Supplementary Estimates, 1982. - National Community Development Agency Bill, 1982: Committee and Final Stages.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

The first query I would like to raise in relation to this Bill is regarding the title. The National Community Development Agency Bill has been discussed three times already in this session of the Dáil, the first time arising from a motion in the name of Deputy Desmond about the establishment of the poverty agency which had been the intention of the previous Government. At that time we were assured that an agency would be established to continue that work in the general direction that we had in mind. The National Poverty Agency was the title being considered for the Bill then. I can see the value of the present title, the National Community Development Agency Bill, in that it is a positive developmental title, but it is causing a great deal of difficulty because it is not clear as to whether it is a community development agency or is directly related to the main aim of the agency that the previous Government had in mind, which was to tackle areas of poverty and deprivation and to look at the problem in a wide way. I would like the Minister to clarify this point. There is a great deal of confusion which is continued throughout the Bill in the terms of reference, and it is not clear exactly what the purpose of this Bill is. Is it open to any community? Are we talking, as was intended, particularly about deprived communities? I would like that clarified initially.

I had intended to refer to this aspect of the Bill under section 3, but I presume it is appropriate that I talk about it now. The title of the Bill presents some difficulty for us in this party. We have a fundamental difference on this issue. Our rationale is that a Bill ought to have been set up for the express purpose of combating poverty as a follow-on to the four years of work of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty. That is not to say that there is not also a need for the concept of a community development Bill with all the aids that are required by communities in the course of their social development. It is a very good thing, but it is quite different from what we believe is a priority, a Bill to grapple with poverty, which is a blot on this society.

This presents a difficulty for us because the terms of reference under section 4 apply more precisely to a Bill that would be entitled, say, the establishment of an agency to combat poverty. We have a major amendment in respect of the terms of reference. Our thinking is precise and our priorities are clear in regard to this legislation. We appreciate that at a time when resources are scarce we must be careful about how we spend the money we have but our priority must be to aim at the elimination of poverty. I am making the point at this stage rather than when the Title is being put because it is a point that is fundamental to the whole Bill.

This is a comprehensive Bill. The Title is very appropriate and I am confident that the Bill will give the agency all the powers they will need for the future of their interpretation of areas and groups of social deprivation and poverty and in the positive and constructive development of communities.

Deputy Flaherty raised the question of the purpose of the agency and asked if they will relate to any community. The answer to that is spelled out fairly clearly in the functions and in an amendment which I have made for the purpose of specifying clearly that the priority of the agency will be with areas, groups and communities of high social deprivation and poverty. That is one of the amendments that I propose to highlight during the course of the Bill. The Deputy can be assured that the agency will use the information that is available as a result of the pilot schemes on poverty generally and also the information that is available as a result of the operation of the National Social Services Board.

The former Government had in mind a poverty agency with a somewhat more limited function. That, too, will be brought out in the course of the debate on the sections as a result of some of the amendments that are proposed by the Opposition. It is important to bear in mind that the stage that had been reached by the former Government was that of the preparation of a draft Bill, of the heads of a Bill, essentially. However, in terms of parliamentary drafting some of the phraseology used in that draft Bill was not considered appropriate to the final Bill. Again, this is something that will be manifested in the different amendments that are proposed. It is important to recognise that at that stage there was a draft proposal which, if the former Government had been in a position to go ahead with it, would have been developed further. The Bill has been through all these processes, and I can assure the Deputy that it will meet all the objectives the former Government had.

I do not wish to repeat the points I have made but I would merely emphasise that there is a fundamental difference here. Our priority is the combating of poverty. In his Second Reading speech the Minister said that the agency would have wide ranging powers to promote and support community development and self help and in addition, as indicated by the Taoiseach in reply to a Parliamentary Question on 23 March, the agency, by way of an additional aim, would carry out the work that was to have been performed by the agency to combat poverty as proposed by the previous administration. This is our problem here. This is an additional aim. In talking about communities, the Minister in that same speech instanced a number of communities, including youth groups, social clubs, sports groups, Muintir na Tíre, the ICA and so on. These are all very worthy groups, groups who I am sure do a lot of good and charitable work, but that is not what this Bill should be about. There ought to be a Bill to help these organisations, but the proposals in this regard should not come within the ambit of a Bill to tackle the fundamental problem of poverty. Therefore, our aim is additional and as such the Bill is not satisfactory to us.

As I have said, there are certain attractions in the Title. It is positive and if the terms of reference of the agency were adequate and were treating as primary the aims we had for it originally, our party would be happy with the Bill but, as Deputy Desmond has indicated, the problem is that there is a new function. This new function seems to be primary, but if the Minister can assure us now that he will be sympathetic to the amendments we have tabled, which are to ensure that the primary aim of the agency is spelled out clearly as being the tackling of the basic problem of poverty, we would be happy with the Bill.

I should like the Minister also to clarify for us whether the position of these voluntary organisations will be changed in terms of their current and traditional sources of funding as a result of the establishment of this agency. Will the appearance of this agency mean, for instance, that the traditional relationship between Muintir na Tíre and the health boards or between Muintir na Tíre and the local authorities and other such voluntary agencies will be changed? Will there be an interference there? The Minister has not clarified that to any extent. The basic aim as envisaged in the origins of this legislation would be lost if the funds of this agency were to be used simply as a support for voluntary organisations and in a way that was not specified to any extent. This would mean that not only would we not be tackling the fundamental problems but by these kinds of superficial arrangements for further grant aiding we would be opening the door once again to the articulate and well-organised middle-class communities to take the lion's share. Again, in the arrangements in respect of one level of the agency's activities, that is, grant aiding various organisations, it would be open to the better-organised communities to exploit the situation. If we wished to support further these other agencies we could do so simply by increasing their funding from the traditional sources.

I wish to raise a point which is strictly in respect of definitions. I would draw the Minister's attention to the definition of "statutory body" in section 1. It is: (i) a health board established under the Health Act, 1970; (ii) a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act, 1941; (iii) a board or other body established by or under statute.

