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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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Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton When we pass this Bill tonight-----

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The Bill will not be passed tonight.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----we will create 10,000 extra opportunities for people who are currently unemployed and locked out of the labour market. We will also be creating over 6,000 after-school care places.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Not in this Bill.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton This is part of the vision to which we referred last year in the context of supporting communities that are in difficulty and that are suffering the worst effects of the deepest recession the western world has known probably since the devastation of the Second World War.

I wish, in all sincerity, to inform those Deputies on all sides who made interesting and valuable contributions that as I discuss these matters with mothers and fathers - some of them are in employment while others unfortunately are not - they inform me about their priorities and they ask me, as Minister, to help get their fine young adult sons and daughters out of their homes and back into education, training and work. The Labour Party is all about work. Welfare is a substitute, a springboard and a method of assistance. However, as was the case with Connolly and Larkin, it is work which the Labour Party wants for those who are currently locked out of employment.

I listened to the sincere complaints on the part of a number of Deputies to the effect that there was not more time available to devote to the debate on the Bill. I regret that this morning some 90 minutes that were allocated in respect of the Bill were basically lost-----

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh That time was not allocated for the debate on this Bill.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen We were exercising democracy this morning. The Minister should take her beating.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----as a result of disputes relating to matters which do not relate to social welfare.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh What happened this morning did not interfere with the debate on the Social Welfare Bill.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I have been here early in the morning and have remained late at night in order to listen to Deputies' contributions to the debate the Bill. I have heard people complaining - I accept that some of them may not have been here this morning when the rí rá was taking place - about the lack of time but I have been here all day and I have been ready and willing to listen to what they have to say.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The time that was allocated was-----

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Minister created a fair amount of rí rá herself.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Will Deputies please address their remarks through the Chair?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Savings must be made from the social welfare budget. There are no easy options, particularly as every cut or change will affect someone now or in the future. If we do not balance our spending with what we are taking in, the finances of the State will become even more unsustainable than has been the case since the introduction of the bank guarantee. Deputies on the Opposition benches should be aware that if the finances of the State are not brought back into balance within a reasonable timeframe, the people who depend on social welfare payments will suffer most. That is an unfortunate truth. Those who are well off will get by. It is the people about whom so many Deputies on the opposite side of the House are concerned who will suffer most if we do not get the country back onto a path of financial sustainability.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Minister had no great interest in that when she was in opposition.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton For a second year, there have been no cuts in the core payment rates of social welfare. By maintaining the rates of primary social welfare payments, we are ensuring that people will not have to worry about their main weekly financial support. However, this means that savings must be made elsewhere. I wish this were not so but unfortunately it is the case. The cut of €16.50 per week which the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government made in respect of various allowances-----

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea What about all the increases we provided?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----including carer's allowance and disability benefit-----

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea When in opposition the Minister said these were not adequate and then after the crash they said they had been too generous.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----was among those which were most felt. People still remember those cuts and the suffering to which they gave rise.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea There will be a great deal of interest in the Minister after tonight.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Our pensioners still recall the loss of the Christmas bonus under Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Minister's level of inconsistency is unbelievable.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Deputy O'Dea will be familiar with what occurred at that time.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The inconsistency is unbelievable.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton When that cut was made, Deputy O'Dea was very hurt by it.

Deputies on all sides put forward strong views on the budget. It is difficult to take any income away from people, particularly those who are completely reliant on social welfare payments. Naturally, I am very sympathetic to all of those who are struggling in very difficult circumstances. However, the fact remains that cuts must be made. We are trying to do this in the fairest way possible.

I engaged in a careful consideration of the plans put forward by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin prior to the budget. I noticed that Fianna Fáil found €200 million in unspecified fraud savings. In the current year, as a result of a very strong effort on its part, my Department made €625 million in savings in the context of reducing future expenditure on social welfare arising from fraud and misuse of the system. As a former Minister, Deputy O'Dea will know that none of this money counts as an expenditure cut. It is very important in preventing future rises in expenditure but, unfortunately, it does not count for the purposes of the budget.

I wish to refer to a proposal which I know to be very close to the hearts of those in Sinn Féin and which is continually put forward by them. I refer to the proposal for a social welfare amnesty. Deputy Ó Snodaigh has tabled detailed amendments in respect of this matter for Committee Stage. In all sincerity, I say this to him and fellow Sinn Féin Deputies that a social welfare amnesty could be something of a charter for people who have scammed they system to get away with what they did in the past.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris What about the tax concessions-----

Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne What about the cut to the respite care grant?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Bill contains proposals to recover moneys that can go towards payments that are due not just to the social welfare system but also to pensioners and carers.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald What about the tax amnesty proposed by the Labour Party?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Up to now, we have only been able to recover €2 per week from people. There has been a great deal of debate in respect of carers, those on disability allowance and jobseeker's benefit and pensioners. Recovering €2 per week from somebody who has been defrauding the social welfare system is simply not good enough for our pensioners. I do not understand Sinn Féin's logic in respect of this matter.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald We do not understand the logic of having a tax amnesty.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh We are talking about overpayments.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Deputy McDonald and others in Sinn Féin have been very vociferous in attacking the Labour Party. They have a long history of complex involvement in civil strife and insurrection. Labour is a social democratic party. This means that we cleave to the parliamentary, democratic way.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The leader of the Labour Party used not do so.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Those in Sinn Féin may not always have followed that particular route but I welcome the fact that they are going to follow it now.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris What about the Labour Party's leadership?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald This is so touching.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris What about Deputies Rabbitte, Gilmore, Kathleen Lynch and Eric Byrne?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton However, they are ill placed to criticise any of the democratic parties in Dáil Éireann.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Really.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Yes, really.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I thank the Minister for welcoming me to democratic politics.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Those parties have stood by the Republic down through the years and have pursued policies of non-violence. We will not discuss the matter any further. However, Deputy McDonald is not entitled to hold out-----

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am very moved by the Minister's words.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh What about the fascists-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Those who are interrupting the Minister are the people who are continually complaining about matters. Will they allow the Minister to reply, without interruption?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Ceann Comhairle did not intervene to protect me.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The Minister is encouraging us to interrupt her.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----an explanation in favour of complex situations of inter-community violence. We do not have time to discuss this matter in detail but, as a social democrat, I have always believed in the ballot box. I will not apologise to those in Sinn Féin for that. I am sure the other Deputies in the House are also of the view that they do not need to apologise to Sinn Féin.

Deputy Donnelly and others referred to core social welfare rates.


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