stroke of a pen, in thousands of polling stations, created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought.In that election record numbers of Irish people turned to, and chose, Fine Gael and Labour. The people chose our two parties to begin mending the pieces of a fractured society, a broken economy and to provide a sense of collective hope in our shared future.Both our parties are committed to protecting the vulnerable and to burden sharing on an equitable basis.

The new Government supports the objectives of the EU/IMF Programme of Support i.e. restructuring and recapitalising the banking system, achieving fiscal stability and returning the Irish economy to growth.On this basis, both parties to the new Government sought, and secured, a strong mandate from the Irish electorate to renegotiate a more credible package that is better for both Ireland and Europe.

The new Government will re-structure bank boards and replace directors who presided over failed lending practices. They will ensure that the regulator has sufficient powers of pre-approval of bank directors and senior executives. To expedite this change-over they will openly construct a pool of globally experienced financial services managers and directors to be inserted into key executive and non-executive positions in banks receiving taxpayer support. They will insist on the highest standards of transparency in the operation of NAMA, on reduction in the costs associated with the operation of NAMA, and that decision-making in NAMA does not delay the restoration of the Irish property market.Once the banking sector has been restored and is functioning effectively, they will introduce a bank levy based on the size of a bank’s liabilities (other than shareholder capital).They will establish a Strategic Investment Bank.

They will – within the first 100 days – resource a Jobs Fund which will

• Provide resources for an additional 15,000 places in training, work experience and educational opportunities for those who are out of work;

• Cut the 13.5% rate of VAT to 12% up to end 2013;

• Halve the lower 8.5% rate of PRSI up to end 2013 on jobs paying up to 356 per week;

• Reverse the cut in the minimum wage;

• Abolish the Travel Tax as part of a deal with airlines to restore lost routes;

• Implement a number of sectoral initiatives in areas that will create employment in the domestic economy;

• Initiate a long-term strategy to develop new markets in emerging economies;

• Secure additional resources for the national housing energy retrofitting plan, as part of plans to phase out subsidies in this area by 2014;

• Expand eligibility for the back to education allowance; and

• Accelerate capital works that are ‘shovel ready’ and labour intensive including schools and secondary roads.

They will a develop new graduate and apprentice internship scheme, work placement programmes and further education opportunities for our young unemployed providing an additional 60,000 places across a range of schemes and initiatives. They will provide a range of initiatives to increase access to further higher level education for the unemployed.They will replace FAS with a new National Employment and Entitlements Service so that all employment and benefit support services will be integrated in a single delivery unit managed by the Department of Social Protection. This integrated service would provide a ‘one stop shop’ for people seeking to establish their benefit entitlements; looking for a job; and seeking advice about their training options.

It will process citizen entitlements such as supplementary welfare allowances, higher education grants and welfare allowances. It will manage as much as possible means testing for State entitlements. It will also be responsible for employment referral and training supports provided by FÁS. This service will offer users a higher level of personalised employment counselling, with more frequent face-to-face interviews. Those on the live register who are identified as being most at risk of long-term unemployment will receive priority treatment for more intensive support. It will ensure active case management for people in need of assistance.

Ireland’s economic recovery must be export-led. They will take a number of actions to achieve the maximum growth in exports, including the long-term development of new markets.They will establish an Export Trade Council to strengthen cooperation and coordination across all key departments and agencies involved in promotion and development of trade and exports, whose membership will be divided equally between government and private sector representatives who have experience in establishing and growing export-oriented business. They will create a new ‘Home to Export’ programme to share the expertise of exporting companies with firms currently reliant on domestic markets. A ‘Source Ireland’ portal will be developed to market Irish goods and services abroad.They will position Ireland to develop better trade relationships with emerging economies, including the establishment of local trade and investment teams. These teams will execute detailed local market plan, with progress against targets reviewed annually. They will developcultural and diplomatic links with emerging markets including a scholarship scheme. They will actively develop the export of educational services. They will exempt from VAT service companies that export more than 90% of their output.