For the life of me I cannot see why a statutory body should be defined simply as a body established under statute. Why is it necessary to specify a health board and a local authority in between, seeing that it is said in subsection (iii) anyway that a statutory body is any body established under statute, and clearly both the health boards and local authorities are established under statute? It seems to me that the Minister, who was making much about the drafting of this Bill and criticising its heads, as prepared by the previous Government, has made a bit of an ass of himself about this definition where he has inserted (i), (ii) and (iii) whereas (iii) includes (i) and (ii).

I could not stress strongly enough the importance that the Labour Party — as our spokesman on Health and Social Welfare, Deputy E. Desmond has said — attaches to the word "poverty" itself. I do not want to be repetitious but I do want to say this, that everybody who has worked and written about the poor and poverty in Ireland has stressed the phenomenon of the discovery of the poor, the forgetting of the poor and the rediscovery of the poor. Let us be clear about the title to this Bill. It is breaking the continuity of the work done under the pilot schemes. It is breaking the continuity of emphasis that all professional workers attach to poverty work. Also it is exceptional in relation to comparable legislation in other countries. It was not accidental that the United States Legislature found it necessary to specifically use the phrases "war on poverty", "combat poor" in the drafting of their legislation. I find the term "community development" so bland as to be meaningless. It will transpire later, when we come to examine the alternatives at our disposal by way of terms of reference, that the choice in this Bill is as to whether one accepts existing structures; for example, whether one puts sports clubs, recreational groups and residents' associations in the same basket as people who are struggling to articulate their needs for the first time; whether you do that, as does this Bill, or whether you honestly acknowledge that the poor have come on to the stage and the work that people have done amongst the poor deserves to be represented in the title of a Bill. It is not a case of some semantic or fashionable interest on the part of the Labour Party. It has been a consistent usage in legislation dealing with the poor in other countries. I contend that the removal from the title of the Bill and its definitions of any reference to poverty or the poor is a regression of a very serious kind.

Discussion of the title is becoming virtually a Second Stage debate again. I would point out to Deputies, especially Deputy Flaherty, that at the end of the Second State debate I explained at considerable length that the principal objective of the Bill was to eliminate poverty and inequality. Therefore Deputy Flaherty need have no concern about that aspect.

In relation to the Bill itself, if one examines its objectives in section 4 one finds that (b) says:

to promote and co-ordinate programmes in relation to self-help, poverty and social deprivation, with the object of achieving more effective action by statutory bodies and voluntary agencies;

If we look at my amendment No. 9 one will find that, following our discussion on Second Stage, I undertook to insert a particular clause which would highlight the priority it was required to give to poverty and social deprivation by including the phrase "particularly in communities in which there is a high degree of poverty and social deprivation"— lest there be any misunderstanding about our intentions there.

I might point out to Deputy Higgins that my amendment No. 10 was drafted also following our Second Stage discussion to meet the points raised by Deputies and proposes the addition of the words "and with the approval of the Minister, to engage in. " . One of the other amendments specifies the pilot schemes and studies to make it quite clear that the body can undertake these tasks, take these kinds of actions, and that there will be no ambiguity about them. These matters will arise under the specific sections.

As far as the Title is concerned, before we went out of office on 1 July, 1981 I had been engaged in the process of upgrading and strengthening of the National Social Services Council. That process improved the council by giving it board status, giving it a greater developmental role, which was my objective at that time. But, to go any further, I had to introduce some Bill or measure which would give that body wider powers. We then went out of office. I did not criticise the heads of the Bill as prepared by the former Government. I said the stage at which the former Government had arrived was the preparation of the heads of the Bill and, consequently, it had not gone through the drafting stage. That was a point I made by way of clarification of some of the terms that will arise subsequently when we discuss specific sections of the Bill. The former Government then set about the establishment of this poverty agency. In this Bill we are combining both of these in one organisation which will have, as its priority, the tackling of poverty and social deprivation but which will not be constructed in that way. I might point out to Deputies that I have some of the poorest people in the country in my constituency. The way in which they are solving their problem is through community development, except that the input time to get that under way in their areas and the support they need is far greater than that required in areas such as those Deputy Flaherty mentioned. Therefore, our goal is to ensure that the resources are available to the people who are doing that kind of work, to initiate and stimulate that type of work in their areas. This is one of the lessons learned from the pilot schemes on combatting poverty. The purpose of this Bill will be to provide the resources. I might point out also that the scale of resources being provided by the former Government was £250,000 in this year and that there are £2 million being provided under this Bill to support this agency this year.

I think it was Deputy Higgins who raised the question of sports clubs, social clubs and so on. Without going into the merits or demerits of specific ones, the Bill specifies very clearly the kinds of bodies which should be supported in the first instance, the objectives they should have and the way in which the money should be utilised.

Deputy Flaherty raised the question of the changed relationship that might arise with health boards and other funding bodies. I should like to make it quite clear that this agency will be operating separately, will endeavour to co-ordinate efforts, but the funds it might provide would be additional to those which would be available under the normal health boards, and I might say that the health boards do undertake a considerable amount of this type of work. Indeed certain powers are embodied in the Bill to ensure that such co-ordination can be achieved and that the resources of the various bodies can be brought to bear on problems considered to be within the objectives of this agency.

I raised a point that was relevant to the definitions section.

Yes, I forgot that one. As I see it, it is a technical matter. It is a matter of drafting. It is a standard procedure and I have no objection to the procedure as it obtains.

Why does the Minister put in three alternatives when the third covers the first two? What is the point? It will only lead to confusion.

Obviously the third will cover any body which might be formed and which will come within that category.

Covers any body——

It could be one that has nothing whatever to do with this. It could be the ESB for that matter.

Established under statute.

Yes, that covers the first two but why is the Minister wasting time putting in the first two when the last covers the lot?

The Deputy will appreciate that the health boards and local authorities are the two main agencies that would be involved and these are mentioned and specified as such. Then, thirdly, there is mention of a board or other body established by or under statute.

