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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] They have been explaining the full effects not only of the cut to the respite grant but also all of the other social welfare cuts and changes that will affect their lives by reducing the little amount of money on which they have to survive on a daily basis. Many people, especially in rural Ireland, use the grant to keep their cars on the road so that they continue to have the ability to bring the people for whom they are caring to and from hospital or the doctor.

  Some Labour Party backbenchers have tried to suggest in the newspapers and in this House that all of this is the fault of the Minister, Deputy Noonan. They want us to believe that the Minister, Deputy Burton, has been fighting the good fight. I suggest she has been well knocked out at this stage. If she was in a boxing ring, the fight would be over in the first round. She has failed miserably to do the only task she was given, which was to protect the vulnerable people in our society who depend on the State because they have fallen on bad times or by virtue of their disabilities. She should have protected their social welfare rates and thereby ensured they could continue to have some dignity in their lives. I believe some Labour Party backbenchers, in particular, have some type of a backbone. We will see later on. I appeal to them to examine their consciences. If they have any integrity left, they should vote against these measures. That is the challenge.

  I did not expect a great deal from the Minister, Deputy Noonan. I remember his treatment of Brigid McCole. When she was in distress, he approached her with extreme callousness and inhumanity. The public expected more from the Minister, Deputy Burton, and her party in light of what she has said in the past about the value of social welfare to families and the wider economy. The knock-on effects of these cuts will destroy local economies because any remaining spending power will be gone. Some towns have a 25% unemployment rate. Many people in those communities are pensioners who also depend on social welfare. The sleveen little cuts that are being made here, there and everywhere will affect their lives. The increase in the prescription charge, for example, will take money from the pockets of pensioners and medical card holders. Those who used to benefit from the drug repayment scheme will lose out because the Minister has bounced that up again. It is another example of money being taken from the pockets of people who depend on the State to ensure they do not have to pay too much for medicine. They are not getting any such thing. If the Government concentrated more on addressing the availability of generic drugs, perhaps these issues would not have to be considered at all.

  I am calling on Labour Party backbenchers, in particular, to live up to their promises by voting against this measure tomorrow and on Thursday. I am sick and tired of listening to some of them bleating on about their consciences while continuing to endorse the Government by voting with it. It is not good enough for them to bleat on about how unfair this budget is while voting for it in order to stay within the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party itself. One of the Minister's former colleagues, Deputy Shortall - the Government managed to do the dirt on her - has said this budget is an "assault on families" and is as unfair as any we have seen in recent years. She has argued that the budget protects the wealthy and thereby proves that ordinary people will suffer as long as Fine Gael's ideology dominates the Government. The chairman of the Labour Party has referred to the "cumulative effect on working families" of the child benefit cut and the PRSI changes and called aspects of the budget "regressive". He said that in certain areas, the Government did not make the correct choices in the budget. If he chooses to vote against this budget, he will send the Government back to the drawing board. It should have started from a different platform altogether by protecting and enhancing the dignity of those who are unfortunate enough to have to depend on the State, rather than by imposing cuts on them.

  When my constituency colleague, Deputy Eric Byrne, was trying the other night to worm his way out of his responsibility for whatever position he is adopting - I assume he will support this Government as he has always done - he said it is not over until the fat lady sings. I am sorry to say that offers no hope to carers. The only way he can live up to that comment is by voting against this budget. I do not believe the Minister is going to sing in this instance. Along with her colleagues, she has been shouting the odds and saying "No, No, No" in a manner that is worse than Margaret Thatcher, who was mentioned by a previous speaker. When will the Minister get a heart? If she does not listen soon to the people who elected her, it will be too late for her and at the next election her party will suffer the consequences of its decision to slaughter the livelihoods of many people who depend on it.

  I would like to read from some of the many e-mails I have received from people whose despair is captured in their comments. I assume the Minister has received ten times more correspondence from people who are absolutely distressed as a result of last week's budget. One woman's e-mail states:

I am devastated here after listening to the budget. I have twins in pre-school. I still only have 10 hrs a week as a home help so if you do the maths over half my wages goes on child care, not including how expensive it is to clothe two at one time. I also have a son in primary school and I dread next September with 3 uniforms, tracksuits, shoes and books to fork out for. I don't know how to cut my cloth any more. Please help women like me keep our heads above water.

Another one of the e-mails I received reads:

The little people are screwed yet again. Totally disillusioned with this country. I'm a mother of 2 sets of twins. Never looked for anything from this country. Very hard to envisage us staying here. It's impossible as time goes on. It's just hit after hit. So disappointed.

I could read from many other e-mails in the same vein. This budget, like the last budget and the one before that, will force many families to emigrate. Since this Government came into power, it has forced many families out of this country. Another e-mail states:

I am fully aware that as a country we have an awful mess that we have to clean up, but I am totally honest when I say that most families that I know use child benefit to pay essential bills each month. Why does the government not go after the wealthy in this country as they seem to not be struggling as much as us ordinary people? In fact I can never remember a time during the boom when I or anyone I know had money to throw around. It may have been a boom, but I honestly think this was only for a small few.

Another mother e-mailed me to say:

Today is a grim day for us mothers. All that shower of thieving gets are short of doing is either dropping poor or middle class families off at the major ports in Ireland and sending us away on coffin ships. It's a disgrace.

Another e-mail captures some of what I have already said and much more:

As a disabled person, I don't know if I will be able to keep up my regular medication because of the increases. How can I get to the doctor when I can't afford road tax as it is? Cuts in the household benefits package will cripple me. I'm already seeking help from SVP, what do I do now?

A final e-mail reads:

I don't think the current powers realise the amount of people in their 30s that are taking their lives because they can't survive in this country. I hit rock bottom myself in September and driving my car into a wall was the only way out I could think of. Thankfully I thought about my children and the fact that they would be left parentless if I was gone, but what can I offer them? In a country that is anti-mothers and anti-children, the only option is to leave.

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