They will implement innovation and commercialisation policies as outlined below subject to cost benefit analysis.They will progressively implement the recommendations in the Trading and Investing in the Smart.They will support our indigenous digital game industry by reforming R&D supports available to the industry, setting aside funding from Innovation Fund Ireland for a seed capital scheme for Irish digital gaming start-ups, introduce a digital media component to Transition Year programmes and promote Ireland as digital gaming hub. They will develop Ireland as a ‘digital island’ and first-mover when it comes to information technology by ensuring more progress on e-Government and moving Government services online, investing in ICT in schools, and investing in information technology in the healthcare sector. They will make Ireland a leader in the emerging I.T. market of cloud computing by promoting greater use of cloud computing in the public sector, organising existing State supports for cloud computing into a package to promote Ireland as a progressive place for I.T. investment, establishing an expert group to address new security and privacy issues arising from the use of cloud computing and reviewing the adequacy of current legislation and identify what steps need to be taken to ensure a supportive regulatory environment.Subject to a cost benefit analysis, they will amend the R&D tax credit regime to make it more attractive and accessible to smaller businesses.

They will reform public procurement to become a tool to support innovative Irish firms and to allow greater access to Irish small and medium sized businesses. They will fast-track the substantial reforms needed for our bankruptcy legislation to bring us into line with best international standards, focusing on a flexible personal bankruptcy system that reduces discharge time for honest bankrupts.

They will implement a temporary, partial credit guarantee scheme that will provide a level of insurance to banks against losses on qualifying loans to job-creating firms to get banks lending again to industry and entrepreneurs.They will construct a €100 million Microfinance Start-Up Fund that will provide start-up loans and equity that draws funding from the NPRF and private institutional funds. They will support the development of a more dynamic, venture capital industry in Ireland by seeking to attract top tier venture financing and investment companies to Ireland, such as Silicon Valley Bank. They will work to promote a greater appreciation of the co-operative model as a distinct form of organisation, ensure a level playing field between co-operatives and the other legal options for structuring enterprise activities, and provide a conductive framework for the full potential of the co-operative model to be realised, including in areas such as childcare, education, housing, energy retrofitting, environmental protection, transport and healthcare.

Together with significant reforms and initiatives to improve the overall competitiveness of the economy, its capacity for innovation, its export performance, and the skills of our labour market, as outlined in this Programme for Government, they will also undertake a number of specific sectoral strategies for job creation in the domestic economy. These include initiatives in the retail and SME sectors, and in ICT.

International access is vital to tourism recovery. They will abolish the €3 travel tax subject to a deal being agreed with Ryanair and Aer Lingus to re-open closed routes and bring more tourists into Ireland. If no deal can be done, there will be no reduction in the tax.They will prioritise the Tourism Marketing Fund as an essential pillar of our tourism strategy and will ensure the best return on Exchequer spending.

A National Strategy for International Education will be implemented, to develop the ‘Education Ireland’ brand, to encourage more international students to study here and to create new jobs in the sector. Our objective will be to double number of international students studying in Ireland, particularly targeting students from India, China and the Middle East. This policy will be pursued in line with employment, academic and skill requirements of overall economy and education sector.

They will double funding for home energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes until the end of 2013, after which time these schemes will be ended. The Government will promote the development of a vibrant and effective social enterprise sector. They will instruct agencies to view social enterprises as important stakeholders in rejuvenating local economies. They will continue support for social innovation projects for young people trough education, community and voluntary structures.

They will draw up a new National Development Plan that reflects Ireland’s changed economic circumstances, covering the seven-year period 2012-2019. The plan will be based on a comprehensive study of Ireland’s public investment priorities over that period. In the initial years, when resources will be most heavily constrained, they will prioritise investment in school building, non-national roads, healthcare, and in job-creation.

The Government will put in place a parallel, commercially-financed investment programme in key networks of the economy to support demand and employment in the short-term, and to provide the basis for sustainable, export-led jobs and growth for the next generation. Under the NewERA plan, streamlined and restructured semi-States will make significant additional investments, over and above current plans, over the next four years in “next generation” infrastructures in energy, broadband, forestry and water.

As part of our fiscal strategy the new Government will:

• Keep the corporate tax rate at 12.5%;

• Maintain the current rates of income tax together with bands and credits. They will not increase the top marginal rates of taxes on income. They will reduce, cap or abolish property tax reliefs and other tax shelters which benefit very high income earners. They will also ensure the implementation of a minimum effective tax rate of 30% for very high earners;

• Consider, arising from the previous Government’s deal with the IMF, various options for a site valuation tax. Any site valuation tax must take into account the significant number of households in mortgage distress and provide local government with a reliable stream of revenue;

• They will limit the top rate of VAT to 23%;

• There will be no increase in the standard 10.75% rate of employers PRSI;

• They will review the Universal Social Charge;