I must say, having sifted through this Bill, that it is one of the most sloppily drafted Bills I have ever seen. That is obvious also from the objectives. I do not know whether the parliamentary draftsman was involved or not but this is the first example, the first page of sloppy drafting. There is other sloppy drafting later in the Bill where self-help is referred to as an independent objective. If a man is trying to make a million bucks he presumably could get help from this on the grounds that it is self-help. I know that is not what the Minister has intended but that is what he has down in the Bill in black and white, just as he has made an ass of himself in regard to the definition of statutory bodies. This is just typical of the messy way this legislation has been drafted. I believe the Minister has not done his job or, if he has, then those who have been serving him have not.

Deputy Bruton is particularly liverish this morning and I wonder what the reason is. It is hardly because we are giving £2 million to this area of combating poverty while he could only find £250,000 while at the same time he was claiming he was the saviour of all the poor in the country.

The Minister should deal with the points I raised and save us this extreme unction.

The question of self-help comes within the ambit of the Bill and is obviously governed by the objectives and functions of the organisation. The comment the Deputy has made is irrelevant.

For the purpose of this Bill the Minister concerned is the Minister for Health. That had not been our thinking, but I have no objection to the agency being dealt with by the Department of Health. However, I should like to ask the Minister what arrangements he has made to expand the section in the Department which will have to deal with the increased volume of work in relation to this matter. As the Minister is aware, the welfare section in his Department is already hard-pressed and coping with a major new piece of legislation. I should like to ask the Minister to explain to the House the plans he has to expand that section. It was our intention — a Government decision had been taken in regard to this — to set up a special unit in the Department with responsibility for coordinating with other Departments and developing the work of the agency. What arrangements has the Minister made to ensure that the Department will be able to undertake the extra volume of work involved and support, backup and extend the work of the agency?

I established the section the Deputy referred to in the Department of Health. I am happy I established that new section, which is under a new assistant secretary. It has been doing a tremendous amount of work since its establishment. I have no doubt that we will get the resources which are required at that level. I should like to thank the Deputy for her support in that respect.

Are there any plans in regard to this? I am satisfied that the section is doing tremendous work but it is extremely hard-pressed. It is probably the greatest section with development potential in the health services at present — I am referring to the welfare and general community section — but to take on an extra task such as this without the corresponding expansion of support staff is expecting a very hard-pressed section to do a lot. I should like a little more than a general avoidance of the issue such as the Minister has given us. I should like a clearer commitment that this work will be done properly and that the other important work, including the preparation of a children's Bill which the section is already engaged in, is dealt with adequately.

I welcome the Deputy's emphasis on the need for staff in this area and I can assure her that the requirements will be reviewed as the work develops. The Deputy mentioned the preparation of a children's Bill, and I should like to inform her that a problem arose in regard to the preparation of that because some other measures, such as the Bill before the House, were so protracted here. Those concerned with this Bill are also concerned with the preparation of the children's Bill and they had to attend here on many occasions but the Bill was not debated. Consequently, that frustrated their activities in regard to the preparation of the children's Bill. When this Bill is passed by the House the staff will have more time to deal with the Bill in relation to children, which we hope to have ready for the autumn session.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.

Amendment No. 1 proposes the insertion of a new section and acceptance of it involves the deletion of section 4.

I should like to ask the Chair to repeat his statement because we are having some difficulty with the microphones here. It is difficult to hear the Chair.

Acting Chairman

We are now on section 4 and are taking amendment No. 1. The debate will include amendments Nos. 1 (a), 1 (b), 4, 5 and 7 to 13.

Is it possible for the Chair to give a list of the amendments that have been ruled out of order?

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 2, 18, 20 and 22 have been ruled out of order.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 4, to insert the following section:

"4. — (1) The functions of the Agency shall be —

(a) to examine the extent and sources of inequality in all its forms in Irish society on an on-going basis;

(b) to undertake, in consultation with the Minister, action aimed at combating poverty and to evaluate such action;

(c) to appraise critically existing policies and programmes in so far as they affect poverty and to recommend any necessary modifications;

(d) to establish and maintain contact with and between Government Departments and bodies having responsibilities relating to poverty;

(e) to suggest effective new policies and programmes against poverty and, in consultation with the Minister, to test out new programmes on an experimental basis;

(f) to make recommendations to the Minister, either on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister;

(g) to advise on the implementation of the recommendations of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty;

(h) to publish as soon as may be after the commencement of each year a report on its activities in the preceding year including a report on the progress being made to combat poverty in Ireland, with a view to promoting public understanding of the problem and its extent; and

(i) to perform such specific tasks and submit such reports and information as the Minister may from time to time direct.

(2) In the performance of its functions the Agency shall comply with directions given to it from time to time by the Minister.

(3) In this section ‘poverty' means poverty in the State.".

I understand that the acceptance of this involves the deletion of the original section 4 and it would result in the substitution of new terms of reference, This is the section on which most of our time will be spent. We are constrained in the sense that the Bill proposes to do something additional to combat poverty and that we must pass all Stages before 1.30 p.m. today. We must keep our remarks as brief as possible, but this is the section on which we will be making our stand. If the Bill is to do what we undertook to do in Government, to combat poverty and aim at eliminating it, the terms of reference we are suggesting in our amendment must be substituted for those suggested by the Minister. I should like to quote the first of the Minister's terms of reference:

(a) to advise the Minister and make recommendations to him regarding community development policies and community development programmes, in relation to self-help, poverty and social services;

That is a very fudgey statement. It is very broad, and vague. What we propose is more appropriate. We indicate what we want, to indicate the extent and sources of inequality in all its form in Irish society on an on-going basis. If anything has emerged clearly from the four years during which the pilot programme was in operation it is that poverty has its basis in inequality. We talk about giving a greater share to deprived people in the matter of opportunity, power over their lives, ordinary human rights, but it has also emerged that the rest of society has shown great resistance.

If we are to come to grips with poverty and if we are to alleviate it, not to eradicate it, we must recognise that poverty is based on inequality and we in our amendment ask that the agency shall examine the extent and the sources of inequality in all its forms in Irish society. In the section the Minister provides that the agency must have the prior approval of the Minister. It is a completely different matter from what we seek in our amendment. In the section the Minister has not given any specific task to the agency: he merely speaks of the promotion of greater awareness, the collection and dissemination of information on community development, self-help and so on.

