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 Header Item Personal Insolvency Bil 2012: From the Seanad (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Private Members' Business
 Header Item Care Services: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] In amendment No. 167, the reference in subsection (2) to "subsection (4)" should be to "subsection (3)". In amendment No. 192, within the inserted section 44B, in subsection (2)(f), there should be no semi-colon after "arrangement". Finally, I ask the House to note the requirement for a slight correction of alignment in amendment No. 40 such that in subsection (10), the text after paragraph (d) will be aligned to subsection level.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Are the corrections noted? Noted. Agreement to Seanad amendments will be reported to the House and a message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I thank Members on all sides of the House for their very constructive engagement, which has contributed meaningfully to the development of the legislation. I thank the members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence Equality and its Chairman, Deputy David Stanton, for their careful deliberation on the heads of the Bill, which likewise was of substantial benefit in its development. I also thank my departmental officials for the extraordinary work they have done on this very complex measure. It is a measure that is designed and intended to provide substantial assistance to those who find themselves in major debt difficulties.

The Taoiseach was asked, quite properly, by Deputy Micheál Martin this morning about the coming into force of this legislation. I take this opportunity to comment briefly in that regard. Mr. Lorcan O'Connor has been appointed director of the new insolvency agency and a number of staff are already recruited. Remaining staff will be recruited as part of an ongoing process. It is envisaged that the guidelines to be published by the insolvency agency will be completed in the first quarter of next year. These will deal with some of the issues we have covered today such as what is meant by reasonable expenses and so on.

Regulations will be prepared with regard to the licensing of personal insolvency practitioners. Software is being put in place for the electronic exchange of information under the legislation and the delivery of information between personal insolvency practitioners, the insolvency agency and the Courts Service. It is a target of the insolvency service to have its website up and running by 1 March to provide the maximum information and guidance to the general public with regard to the mechanisms available to deal with debt resolution processes. Documentation is being prepared setting out the information applicants must provide in respect of a debt relief notice, debt settlement arrangement and personal insolvency arrangement. It will be possible for all of these data to be filled in online. It is anticipated, once the regulations have been published, that the licensing process in respect of personal insolvency practitioners will proceed during April and May.

In short, our objective is to have the measures set out in the legislation operational as soon as possible. As I said, the insolvency service intends to have its online functionality up and running as early as possible in March. If our targets are met, the insolvency service will have completed within months of the enactment of the Bill what took two years to complete in Northern Ireland and three years in the United Kingdom. I am hopeful that the maximum information will be available to the public as early as possible. My Department will do what it can to ensure it is available. In the meantime, the insolvency service has established an ongoing liaison with the Money Advice & Budgeting Service and other bodies engaged in assisting individuals with debt relief. I thank Members again for their constructive contributions and my officials for their exceptional work in putting together this comprehensive and radical piece of reforming legislation.

  Seanad amendments reported.

Private Members' Business

Care Services: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

  The following motion was moved by Deputy John Halligan on Tuesday, 18 December 2012:

That Dáil Éireann:

— the vital contribution carers make to the economic and social life of the nation, and further acknowledges this by providing them with adequate income supports;

— that carers are real and equal partners in the provision of care at every level of public sector planning and service delivery, from designing a service to individual care planning;

— that carers are the backbone of the Irish health care system;

— that although family carers in the majority of cases are on call 24 hours per day and 365 days per year, they do not earn the national minimum wage and are not entitled to, inter alia, sick pay or holiday pay as are equivalent PAYE workers;

— that family carers provide €4 billion worth of care each year, which is five times the actual cost to the Department of Social Protection;

— that carer's allowance is a direct support for caring duties; and

— the home as the centre of care and the need to protect the household benefits package and free travel pass;
— that full-time family carers are expert care partners and as such should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve;

— carers' rights to have their own health needs met;

— that transitional arrangements need to be put in place to facilitate long-term carers successfully re-entering the work force;

— the necessity to ring-fence funding for the housing adaptation grant scheme to ease the burden on local authorities who have had to suspend schemes in their areas; and

— the need for a nationwide personal care traineeship scheme using existing labour to be developed as an additional basis for home help support; and
calls on the Government to:
— immediately reverse the cut announced in budget 2013 which will reduce the amount of the respite care grant;

— make provisions from within the special delivery unit budget allocation to incorporate carer induction training and needs assessment prior to a patient being discharged;

— eliminate the current backlog of carer's allowance applications by early 2013;

— provide free general practitioner care to full-time family carers;

— conduct a detailed review of the income supports available to family carers and engage agencies such as the Carers Association to provide their expert opinion;

— establish a working group to properly identify the needs of carers, including any unmet needs, to gather information about policies, practices and services that affect carers and to set out an integrated strategy for future action;

— establish a statutory entitlement for family carers and people in care to avail of care supports provided by community based services;

— pay carers such statutory entitlements as the national minimum wage, sick pay and holiday pay; and

— ensure that the relevant Departments draw up and put in place a programme of work to promote the adoption of good practice in carer-friendly employment.”