• They will ensure that tax exiles make a fair contribution to the Exchequer;

• Re-prioritise capital funding for smaller projects that deal with specific immediate problems. Smaller projects are more labour intensive and more likely to be carried out by local contractors increasing short-run domestic economic impact. Investment priorities will include education, health and science and technology;

• Undertake a full review of the Hunt and OECD reports into third level funding before end of 2011. Our goal is to introduce a funding system that will provide third level institutions with reliable funding but does not impact access for students;

• Bring in a range of measures to tackle the problem of welfare fraud. As part of this they will create a new “one-stop shop” Payments and Entitlements Service to process all major welfare and other entitlements;

• To achieve better quality water and environment they will introduce a fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water. They will first establish a new State owned water utility company to take over responsibility from the separate local authorities for Ireland’s water infrastructure and to drive new investment. The objective is to install water meters in every household in Ireland and move to a charging system that is based on use above the free allowance;

• Conduct a Comprehensive Spending Review to examine all areas of public spending and to assess effectiveness of spending programmes and value for company;

• Establish a Tax and Social Welfare Commission to examine entitlements of self employed and the elimination of disincentives to employment.

They will prioritise putting to the people by referendum a number of urgent parliamentary reform issues: Abolition of the Seanad. A referendum to amend the Constitution to reverse the effects of the Abbeylara judgment to enable Oireachtas committees to carry out full investigations. A referendum to protect the right of citizens to communicate in confidence with public representatives.

They will also give priority to the following specific constitutional amendments: A referendum to amend the Constitution to allow the State to cut the salaries of judges in restricted circumstances as part of a general cut across the public sector. A referendum to amend the Constitution to ensure that children’s rights are strengthened, along the lines recommended by the All-Party Oireachtas committee.

They will establish a Constitutional Convention to consider comprehensive constitutional reform, with a brief to consider, as a whole or in sub-groups, and report within 12 months on the following:

Review of our Dáil electoral system.Reducing the presidential term to 5 years and aligning it with the local and European elections.Provision for same-sex marriage.Amending the clause on women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life.Removing blasphemy from the Constitution. Possible reduction of the voting age.Other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by the Convention.

The political system cannot ask others to change and make sacrifices if it is not prepared to do the same. They will significantly reduce the size of the Oireachtas by abolishing the Seanad, if the public approve in constitutional referendum, and they will reduce the number of TDs following the publication of the results of the 2011 Census of Population. In addition ministers’ salaries will be reduced, political expenses vouched for and severance payments for ministers axed. No political pensions will be paid to sitting TDs and in future no retired politician will get a political pension until the national retirement age. Politics must be about service to the public, not financial gain for politicians.they will ensure our Government is seen to be held to account.

They will radically overhaul the way Irish politics and Government work. The failures of the political system over the past decade were a key contributor to the financial crisis and the system must now learn those lessons urgently.They will introduce Whistleblowers legislation.They will introduce spending limits for all elections, including Presidential elections and constitutional referendums, including for a period in advance of scheduled Local, European, General and Presidential Elections.They will introduce the necessary legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations to political parties.they propose an Investigations, Oversight and Petitions Committee of the Oireachtas. It would be a powerful committee, constructed on the lines of the Public Accounts Committee, bi-partisan in structure and chaired by a senior member of the opposition.

The Committee would be the formal channel of consultation and collaboration between the Oireachtas and the Ombudsman, responsible for receiving and debating her annual and special reports and for ensuring that her criticisms and recommendations are acted upon. For that purpose, she would attend as a regular witness before the committee. The Committee would receive parliamentary petitions from individuals and groups in the community seeking the redress of grievances connected with the public services of the State and with the public administration generally. Its functions would be to act as a “clearing house”, directing complaints to those bodies most competent to act on them: the Ombudsman, the Data Protection Commissioner, the Local Government Auditor, the Oireachtas committee that has oversight of the relevant Department, and so on.

They intend to end the heavy dependence on a very limited pool of extremely expensive private solicitors firms providing legal services to the State and agencies, look at ways to require agencies to seek legal advice from the CSSO and not from the private sector in order to save costs, and ensure that legal work at the bar for the State is spread more equitably rather than confined to a very limited pool as at present. They will progress the Statute Law Revision Project in order to enhance public accessibility to the statute book.