So there is a basic difference. In paragraph (d) of our amendment we ask that the agency will establish and maintain contact with and between Government Departments and bodies having responsibilities in relation to poverty. We realise that there are policies of the Government and the Departments which far from setting out to alleviate poverty are in themselves regressive. Much public money is being spent on State aids and grants and subsidies which are available to people less deprived than those we are talking about today. The people we are trying to help, trying to reach, are about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of those who are deprived in our society and who by their nature, perhaps by accident of birth, are least able to avail of the social services that are available, who are powerless to avail of them.

The Bill seeks to give the agency powers to engage in programmes and in research, with the approval of the Minister. This differs greatly from what we propose. We speak about consultation, not approval, because we believe it is necessary that the agency would have freedom. Of course we agree they should consult with the Minister, but it is necessary for the agency to have maximum freedom to embark on schemes and programmes without being forced to go to the Minister for approval on all occasions.

The Minister has spoken of easing the lot of the poor. I have no doubt the agency will do that and that they will give special consideration to deprived areas, but I am afraid that the Bill will not give them power to alleviate poverty. The Bill will simply make poverty easier on the minds of the better off without intruding on them too much. The lot of the privileged is not being intruded on too much by the terms of reference of the agency, but if we are talking seriously about poverty and about giving all sections of the community equal rights and equal powers we must do something to ensure that so many in our society will not have more than adequate for their needs while others have not enough to subsist on, when children are going hungry to school, when there is overcrowding in accommodation. What we are asking is that such overcrowded and hungry people will be given the chance to compete equally in a capitalist society.

The Minister's terms of reference for the agency do not include any reference to the work of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty. The Minister may say that the agency will have reference to the report of that body, of the review group, but the agency should be specifically charged to implement those reports. There may have been some criticism of some of the work of the pilot schemes but I have no doubt tremendous work was done there. The body established beyond doubt that poverty has its base in inequality, and I suggest the agency should be charged with the task of going on from where that work left off.

The Minister's terms of reference, for these reasons, are unacceptable to us. The terms of reference are too vague and too narrow. For instance, we have paragraphs (f) and (h):

(f) to advise the Minister on the development of community-based services, including in particular improved training and the supply of community development staff;

(h) to promote greater awareness, accessibility and co-ordination of social services;

They are appropriate to a national social services board which should be fostered to do such work with maximum efficiency, but we are not talking about social services but of the inequality that creates poverty, and the Bill will not alleviate poverty through these fake terms of reference. No doubt the Bill will do something: no doubt it will ease the feelings of many privileged people. But it will not make any structural changes because it will not be altering the hierarchy or opening any new doors. We will alleviate but not eradicate poverty because the Bill does not make any effort to intrude on the privileged position of the better off in society.

I have no doubt that when referring to our first proposed term of reference the Minister will say it was not included in the draft Bill before the Government when we left office. It was not, but the Minister had second thoughts about his own measure. He has introduced amendments here today. I also had second thoughts about that and advice about that, and having considered that advice I was very quick to accept that if we are to accept that poverty has its basis in inequality we must go straight for it, call that our first term of reference and start from there. It is advisable that we make this our first term of reference. At this stage I do not intend to speak any further. I will come in and out as appropriate on Committee Stage of the Bill.

Acting Chairman

For the benefit of anybody who may not have heard me previously, I was not familiar at the time with the mechanics of this. On section 4, amendments 1, 1 (a), 1 (b), 4, 5 and 7 to 13 are being taken together for the purpose of debate, and that has been agreed.

Amendment No. 4 put down by me is seeking to replace paragraph (a) of amendment No. 4 to make it more broad in the sense that it makes it necessary that recommendations be made in relation to education, training, housing and community facilities and the jobs necessary to foster development of local communities and alleviate poverty. Like most Deputies in this House, in approaching this Bill we are anxious that the poor in our community are helped so far as society as it is ordered at present can help the poor. I have no illusions whatsoever that society as it is structured at present will ever eliminate or eradicate poverty, because the society we have is a capitalist society and capitalism is based purely and simply on the exploitation of those who produce wealth, the workers of the society. Capitalism exploits the surplus wealth created by the workers. The fact that capitalism allows for social welfare payments and sets up various agencies to assist those who hit hard times is simply a recognition by those who control wealth that it is necessary to have some sort of reasonably happy workforce in order to continue with their exploitation. The fact that most social welfare benefits are in fact paid for by the workers themselves while they are working through PRSI payments or taxes, is another matter. I have no doubt whatsoever that this Bill will not restructure society and will not eliminate poverty. But that does not preclude us from trying to ensure that this Bill will alleviate the worst excesses of the system we have.

It is fairly well understood that poverty is not simply a question of not having enough money. I have come across cases where households in fairly well-off areas with reasonably high incomes could be classed as poor because of the way their resources have been misused or abused by one or other of the spouses in the family through drinking or gambling problems. So poverty of itself is not confined to specific communities; it is not that there are pockets of poverty here and there. There are areas which might be classed as middle class where there is a reasonable degree of comfort with individual families who are quite poor either because the money is misused or because the people in that household, for one reason or another, are not capable of managing their own lives. So it is necessary to broaden paragraph (a) of amendment No. 4 to ensure that all aspects of poverty will be taken into account. Education and training are key elements in trying to tackle the question of social deprivation. Housing is obviously one. Most Deputies, certainly in the Dublin area, will have experience of very bad cases of poverty, again not arising from the fact that the people do not have a reasonable income but simply because they do not have a sufficiently high income to be able to purchase a house.

This brings us into a whole other area of why housing is allowed to be exploited in the way it is by those who have the money to do so by raising the price of land. In fact at present the building societies are looking for additional interest rates, which is going to cause untold hardship to people who, in the normal course of events, would be quite well off. So I would not like us to run away with the idea that poverty is something which exists in certain deprived pockets of our community; it spreads right across into all areas.

