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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The next speaker is Deputy Durkan, who is sharing time with Deputies Twomey and Keating.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the Bill. There was a time when one would have had ample time in this House to speak on every Bill, but unfortunately times have changed. Every person I meet inside and outside this House is crushed at the thought of cuts having to be imposed on people at a very difficult time. They invariably ask why this is happening, but there is an answer to that, which the people who have just left the Chamber know better than anybody. Those people walked away from this country a little more than 18 months ago, having left it broke. I recall that when addressing a group of people in my constituency at the time I was asked what was likely to happen in the next few years and I pointed out that the outgoing Government walked away from its responsibilities and left a series of exploding financial devices that would blow up in the face of the Government and the people of this country during the course of the next five years. That response is as valid today as it was then, as I was right about that.

When I see the crocodile tears being shed by the Fianna Fáil Members opposite I almost cry, because it proves just one thing - they do not live in the real world. Having done almost irreparable damage to this country for 15 years and sunk it below the gunnels to such an extent that we thought we would never survive the damage, those Members have the neck to shed crocodile tears, blame the Government and say there were alternatives and that we should tax somebody else. We are hearing the same old story we have heard for the past 15 years. They are living in a world of their own. They live in a myth, an Alice in wonderland world. Knowing the situation full well and having said everything they said about it, they ran away and told us we could sort it out and that it was our problem. They are now using this situation to exploit it for their own political gain and nothing else.

I marvel at the fact that the unfortunate Minister has managed to do the job she did in the circumstances, having been told to cut €500 million by the troika on foot of an agreement entered into, written up and signed by the Members who have just complained and walked out of the House. They put their stamp on it, but now they are telling the people who are hurting that they did not sign it, that there was no need to do that and that there were alternatives. Where are those alternatives? They also say the troika did not specify the cuts that were to be made, but it did. Every Department was to receive a series of cuts year on year for five years or more until the financial situation was brought under control. The only problem is that the people who were responsible for that are away from here, including those Members who have run out of the House because they do not want to hear anything that is being said to them.

Out of all the hypocrisy I have seen in this House, what really takes me to the fair - having regard to what happened during the past 15 years, knowing what this Government had to take over a little more than 18 months ago and having heard what I have had to listen to for the past two days - is that I just cannot believe it. The same people who ruined the country expect to repeat the performance at the earliest opportunity. If the public do not believe that is their ambition, they will soon find out, because those people, having done it to them once, will find it much easier to do so a second time and in such a way that they will be forever indebted to the kinds of banking institution from which we had to borrow when they left office.

It is appalling for any Government to find it has to cut expenditure and increase taxes at the same time across a series of Departments to meet the budgetary requirements to which the outgoing Government signed up, from which it walked away and about which its members are now complaining. Amazingly, they are talking about the most vulnerable people in our society - children and people with special needs on the front line - and avoiding the issue they created as well as the fact that when they walked out the door they clobbered the poor in this country left, right and centre. Not only that, but they left the economy in tatters and in such a state that they thought nobody would survive the damage.

I compliment the Government and particularly the Minister for Social Protection for doing the job that was done in the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances that have faced any Minister for social welfare since the foundation of the State. I have listened to rubbish from the Members opposite and seen them shed crocodile tears about the problem, knowing well who caused it. They know how it happened because they lived through it. It is a miracle that the Government has managed to maintain some payments at the level they were at in 2006 during the height of the Celtic tiger boom. I do not know how it happened; it is part of the miracle. It is not possible in the time available to us to detail all the actions or inaction of the previous Administration, whose members now have the neck to condemn the Government for doing the job they left for it. They left it with no option other than to do it in a particular way.

Deputy Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I have great time for some Fianna Fáil Members but they warrant a good psychological evaluation because of the way they can come into the House and speak as if they personally had nothing to do with the ruination of our economy in recent years. It is extraordinary, but what is more extraordinary is the way we have managed to present a budget that does not cut social welfare rates or increase income tax. Our economy is fragile and our recovery is slow, but for the third year in government we have managed not to increase income tax or decrease social welfare rates. That is extraordinary. I do not believe we can manage to achieve that for the lifetime of the Government unless we see growth in the economy and achieve all the savings expected under the different agreements, because it is something that would be very difficult to do.

I will ask the Minister to waste no time in examining the report of the advisory group on tax and social welfare and considering how to deal with the issue of child benefit. We pay out more than €2 billion a year on child benefit. If we could divert even 10% of that money towards the most vulnerable children in our society it would be a remarkable achievement, because protecting vulnerable children has been a priority of this Government. We have moved forward in the way we care for children in our society, not just in passing the children's referendum but also in the fact that we have a dedicated Minister for Children and that all Departments examine the effects of their policies on children. That is a major step forward in the way the Government works, even in these extraordinary times of budget cutbacks.

Fine Gael and Labour Party members of the Government will protect children, patients, students and all vulnerable citizens. It will not be left to the flip-floppers in Fianna Fáil. They flip-flop on their own policies that they believed in a mere two years ago. It is extraordinary that Fianna Fáil believes it will inspire confidence in the electorate in a few years time, with its outright lies, flip-flopping on its core policies and playing the angry man routine, which, regrettably, I also see being played by some of our Sinn Féin colleagues. In future elections, in some respects, we will not have to worry about the promises that are made. Fianna Fáil will have to stand on its record of ruining this country, and comparisons will be made between what we have done in the Republic of Ireland and what Sinn Féin has managed to achieve in government in Northern Ireland. The electorate will have a much more balanced view in terms of how they will cast their votes in years to come because of our actions rather than what we say.

On the issue of the respite grant, it is important that we are realistic about what is actually happening. Some 52,000 carers are in receipt of carer's allowance and other social welfare supports. They do a fantastic job. It is a very demanding role and can be stressful, but to say that the Government does not care about our 52,000 carers is wrong. We will pay out more than €1 billion to our 52,000 carers next year. They fulfil a vital service for the people they care for at home, and we acknowledge that.

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