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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea]   Yeats wrote a poem about a man who was trying to impress his chosen woman. After telling her what he could do if he was wealthy, he admitted "But I, being poor, have only my dreams". The sad fact is that as 2012 expires and we slip into 2013, the poor people of Ireland do not even have dreams because many of them are living in abject poverty without hope or belief that they will ever escape the conditions to which they are shackled. These are the very people who are most targeted by this budget. The Government has asked them to contribute the most to pay for mistakes in which they played no hand, act or part. It could have avoided making matters worse in the budget but it spurned the opportunity to do so. President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural speech more than 50 years ago, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich". The last two budgets have taken an enormous step towards a cruder, meaner, harsher and more pitiless society.

  I leave the last word to Social Justice Ireland, which stated:

The choices Government is making are undermining Irish society and dismantling the social model that has underpinned Ireland’s development for more than half a century. Fair and balanced development is being replaced by choices that are producing a deeply divided two-tier society.

  The Government has no mandate to make societal choices that move Ireland in this direction.

That is a damning indictment of the Labour Party.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I thank Deputy O'Dea for affording me time to speak on the Social Welfare Bill 2012. When a Member opposite told me last week that by virtue of my surname I was not entitled to speak, I expected that would be the end of the matter. However, the sort of nasty and insulting behaviour that was directed against not only me but also my predecessors of the same name, both living and deceased, has been extended to the majority of this House by the proposal to apply a guillotine. Perhaps the guillotine is being used in the fear that Government Members will repeat in the House the misgivings about the Bill that they have expressed elsewhere. If they spoke on the Bill in the House they may end up convincing themselves to vote against it. They are insulting their constituents by taking that path. Their constituents passed judgment in the last election by defeating our party while giving a massive majority to Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

That election was preceded by a severe but progressive budget, as noted by the ESRI. More than €8.5 billion was taken out of the economy but the ESRI found it fair because the pain was shared progressively. Various sections of Irish society, including carers, gave the Government a mandate based on the promises it made prior to the election. I witnessed candidates from the parties now in Government announce to public meetings of carers in my constituency that there was a softer and easier way. The bailout would be renegotiated and bondholders would be burnt. This Government would not burn a sod of turf. Now we hear different mantras. The Government claims that it inherited the mess and that it is someone else's fault. It made the promises because that is what one does during an election. I would have thought the situation was too serious for that sort of codology.

I was elected to this House by my constituents, despite my name but because of Fianna Fáil's record in my constituency and on the basis that I would represent the fears and aspirations of those who elected me. Last night, I met with representatives from a carers' association based in my constituency to hear their concerns at first hand, as I did two years ago when the electorate passed judgment on my party. They told me that the respite care grant does not necessarily pay for holidays. It is not modest. It pays for the day-to-day expenses incurred by carers and those for whom they care. They have been affected by other measures contained in the budget and this Bill. In addition to what Deputy Rabbitte has described as a modest cut, they face cuts to the household benefits package and increases to their ESB and telephone costs. They are affected by the property tax and must pay more car tax if they are lucky enough to have one. If they are caring for a child they are affected by cuts to the children's allowance. They are hit by 200% increases in prescription charges. One individual told me last night that charges had increased from €12 to €19, on top of the €650 for dividing the respite care over one year to make it more modest than it already is. They face higher college fees despite the Trinity College pledge by the Minister for Education and Skill, Deputy Quinn and cuts to the back-to-school allowances. Add them up and they come to a lot more than a modest €300.

Carers told me they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. They feel insulted, used and let down. They have to fight for everything they get. They fight their way through carers' allowance applications and the appeals process. The medical card system has gone to pot. They fear for what will happen to them after the loss of another 3,000 workers from the health service next year. Further covert cuts on expenditure have yet to be announced by the Department of Health and other Departments. Young carers are worried about their future because they see nothing but barriers - most of them financial - in their way. Carers are now facing mental health issues because of the situation in which they are placed.

This Bill has aptly been described as mean spirited. That opinion is shared by some members of the Government. I appeal to them to reflect the opinions, fears and anxieties of their constituents, as they were asked to do. There is no shame in voting against the Social Welfare Bill that the Cabinet has put before this House. In doing so they will be sending the Cabinet back to find other ways to close the gap, which we all accept has to be done. We proposed a costed system which would make the changes to the universal social charge which the Minister, Deputy Burton, failed to get through Cabinet because of the party that stands over her. If she was forced to make those changes, she could still retain a majority in this House and remain in Government. Nobody would say shame on her for that. They will commend her by virtue of the circumstances in which we find ourselves as a country.

We represent the fears, anxieties and hopes of the people who elected us. I have been told in no uncertain terms to speak in this House at the expense of my colleagues who cannot speak because of the guillotine that the Government has introduced. It is one thing for Ministers to shut their own people up but we on this side of the House will not stand idly by any longer.


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