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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan] In the area of child benefit, for example, €125 million would go a long way towards obviating the need for that cut as well.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I will be brief. The people the Minister is hitting with this measure will also be affected by cuts to the clothing and footwear allowances, child benefit and the property tax. We are talking about many hundreds of euro being taken from the income of people who are doing a service to the State by looking after their loved ones. To take this action is obnoxious and nauseating. One cannot describe it as fair; it is obscene and indecent. The Minister has claimed consistently she had no alternatives in this regard and had to make hard choices. I find the use of the word "hard" extraordinary. What carers do is hard, in fact "hard" does not even come close to describing what they have to do. They must engage intensely at an emotional, physical, economic and every imaginable level in order to care for their loved ones, thereby providing a service at a massive saving to the State. To do this to them is unconscionable.

The Minister stated there were no alternatives but when alternatives are put to her and to the Government she merely reiterates that headline allowances are being maintained and sings her own praises. Will she answer us directly and simply? Why did she make the choice to do this rather than to increase, even marginally, the tax on those with incomes of more than €100,000 a year? Will she answer that simple question? This point was made by her Labour Party colleagues, and all the groups in civil society mentioned by Deputy Nulty have asked her to do this, but we still have not had a straight answer. Instead of doing this, why would the Minister not increase the PRSI levels for those earning in excess of €100,000 a year? It is a simple choice and is contained in an amendment we tabled. The Minister could do it, and save all this hardship and suffering for people who do not deserve it, those who are the most decent people and the real heroes of our society. Will the Minister not pull back from this and show them the respect they deserve?

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan My sister is a carer. She cared for my mother for seven years and has been taking care of my father for eight years. Unfortunately - or fortunately for us - most of my family work and are unable to help her out, but we know she works 24 hours a day because my father needs that level of care. In light of the work she does and the hours she puts in, I have often thought that if she worked anywhere else in the world her work would be classified as slave labour. There would be uproar and understandable outrage that people should work so hard for so little. That is the salient point in this debate. Whatever small amount of money we are taking away, to do so is unforgivable.

I have spoken to many carers in both Waterford and Dublin. Next week there will be a Private Members' Bill on carers, which we hope the Minister will support. What is deeply upsetting for many carers is not that the Minister has taken the money away but that her Department would sit down and contemplate attacking the most vulnerable and hard-working people in Ireland today. If she speaks to carers, as she must do because all of us have done so, she will see they are deeply upset. I say that rather than "annoyed" because we are all annoyed at things now and again. Carers are deeply upset that members of the Minister's Department would sit down with her and even think about making this cut. As one who sees what a carer does, I make an appeal. I am sure other people present also have carers in their families, but I see what my sister does. She is very small, weighs only about seven stone but I know what she has to do 24 hours a day with my father, and what she had to do for my mother before she died. What upset her was not that the Minister took the money away but that she sat down and thought about doing so.

I will leave it at that because other people wish to speak. I appeal to the Minister on this, above all the cuts she has made, because it concerns the people who work hardest in society, some of them 24 hours a day. My sister has to get up five or six times every night. I did the work one weekend to give her a break and did not bother going to bed the second night because I had to turn my father in the bed so often, a consequence of the illness he has. Carers do not deserve to have any kind of cut to their grant. In fact they could do with an increase because of the work they do.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I will be brief. To be honest, I cannot understand how we are having this debate, over €26 million. The Minister is an accountant and I imagine she shares my reaction, to a degree. I can give her 100 better ways to raise €26 million. Next year €170 million will be paid in increments; €700 million has been paid in increments during the past four years. I cannot say better than Deputy Nulty's contribution. To have this type of grief and anguish over €26 million - within the scale of this budget - is beyond me.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan In this country we hear a great deal about respect for institutions and various different things but from what I have seen during the past week this is the big one as far as people are concerned. It is one of many big ones but it seems to be coming to the top of the pile. On numerous occasions we have heard carers ask what we would do if they were not taking care of their people. One lady pointed out that if she had a breakdown, as she suspects she will if the Minister takes this money away from her, it would cost €300,000 a year to take care of her two beautiful sons.

Alternatives have been proposed in the Chamber, even by Government Deputies. Carers have described what would happen if they were not taking care of their charges any more. They have asked what would happen if they left their charges at accident and emergency departments. As Deputy Collins mentioned, some of us have just returned from meeting the carers who were demonstrating outside the House. Four of them made it clear, in consultation with the people they care for, that today they will be leaving four people - human beings - at accident and emergency departments. We talk about respect. What about respecting these people? There does not seem to be any respect from journalists; none of them is present. Neither does there appear to be any respect from Government Deputies - there are only five present. If they had respect for these people they would do something about this. Unfortunately, in this country we have respect for the wrong things. There is a Deputy present in the Chamber who has done a great deal of mouthing off about this topic during the past week but he has not shown much respect today because he has not said anything about the matter. Will he vote against the measure?

Deputy Noel Grealish: Information on Noel Grealish Zoom on Noel Grealish He does not say it in the House.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan When it comes to leaving the Chamber, however, he bows because he has respect for the Chair. I suggest his party changes its values concerning what it respects.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I do not know whether the Minister has ever been a carer. I can only presume she has not, given the cuts she proposes to implement. My mother was a carer. I say "was", because she used to care for my father who passed away last August. She never went on a holiday while she was caring for him but used the respite care grant to subsidise my father's medical care so that we could keep him at home and grant him his final wish to die in peace with his family. If we had not used the grant to do that it is possible we would have had no choice other than to put him into a home. We would then have been unable to grant his dying wish.

The Minister stated, as did many other speakers in the Chamber, even today, there are alternatives to implementing this measure. A sum of €26 million is in question; every Deputy has provided the Minister with alternatives for sourcing it. For people like my mother and other carers, there is no alternative.

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