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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Nov 1963

Vol. 205 No. 7

Private Members' Business. - Increase in Social Welfare Benefits: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that, following a general increase in wages, a proportionate increase (apart from Budget increases) should be granted immediately to all those in receipt of social welfare benefits, because a general increase in wages is usually followed by a general increase in the cost of living.

I suppose that at any time the motion which has been tabled by Deputy Sherwin would be a motion of some significance and I have no doubt that Deputy Sherwin tabled his motion well aware of the problem which he felt to exist and much concerned for its solution. However significant Deputy Sherwin's motion may have been when it was tabled, its significance has been enhanced enormously since the turnover tax went into operation last Friday. It is true to say that the effect of this tax on living costs is now beyond the stage of argument and has become a matter of fact.

In relation to this motion, Deputy Sherwin, I am sure, is now concerned at the effect on the living costs of the poor people, the sick, the unemployed, the aged, who are recipients of social welfare benefits. In common with the better off sections of our community, they have since 1st November to pay a tax on every article of food they buy, on every article of clothing or footwear that they may feel they have to get and on the fuel that they have to provide for themselves in these autumn and winter months.

Naturally, this motion, if passed by the House, with Deputy Sherwin leading, will be concerned to deal with the problem posed by the effect of the turnover tax and other costs on social welfare recipients. Indeed, the effect of this tax has, as I have said, gone beyond the limits of argument and has now so clearly become a fact that last night we had evidence of panicky measures being taken by the Government to deal with a situation which they themselves created by having this tax passed by this House. They have now to search around and find scapegoats in an effort to blame somebody else for the sharp spiral in the cost of living caused by the impact of this tax.

I am concerned, as Deputy Sherwin on record appears to be concerned, with the position of social welfare recipients. Deputy Sherwin is notable for his speeches in this House. He always expresses clearly what he himself desires. I suppose everyone is human. On 1st May of this year, I think before he put down this motion, Deputy Sherwin prophesied with regard to the effect of the turnover tax on the living costs of the poor. On 1st May, 1963—volume 202, column 817 —Deputy Sherwin, speaking on the Budget, said:

In regard to the Budget proposals themselves I am satisfied this turnover tax is asking for money only from those who can afford it. It does not create any burden for those who cannot afford it, workers with families. If you analyse it carefully, it means that it is only the single worker or the worker with no family who will be asked to pay 2/-, 3/-, or 4/- a week. The worker with children will have to pay little or nothing. The people on social benefits are not only getting sufficient to cover this tax but they are, in addition, getting as much again.

That was Deputy Sherwin's view on 1st May of this year. He felt and I am sure, as a conscientious Deputy, sincerely felt, that the social welfare increases reposed in the Financial Statement of this year would mean that social welfare recipients not only would not be asked to pay any tax but, in fact, would be getting more than they had been getting. So, Deputy Sherwin found himself constrained to support the Government and support the turnover tax.

I do not know whether it was subsequent to those important words that Deputy Sherwin tabled this motion but it is perhaps opportune that now after the turnover tax has gone into operation, after Deputy Sherwin's motion is debated by this Parliament, Deputy Sherwin, on 6th November, 1963, can have an opportunity in closing the debate of stating whether he still regards the position to be that social welfare recipients have made money out of the turnover tax.

I have no doubt that Deputy Sherwin is now as convinced as any Deputy can be that the views he expressed on 1st May of this year were views that in the event have turned out to be inaccurate and that, in this city and in Deputy Sherwin's constituency, old age pensioners who went out last Friday or last Saturday or Monday or Tuesday of this week to spend the pension money found that for everything they had to buy they, in common with everyone else, paid two and a half per cent on their purchases.

It may have been the desire of Deputy Sherwin last May to achieve a situation whereby as a result of the turnover tax a benefit would have been conferred on those in receipt of social welfare payments. The events have established that that hope has not been achieved and so we discuss this motion of Deputy Sherwin in different circumstances but in circumstances in which every Deputy in this House can vote now in full possession of the facts, vote, as I suggest, supporting Deputy Sherwin, vote in a sense that this Dáil should at last achieve a situation whereby there will be and should be a planned and definite approach towards social welfare payments and those in receipt of them.

I know that many of us who come into this Dáil meet disappointment of one kind or another. Ministers are no different in that regard from humble Deputies. Deputy Sherwin may be disappointed that the prophecy he made on 1st May this year does not appear to have been borne out but I know that, earlier, Deputy Sherwin had some other words to say with regard to the cost of living. I have here a speech which he made on 21st February, 1963, reported in volume 200, column 305, in which he states his position and, indeed, his future in relation to the cost of living. I know he was baring his soul in the remarks he made regarding the impact of living costs on the poor and those who have limited means.

