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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Amendment No. 7, in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh, is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendment No. 8, also in his name, is out of order because it is declaratory in nature.

  Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

  Question proposed: "That section 2, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I can discuss those amendments when discussing the section, but I will be brief. It is a pity, as Deputy O'Dea mentioned last night, that the rules of the House do not allow us to put practical proposals forward because they would involve a potential charge on the Exchequer. This makes our job, as Opposition Members, difficult. The Government continuously harangues us and asks us to come up with solutions or alternatives, but the rules of the House make that very difficult for us. I urge the Minister, through her Whip - I myself will raise the issue in the context of Dáil reform - to try to change the Standing Order that prevents us from being progressive and positive in our duties as legislators. This sums up what was included in my amendments.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I can help the Deputy out. It is traditional in Parliament that when Members put forward an amendment that imposes a charge on the Exchequer, that must come from somewhere within the existing Estimate, and that must be qualified. That is the long-standing tradition in this House, as I know from my years on the benches. As the other spokesman will readily acknowledge, there is no provision for making an amendment to a Bill that involves an extra raising of tax and an extension of a charge that goes outside the particular Estimate.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett On a point of order-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan There is no point of order in regard to this.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett There is a point of order.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am sorry, there is no point of order. The issue is not for debate at all. I gave latitude to the Deputy in whose name the amendment was put forward.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh This concerns the definition section. The ruling makes it difficult for us to do our job. While part of our proposals might involve a charge, there is a benefit and saving included. I will not labour the point but just want to say that it is difficult for those of us in opposition to contribute, because we are not given the option, even where we are progressive, if there is a charge involved. Despite the fact there may be a benefit further down the track, we are prevented from contributing, unless the Government takes our suggestion on board.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett That was my point of order.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The point is noted, but it is not a point of order.

  Question put and declared carried.

SECTION 3

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Exchequer.

  Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I move amendment No. 11:

  In page 5, subsection (5), lines 1 and 2, to delete “Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012” and substitute “Act of 2012”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 4

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Amendment No. 12, in the name of Deputy Catherine Murphy, is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

  Amendment No. 12 not moved.

  Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh This arises from legislation passed in 1997, which provided that the number of contributions required to qualify for pension was to double from 260 to 520. Budget 2012 gave effect to that and the legislation was passed in its wake and it has been sought to apply this to everyone from April of this year. We objected to this move at the time. We were lobbied by a number of individuals who were fast approaching retirement age, only to discover that their pension entitlement would be only a fraction of what they had expected.

This measure seems to affect women in particular. It seems the legislation overlooked some small categories of contributions and since April, some 540 people managed to qualify for the pension with only 260 contributions. What the measure does is ensure the exclusion of those categories from qualifying, unless they are able to reach the higher number of contributions. We favour a move towards a more universal basic pension. Therefore, measures that would further restrict eligibility move in the wrong direction. This measure only affects a small number of people. Given our opposition to it and given the effect it has had on people fast approaching retirement, we feel we should oppose this measure at this stage, although it will not matter so much in a number of years.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The number of people now discovering that what they had hoped would be a guaranteed pension at 65 is not what they hoped for has become more obvious during this year. This measure tends to affect disproportionately people who have had to take time out of the workforce and that is the reason I oppose this section.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton As in the case of section 3, the changes I propose in this section also follow on from the pension reform measures I announced in the budget in December 2011, which were implemented from September of this year. Two changes in the State pension contributory scheme are contained in this section, one of which aligns the contribution conditions applying to the pension across all categories of claimant. The other abolishes a provision which is no longer required.

Under legislation which was enacted in 1997, the number of PRSI contributions a claimant for the contributory State pension is required to have paid in order to be eligible for that pension increased from 156 to 260, with effect from April of 2002. This further increased to 520, with effect from April of this year. That plan was set out in 1997 and was implemented in 2002, with the final part being implemented in April 2012. The 1997 legislation provided for a number of consequential amendments and for "savers" to protect existing pensioners. However, the 1997 legislation inadvertently omitted to provide for the increase from 260 to 520 in the case of a particular category of claimant for the contributory State pension.

The 260 contribution requirement still applies in the case of claimants for contributory State pension who have a reduced yearly average of between ten and 20 contributions. This means that this particular category of claimant is treated differently from all other claimants for contributory State pension, including claimants for other reduced rate pensions who are required to have paid a minimum of 520 PRSI contributions. Section 4 aligns this requirement in the case of all claimants for contributory State pension who reach pension age from 1 January 2013 onwards. Existing recipients of the contributory State pension will not be affected by this measure.


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