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that:
 — carers make a vital contribution to the economic and social life of the nation;

 — the income supports which are available to carers from the State are among the highest rates of income support in Europe;

 — the income disregard and means test for carer's allowance is the most generous in the social welfare system;

 — a person getting certain qualifying payments and also providing full-time care and attention to another person can keep their main social welfare payment and get a half rate carer's allowance as well and that these rates were fully protected in budget 2013;

 — carers also receive a free travel pass at an annual cost of €6 million and carers who reside with the care recipient are eligible for the household benefits package at an annual cost of approximately €30 million;

 — carers are entitled to an extra half-rate carer's allowance if they care for more than one person and a respite care grant for each care recipient;

 — the respite care grant is available to all full-time carers regardless of their means;

— the Government had to make very difficult decisions in the course of budget 2013 in order to protect core weekly payments which people receive such as pensions, disability, jobseeker's and carer's allowances;

 — the revised rate of the respite care grant of €1,375 will still be more than what it was in 2006 at the height of the economic boom when the rate was €1,200 and more than twice what it was in 2002 when it was set at €635; and

 — the estimated expenditure on carers in 2012 is over €771 million: €509 million on carer's allowance, €24 million on carer's benefit, €135 million on the respite care grant and €103 million on domiciliary care allowance and that this represents an increase of almost €20 million on expenditure in 2011;
 — the publication of the national carers' strategy in 2012 which, for the first time at national level, recognises the value and contribution of carers to society;

 — the roadmap for implementation in the strategy and the commitment to progress these elements of the strategy within the limits of existing resource constraints; and

 — the Government's plans to reform the current public health care system by introducing universal health Insurance with equal access to care for all and to introduce, on a phased basis, general practitioner, GP, care without fees for the entire population within its first term of office; and
acknowledges that:
 — additional funding has been provided to meet the needs of the people receiving GP care and prescription drugs under the General Medical Services Scheme, which now stands in excess of 1.8 million medical cards, representing an increase of 24% since the start of 2010;

 — approximately 97% of persons over 70 years of age are provided with free GP and hospital services, as well as subsidised prescription drugs subject to a capped fee per item;

 — stable public finances are an essential prerequisite to long-term economic growth and job creation;

 — the State will only be able to access the markets successfully in the long term if the markets believe we have a credible fiscal strategy and agree that our debt is sustainable;

 — this Government continues to face a daunting challenge in repairing the economy and the public finances and that difficult decisions are still required; and

 — the Government has shown in budget 2013 that it is committed to meeting that challenge, and is determined that through good governance it will lead Ireland back to independent funding and sustainable growth in living standards and in employment.”

- (Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch).

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I propose to share time with Deputy Jonathan O'Brien.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett That is agreed.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley The budget brought forward by Fine Gael and the Labour Party on 5 December has been branded anti-family, anti-children and anti-women. The cuts to the respite care grant in particular give credence to the claim that there is an anti-women agenda. The statistics speak for themselves in that 64% of carers are women. As such, the reduction in the respite care grant will impact disproportionately on women on low incomes. These women might well be part of the workforce and earning a good wage but because they are committed to caring for their loved ones, they are instead on call 24 hours per day and 365 days per year for less than the minimum wage. Carers provide some 900,000 hours of care every day, saving the State some €11 million per day or more than €4.7 billion every year. That annual contribution is five times what the Government pays out to the people who perform this caring service. In this miserly budget, however, the Government had the heartless cheek to cut the respite care grant cut by a massive €325, from €1,700 to €1,375.

In July of this year the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, launched the national carers' strategy. This was rightly seen as a very positive step and was welcomed as such by Sinn Féin. At the launch of the strategy the Minister of State said, "The publication of this strategy sends a strong message to carers that Government recognises and values their selfless hard work and compassion, which enhances the health and quality of life of thousands on a daily basis." One of the main goals of the strategy, she explained, was to empower carers to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life, with respite breaks identified as an important element in that regard. Within five months, however, the same Minister of State had voted to cut the very respite grant she previously applauded. I cannot tell whether this was a case of hypocrisy or political expediency.

This cut comes on top of a host of other cuts and charges, including a reduction in the household benefits package and the imposition of the unjust family home tax. The pain of these attacks will hurt the disabled and families of carers more than most of us can imagine. At the same time, those earning €200,000 and above will lose only €5 per week in additional PRSI liability. Where is the justice in that? I applaud each and every one of the 187,000 carers in this State. In my own constituency of Laois-Offaly the reduction in the respite care grant will affect nearly 7,000 people and their families. The saving of €26 million that the cut will yield is very small in the context of overall expenditure and adjustments. In response to the decision, carers have organised themselves and launched a very fine campaign. They are angry but determined. These people are not for turning and they have my full support.

I take this opportunity to highlight the plight of a constituent of mine in Laois called Teresa. As a full-time carer to two uncles who are blind she receives an income of €306 per week. One of her uncles also has Parkinson's disease and both have a mental disability. One can only imagine the pressure she is under providing her loved ones with the round-the-clock care they require. Her reward from the Government is a mean, Scrooge-like cut in her respite care grant. Teresa has asked me to highlight her circumstances and to ask the Minister to reverse this cut. She loves her uncles dearly but she needs a break like anyone else. The Government is denying her that break, however, because it is more concerned with avoiding taxing the wealthy.

It is within the gift of the Government to retain the full respite care grant. Sinn Féin put forward a range of alternatives in advance of the budget. Our proposal for wealth taxes, for example, based on figures from the Department, would yield €800 million. A standardising of discretionary tax reliefs would have brought in a further €969 million, while a third income tax rate of 48% on earnings above €100,0000 would have raised €365 million.

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