Deputy Sherwin was speaking on a motion dealing with the Government's White Paper on Incomes and Output and he said this:

Let me say at once that I do not accept that this action of the Government stops the trade unions from demanding any increase they feel is necessary but I would ask the Government to try to ensure that there is no increase in prices while they are trying to prevent any further increase in wages. I expected an increase in prices after the eighth round and I would expect an increase after the ninth, tenth or any future rounds. That is to be expected, but we already have had the effects of the eighth round increase. All I am asking is that the Taoiseach should do something to ensure there are no further increases in prices.

We can only assume that Deputy Sherwin must have been concerned and, perhaps, tantalised over the spring, summer and early autumn months but all his doubt and uncertainly must have disappeared last Friday when the turnover tax went into operation. We know now that there is an increase in prices. We know that the first step has been taken to start a new spiral in living costs in this country. That was not done accidentally, fortuitously or because the cost of imported articles has risen. It was done because of deliberate Government policy. So Deputy Sherwin's appeal to the Taoiseach has fallen on deaf ears and the motion now proposed by him is one that I have endeavoured to describe as being of particular significance in that the turnover tax is now in operation.

Deputy Sherwin is probably doing a service to the Dáil by enabling a decision to be taken on this matter. I listened with interest to what was said on behalf of the Government. The Minister, in reply to Deputy Sherwin, said that his proposal created administrative problems and that it would be impracticable for a variety of reasons to carry it out. Eventually the Minister declared that this motion would not be accepted by the Government. I do not know what the Minister meant by that. Apparently, in his view, it is proper and right that social welfare recipients should depend on the political fortunes of a Government at each Budget time. He has said that once a year is sufficient. Once a year may be sufficient but I do know that because of the political exigencies present at Budget time, the purse strings are loose or tight, depending on the way the political wind may be blowing.

If a Government, particularly a Fianna Fáil Government, found themselves in a strong position in this House and in the country, then the social welfare recipients could soldier on for another year but the nearer an election comes, the more attuned will the ear of the Minister for Finance be to the possible injustices being suffered by social welfare recipients. So far as Deputy Sherwin is concerned, he will have none of that. He wants this Dáil to lay down a definite and planned approach to social welfare justice for the poor, aged and sick. More power to Deputy Sherwin. It is a pity that he was not as vigorous in his approach to this matter when he spoke in February and made his appeal to the Taoiseach, when he spoke in May and declared that the turnover tax would not affect social welfare recipients. He has been disappointed. I have no doubt that Deputy Sherwin will not be disappointed a third time and that this time he will make sure that what he states is supported by the vote of this house and not by a back-door agreement with anyone.

I was interested to hear Deputy Carroll speak on this important matter last night. Deputy Carroll did not believe with Deputy Sherwin in the month of May that the turnover tax would affect no one except single workers and workers without dependants.Deputy Carroll at that time did not believe, as Deputy Sherwin did, that social welfare recipients would make money on the turnover tax. Deputy Carroll was strongly of the view then that Deputy Sherwin's hopes were not soundly based. Deputy Carroll not only believed that the turnover tax would inflict hardship on social welfare recipients and the general body of the poor people but he went into the division lobby and did his best as one man to prevent this tax being inflicted on the poor.

Deputy Carroll has always been consistent in this House. He has left no one in any doubt as to where he stands. It was a matter of surprise, and I think it was a surprise to Deputy Carroll himself, that he found himself voting in a particular way last Wednesday night. But he came to his senses apparently when he came into this House last night to have us believe he now realises he made a mistake, as we do, and went on to explain how he made a mistake. He declared yesterday evening that, so far as the old age pensioners and the social welfare recipients are concerned, what has taken place since last Friday is not an increase of a small percentage, 2½ per cent or anything else, on what they have to buy, but an increase of as much as ten per cent or 20 per cent. Deputy Carroll is now, as apparently also are the Government, appalled by what has been done.

