Getting budget over the line is primarily the job of government

In seeking consensus on a particular course of action one would have to know the proposed course of action before answering the question as to whether one agreed with it. That is a first principle.

For example, if consensus is being sought on a four-year plan, we will have to see the plan before we can decide whether we agree with it. Is that not straightforward? Anyone can see that that is agreeable.

From the brief reports I have heard on the meetings which took place with the Commissioner this morning, I do not know whether matters have changed specifically. However, there appears to be less certainty about the figure of €15 billion in the four-year adjustment period. The three main parties are agreed on the need to make an adjustment in order that we can get to the figure of 3% by 2014. There should be no question about that target, but what will it actually mean? We know that up to three weeks ago the Government believed the adjustment figure would be €7.5 billion which quickly became €15 billion. Three scenarios were presented by the Government for the budget to be announced in December. On 22 October The Irish Times reported Government sources as saying the Department of Finance was seeking an adjustment of €4.5 billion. Only two and a half weeks ago the figure was €4.5 billion, it is now €6 billion. Anyone may look to the Opposition for consensus or certainty, but we must look to the Government in the first place for a sense of what is going to happen. I agree and accept that the situation is fluid. The Government must examine the growth predictions for next year and where we will be this time next year with the unemployment figures and so on. I accept that matters are in a state of flux, but Senators on the other side of the House should not demand certainty from the Opposition, a demand they do not make of the Government. This is simply not logical.

It is the principal objective of the Government to prepare a budget, present and have it passed by the Dáil. There is a lot of talk about whether the Opposition parties will help to get the Government over the line. The Government must get the budget over the line. If it cannot do so, it will lose not just the confidence of the people, it will also lose the confidence of Parliament and have to go. That is the way our democratic system works. It does not mean, however, that we are against adopting a co-operative approach. We will do everything we can, for example, concerning the adjustment to be made in the budget. The Labour Party will come forward not just with a clear and specific set of objectives, it will also show how they can be achieved. When we talk about consensus, let us be clear about what we mean. Let it be understood that, in the first instance, this is the job of the Government.