Community facilities is another question. This is where certain areas are worst hit by the lack of community facilities. In areas that are reasonably well off the people can move out and find the facilities they want and can afford to pay for them. But in poorer sections of our community where there are no adequate facilities all kinds of problems develop because the young people in the area have absolutely nothing to do and end up breaking into shops or whatever because of it. That is not to say that in these areas a lot of effort is not being put in by a small number of people in developing sports facilities. This is why I would quibble with some of the remarks made by the spokespersons for Labour and Fine Gael. It is important that this agency should have something to do with community facilities that are already in existence such as sporting groups and so on. There is a need to ensure that these develop. Again, I would agree that it is necessary that the agency confine its work, initially at any rate, to areas which are worse off, because obviously facilities would be least well developed in those areas.

Jobs and housing are the key to a lot of the worst forms of poverty that we have in our society. There again the lack of jobs for young people and the increasing loss of jobs in areas which are not particularly poverty-stricken are causing problems. There is a loss of jobs in areas right across the board and people are being literally destroyed by being unable to pay their mortgages because they have lost their jobs. The building societies appear to have a free hand in raising interest rates as they choose. These areas need to be dealt with by the agency and recommendations made to the Government as to how the problems can be overcome. I stress that while I hope the agency will succeed and will do much work towards alleviating poverty, I have no illusions that they will succeed in eradicating poverty.

I intend to stick strictly within the spirit and letter of what is appropriate on a Committee Stage debate. The Labour Party are anxious that this Bill be passed by 1.30 p.m. and we have indicated our co-operation in this regard. I have noticed at times an attitude that we are not being helpful by raising points which we consider fundamental, but it is appropriate when discussing the functions of the agency to raise such points.

The Labour Party amendment concerning the functions of the agency is action-oriented, as is clearly revealed by the language used. Under the proposed new section 4 (1) (a) the word "inequality" is used, as is the phrase "on an on-going basis", indicating that an agency of this kind should be free to address not only inherited inequality and existing inequalities but new inequalities that can be created by Acts of the Legislature in relation to taxation and developments of different kinds. There is reference to action aimed at combating poverty and modifications in existing policies. Subsection (1) (d) refers to establishing contact between different Government Departments and improving co-operation between them. Subsection (1) (e) refers to the testing out of new programmes. Where is that reflected in the existing terms of reference of the agency? Sub-section (1) (f) refers to the agency on its own initiative making recommendations to the Minister. What is the purpose of having a statutory agency unless it is free to act autonomously? The agency must have the right to initiate measures and establish experimental programmes and report, regardless of whether this creates discomfiture for the Minister and the Government of the day. This autonomy is crucial if the agency is to be independent.

There are two notions running through the terms of reference in the Bill, both of which notions I reject. The first is that poverty is an aspect of the person, that it is a matter of the poor being assisted to drag themselves to the standard of the existing community. The second notion is that the poor can be assisted by the existing structures of society if services can be stretched out to embrace them. I reject that notion absolutely.

The work of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty showed that when the gaze of the poor was put on the State what they wanted was not compassion but justice and the right to participate. This means building into an agency like this the ability to expose the existing structure of the State. The terms of reference included in the Bill will not achieve this. There is no reference to the continuity of the work of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty or to inequality in its inherited, existing or future forms. There is no reference to autonomous action, and most of the functions are concerned with making recommendations, giving advice and drawing on and evaluating researches. The agency are to promote greater accessibility and awareness and co-ordination. We are long past descriptive work in relation to the poor. We have been doing it for 11 years and we do not need much more description. We need action, and it is most important that this agency should have teeth and the right to examine critically the existing structures of society. This is the whole spirit of our amendment, and it is fundamental. We are asking the House to choose between a kind of well intentioned compassion and the beginning of work to reveal inequality and deprivation.

There is no point in saying "We are going to spend this much and you only spent that much." as if the argument were about quantities. Even the language used is offensive to people who study the poor and poverty. It is the State which spends the money and it is the taxpayers who generate the revenue which the State conveys. It is the use of possessive pronouns which has eaten into the hearts of the poor, where politicians have gone running after the sums the State has spent on services.

If one accepts the Government's terms of reference one accepts the existing structures and words like "community development" and "self-help," as well as words such as "fostering" and "assistance" and "advice" and "awareness" and phrases such as "the promotion of greater understanding". The Labour Party amendment would ensure continuity of the work of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty, a commitment to examining inequality, specific action, and the establishment of co-operation between different Government Departments. There would also be autonomy for the agency, if necessary, to embarrass any Minister or Government or society about the extent of inequality. It is a choice between action-oriented terms of reference which would establish continuity and would be welcomed by the professional workers in the field and would give the poor a voice and, on the other hand, a bland set of terms of reference which will not embarrass anybody.

The position of our Party on this Bill is in some respects similar to that of the previous speaker, but it has its own individualities. We are very concerned at the blandness of the terms of reference of the agency — and feel that they should be amended to ensure that the primary function is poverty-related. We would not go as far as the Labour Party in that we accept some of the terms in relation to community development, voluntary agencies and the relationship with other Departments and statutory bodies because we feel that unification and co-ordination is to be welcomed in any attack on this problem.

The primary function of the agency must be to examine the cause and extent of poverty, as stated in our amendment No. 3. This would cover the amendment of the Labour Party and also Deputy De Rossa's amendment. It is the widest amendment which allows the maximum examination of all possible causes and the commitment to undertake action aimed at combating poverty and evaluating that action. These amendments would give the agency or any other agency established by a future Government the power to examine the problem of poverty in the most fundamental way.

That power is lacking in the Minister's terms of reference. The Minister's own amendment went some way towards meeting these criticisms, which we also raised on Committee Stage, but not far enough. Would the Minister consider accepting these as additional to the primary functions of the agency? If he is sincere in what he said earlier on what is intended to be the primary function, he will have no difficulty in accepting these amendments. In the Bill before us section 4 (1) (d) involves the power to foster and assist, including by financial and material aid, projects of community involvement and activities. That has the woolliness referred to here on a number of occasions. There is a great danger that unless this section is made more specific any group — whether in need or otherwise — can draw funds from the agency.