Politicians should be treated in the same manner as all other public servants.They will abolish the additional pay for Ministers who leave office. They will restrict the payment of pensions to politicians so that in future a member can only qualify for a pension at the national retirement age (currently 65) and upon leaving public life. They will cap taxpayers’ subsidies for all future pension schemes for politicians (and indeed for everybody) that deliver income in retirement of more than €60,000. They will halve the cost of the existing provision of ministerial transport. They will provide for the efficient use of transport including the release of garda drivers to normal policing duties. they will end the automatic right to state cars for former office holders and other state officials. They will introduce a new code of practice for the use of the government jet, ensuring transparent and cost effective travel.

They are proposing radical reform of the way the Dáil operates. Our objective is to make Dáil Éireann fit for purpose in the 21st century. To carry out this task they must identify the fundamental goals of a properly functioning Dáil. These include:to legislate, to represent the people on issues of national concern,more effective financial scrutiny, and to hold the executive to account.

On each of these headings the Dáil falls short, sometimes far short, of what is required. They will institute a programme of short-term and urgent Dáil reform, within the existing Constitution, to make the Dáil fit for purpose.they will give committees the power to introduce legislation, while a new 10 Minute Rule will allow backbench TDs to introduce their own Bills. They will also tackle the huge over-use of guillotines to ram through non-emergency legislation.They will introduce a package of changes that will bring about a 50 per cent increase in Dáil sitting days. Dáil Éireann will in future meet four days a week. There will be a summer recess of just six weeks and significantly reduced breaks at Christmas and Easter. They will abandon the practice of providing a “mid-term break” – a full week off at St Patrick’s Day and Hallowe’en. When the Dáil is not in session the Committees shall agree by roster that a particular Committee shall meet in the Dáil Chamber.

They propose to break the Government monopoly on legislation and the stranglehold over the business of the Dáil, by providing that the new Friday sittings will be given over exclusively to committee reports and private members business except where urgent government business must be taken.They will enhance the democratic process by involving public representatives at an earlier stage of the legislative process, particularly before Bills are published. They will amend cabinet procedure instructions so as to allow government to publish the general scheme of a Bill so that Oireachtas Committees can debate and hold hearings at an early stage.Questions and the order of business and the remainder of the day will be taken up in committee.

They will establish a petition system to the Dáil, similar to that operating in the European Parliament, to be managed by a specific Dáil committee that will investigate and report on petitions which raise issues warranting attention.They will enhance the parliamentary relationship with the European Parliament in conjunction with Ireland’s MEPs. These arrangements will include regular attendance by MEPs at relevant Dáil committees.They will legislate and change Dáil standing orders to ensure the absolute confidentiality of information entrusted to members of the Dáil by their constituents or informants, and ensure that such information cannot be compulsorily disclosed through the legal process except with the consent of the informant.They will significantly revamp the adjournment debate format. It will be renamed the topical issue debate. There will be a minimum of 5 topical issues. These will be taken in the middle of the day and there will be provision for questions at the end. A Minister or Minister of State from the relevant Department will be present and there will be an end to the practice of one junior Minister reading out scripts on behalf of a number of Departments about a range of issues of which he or she knows nothing.

They will establish an independent Fiscal Advisory Council (FAC), separated from fiscal decisionmakers in government, that would undertake official fiscal macroeconomic projections and monitoring. The Fiscal Advisory Council functions would include identifying and advising on cyclical and counter-cyclical fiscal policies and structural deficits; the cyclical or temporary nature of particular revenues; and the need to maintain an appropriate and effective tax base. The modeling assumptions and inputs of the Fiscal Advisory Council will, as far as possible, be open to public scrutiny and its outputs would be freely available to external bodies, including in

particular, the opposition parties.They will open up the Budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny in a way that restores confidence and stability by exposing and cutting failing programmes and pork barrel politics. They will publish cost-benefit analyses for major infrastructure proposals and “tax expenditures” in advance of Government approval.

Public sector bodies will be required to publish balance sheets and to move to accruals from cashflow accounting. Every Purchase Order by a Government Department or agency for more than €20,000 will be published online. They will give the Comptroller and Auditor General and Oireachtas Committees the extra powers needed to carry out value-for-money audits of State programmes.Public bodies will be required to openly compete for budget resources by publishing pre-budget spending requests, and what they would deliver in return for such allocations to help deliver Programme for Government. They will conduct a Comprehensive Spending Review to examine all areas of public spending, based on the Canadian model, and to develop multi-annual budget plans with a three-year time horizon. This plan will be presented to the Dáil for debate.The Comprehensive Spending Review will assess effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes, and value for money.