We all have to face this. The people outside, when they get an opportunity of apportioning responsibility, can be fair to Deputy Sherwin, fair to Deputy Carroll, fair to the Government Party, and fair to all of us. Equal justice for all is proper and sound. But in the process an omelette will have been made; and the eggs that will be broken in making this Government omelette unfortunately will be the hearts of so many old age pensioners and social welfare recipients. Those outside not knowing why and how, not knowing the finesse of the minds of Deputy Sherwin and Deputy Carroll, not knowing how Deputy Sherwin's deep felt wishes have been frustrated, now knowing how Deputy Carroll may make mistakes—these people are being called on to pay increased prices out of the miserable pittances they have. They do not know the why or the how, because Government policy is approved apparently accidentally by this House. The Minister says: "Well, is not once a year time enough to review them? Is it not good enough if we do something for them at Budget time?" He is not making a commitment that something will be done for them at Budget time. If the Minister for Finance is mellow at the time, if the political fortunes of the Government do not happen to be particularly favourable, then hold up your heads, you poor people and you sick people, you will get something if you live long enough for the next Budget.

As Deputy Sherwin says—and we in this Party support him in this regard —that is a wrong approach in 1963. It is particularly so in view of the precedent established by this Government that the necessaries of life of the poor people, the food, fuel, and clothing they have to buy, are no longer sacrosanct from the grasping hand of the Minister for Finance. Once that stage has been reached it is time for individual Deputies — Independent Deputies like Deputy Sherwin and Deputy Carroll—to build some little bulwark, some little defence, for social welfare recipients, to provide for them so that, whatever way living costs go, whatever way taxation impacts on the real value of their allowances and payments, they will be at least guaranteed some fair play, some measure of social justice in a planned approach.

It is for that reason we in the Fine Gael Party gladly and fully support the enterprise of Deputy Sherwin in moving this motion. It is a pity the motion did not come on earlier. But at least it has come on now, when every Deputy can vote for or against it and not be swayed by arguments in this house but in the full knowledge of the facts. It is well that should be so. I have no doubt but that this motion will be passed by the House.

I agree with the spirit of this motion, but I do not think the implication contained in the last part of it is correct—that a general increase in wages is usually followed by a general increase in the cost of living. If that is true, it is an indictment of the Government. I hold the Government are responsible for regulating the cost of living. However, I agree entirely with the motive behind this motion. I accept it as an effort to try to bring about immediate relief to the helpless people faced with the circumstances caused by the increase in the cost of living.

The organised trade union movement can take care of its members by seeking increases in wages, but it is powerless to look after the interests of the unemployed members of the trade union movement. That is a job for the Government. It is ironical to find changes being brought about by way of negotiation between employers and organised labour and to see the Government, particularly the Minister for Social Welfare, sitting idly by knowing full well that the increases being brought about will in a great many cases result in an increase in the cost of living. The people who are helpless because of their lack of representation have to sit back and take it. These people are members of the working class, and many of them played no small part in building up what we have here today.

In this motion we should not concentrate on chastising members of the House for the manner in which they voted previously. In fairness to Deputy Sherwin, it should be noted that this motion has been on the Order Paper for 12 months, and he was not, therefore, aware of the effects of the turnover tax when he tabled it. Now that he has become aware of them, perhaps it is an act of God that he is being given an opportunity of putting things in order now. An opportunity is now being afforded to each and every one of us to take our stand and to indicate, clearly and distinctly, what we mean when we say we have an interest in the social welfare beneficiaries.

The time has come now to finish with lip service in this matter. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say he agrees with this in principle. Many people express principles and talk about them, but to give effect to them is another matter. In this case we want immediate effect because of the happenings of the past few days and the little sop being handed out to the people to give a semblance of consolation.The Minister for Social Welfare should either accept this motion or not. There is no use in his saying that he agrees with it in principle if he will not give effect to it. If he does not accept this motion, the matter will be left in abeyance and we are only codding the people. This requires a forthright statement from the Minister. He should say clearly that he will immediately look after the interests of the social welfare beneficiaries.

Some time ago, I had occasion to ask the Minister to do something for these people. He replied that he had them always in his heart, always in his mind. What a horrible conscience! I often wonder does the Minister give, or do most Deputies give, any consideration to the problem of trying to exist on the handouts afforded to social welfare recipients. I should very much like the Minister to produce a budget to show these people how they can live on what is being doled out to them. They just eke out an existence. Yet, these are the people who built up this State. I refer, in particular, to the old age pensioners. We can talk about plans for this and that but if we forget the people who enabled us to make our plans, we shall never have good plans.

