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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 John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan] They have been abandoned by the main political parties, as I have said in this House previously. They have been abandoned by the church. They have been abandoned by the trade union movement, the leadership of which really has no credibility with workers or families because of its close associations with successive Governments. It is easy to attack all of these people because nobody stands up for them, with the exception of a few parties and a few individuals. The Minister does not do it. The Labour Party does not do it. Fine Gael does not do it. If one speaks to those involved on the coal face in front-line organisations like the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Social Justice Ireland, one will hear that every one of them is absolutely shocked by what the Government is doing.

I spoke last week to a woman in my constituency who has three kids. She was shocked and distressed that so much money is being taken from her. She really does not have any money to give. She described it as "cruel". Nobody should stand up here to make excuses or suggest that the Government is doing what it thinks is right for the years to come. I will repeat what I have said to Labour Party Deputies previously. The things that have happened in this country cannot be corrected in the next two, three or four years. When those on the Labour Party benches vote in favour of this Bill tonight, all they will have done is create enormous hardship that will live long in the memories of the 700,000 people and the 200,000 children who will be three years older at the next general election and will remember what has been done to them. I am looking at the Minister when I say that, but she is not looking at me. I know her well and I have respect for her. I speak to her regularly. I have told her that I would never criticise her personally and I will not do so today. The Minister and her party colleagues cannot deny that when this Bill is passed, it will drive thousands of people into poverty. That is clear from the statistics that are available to us.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett All of the political point-scoring - the jibes about Fianna Fáil, about what happens in the North and about the Labour Party - has to be set aside at this juncture, frankly. Notwithstanding the ideological differences we might have or where we might stand on the left-wing spectrum, I appeal to the Labour Party Deputies to think hard about what they will do tonight and tomorrow. If these measures had been introduced two years ago, they would have been screaming in denunciation of them and rightly so. These measures will drive people who are on the edge over the edge. It is as simple as that. The statistics make it clear. I am sure all Deputies are hearing about this on every street corner and in their clinics. People cannot take what the Government is planning to impose on them. There is no justification for it.

The Labour Party knows there are alternatives. Fine Gael does not believe there are alternatives. The idea of imposing higher taxes on the rich is anathema to Fine Gael Deputies because they represent that section of society. The Labour Party Deputies do not represent it, however. They know there is a just alternative to this budget. It would require the imposition of modest increases in income tax on those earning over €100,000. It would eliminate the need to impose these measures on the poorest people in our society. I assure the Deputies in question that the people who voted for them will never forgive them for this breach of trust. They must know it. We are getting it all over the place. The leader of the Labour Party, who cannot be pinned on many things, was pinned on one thing three days before last year's general election. He said solemnly that the Labour Party would not participate in a Government that would cut child benefit, but he has breached that line. He has crossed the Rubicon. That is a betrayal for which he will not be forgiven. I remind the House of the price Fine Gael paid for its attempt to impose VAT on shoes.

I would like to put a political point to the Labour Party. If there is one thing that could rehabilitate the fortunes of Fianna Fáil, which destroyed this country's economy and plunged us into this crisis, it is what the Labour Party is doing tonight. Those who represent the Labour Party in this House could be responsible for the return to power of Fianna Fáil when this Government is swept out of office, which is going to happen sooner or later as a result of what is going on. That would be a terrible testimony to the betrayal they are engaging in now. I appeal to the comrades of the Labour Party not to do this. I urge them to stand with the people who voted for them by defending working people, the vulnerable, the families of people with disabilities and the unemployed. I plead with them not to do this to the ordinary people who are the innocent victims of this crisis.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly One of the most disgusting and reprehensible speeches ever delivered in this institution was made in 1924 by the Cumann na nGaedheal Minister for Industry and Commerce, Patrick McGilligan. In response to an outcry from Labour Party Deputies about the proposal to reduce the old age pension by 10% - the Deputies in question spoke of the hardship, horror and starvation being experienced by families across the nation - he said: "There are certain limited funds at our disposal. People may have to die in this country and may have to die through starvation." That was shocking then and it has a shockingly familiar ring now. It reminds me of the waffle and nonsense to which we have been subjected by Government Deputies in recent days. They have spoken about challenges and difficult choices. They have made their choices and now they are wringing their hands.

Deputy McNamara spoke reprehensibly and patronisingly about those who drive around west Clare for an extra €10 so they can engage in what he described as "the dignity of work". What is his answer? By agreeing to the changes in the PRSI regime, he will put his hands into their pockets to take €5 of the extra €10 they get for doing a week's work. People do not need the platitudes of those who are keen to pat them on the shoulder. They need answers. They need to know why the Government has chosen to elevate the interests of the wealthy and of corporations, rather than attacking such interests. It is as simple as that. We have made comparisons with the likes of Connolly and Larkin, who would be ashamed to think of what has happened to their party. To be honest, it is insulting to such people to mention them in the same sentence as the Labour Party of today, which has become like the Blueshirts it spoke out against in the 1980s.

The Government is talking about protecting core payments while cutting the respite grant. Some people who receive that grant do not get any other payments. This is their core payment - the only thing they get. It has been implied that these people are some sort of a luxury, or are a drain on the economy. The reality is that their efforts, in working to care for their loved ones in their homes, have saved the State a fortune. We have been told that this payment has to be cut to plug the gap in the social welfare fund. The gap in the social welfare fund did not develop because allowances are too high. It resulted from this State's chronic unemployment, which the Government has failed to tackle in any way. Government Deputies have argued that they are having to make difficult choices, but I assure them that the consequences of the actions they are foisting onto the shoulders of ordinary people will be more difficult. The statistics bear out what I am saying. The wealth of the top 10% of the population in this country has increased in the same proportion as the decrease in the wealth of those at the bottom. Corporations are getting away scot free. The Government's failure to tackle this is the direct reason people are in poverty. It will pay a hefty price for that.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle In the limited amount of time available to me - I would not mind having 20 minutes - there is not much point going into detail on this Bill. It will suffice to say I am opposing it in every way. The manner in which the Government has handled the guillotining of the Bill shows the contempt it has for debate in this House. A member of the public asked me last week what the most disappointing thing is about being a Member of the Dáil. After thinking about my answer, I had to say that the worst thing is the cynicism in here. The debate on this Bill and on the budget in general has reinforced my view of the cynicism in this House. During our discussions on these cutbacks, some Government Deputies have shown a galling attitude when they have been challenged on what they said when they were in opposition and during last year's election campaign. It must be sickening for the public to hear Ministers saying the exact opposite of what they said when they were in opposition.

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