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 Header Item Disclosures Tribunal: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2017: Messages from Select Committees
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire] The key point related to the possibility of a cover-up, of suppression, or of deliberately not forwarding documentation on to the commission, which is a very serious issue. I challenge the Minister to find any head in the current terms of reference which would allow that to be investigated. There is none. There is no head which allows that to be investigated. I will return to that point.

I am disappointed with the approach of Fianna Fáil. It seems that while much of the sentiment was positive, there is perhaps a desire to draw a line under this issue. That should not happen. There are clearly ongoing issues with the Department of Justice and Equality. It is difficult to explain many of the issues which have come up. I welcome the support of the Green Party, the Labour Party and a number of the Independent Deputies. I greatly respect the opinions of Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. I pay tribute to their work on this issue which they carried out when few others were paying attention to it. I also acknowledge the presence of Deputy John McGuinness in the House. I differ in my analysis of the terms of reference, however. There is a clear difference in what we are proposing in respect of issues which were not anticipated at the time.

There is the issue of what the Minister knew, what she was responsible for and how much she knew about the legal strategy, but there is also the very serious matter of the withholding of relevant information from a tribunal, which is a criminal offence under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 1997. It is a criminal matter for good reason. Some of the documentation which was most central to this issue and which made reference to the Minister was held by some of the most senior officials in the Department, by the Minister herself and by her key political team. For some reason, while 230 documents were found, these documents were not. It is not difficult to see why we, the public, or the media would see that as quite suspicious or as being problematic. It is possible to dispel that suspicion. In order to do that, the tribunal should be allowed to consider the matter.

The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have said that they have no fear of the truth. If the truth is to emerge, this must be looked into. The review to which reference has been made will largely be an administrative effort. It will be carried out in private. These are serious matters which are very closely connected to the subject matter of the tribunal. Again, I challenge the Minister to identify a single head in the terms of reference as currently outlined which would allow Mr. Justice Charleton to look into the possibility of a cover-up, of suppression, or of the deliberate withholding of information. There is none. That is why we must revise the terms of reference.

  Question put.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 30 November 2017.

Estimates for Public Services 2017: Messages from Select Committees

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Select Committee on Transport, Tourism and sport has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2017 - Vote 31.

  The Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2017 - Vote 5.

Social Welfare Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Deputy Tony McLoughlin: Information on Tony McLoughlin Zoom on Tony McLoughlin To continue from where I left off last night, I firmly believe that this would not have been the right thing to do and that an election would only have delayed a wide range of vital legislation, such as the Bill before us tonight. Either way, as a back bench Deputy who has recently successfully introduced an Act of the Oireachtas, the most obvious provision in this Bill which should be highlighted is the extension of entitlement to maternity benefit and maternity leave for mothers of children born prematurely beyond the 26 weeks already provided for. For me, this is yet another example of how the concept of new politics can work to deliver real change in Dáil Éireann for the people on the ground in our constituencies on issues which need to be addressed.

With regard to this provision in particular, we all thought and agreed that this proposal, which originally came from the Green Party, made sense, was workable and affordable, had the support of families on the ground and was sensible to introduce. For that reason, I am delighted to see it included in the Bill. I firmly believe that good political ideas and good policies should be supported in parliament, regardless of who they come from. The concept of new politics has ended the prospect of fracking for shale gas and oil being permitted to occur in this country and it has now introduced this additional maternity cover for mothers who give birth prematurely. I believe that new politics will continue to deliver these changes, for however long it is permitted to continue.

The Bill also provides for yet another positive measure aimed at supporting the transition from unemployment into employment by enabling the continuation of the back-to-work family dividend. The existing legislation had the effect of closing the scheme to new claimants from the end of March 2018 and the closure of the scheme in its entirety from 2021. This Bill will stop that closure and is part of the common sense approach to keeping people in the workplace and making work pay being taken by the Minister. I applaud her for this approach as many people in my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim would have been affected by the original rule.

The Bill continues the positive trend of increasing the levels of weekly social welfare payments, which will be a benefit to many pensioners, carers, jobseekers and people living with disabilities.

Deputy Eamon Scanlon: Information on Eamon Scanlon Zoom on Eamon Scanlon I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on the Social Welfare Bill 2017. In 2016, at the first opportunity I had, I raised the issue of the change in pension allowances introduced by Deputy Joan Burton in 2012. I know this was hotly debated last night and I think everybody that spoke in the Dáil raised this issue. There is an anomaly there. I know the Minister is genuine because I have heard her speak on this issue on numerous occasions. This is something which needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. I know there is a certain cost involved. These people had to give up work. In some cases they were forced to give up work. They had to rear children and whatever else and then had to go back into the workforce only to find that cruel changes to their pension entitlements had been introduced in 2012. It was especially cruel for a female Minister to introduce a rule which affected so many women. I know it is said that approximately 63% of those affected are women but I believe the percentage could be much higher than that. It is said that 38% of those affected are men but I do not know if that is correct either. Women definitely represent the higher percentage of those affected. I know the Minister is genuine in what she proposes to do, and the quicker it is done, the better.

I would also like to raise the issue of the fair deal scheme. I know that it is not the Minister's brief but I would like to tell her of an experience I had on Monday morning. A constituent and her husband came into my office. She is close to 80 and her husband is in a nursing home. They are on non-contributory pensions. That is fine. They have no issue paying 80% of his pension for the scheme but there is an issue because this lady jointly owned a property with her two brothers, who were not married.

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