Deputy Bruton referred earlier to the millionaire who is engaged in a self-help project for himself. That is not likely to happen in this area, but very likely to happen when political pressure comes on, unless the terms of reference are tightened. This will become a handy avenue from which, come election or any other time, the boys can tap a source of extra funding and do themselves good in a local area without regard to the basic fundamentals. We have waited long for this agency, and to establish it in such a way that potential abuse is built into it should not be tolerated. While the Minister has gone some way towards specifying in his amendment the particular community and groups amongst whom there is a high degree of poverty and deprivation, we are not happy with that. The Bill must specify exclusively areas of deprivation. The amendments should include not only inner city communities. As other speakers have indicated, poverty is not confined to geographical or area groupings. It occurs through the various classes in our society. The old are often subject to poverty, even though they may have a middle class or wealthy background, for many reasons. The first terms of reference must be as wide as possible to cover all these possible complexities.

Deputy Higgins indicated that all poverty is related to inequality, but there are examples of poverty which occurred even where great opportunity has been available to certain groups, but through illness, accidents or experiences, people slip into a poverty state. Without trying to alleviate the basic injustices and inequalities which exist in our society, dealing with poverty will involve a commitment and understanding of its complexity and an agency properly committed to it. The Minister should amend the functions of the agency to ensure this, by accepting the amendment put forward here.

Could I make one brief point? Why does the Minister consider it necessary to introduce sub-section 4 (2) which says that the Minister may, by regulations, amend the functions of the agency with the consent of the Minister for Finance? We placed no such power in the hands of the Minister. This is an unsatisfactory inclusion. It may give the Minister power to improve the regulations, but may render them even more bland than they are. It is not necessary that the Minister in this Bill have so much power by way of regulation. These terms of reference are fundamental to the whole purpose of the Bill — to establish the agency, under whatever title it is given. Would the Minister comment on why he saw fit to make this inclusion in the Bill?

My party are also concerned at the power given to the Minister in relation to this agency. All its functions are subject to the approval of the Minister. Despite the fact that we are spending a number of hours and have already debated what is intended for this agency. the Minister is taking extensive powers unto himself. We are particularly concerned about the necessity for section 4 (2). When the Minister has the right of sacking, as we have seen in respect to another agency, and that extra strength in many of the other sections, we will be questioning the extent of these powers given to him. It is important that this agency be allowed to be independant, to comment independently on the changes needed in our society to bring about objectives (1) and (2) which we would like to see.

I shall take section 4 (2) first, since this has been raised by Deputies Desmond and Flaherty. The section states that the Minister may, by regulation, amend the functions of the agency with the consent of the Minister of Finance. This is in accordance with, and governed by, section 19, whereby regulations made under this subsection must be laid before the Oireachtas. This is to ensure that the Legislature are given the opportunity to comment on any changes in the functions of the agency.

The Deputies need have no fear of a ministerial takeover, or of any sinister intervention by the Minister here. In fact, if he did not make such a provision, the organisation would be totally straitjacketed. The agency may come forward with proposals as they see necessary and we do not envisage all the activities in which they could be engaged. When proposing these terms of reference and their functions, we cannot cover all that is necessary. The vast majority of the work done, certainly through the Minister for Health, is by consultation, co-operation and the supporting of one another. There is so much work to be done that one needs more staff and more resources most of the time. Many involved in agencies say that had they been given the resources and the staff in the first instance, they might have been able to solve a lot of the subsequent problems. If it is discovered that there is a need to make an amendment and to expand the functions in one way or another, particularly as we would be thinking of here, one must have an enabling clause which enables these regulations to be made. They are then laid before the House, so that the Oireachtas would be fully conversant with what is done and can decide to vote against them, if necessary.

The Deputies should not be concerned about these powers. Talking about the general functions of the Minister, even amendments put forward in the names of Deputies Desmond and Higgins, section 4 (2) — In the performance of its functions the Agency shall comply with directions given to it from time to time by the Minister — despite the wonderful freedom which Deputy Higgins so eloquently described, in his own amendment he talks about a certain degree of ministerial control, and rightly so. That is all that is involved in terms of ministerial control in the Bill as it stands.

In looking at this, as at other sections, I have taken into consideration the amendments put down by the Deputies and the points made by them. Consequently, I have made a number of amendments to the Bill. The points raised are more than adequately covered in the Bill, as I propose to amend it here today. Where it is not the case that the Deputies' proposals are adequately covered in the Bill, I have tabled some amendments which go a considerable way towards meeting their suggestions. The overall effect of this amendment would be to limit the agency's work in relation to poverty. Both Deputies Higgins and Desmond made this point at the outset on the title of the Bill. They are more interested in limiting the Bill specifically to what we believe is a narrow concept of poverty. Deputy De Rossa brought out clearly the kinds of poverty which can arise as a result of alcoholism, which may be in particular groups and must be identified by the agency. We do not want to restrict the agency in that kind of activity. Their amendment would seek to delete all references to community development and to self-help. This would not be wise nor would it be the correct way to proceed. I spent some years working and tackling poverty through community development. My experience there indicated — this has been corroborated by the studies done on the pilot schemes to combat poverty — that there must be an agency which can encourage, foster and set up groups which will get the kind of community and group action necessary to tackle the various kinds of poverty in our society. That is what this Bill will do.

Deputies referred to words such as "fostering" and "assisting". The fostering is to set them up, get them underway and provide them with resources to stimulate activity. I accept that this activity will from time to time be such as to upset thestatus quo and establishment. There are overlays of establishments and interwoven establishments throughout society. Of course, one can achieve one's objective without necessarily punching the other fellow on the nose. In many cases it can be done by the kind of pressure created by groups to get change.

What would the Minister do with a resident association which opposed itinerant settlements?.

