[Sinn Fein]

20th December 2001

Escalation of industrial dispute in Department of Social, Community & Family Affairs

``Minister Ahern must intervene'' - Ó Caoláin

The industrial dispute at the office of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in Letterkenny which has disrupted Child Benefit and other payments throughout the State is set to escalate with action threatened by all Civil and Public Service Union members in the Department. Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called on Social, Community and Family Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern to intervene directly and urgently to resolve the dispute.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``The staff in dispute at Letterkenny have been told by the Personnel Section of the Department that they will be taken off the payroll from 7 January 2002 if they continue to support their union's industrial action now in its 12th week. As a result the union is balloting all CPSU members in the Department for limited industrial action if the lay-offs go ahead. This action will include a ban on use of phone and fax, closure of public counters and a work to rule. This dispute has already caused major disruption to recipients of Child Benefit, Dental and Optical Treatment Benefit and Medical Appliances Benefit.

``In the Dáil on 27 November I called on the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs Dermot Ahern to ensure that the staffing and grading issues at the heart of the dispute were resolved immediately and that the necessary Partnership Committee was established at the Letterkenny office. The Minister had a special responsibility to ensure that families were not left seriously out of pocket this Christmas. He has not taken that responsibility seriously and now, not only are people experiencing hardship as a result of the Letterkenny dispute, many more people are likely to be effected by its escalation.

``I believe that management in the Department has been inflexible in its approach to the reasonable demands of the CPSU members. The Minister must intervene directly now so that this dispute is resolved and the social welfare system throughout the State does not grind to a halt. His colleague the Minister for the Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey had direct negotiations with the IFA on the roads issue so the Minister cannot plead that this dispute in his own Department is `out of his hands.'''

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