Dáil Éireann - Volume 493 - 01 July, 1998

Written Answers. - NESC Report.

[1053] 15. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress made by NESC in developing a set of indicators to benchmark progress in relation to Partnership 2000. [15802/98]

16. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if, as he indicated in a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 3 of 28 January 1998 that NESC Report No. 102 was referred to relevant Ministers and Government Departments for their deliberations, he has received reports back from the relevant Ministers and Departments with an assessment of the report's implications. [15803/98]

17. Mr. McCormack asked the Taoiseach if he will ask the National Economic and Social Council to examine and report to him on the case for Objective 1 Status for the west, midland and Border county regions. [15804/98]

18. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to raise the matter of potential tax cuts with the social partners at a Partnership 2000 annual meeting in July 1998 in view of the speech in Ballyconnell, County Cavan, on 18 June 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15957/98]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive, together.

The NESC continues to play an important role in the development of public policy, especially in the context of social partnership.

The planning stage of the benchmarking project under Partnership 2000 has been completed and discussed by the council. The current phase is the undertaking of a broad benchmark analysis, complemented by studies in specific areas.

The broad analysis is intended to benchmark Ireland's performance over time and relative to our EU and OECD partners in terms of social inclusion, employment and competitiveness. The recently published work of the competitiveness council is particularly useful in this regard, as are several recent OECD and EU analyses. The current phase is seeking, in particular, to resolve significant problems regarding the availability and comparability of data.

In addition, a number of specific studies are in progress — on incomes, taxation, education and childcare. These papers will be considered by the new council over the coming months. Overall, the benchmarking project is a complex undertaking which will be a valuable resource in monitoring progress in the final stages of Partnership 2000 and in the preparation of a new partnership agreement.

With regard to NESC report 102 on population distribution and economic development, that report was referred to relevant Ministers and Departments for consideration. The analysis and [1054] conclusions of the report are extremely useful in developing policy on regional and local development. They will be drawn on by the relevant Departments in their continuing work in these areas. The report is also an important resource for the regional authorities in formulating their views in relation to the next national development plan. It is particularly relevant for policy on rural development.

The principal mechanism through which responses to the report are being gathered is through an interdepartmental committee which is currently preparing a White Paper on rural development, under the direction of the Minister for Agriculture and Food. A wide consultation process has started, involving regional seminars and the inviting of submissions. The White Paper will be comprehensive and will reflect many of the issues covered by the NESC report.

I do not intend to ask the NESC to report on the question of Objective I status in the context of the next round of Structural Funds.

I have stated here on a number of occasions any change in the country's single region status would have to be approved by the Commission and that the overriding objective is to maximise Structural Fund transfers to Ireland as a whole under the next round. The strategy to be pursued will be determined by the Government in the context of the negotiations on Agenda 2000 over coming months.

Regarding the next budget, arrangements are being put in place for discussions with the social partners in the context of Partnership 2000. The upcoming plenary meeting, which I will chair, will, as I have already told the House, focus on the themes of social inclusion and equality, and modernisation of the public service.