This is a complex area. I am familiar with the situation where a residents association accepted a group of 40 itinerants. A council then came along and said they were to have 20 more. Naturally the residents association said no. They said they had 40 already and were integrating them, their children, visitors and people coming and going. It was found that nobody wanted to establish a group in the next area. I have direct experience of this and it is a delicate and difficult situation. In conjunction with the Minister for the Environment I set up a review group on the travelling people which will report in the next six weeks or so. We hope to get a national policy.

Such groups will highlight the realities of the situation from the point of view of the travelling people. Some people are well represented and have good pressure groups. Consequently, they manage to get a good share of the cake. I do not blame them for doing that. It is due to good organisation on their part. What is often wrong at the social service end and poverty end is that the groups are not organised or supported and consequently are not able to express themselves. Very often the key problem is that groups cannot express themselves in a way in which people can clearly understand.

One of the fundamental objectives of the Bill is to stimulate support and assist community development and voluntary activity. It is essential that the agency does not operate in a vacuum but rather works with, through and for communities to help them to meet their differing needs and develop their services and activities. There may be areas where they cannot work through a community and may have to work on an outside project. That is covered in various parts of the Bill.

As I indicated when introducing the Bill, it is intended that the bulk of the funds at the disposal of the agency will be channelled into local projects and activities. I hope Deputies do not wish to withdraw this source of support from local voluntary groups which may be engaged in activities which come within the functions of this agency. There is no point in pointing to all kinds of voluntary groups. They are all governed by the functions of the agency. Deputy De Rossa made a point about the function which sports groups can have, particularly in areas of considerable poverty. This has been overlooked over the years. This can do a great deal to combat poverty in such areas. We should not be too specific. As Deputy De Rossa said, perhaps alcoholism and sporting activities are areas which the board might want to cater for.

It is intended that the bulk of the resources will go to local groups and areas rather than building a mammoth bureaucracy and superstructure within the agency itself. A further result of the amendment which is proposed would be the deletion of social services from the agency's remit. This would have the effect of preventing the agency from continuing and expanding the vital work of the National Social Services Board. These are points the Labour Party made separately. They want to restrict it to poverty and leave the social services board separate. I do not think the amendment will be welcomed by the board. The board will have an important function in being subsumed into the new agency. It will have resources and be able to develop its work along the lines which it had hoped.

To deal with the specific proposals made by Deputies, paragraph (a) refers to any inequality in all its forms. This is too ambiguous to be enshrined in the legislation. I wonder if Deputies intended that the agency should deal with sexual inequality and racial inequality and all forms of prejudice and discrimination which exist.

Absolutely, yes.

It would be a question of the agency deciding where the priorities are. If they happen to come within areas of sexual inequalities the agency can deal with them under its functions as they exist. The word "inequality" in that context is taken as being too broad and ambiguous to include in the legislation. In any event the substance of this paragraph is adequately covered in the present provisions. If the agency is to fulfil its statutory obligations, it will have to examine all aspects of social deprivation including the nature, causes and effects of social inequality.

Where exactly is that here in the functions as outlined?

As the Deputy knows, we gave priority in the amendment to social deprivation: to advise the Minister on social aspects of economic and social planning; to ascertain and specify communities. Communities are legally taken to be groups. That is an all embracing term. It is groups where there is a high degree of poverty and social deprivation.

That is an amendment to section 4 (d). It mentions responsibility to spend the money in areas of high deprivation. It refers to only one element. It does not demand any examination as to why there should be any action to prevent the emergence of such a group in the future. That is a weakness. The wider study of the basic problems is not covered.

The research functions are covered in the global functions. I have an amendment as a result of the debate on Second Stage in regard to research. First and foremost the agency will be authorised to permit research where it feels that is necessary. It can itself engage in research. That function is covered separately. We had the example of the research work done on the elderly. The agency will decide what research should be undertaken and there is no limitation to the overall functions of the agency and the work it will do. Under subsection (j) a function of the Agency shall be—

To promote greater public understanding of the nature, causes and extent of poverty and social deprivation and the measures required to alleviate them.

That is all-embracing. That ties in with later sections which give the agency authority to have research done or to engage in research itself. That is very comprehensive.

We are back again to the general terms of reference. In order to promote public understanding the agency would have to study and examine the situation, but that is not written in as a primary imperative. It is, perhaps, indirectly understood. In my opinion it should be written in, and I cannot understand why the Minister will not accept the amendment.

All sections are complementary and it is quite clear to me that one of the functions will be to promote greater public understanding of the problem and its extent. Obviously that connotes ministerial and governmental understanding of the nature, causes and extent of the poverty and social deprivation and the measures required to alleviate them. That brings me to the point Deputy Higgins made that it should have the power to state publicly what measures are required and why they are required to do the research necessary and then separately obviously to discover this information. All that is covered in the Bill. The agency will have to examine all aspects of poverty and social deprivation, including the nature, causes and extent of poverty and social deprivation and the measures required to alleviate them. In addition, I have tabled amendment No. 10 which is designed to empower the agency to engage directly in research. Here it is obvious the relationship between poverty, social deprivation and inequality will come up for consideration. I have accepted the essence of paragraphs (b) and (e) in my amendments. This will empower the agency to undertake programmes on an experimental basis. The agency will also be required to evaluate such actions. It is not my intention, however, that the agency should become involved in operational programmes on a long-term continuous basis, not normally at any event, because the objective is to find out what the reasons are and deal with them either through the medium of the structures set up by the agency or by the Government or other bodies directly concerned. Once the agency identify a need arrangements will be made to have the problem tackled by the appropriate statutory bodies. It is important to recognise here that one of the powers we are giving in this Bill is designed to enable any Minister to direct a body under his or her supervision to co-operate with the agency. This is a very strong power. It represents a new approach and one which will be very valuable. It may in certain circumstances be very necessary.

Deputy Flaherty and Deputy Higgins rose.

I shall be very unchivalrous and call on Deputy Higgins.

Amendment No. 10 says "and with the approval of the Minister". Why does the Minister find it necessary to put a condition precedent on research? He has been generous in responding to our suggestion but why put in this proviso? It reduces the independence of the body doing research.

