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 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2012: Order for Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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  7 o’clock

Business of Dáil

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call on the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach to make an announcement.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It is proposed to postpone the commencement of Private Members' business until the main spokespersons have contributed to the debate on the Social Welfare Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to some of the measures announced in the Budget Statement last week. Our twin objectives in the budget have been to ensure those in most need of the support of the Department of Social Protection are protected the most and that the Department does everything it can to get people back to work. That is why we are transforming the Department from being a mere provider of income support to an effective and engaged public employment service that assists people on the live register or otherwise far from the labour market to start their progression back to work, training or a job placement. That is why we will be providing 10,000 new places on employment schemes next year and opening many new Intreo offices.

Fianna Fáil's utter failure to introduce meaningful reforms to the social welfare system to encourage work was highlighted today in the ESRI research on jobless households. Fianna Fáil's toxic legacy is writ large in every damning finding of the ESRI, not least the astonishing fact that between 2004 and 2007, at the height of the boom, the share of households defined as jobless recorded a double digit increase to reach 15% of all households. The average across the eurozone in 2007 was just below 10%. Therefore, during the period of economic expansion from 2004 to 2007 Ireland was one of the few countries in the European Union to experience an increase in the proportion of jobless households. This occurred despite Ireland recording the highest rate of employment growth in the European Union over the previous decade. At the same time, the tendency of jobless households to be in poverty was reduced owing to very significant increases in welfare rates. Members will recall that the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, former Minister Mary Harney and others in the then Government travelled the world inviting workers to come to Ireland to work. The only places they did not visit were the local social welfare and FÁS offices. Doing so would have given employment opportunities to people on the live register. This, in a nutshell, was Fianna Fáil's approach. There was no problem to which the solution was not to spend more money. Instead of Fianna Fáil introducing the kinds of reforms introduced in other European countries to change from passive to active welfare states, including job search assistance, education, training, skills development and work support services such as child care, it had no ambition whatsoever for the unemployed. The Government has greater ambition for those citizens who are unfortunate enough to be unemployed. It views each individual on the live register or otherwise distant from the labour market as an untapped resource and a future employee who will participate in the rebuilding of the country and its economic recovery. That is why we are moving from a passive to an active welfare state.

As Deputies are all too well aware, Fianna Fáil's largesse in everything means the State has been spending far in excess of its revenues for several years, but it cannot continue to do so indefinitely. Deficits must be financed through borrowing – currently at a rate of approximately €46 million per day – but there is no queue of lenders willing to lend to Ireland in the quantities needed or at anything approaching a reasonable interest rate. Even when Ireland returns fully to the markets, deficits will add to the stock of debt owed by the State. Increasing debt will increase the interest we must pay now and in the future, thereby reducing the amount of money available for public services and productive investment.

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