The CSR will examine the number, range and activities of bodies funded significantly from public purse, including at local government level, and reduce numbers where appropriate. In future, when proposing a new agency, it will be necessary to prove that the proposed new functions cannot be carried out within the existing framework. Every public body will set out clear and unambiguous long, medium and short term strategic priorities, which will be clearly communicated to public service and citizens.

They believe the Oireachtas must be given responsibility for full scrutiny of EU draft proposals, for proper transposition of EU legislation and for holding the Government accountable for the decisions it takes in Brussels. All Oireachtas committees must share the burden of dealing with EU policies and legislative proposals. Systems must be put in place to ensure that Ministers do not bypass the Oireachtas and make decisions in Brussels on EU matters before these matters are subjected to scrutiny by the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach will be obliged to brief the Oireachtas prior to attending European Council meetings and to engage with the Oireachtas in debate on EU issues of national significance and concern. The Oireachtas will devote a full week each year to debating major EU issues of concern to Ireland such as the Draft Annual Work Programme, Green and White Papers and proposals for EU budget co-ordination. The Oireachtas will be linked up with the Irish offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament in communicating Europe to the Irish people. Outreach programmes, meetings and competitions particularly in schools will be organised and TDs and Senators invited to participate.

They will move many of the functions currently being performed by agencies – such as community employment and enterprise supports – back to local government and ensure that all property-related revenues are part of the income stream of local government.

Public service is, and must remain, about serving the public, not making a profit. It is about serving the common good, not sectional interests. Real reform of the public sector will require a commitment from the whole of government to become more transparent, accountable and efficient.It will require:• Concrete mechanisms to improve performance, using a range of external standards and benchmarks, and to deal with persistent under-performance.• A new approach to government which empowers public servants by devolving more power.• New personnel from outside the current system, particularly experts in change management.Citizens having a basic right to key information on the performance of key services.

Government has to deliver better value in order to reduce the deficit and protect frontline services. They will, subject to there being no compulsory redundancies and to the protection of front line services:

Reduce the total number of public sector employees by between 18,000 and 21,000 by 2014, compared to the total number at the end of 2010.Reduce this number by a further 4,000 by 2015.Where there is secrecy and unaccountability, there is waste and extravagance. They will pin down accountability for results at every level of the public service – from Ministers down – with clear consequences for success and failure. Ministers will be responsible for policy and procurement and public service managers for delivery.They will cut back the waste and political cronyism built up over the last decade by paring back the expensive, fragmented structures of public administration.They will go beyond the recommendations of An Bord Snip to rationalise core processes that are duplicated across the public service, by establishing shared back office operations for information technology, human resource management,payments and entitlement applications, business inspections and procurement.They will review the Local Government Efficiency Review as part of our Comprehensive Spending Review.

Rather than giving fixed budgets to traditional public service providers like the HSE, VECs and FÁS, they will put resources into the hands of citizens to acquire services that are tailored to better suit their needs and less expensive for the taxpayer.Schools will publish annual reports.In local services, they will establish a website – http://www.fixmystreet.ie – to allow residents to report problems with street lighting, drainage, graffiti, waste collection and road and path maintenance in their neighbourhoods, with a guarantee that a local official will respond within 2 working days.

This Government will introduce Universal Health Insurance with equal access to care for all. Under this system there will be no discrimination between patients on the grounds of income or insurance status. The two-tier system of unequal access to hospital care will end.Pathway to Universal Hospital Care Insurance.In the first term of this Government, the foundations will be laid for the introduction of Universal Hospital Care Insurance: The legislative basis for UHI will be enacted.Public hospitals will be given autonomy from the HSE.The HSE’s function of purchasing care for uninsured patients will be given to a Hospital Care Purchase Agency which will combine with the National Treatment Purchase Fund to purchase care for the uninsured over this transition period.

A priority in education will be to recruit, train and support the highest calibre of teachers.School leadership will be fundamental to furthering this aim. They will give greater freedom and autonomy to school principals and boards to raise educational standards by devolving more responsibility locally, with greater freedom to allocate and manage staff with required flexibility and to delegate management responsibilities to teachers as school priorities require.They will require schools, with the support of the Inspectorate, to draw up five year development plans for their schools and individual teachers.

