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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 Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] The proposed increase from 85% to 100% on farm income liable for tax will have a huge impact on small farmers, in particular this year owing to bad weather and fallen incomes.

The Government's cut to the respite care grant has been greeted with a great deal of protest. I understand there will be another protest on this issue outside Leinster House tomorrow. This cut, which it is proposed will yield €26 million, will have a huge impact on carers, including 6,659 carers in Laois-Offaly. The grant is a relatively small amount. This cut of €325 per family will have a massive impact on carers, particularly those living in rural areas in terms of the running cost of cars which provide them with necessary transport. The grant is a lifeline for many of the carers with whom I have met down through the years. This was repeated to me by some of the protestors outside yesterday.

The Government is determined and is not for turning. Neither are the protestors for turning. They are not going to go away. What makes these cuts even more unbearable is that it was not necessary to introduce them. The Labour Party and Fine Gael chose this option when other decisions could have been made. A previous speaker said that this is a difficult budget. It is a difficult budget, as are all budgets, particularly given the current state of our finances. Nobody has a magic wand but other choices could have been made. Sinn Féin put forward alternative budget proposals, in respect of which it has been derided and told it was living in fantasy land. However, those proposals are based on solid information from the Minister's office. Are those who suggest Sinn Féin is living in fantasy land saying that the people in the Minister's office do not know what they are talking about and are giving us and the Parliament false information? Surely, that is not what they are suggesting.

The Government had choices. A wealth tax could yield €800 million. Standardisation of discretionary tax relief could yield €965 million. A third rate of tax on income over €100,000, which proposal the Labour Party supported prior to its entry into Government, could yield €365 million. The Government had choices. The ones it made are the meanest. The rich will be rubbing their hands with glee while poor people will be rubbing their hands to keep them warm. That is the truth. The Government could still reverse these cuts. I appeal to it, party political differences aside, to use this opportunity to do so. Let us at least unite around these issues.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy Before commenting on this particularly nefarious piece of legislation, I would like first to comment on another matter. While I accept the Government's comment around the legacy it inherited from the previous Government, the latter is not responsible for what is happening today.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy must speak to the Bill before the House.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I hope the response from the Minister of State, Deputy White, will not be to comment on what Sinn Féin is doing in the North because that is not helpful.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I do not want to talk about that.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy As everybody is aware, these issues are addressed in the North by way of block grant from Westminster. The Government's concern, while belated, is quaint. Until such time as we have a united Ireland, on which project it is hoped the Government will work with Sinn Féin and that it will soon be achieved, and there is one good Government for all the people of this island, I will focus on what is happening in terms of the delays in processing applications for social welfare payments. The processing time for appeals in respect of invalidity pensions and allowances is ten months. Families in receipt of the family income supplement, which families have been assessed in detail and are the working poor with incomes inadequate to rear their children, are being denied the family income supplement payment while their eligibility is being reviewed, which process is taking several months. These people are often required to resubmit documents again and again and are advised, while waiting for their payment to be restored, to seek the assistance of the community welfare officer only to be told by their community welfare officer that he or she does not have the budget to meet their level of need. Many families do not have sufficient income to rear their children properly.

I do not know if the delay in processing applications is the result of incompetence or mismanagement. Thousands of people are owed hundreds of millions of euro. I am not a conspiracy theorist. However, I believe the Government benefits from delaying payment of social welfare benefits, student grants and farm payments. One wonders if these delays in processing by the Department of Social Protection are the result of cash flow problems, are an interest saving measure or if the purpose is to delay payments until next year so that the Government can receive a pat on the head from the troika for the savings it made in 2012 while at the same time the poor people of this country receive body blows. There must be some reason for it other than incompetence.

On the Bill, the Government says it has taken the hard choices. They are hard not for Government but for the people who are in the unfortunate position of having to depend on it for their existence. The Government can blame Fianna Fáil all it wants. However, it knows that for the many people who are not in a position to care for themselves the cuts proposed in this Bill will make that task even more impossible. It knows that these cuts will result in all sorts of social problems and the malnourishment of children yet it has chosen to impose them rather than tax the wealthy. That is disgraceful and shameful.

Only a few weeks ago we campaigned in the children's referendum on the rights of children. Every child in this country should have the right to food, heat, decent housing, education and a happy existence. The Constitution states that we should cherish all the children of the nation equally. As stated by Deputy Ó Caoláin this budget cherishes all the chief executives of this country. It certainly does not cherish all the children of the nation equally. Child poverty is among the worst forms of poverty. While adults who find themselves in poverty can do something about it, even in the Ireland of today, children have no way of lifting themselves out of poverty.

The Government parties have not lived up to their promises prior to the election, leaving the electorate faced with a different country from that promised. While the Government parties, in particular the Labour Party, campaigned on express solidarity for political and civil rights across the world, they are abandoning social and economic rights in Ireland. The cut to the respite care grant is an unprecedented attack on the sick and elderly. There are thousands of families across Ireland caring for their loved ones. The worst part of this is that the Government is not only taking money from carers but is paying lip-service to the service they provide. The Government accepts that they are saving the State a great deal of money and knows they will continue to provide that care even if paid nothing for doing so because they are caring for a loved one.

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