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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] People paid a relatively small amount of PRSI every year but were only retired for a short amount of time.

The change since then has been wonderful, in that life expectancy has improved. Most people now live into their 80s, which is brilliant, but comes with the consequence that the cost of pensions is rising all the time, and will rise faster than the rate at which PRSI is paid into the Social Insurance Fund. We have to act by either significantly increasing PRSI or increasing the retirement age. We think the prudent thing to do is to increase the retirement age in line with life expectancy. It still means that people get ten or 20 years of retirement, but the retirement age is increased in line with life expectancy. That makes sense because, if we do not do that, the Social Insurance Fund will go into deficit and we will face a pension crisis. We would then be in a position where pensions would have to be reduced. We never want to do that, we want to keep increasing pensions in line with inflation and earnings.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The Taoiseach should tell pensioners who have to struggle with high rents, property taxes and a high cost of living that their pension is wonderful. It is a fact that the countries with the highest age at which one can receive one's pension entitlements are those that were affected by austerity, including Greece, Ireland and Italy. In other countries in Europe, which are not as fast-growing or wealthy, people can retire and get their pension earlier. Why is that?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy They are getting smaller pensions.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am glad the Taoiseach mentioned employer's PRSI because the reason is that employers do not pay their fair share of PRSI in Ireland If they did, we would not be forcing people to wait until the age of 68 in order to get their pension.

Workers in this country pay the same average amount of PRSI as their European counterparts but employers pay about half of that and that is the problem. Instead of forcing people to wait until they are 67 or 68 to get their pension, why does the Government not make employers pay the average level of PRSI contribution in order that people can enjoy their latter years and not have to wait until they are 68 to receive their pensions? Many of these people are going through the indignity of having to sign on for jobseeker's allowance when they get to 65.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Taoiseach will respond.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Why does the Government not reverse that unjust attack on people's pension rights?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar One of the other factors that the Deputy neglected to mention is that pretty much every country in Europe is increasing the retirement age.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett They are trying to, but they might be stopped.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar They are increasing it at different rates and at different times but every country is increasing their retirement age because every country knows that is how one must respond to the fact that life expectancy is rising. It is a reasonable response to the good thing that is rising life expectancy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett In that case, people should be allowed to retire for longer.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy has once again demonstrated the fact that he does not understand how the social market economy works. His solution to the emerging pension crisis is to tax employers more, tax jobs and increase employer's PRSI. Has it ever occurred to the Deputy why unemployment is down to one third of what it was when my party came into office? Has it ever occurred to him why we have the fastest growing economy in Europe, or why we are able to generate so many tax revenues to fund the public services that we need?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Workers pay for it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is partly because we have kept taxes on businesses and employers low. The other countries the Deputy spoke about have unemployment rates of 10%, 15%, or 20%. Those countries tax their employers twice as much but did it ever occur to the Deputy that might be why they have high unemployment? The Deputy should join the dots.

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We will now deal with questions on promised legislation or the programme for Government. This is not an opportunity to deal with issues more suitable for parliamentary questions or Topical Issue matters. I ask Deputy Micheál Martin to set a good example.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I was reminded, during the last discussion, of the wonders of the free travel initiative in the late 1960s, which continues to have such a revolutionary impact on the quality of lives of many senior citizens in the country. That is the kind of innovation we require for senior citizens.

An interesting piece of research was published this morning, entitled Building Community Resilience, by Dr. Johnny Connolly from the centre for crime, justice and victim studies at the University of Limerick, with research support from Ms Jane Mulcahy in University College Cork, UCC. The research identified a terrible trend whereby ganglords of drug gangs are using children for the distribution and selling of drugs. It is a chronic situation that young children and teenagers are being attracted into this kind of atmosphere by unscrupulous people. We must mobilise the full capacity of the State to stop this in the interests of children.

We are discussing the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, tabled by Deputy Curran, this week, which would make it an offence to buy drugs from a minor and make it an offence to use a minor or cause a minor to sell or distribute drugs. It is a short, tight item of legislation that will clearly signal to those who are unscrupulously using and abusing children in this manner that the State will provide a robust response to those actions. I ask the Taoiseach to signal that the Government will support the passage of this legislation this evening. That would show the Oireachtas responding in a telling manner to this appalling scourge.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Can I contribute on the same topic?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Each leader has a right to put a question and receive a reply. When it is the turn of Independents 4 Change, Deputy Broughan will have a right to raise the matter, even if it is a repetition of a previous question. I would be breaking with precedent to allow Deputy Broughan to come in now, even though it would suit me fine if a number of Deputies asked the same question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I am concerned and worried that so many children and teenagers are getting involved in drug gangs. Our response must be one that is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. That means more resources for the Garda and tackling poverty and deprivation. We are doing both of those things, and will continue to do so.

We discussed Deputy Curran's Bill at Cabinet on Tuesday and the Government will support it. We think there are some issues with it and we do not want to inadvertently criminalise children, which I acknowledge is not the intent of the Bill. The intent of the Bill is to strengthen the law and make it absolutely clear that children should not be used to sell drugs. We support the thrust of the Bill and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will work with Deputy Curran to refine it on Committee Stage.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny I also wish to raise the Building Community Resilience report by Dr. Johnny Connolly. It stated in the report that just over 1% of people in the community concerned were involved in this criminal activity and that is an important lesson because this report reflects many other communities around the country that are in a similar position and that are often termed "gangland". It is not; only a tiny proportion of people are involved in this and a targeted response is needed.

In each year between 2008 and 2014, there was a cut in the funding to the drugs task force. Since 2014, there has been a freeze in the money for the drugs task force. While we cannot freeze rent, it seems that we can freeze the money we give to the drugs task force. That is a lesson to which we need to respond. The Building Community Residence report states that much of this is down to putting the targeted response in the right place.

I invite the Taoiseach to make a commitment from Government that the funding will be restored to the drugs task force and we will ensure that these communities get the kind of funding they require and that we see the type of community policing response that is required in these communities to give confidence to ordinary people who are afraid to ring the Garda when they see these kinds of activities happening.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy makes a valid point that the report shows that only about 1% of people in these communities are involved in gangland crime. That is why we, I include myself, should not use the term "gangland" because 1% of a community is a very small minority and the term potentially demonises and casts aspersions on entire communities of which 99% of the people are hard-working and law-abiding. We should all avoid using that term and I ask the media to also avoid using it.

The Deputy is correct to say that the budgets for the drugs task forces were reduced until 2014 and have been held at that level since. This is something on which the Minister of State with responsibility for communities and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is working at the moment. She has received some reports on reviews done into drugs task forces indicating that in some cases, there are problems with governance and in some cases, money has been spent on projects that are not about tackling drugs or alcohol addiction. We have concerns about that and need to ensure that we sort out those issues before we increase budgets again. The Deputy should look at those reports.


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