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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey] That is why we have made such a significant commitment to them. During this time of severe austerity, inflicted on us by Fianna Fáil, the Government is doing its level best to protect the 52,000 carers as well as the vulnerable children, people and elderly whom they look after. It is a fantastic testament to the Government that it has managed to achieve this over the past two years, although it has been extremely difficult at times.

Will Deputy Martin, the ultimate flip-flopper, ever apologise to the people for what he has done? It is amazing how he is able to re-invent himself. The Government is on the right track but we are due at least one, if not two, more tough budgets. We will have to defend these difficult actions but we are up to the task. We will not just accept what the Members opposite, particularly those from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, claim on this budget. While they criticise the Government on the respite grant and how we look after carers, the Government has spent in excess of €1 billion looking after our 52,000 carers. In Northern Ireland, the total budget for carer's allowance comes to €190 million. There are significant differences in how we go about our work in tough times and we will be examining the Opposition's proposals. So far, the Opposition has spun a good story but, in politics, I do not like the way some people can narrowly focus on vulnerable cases just to score a point. We are looking at the broader issues and making some tough decisions. We also care hugely about the most vulnerable in our society which we will continue to do over the next several years.

Deputy Derek Keating: Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare Bill 2012 and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy White, to the House.

Like many other Members, I feel for and am concerned for those in our community who are struggling to meet their day-to-day demands and the needs of the less well-off in our society. Carers in our communities work in some of the most demanding and difficult circumstances. They do so with great love, willingness and with the support of the State.

Since the budget was announced this day last week, I have been examining ways of trying to find €26 million to meet the respite grant reduction that was announced by my colleague the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. All Members understand the economic crisis this State is in, particularly with the loss of our financial and social independence to the IMF because of the events and mismanagement of the previous Administration led by Fianna Fáil. However, it remains that social welfare in this country is one of the most supportive and highest paid welfare payments in the European Union, representing approximately 40% of total Government spend.

Accordingly, I find it incredibly difficult to listen to and accept Fianna Fáil's argument that the Government must find the money from the respite grant reduction from somewhere else. The reality is that in the 2011 budget, presented in December 2010, Fianna Fáil cut the carer's allowance and the carer's tax relief, along with the widow's pension, the invalidity pension and the blind pension. If that was not enough, Fianna Fáil removed the Christmas double social welfare payment. Fianna Fáil then opted for an across-the-board cut in payments which is exactly what this Government is trying not to do. It is unbearable having to listen, day in, day out, to the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil Members like Deputy Kelleher when they criticise this Government which was given a mandate by the people to clean up the Fianna Fáil mess. It was under the Fianna Fáil Administration that judges' pay and severance pay was increased. From information in a reply to a parliamentary question, I note many of the 35 judges who retired in recent years went with a pension and a severance package equivalent to winning the lotto.

For many years I have been troubled by the growth in dependency on the State, the abuse and the fraud in our social welfare system, which can be all too apparent at times. I came across a case recently and when I examined it I noted multiple such cases. I discovered young women who find themselves caring, not for one child or two, but for three and four children by multiple fathers who are uncaring and failing in their duties of care and support with the consequences picked up by the taxpayer. In such circumstances, a woman will have a lone parent allowance, children's allowance, rent subsidy, school grants, a medical card, fuel allowance and special payments from the community welfare officer which come under section 13 of the Social Welfare Act for exceptional payments. When does the State stop providing services for people who, in my view, should not be getting them because of the failings of the fathers of these children? It is a chaotic lifestyle but this increased dependency on the State encourages a new lifestyle of welfare economy. When it was simply impossible to reverse such payments in the good times, how can we cut them when we are in an economic crisis? We cannot continue to fund a welfare dependency economy while other genuine and more deserving citizens are having their payments reduced, including the respite carer's grant.

The establishment of family support for a girl or woman who finds herself in the unfortunate situation of an unplanned pregnancy is far from today's reality when, for example, many women cannot afford to regularise their living arrangements, whether it is marriage or partnership. This simply cannot continue. It is morally and socially wrong. The State cannot continue to pick up this expense for these new arrangements where men, irresponsible fathers who do not accept their responsibilities, are simply coming and going in a blended family type relationship.

I am supporting this budget with a heavy heart because of its impact on some of the most deserving cases. I believe there should be a review of welfare payments, including those cases which I just referred to where there is such abuse. This will allow us funnel the limited resources we have to those who are most needy and those in most crisis. We need to get our economy going. The Government is focused and determined to do this after the mess Fianna Fáil led us into and the opportunities it missed to make necessary changes when, in its own words, the country was awash with money. This Government is committed to making those changes and bringing our country back to life again.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call Deputy Ó Caoláin who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Stanley and Colreavy. I also understand there was an amendment on the Order Paper in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh that was not moved earlier. Would Deputy Ó Caoláin like to move that amendment?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Yes, I certainly will.

  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“Dáil Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Social Welfare Bill 2012 because it unfairly places the burden of recovery on children, carers and the low paid and having regard to the failure of the Government to consider taxing high earners and wealth instead.”

The Government is bankrupt of ideas and has lost its way entirely. Like his party colleague last night, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, Deputy Twomey here this afternoon, unable to defend his party's decisions in this budget, resorted to misrepresentation and falsehoods regarding Sinn Féin's role north of the Border.

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