Education will be a priority for this Government. It will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. To that end, it will endeavour to protect frontline services in education, and seek efficiencies in work and school practices, in line with the Croke Park Agreement.

This Government is committed to helping homeowners in distress to weather the recession, and to ensuring that Ireland has a sustainable housing policy.Both parties believe that more protection is needed for homeowners with distressed mortgages. The recommendations of the Cooney report are inadequate to address the scale of the current crisis. A more radical approach is needed to protect families in fear of losing their home. This Government will examine a number of such proposals. They will introduce a staged purchase scheme to increase the stock of social housing, while achieving the best possible value for public investment. Under the terms of this scheme, leased dwellings will revert to the ownership of local authorities and housing associations at the end of the leasehold period.They are committed to urban regeneration to revitalise communities in areas such as Limerick to give families a better quality of life.

They will ensure that the Central Bank and Financial Regulator supervise credit institutions’ mortgage lending practices comprehensively and intensively. Where credit institutions fail to adequately control mortgage lending risks, the Central Bank will impose loan-to-value ceilings on mortgages, caps on loan-to-income multiples, limits on the term of new mortgages, and more rigorous procedures for verifying borrowers’ incomes. They will improve the quality of information available on the Irish housing market by requiring that the selling price of all dwellings is recorded in a publicly available, national housing price database.They will legislate for tougher and clearer rules relating to fire safety in apartment buildings and will introduce a new fire safety inspection and certification regime.They will establish a tenancy deposit protection scheme to put an end to disputes regarding the return of deposits.

They will strengthen measures to ensure that convicted white collar criminals cannot transfer assets to spouses or other family members and they will empower the Criminal Assets Bureau to pursue such convicted white collar criminals for any legal aid costs awarded to them.They will enact legislation to strengthen the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau in relation to forfeiting the proceeds of crime.They will ensure that administrative duties are carried out by civilian staff in order to free up highly trained Gardaí for preventing and detecting crime. They will reform the prosecution and judicial case management systems so as to reduce the number of Gardaí unnecessarily detained in the courts. They will seek to combat drug supplies at source by providing x-ray scanners at major ports; greater patrols along coastline and increasing presence of Customs officers at smaller airports.The Government will tackle anti-social behaviour and the plague of low level crime that is so destructive of community life. They will build on the existing community policing partnerships and forums to enhance trust between local communities and their Gardaí.

They will legislate to establish a Judicial Council, with lay representation, to provide an effective mechanism for dealing with complaints against judges. They will introduce a constitutional amendment to allow Government to reduce the pay of the judiciary as a whole in line with other public sector reductions. They will also provide a modern and reformed framework for judicial expenses.

They will introduce comprehensive reforms of the immigration, residency and asylum systems, which will include a statutory appeals system and set out rights and obligations in a transparent way. They will provide for the efficient processing and determination of citizenship applications within a reasonable time. Consideration will be given to transferring the passport service from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of Justice to operate as an Independent Executive Agency under the aegis of that Department.

This Government is committed to tackling Ireland’s economic crisis in a way that is fair, balanced, and which recognises the need for social solidarity.During a time of recession and deep unemployment the Government acknowledges the vital role of the community and voluntary sector working in partnership with local communities, State agencies and local authorities. They will maintain social welfare rates.They will reverse the recent cut in the national minimum wage.they will also tightly regulate moneylenders and debt collectors.A zero tolerance approach to welfare fraud.As well as more regular face-to-face interviews with an integrated employment and entitlements service for those of working age, they will undertake other anti-fraud measures using latest available technology and better sharing of data across government departments and agencies.

They support the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and St. Andrew’s Agreement. They are committed to publishing and acting on the recommendations of the first Review of the North-South Implementation Bodies and Areas for Co-operation; and they will progress the second Review, which will identity new areas for North South co-operation. They will work for greater economic co-operation to accelerate the process of recovery and creation of jobs on this island. The threat from dissident paramilitary groups cannot be underestimated. they will foster the continuing strong relationships between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with this threat and they will ensure the necessary resources to deal with these groups.

They are fully committed to the EU2020 strategy and its creation of employment and smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. They will commission an independent audit into the transposition and implementation of EU legislation, placing priority on laws and regulations that caused concern or deemed burdensome to Irish business. They will put in place a mechanism across Government to accelerate implementation of directives, involving relevant Departments and the Attorney’s Office. They will enhance the Irish role in EU judicial and home affairs cooperation.

The End

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About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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