This is one of the areas in which the body would become involved directly. It was our intention originally that the agency would farm out the research. That is what the poverty group did. The intention here is that before indulging in research the agency would be required to obtain the approval of the Minister. The purpose is to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication as between the agency and other research bodies. The idea is to stimulate other relevant bodies to take an interest in this area. For instance, the Medical and Social Research Board would have an interest. We do not want the agency to become over-research orientated. I spent a good while in research, and the tendency is to become too involved. If, however, there were not suitable existing arrangements then the agency could itself become involved.

The Minister indicated on amendment No. 5 that he would allow programmes on an experimental basis. Where does he see the National Social Services Board which is at present engaged in an on-going social function in this? Subsuming the board means taking over staff, responsibilities and so on. The programme of the board is an on-going one. Is it not contrary to principle for the agency to subsume an on-going service? Would the Minister clarify the contradiction in this?

The intention is that the work of the board will be ongoing. I see no reason why it should not be. It would be a matter for the board ultimately to decide what the priorities are. The functions which the board has at the moment are being subsumed. They can be continued within the new agency and obviously there will have to be consideration to find what the priorities are. It is our intention that the functions will be ongoing and I see no reason why the agency would not be continuing them in any event. Obviously, in the future, the emphasis on their work will be discussed with the new agency.

I would like to know why my amendment to engage in research relating to poverty was ruled out of order and why the Minister's amendment was deemed in order?

Your amendment was ruled out of order because it involves a potential charge on the revenue.

Is the Minister's amendment not a charge on the revenue?

The distinction is that the Minister is allowed to move an amendment where Deputies are not empowered to do so.

I hope we will have an opportunity to put our amendment on section 4 to a vote.

The Chair, is, as always, at the service of the Members of the House. If and when the debate terminates then the Chair will put the question. If the debate continues until 1.30 p.m. then an omnibus question will be put. If the Deputy is anxious that the question on her amendment be put then it shall be done.

The Deputy will realise that I am providing the money for engaging in research which she was anxious to have.

I accept paragraph (c) in essence but I am satisfied it is adequately covered in the existing Bill and in the amendments I have proposed. As regards co-operation with the statutory bodies, my proposals are much stronger and more specific than those proposed by Deputies in paragraph (d). My proposals require the agency to promote and co-ordinate the work of statutory bodies and voluntary agencies which are not specifically mentioned in the Deputy's amendment so as to achieve more effective action in relation to self-help, poverty and social deprivation. I also wish to point out that the Deputy's amendment would involve the deletion of subsection (4) which empowers any Minister to direct anybody under his aegis to co-operate with the agency. This is a measure which is particularly important in the objectives which we all have.

Paragraph (f) is already covered in my proposals. The agency may make recommendations to the Minister on its own initiative in relation to the social aspects of national, social and economic planning. Paragraph (e) of my proposals covers that. This would enable the agency to advise on the whole range of Government social policy, including, for example, policy on housing, income maintenance, health and social welfare, education and personal social services. This brings in the point raised by Deputy De Rossa in his amendment and I want to assure him that that is adequately covered in the Bill as it stands and he need have no fear in that respect. In addition, my proposals require the agency to submit such reports as the Minister may require from time to time. Paragraph (g) is not necessary. The agency will be free to draw on any source of experience or research in formulating its recommendations. This may include any of the reports of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to combat poverty or of similar programmes abroad. There is no need, therefore, to specify the National Committee in the legislation. Paragraph (h) of the Deputy's proposals deals with the making of an annual report. The Bill includes a full section — section 9 — on the annual report and related matters, so this paragraph is not necessary. Similarly, paragraph (i) is already contained in the Bill. Subsection (2) of the amendment is also covered in the Bill and I am advised that subsection (3) is not necessary.

I am satisfied that the essence of amendment 1(a) is already covered in the Bill and will be further strengthened if my amendment No. 10, relating to research, is accepted. The power to examine the causes and extent of poverty and social deprivation is implicit in paragraphs (a), (c), (e), (f), (g), (i) and (j) of subsection (1). In addition, my amendment will give the agency specific authority to engage in research relating to poverty. I see no need for this amendment and, therefore, I do not propose to accept it.

With regard to amendment No. 1(b), I agree that the agency should be empowered to undertake experimental programmes in relation to community development, self-help, poverty and social services. Amendment No. 5, which I moved, seeks to extend this power to the agency. However, I am not in favour of the agency becoming involved in providing services or undertaking action on a long term, continuous basis as seems to be implied in amendment No. 1 (b). Where an experimental programme has revealed an unmet need, responsibility for dealing with the situation on a long-term basis would be assigned to the most appropriate Government Department or statutory body. Otherwise the agency would quickly become bogged down in the detailed administration of services which would render it unable to take the broader view of the social policy and social planning with which it is charged. For this reason I do not propose to accept this amendment.

Question put: "That the new section be there inserted."
The Committee divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 60.

  • Bermingham, Joe.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Desmond, Eileen.
  • Gallagher, Paddy.
  • Gregory-Independent, Tony.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.


  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, Niall.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Barrett, Sylvester.
  • Bellew, Tom.
  • Brady, Gerry.
  • (Kildare).
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matty.
  • Brennan, Ned.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, Seán.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Colley, George.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Clement.
  • Cowen, Bernard.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Faulkner, Pádraig.
  • Filgate, Eddie.
  • Fitzgerald, Gene.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom.
  • (Dublin South-Central).
  • Fitzsimons, Jim.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • French, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Gibbons, Jim.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Hilliard, Colm.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Keegan, Seán.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • MacSharry, Ray.
  • Meaney, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P. J.
  • Murphy, Ciarán P.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William G.
  • O'Donoghue, Martin.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Taylor and Quinn; Níl, Deputies B. Ahern and Briscoe.
Question declared lost.

It being now after 1.30 p.m. I am, in accordance with the resolution made by the Dáil on 6 July 1982, putting the question: "That all amendments set down by the Member in charge of the Bill for Committee Stage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, the Bill, as amended, is hereby agreed to and, as amended, is reported to the House, the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.33 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.