Deputy Carroll speaking last night made an interesting confession and confession is often said to be good for the soul. I earnestly hope the Deputy will ponder on the confession he made. I did not agree with him when he set out to join issue with Deputy Sherwin in regard to what he alleged Deputy Sherwin said. Deputy Sherwin has said that he did not say this, that or the other thing. I do not want to see this resulting in a question of whether Deputy Carroll and Deputy Sherwin agree with each other as regards what they said in the past but I sincerely hope both Deputies will insist on putting this motion through and will not be satisfied with a bland promise from the Minister that an increase will come.

We all make promises which we hope to keep, particularly if we are sincere about them, but in my estimation this issue is knit now. We now have an opportunity of indicating where we stand and I say as clearly as I can that I hope the social welfare recipients will not be made a political yo-yo. I hope they will command the support of all those who stand for them and who believe they should get what they are entitled to get. Now that we are in a position to put it up to the Minister for Social Welfare, no time was ever better than now. Promises will not be sufficient. I earnestly entreat everybody who is a party to the motion, particularly its mover and its supporters, not to be dissuaded by promises. There must be something positive and definite in this matter; otherwise, they are codding us and codding social welfare recipients.

This motion has been on the agenda for at least 12 months and I did not expect it to come up at this time. I should much prefer it to have come up at some other time, when the battle of the tax or the battle for power was not still alive. While it is, there are such considerations as power politics and a motion of this sort will not be treated in the cool, calm manner that it deserves. It will naturally be used as a political weapon. I am satisfied with the lefthanded compliments from those who support the proposal but I am also aware that the motive is another matter.

I do not doubt that many who have spoken are as interested in the social welfare recipients as I am but I am satisfied that this is a secondary consideration and that the primary consideration in this discussion was the political weapon, a sort of further round of the debate on power politics which we had in the past couple of weeks.

What I had in mind in putting down the motion is that I wanted the State to commit itself in law by a decision of this House that those people would by right be entitled to an increase on all occasions when the remainder of the community got an increase, that they would not lag behind and that their increase would be in portion to the increase in wages, whether due to the cost of living or a higher standard.That is what I wanted to ensure, that it would not be left to individuals, to various governments or to fortune to decide whether they should get an increase or not.

The Minister has said that Fianna Fáil have granted increases during the past five years. This is true, but I am not so much concerned about Fianna Fáil Governments; there will be other Governments, and I want to make sure that other Governments also will meet their obligations in this matter. I want to tie them down to it because I have here the history of the increases paid to old age pensioners and it shows that for 28 years, they never got a shilling extra. I do not want to see that happen again.

In 1920, they had 10/- a week; in 1924, Fine Gael—then Cumann na nGaedheal—did something they probably will never live down. They reduced that 10/- to 9/-. The pensioners got back that shilling in 1928. There was no increase until 1949; in other words, not a penny extra from 1920 to 1949. That is a shame for both Parties. It can be said that during that period Fianna Fáil did not give any increase and neither did Fine Gael. I am not concerned about what Fianna Fáil have done in the past five years but about what Governments should do in the future.

What will you do tonight?

You mind your own business.

That is what I am here for.

I shall press the motion, if that is what you want to know. In 1949, the old age pensioners got 17/6d; in 1951, 20/-; in 1952, 21/6d; in 1955, 24/-; in 1957, 25/-; in 1959, 27/6d.; in 1960, 28/6d.; in 1961, 30/-; in 1962, 32/6d. and this year, 35/-. For 28 years they got nothing. There were periods in between the years I have mentioned when they got nothing.

It is possible that they might get in some year a shilling which would not be a proportionate increase in relation to the wage increase. When I ask for a proportionate increase, I mean an increase in proportion to the increase secured by the wage earners. I am asking for two things: that they should get an increase every time there is an increase in wages and that what they get should be in proportion to the wage increase.

There is another class involved, disabled pensioners and those suffering from infirmities. They come under the Department of Health. They should not. They ought to be under the Department of Social Welfare and I think the Minister for Health expressed the opinion last year that that should be the position. I hope to see these disabled people coming under Social Welfare. It was because they were not under that Department that they were absolutely forgotten in budgetary increases. First of all, in 1954, they received £1. Then they got nothing until 1961. In that year they got an increase, again in 1962 and in this year, 1963, they get three halfcrowns. For six years they got nothing. I do not want that to happen again. I want them to be included under Social Welfare.

I have another motion on the agenda, a specific motion in relation to which there can be no argument about drafting.It is quite clear. I want those in receipt of disablement allowances to receive the same amount as the non-contributory classes; in other words, the 27/6 shall be jumped to 35/-. I shall move that motion because I want to ensure that these people will not be forgotten again. That is why I want the motion passed.

