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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 Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy] One might as well be speaking archaic Latin to a right-wing individual whose only interest is bringing down the Government so that it can be replaced with the right-wing ideology that allows his investments to be replenished. That is disgraceful. In the Croke Park agreement we have a vehicle that protects low paid workers in the public sector while achieving efficiencies.

I conclude by putting several questions to Opposition Members. They have rightly criticised the measures that the Government has taken. I am certainly not proud of this budget but it is essential. I hope for all our sakes that by the time we get to our fifth budget we will have fixed the banking sector and restored the public finances, which is what we set out to achieve, while maintaining the focus on those on low and middle incomes. I say that in deference to the people who are in trouble. We are trying to introduce measures that reduce the pressure on people in terms of their relationship with banks. I will not compare the Six Counties with the 26 counties. I have done that often enough to great aplomb in this House. I ask those who oppose the property tax whether they would abolish it if they are returned to Government at the next election. How will they restructure the public finances? Can they provide costed, constructive and honest proposals? Over the next couple of hours please tell the people whether they would abolish the property tax.

Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission, which did not make its way to Merrion Street because it would have been thrown out, suggests that Deputies' salaries should be reduced from €92,000 to €70,000. If Sinn Féin Deputies are currently drawing the average industrial wage of €40,000, and I have no reason to believe they do not, their submission proposes to increase their salaries by €30,000 per year.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I welcome the opportunity to express my views on the budget, many aspects of which are disappointing. I am particularly disappointed that there was no increase in the universal social charge on incomes over €100,000 to bring it to the level paid by self-employed persons with similar incomes. I am aware of the argument that an increase in taxes on income would further damage the economy, regardless of how high the income may be. However, that does not make sense when those who are self-employed and, therefore, creating employment for themselves and others are paying a higher level of USC. I am disgusted by the reports that have emerged in the media in recent weeks that any increase in the USC would have to be accompanied by a cut to core social welfare rates. In other words, if we dare to touch the rich it will have to be accompanied by more pain for the poorest.

I have consistently argued that the cut to the respite care grant could be avoided by imposing a 3% surcharge on the universal social charge for pensions of more than €60,000. Only retired bankers, senior civil servants and the former colleagues of Deputies Martin and Ó Cuív who ran for the hills 18 months ago receive pensions of more than €60,000. I am not arguing that an increase in the universal social charge would obviate the need for a reduction in the social protection budget. A reduction in the social protection expenditure has to occur if we are to reduce the money this State spends to the amount that it takes in. There is no alternative to balancing the books and narrowing the deficit. Even the economists who argue for default acknowledge that the deficit has to be reduced to zero if we are to take that course.

However, cuts to the social protection budget have to be implemented in the fairest way possible and should impact least on those who have the greatest needs. Those who drive to work from towns and villages across County Clare to earn €10 or €20 more than they would get by staying at home should not be hit any harder because they are the heroes of society and not those who sit in this House. They go out to earn a bit more money because they believe in the dignity of work and are determined to contribute to society.

Much as I dislike the worst aspects of the budget, such as the manner of social welfare cuts and PRSI increases, as one Deputy out of 166 I have a choice to make. I do not intend to throw my hands up and walk away from the challenge of supporting a Government which has to take deeply unpopular choices. I could go over to the Opposition benches and be led by Deputies Adams and Martin as they compete for supremacy. Deputy Martin introduced cuts to core social welfare rates, which the Labour Party has refused to do, and reduced the national minimum wage, a measure which my party has reversed. He supported these measures without so much as a murmur while he was in power. Now that he is in opposition, however, his perspective is different. I do not believe Deputy Adams wants to be in government. He could be representing the part of this island with the highest unemployment rate, West Belfast, but he walked away from that problem because he knows that it is easier to sit on the Opposition benches than to take a stand. A backbench Deputy could take a stand and be unsuccessful but I intend to continue sitting on these benches while arguing the case for the ordinary people of County Clare who elected me.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor This is one of the most difficult budgets ever announced in this House. My party is associated with Richie Ryan and the budget that he brought forward in the mid-1970s. The Cabinet of the time also took difficult decisions which were supported by Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers. I commend the Minister for Social Protection on the hard decisions that she took regarding social protection. Not long ago the media reported plans to cut €540 million from the social protection budget. Opposition Members were roaring and shouting about these cuts. We are fortunate that the reduction will only be €390 million, although that in itself will be difficult to achieve. In 2007, when Deputy Cowen's brother was Minister for Finance, the Government gave away everything. The then Minister increased all core payments by between 10% and 15%. In 2009 the budget deficit had grown to €25 billion and all core payments were cut. It is difficult to take Fianna Fáil Members seriously when they supported a series of savage cuts in 2009.

Deputy Stanley acknowledged that all budgets are difficult. His party recently presided over a difficult budget in the North of Ireland which involved the closure of PSNI stations and schools but it claims the right to stand here and make hypocritical statements about the tough decisions we are taking in government.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy On a point of order -----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Lawlor only has one and a half minutes left.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor May I continue? I will lose time as a result of this interruption.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy May I make a point of order?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Briefly. I will allow Deputy Lawlor more time.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I have already advised the House that a block grant comes from Westminster for the Six Counties. Sinn Féin has no influence on that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That is not a point of order.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor Deputy Stanley also spoke about a united Ireland, which many of us would welcome. However, would the rate of carer's allowance be the €72 paid across the Border or the more than €200 paid down here?

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