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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] We were told over the weekend that the Labour Party members walked out of that fateful Cabinet meeting on the budget because of Fine Gael's insistence that welfare rates across 31 schemes would have to be cut if the universal social charge was increased. This has been leaked authoritatively by the Taoiseach's sources and Ministers. The Labour Party walked out at that moment against that insistence, but the big question is why it walked back in again.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter No one walked out.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins That is because they stayed bought.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Did it walk back in to add taxes on lower paid workers and cut child benefit, jobseeker's benefit and the respite grant for 77,000 people? In so doing it has broken every promise it made to the people of Ireland prior to the election. It is no wonder a newspaper columnist described it as a junta of Judases. There is a real sense of betrayal across the land given what has occurred. On Sunday the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, stated that Labour Party promises in advance of an election are always made to be broken.

The respite grant has been cut for 77,000 people. It is a slap in the face to these individuals and it undermines their value in society. Every Deputy in this House will say, either privately or publicly, that they would love to have that cut reversed because, on top of changes to home help hours, it attacks those with intellectual and physical disabilities, the frail and vulnerable elderly and those invalided at home, and it sends out a message that is appallingly mean-spirited and contemptuous. I ask the Taoiseach to agree with the vast majority of Members of from all parties in this House by, at the very least, committing to reversing this cut in advance of our deliberations on the Social Welfare Bill.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I would not believe all that I read in the newspapers.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I would not believe Time magazine.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy's acceptance of newspaper reports as the truth is far removed from reality.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I would not believe Fine Gael's manifesto either.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Or that of the Labour Party.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The position is that a number of weeks before the budget was presented by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Martin and others put forward the proposition that the old age pension was going to be cut-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I never said that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----that the travel allowance was going to be cut, that the electricity allowance was going to be cut-----

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan It was.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----and that the half-rate carer's allowance and the bereavement grant were going to go.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley That was the Minister of State, Deputy Ring.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Please allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This budget is not about any particular party; it is about our people and our country.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The mess that was left for us to clean up requires difficult decisions that have an impact on people's lives. Nobody denies that, but the point is that we have to make choices in a situation like this because our country will never be right unless we put order on our public finances and restore our economy to good health. In that sense the Government set out with a deliberate decision to take more than €500 million from those who can best afford it. That will apply now and for the future. I think the Deputy shares that sentiment and he possibly expressed it.

I understand from speaking to carers that this is difficult. The point, however, is that the carer's package and the carer's allowance have been protected because we value what the carers themselves expressed in producing and publishing the report on carers and what they require earlier this year. As long ago as 2006, Deputy Martin's party in Government spent €128,000 on a report about this and then did nothing about it. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has worked assiduously on this since last year and, working with the carers' associations and groups, produced the fine report which we would like to see implemented, although, unfortunately, financial circumstances do not allow us to do everything we would like.

The carer's package and the home care package have been untouched. The carer's allowance is untouched. The question of the half-rate carer's allowance is untouched. The respite grant has been reduced to 2006 and 2007 levels. It would be nice for the Minister for Finance to stand up and have the opportunity on budget day to give out increased facilities for a range of sectors. That is just not possible. I accept it has an impact on a number of people but the vast majority of social protection allowances have not been touched. The Government focused on two areas in so far as social protection was concerned but our remit has been to protect the vast majority of the rates paid under social protection and the vast majority of the allowances and facilities that are currently available.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Another columnist this morning described the interview that the Taoiseach conducted last Wednesday evening regarding the budget as "a stream of banal inanities", a "crumbling of language" and a load of "inarticulate drivel". I would not apply all of that to what the Taoiseach has just said but I would apply it to the initial part of his response.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly It sounds more like Deputy Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We did not predict anything that he suggested. At exactly this moment last year, he reversed the budget decision on the disability allowance and DEIS schools. The Minister for Education and Skills apologised for his attack on carers. He has yet to apologise to the students of Ireland but at least he apologised to DEIS schools for his attack and he reversed that measure. A majority in this House want the respite grant cut to be reversed. The Taoiseach can reverse it and even a marginal increase in the universal social charge would enable him to do so. However, he seems determined to continue on and suppress dissent, as is evident in the ramming through of this measure this week with the guillotining of the Social Welfare Bill and, on Friday, other measures. He appears to want to hammer Labour Party backbenchers into submission. Why is he doing this? Is it to protect the highest paid in the land? That is what he has leaked across the board. To protect the highest paid in the land he is prepared to stand over this and he will brook no dissent from Labour Party backbenchers or anyone else.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter One would think Deputy Martin was not in the previous Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett We are now over time. Will the Deputy adhere to the Chair's ruling?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin He is parading around as some sort of new Ireland chancellor, determined to get his way and giving in to nobody.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Deputy has learned nothing from being in Government.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I urge the Taoiseach to stand back, reflect on his decision and reverse this cut because it sends out a message that the budget is mean-spirited and shows utter contempt for those who care for the less well off and most vulnerable in our society.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy could refer his words to his own actions, with his inarticulate drivel and his untruthful and hypocritical comments about the property tax, which he signed up to but does not want introduced yet. In the middle of a children's referendum he circulated leaflets in his constituency stating it was the wrong time to do something he signed on for and designed himself.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny As I pointed out, the carer's strategy was agreed and published by the Minister of State at the Department of Health in conformity with what the carers themselves expressed as the principal issues.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin On the respite grant.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The estimated expenditure in 2012 on carers is more than €771 million, with €509 million being spent on carer's allowance, €24 million on carer's benefit, €135 million on the respite care grant and €103 million on the domiciliary care allowance. That represents an increase of more than €20 million on expenditure in the carer area compared to 2011. More than 51,000 people receive the carer's allowance - which was not touched - of whom almost 22,000 get the half-rate carer's allowance in addition to other social welfare payments at an annual cost of €90 million. More than 1,600 people receive the carer's benefit and the numbers in receipt of carer's allowance have increased by more than 150% over the last decade, from 20,000 in 2001 to 52,000 in 2011. Expenditure on the carer's allowance scheme has increased by more than 220% over that period.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Over the decade.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I do not accept the Deputy's question about unpicking elements of the budget. His attack on the Labour Party is utterly hypocritical and opportunistic. He is under pressure from his colleagues on the far side of the House.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Is that the note from the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny He chose to pick on the Labour Party.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The poor Labour Party.


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