With regard to the turnover tax, I make no apologies. I speak for myself. I do not care what other Independents do. We elect ourselves and we are entitled to do what we like.

Will the Deputy vote for himself the next time?

I can assure you you will be surprised what I will do the next time. I have a letter here I received this morning: "Dear Frank"— this is from Blessington Street—"I am one of the many people who believe in you and I am also aware of the marvellous work which you have achieved for the poor classes and also that the turnover tax was necessary but unfortunately the shopkeepers have cashed in O.K...."

Such great faith was not found in Israel.

The allowance is covering this tax. You are misrepresenting the position. You are referring to the shopkeepers profiteering.

And the Deputy is accusing the Chair in the wrong.

Do not forget these shopkeepers were your chief allies in this campaign and they were largely responsible for your success in North-East Dublin. They are the people who are profiteering and they are the people who, during the past week, may have advanced the cost of living, but that was not due to the turnover tax. It is nothing—a miserable sixpence in the £. It was put on for a good cause, whether you like it or not.

All very relevant.

If the Opposition, instead of trying to make a political weapon out of this tax, had come in and been constructive, had made suggestions and met the Minister, I am pretty sure there could have been provision to ensure this tax would not have been jumped up one iota.

Such as taking out batch bread.

The whole thing was a political weapon and, if Fianna Fáil were in your position, they would do the same. It is the Party game. You took every advantage of the simple people in the streets, like that meeting that was held in O'Connell Street last Saturday.

The Deputy will not continue on that now. Everything has been said about the turnover tax. The turnover tax does not relevantly arise on this motion.

I do not think you were here, but, if you were, you would know that 90 per cent of what was said was on the turnover tax.

I heard a good deal of the debate.

Why should I be misrepresented and not be allowed to reply?

Do not get yourself put out now.

The Deputy has just five minutes left.

On a point of order, Deputy O'Higgins spoke for 20 minutes on the turnover tax.



The Minister does not know the rules of the House.

There was a poor woman at that meeting in O'Connell Street and I just want to say that this poor woman said the Labour Party should be the Government because they said they would be able to get everyone a house in two days, if they were in power. That is how you spoke in O'Connell Street on Saturday night and it is a damn shame simple people should be treated like that.

The Deputy should deal with his motion now.

Hear them condemning.The Labour Party bosses. They boss the planning and the housing department. Larkin is the chairman and you will have a bit of a joke here——

I must ask the Deputy to finish.

I do not blame de Gaulle. If there were a de Gaulle here tomorrow, I would be behind him because all this tripe and codology has sickened me since the day I came in here.

The Deputy would follow any crowd.

I moved this motion because I want to tie in not just this Government but the Coalition, or any other Government. In regard to its phraseology, the principle is clear enough. I am asking that they get an increase proportionate to whatever increase occurs in wages. I want no more gaps of 28 years.

When the Education Estimate comes up, I shall have something to say about politics being taught in the schools because what sickens me is the tone of the debate here. The public must be a lot of nitwits in the minds of politicians. I hear more idiotic things here——

It is a pity you cannot listen to yourself.

I would take any of you on in any public debate so long as I could cross-examine you. That is all I want to do. Nothing else. Look at what happens here. I speak. You speak. You misrepresent me. Let me speak and I will simply make monkeys out of the lot of you.

Let the people speak.

The Deputy has one minute.

I think I have said enough. I shall certainly press the motion in case you have any doubts about it.

Are you going to vote for it?

Question put and declared carried.

So you were afraid to face a division.


Resign, resign!

Go on to the Park.

We will do what we have always done, and we will do better, as we have always done.

Afraid to face the Park.

This is what we are always prepared to do, what we have always done. We have always done better and have aimed to do better. We have made up for your omissions.

Get out; get out.

This is what we have always done and shall continue to do. This motion will not make us lower our sights as you would have us do. We shall continue to do better as we have always endeavoured to do, successfully. We shall repair your omissions.

They could not face a division.

There are no depths to which they are not prepared to sink.

We shall continue to aim higher.

Where is the Taoiseach now?

Maybe he has gone to the Park already.

Would the Minister tell us if he proposes to implement this motion immediately?

What has happened to the House since I left it?

Deputy Sherwin is in control. He has taken over the Government.

The Minister for Justice is a reasonably sensible man, but the Minister for Social Welfare said last night that he was not accepting the motion.