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 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 858 No. 2

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Business of Dáil

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Government Chief Whip has indicated that he wishes to make a proposal regarding today's business.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders and the order of the Dáil of Tuesday, 18 November 2014, that the opening speeches on No. 20b, motion re water sector reforms, of a Minister or a Minister of State and the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group who shall be called upon in that order shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case and that such Members may share time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Social Welfare Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Michael Healy-Rae was in possession when the debate was adjourned yesterday.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, for attending and the Technical Group for allowing me to use some of its speaking time.

I propose to continue in the same vein as my contribution last night. The purpose of social welfare is to protect vulnerable people and ensure sufficient money is available to take care of people with particular needs such as the disabled, the elderly and those who are ill. The Government has done a great disservice to such persons by establishing Irish Water, on which it has wasted hundreds of millions of euro. When one includes the cost of the bureaucracy involved, the real cost of installing each water meter is between €800 and €1,000. How can the Minister of State stand over such waste, especially given the probability that none of the water meters will ever be read? This waste is occurring at a time when we are trying to save money and provide services for vulnerable people such as the disabled.

The Department is engaged in a witch hunt in which it seeks, through the review of entitlements, to cut off benefits to social welfare recipients. Under these so-called reviews, persons who receive a review letter and make a mistake in their responses, fail to submit sufficient information or miss the deadline for responding will have their payments cut. The individuals concerned are experiencing difficult and perhaps traumatic times in their lives through illness and other factors. A frightening number of my constituents are undergoing reviews and the position in my constituency is reflected throughout the country. It is similar to what occurred in the case of reviews of discretionary medical cards, on which the Government was forced to do a U-turn when it was given a kicking in the local and European elections. The practice is disgraceful. Why is the Department picking on vulnerable people by reviewing such a large number of cases and hurting so many when it has no problem in creating a monster, Irish Water, and wasting hundreds of millions of euro on it?

If the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are running Irish Water, why does the company need a chief executive officer? What does the CEO do and why is he being paid if the Government is running the show and doing so many U-turns? The Government leaked figures for what the water charges would be. Its announcements on Irish Water depend on how many thousands of people protest on the streets. It expresses surprise that the mood among water protestors has turned to anger. While I do not agree with violence or nastiness, I can understand the reason for what has happened. The Tánaiste looked down her nose at people and taunted them about having excellent cameras in their mobile phones. What type of nonsense was that? Who, in the name of God, does the Tánaiste think she is in looking down on respectable people who engage in protests and making smart comments? The Government then wonders why people are outraged.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Deputy is straying from the Bill.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I am speaking about money.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Bill deals with social welfare.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Yes, I am speaking about money for social welfare payments. Why is the Department trawling through people's entitlements in an effort to reduce payments? The Government has wasted large amounts of money and will go down in the history books as being a disgrace for creating Irish Water. Government back bench Deputies have been in a coma and did not open their mouths about Irish Water. They saw nothing wrong with it and went along with the Government's bidding, which was disgraceful.

Deputy Derek Keating: Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating On a point of order, the Deputy's contribution is not related to the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Yes, he must conclude in one minute.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I did not realise Deputy Keating was running the show. I am entitled to speak.

To return to the money from the Department that is to be repaid - a point raised by Deputy Robert Troy in an earlier discussion - from where will the money needed to repair the pipes come? The pipes should have been repaired in the first instance. The Government has created a monster without a single pipe being repaired. It seems not one penny will be available to repair pipes because all of the money will have been wasted on bonuses. The trade unions have stated Irish Water staff want their bonuses. The Government has completely lost the plot. Back bench Deputies on the other side were in a coma and did not open their mouths about the issue, choosing to remain silent when the House debated and voted on it.

Deputy Derek Keating: Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating The debate on water services will take place later.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae The only reason Government Deputies are now running scared is that they dread the prospect of an election. Whatever hammering they are given and whatever is said about them by good people, they will deserve it. They will be judged on what they did in this House and what they have done is shameful. They created a monster and wasted hundreds of millions of euro, believing they would get away with it, yet Deputy Derek Keating chooses to interrupt me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I ask the Deputy to conclude.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I am glad I had an opportunity to speak on this issue. It is a pity no one in the Government showed a little common sense.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Social Welfare Bill. It must be acknowledged that the legislation contains a number of positive elements, including an increase of €5 per month in child benefit, a 25% Christmas bonus for long-term welfare recipients, an increase in the living alone allowance to €9 per week and the introduction of a back-to-work family dividend of €29.80 per week per child for 12 months, to be paid at a reduced rate of 50% in the second year. While these measures are welcome, they must be viewed in the context of the measures taken in previous social welfare legislation. The increase in the living alone allowance for elderly people amounts to an additional 20 cent per day. Elderly people have, however, lost the household telephone allowance and the household benefits package has been filleted through the withdrawal of assistance with electricity bills. In addition, despite promising to abolish the prescription charge of 50 cent per item on taking office, the Government has increased prescription charges to €2.50 per item. One must also bear in mind the reduction in income limits for medical cards and changes in the items covered by the cards. While the recent budget contains a number of welcome and positive changes to which the Bill will give effect, they must be viewed in the context of the measures introduced in the lifetime of the Government. Unfortunately, the Government has frequently targeted the less well-off, the vulnerable and those who do not have the wherewithal to stand up for themselves.

I intend to focus my attention on the lack of progress in tackling the issue of affordable child care. A recent UNICEF report was discussed with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs during Oral Questions this morning. The report shows that child poverty rates in Ireland have increased dramatically. The Minister stated that the matter was primarily one for the Minister for Social Protection and pointed out that the best way to help children out of poverty was to get their parents back to work. I agree that the best way to support families is to ensure someone in the household is earning a decent wage. In recent years report after report, both at national and international level, has noted the high cost of child care in Ireland.


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