Childhood Development Initiative: Motion (Resumed).
The following motion was moved by Deputy Rabbitte on Wednesday, 27 October 2004:
That Dáil Éireann,
—welcomes the report of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative;
—expresses its concern at the serious picture of inequality and social deprivation in some areas of west Tallaght depicted in the report, especially in view of the unprecedented economic growth experienced by the country over the past decade;
—acknowledges the successes of the broader community in Tallaght and commends, in particular, the efforts of many individuals and community and voluntary organisations to improve the opportunities and living conditions of the communities; and
—believes that the conditions depicted in the report are replicated in other disadvantaged communities throughout the country and, in this regard, notes the finding of the recent report published by the Children's Research Centre, Trinity College, that the number of children living in housing that is overcrowded, damp, in disrepair and in poor neighbourhoods had more than doubled in the years between 1991 and 2002;
calls on the Government to use the Budget to respond positively to the recommendations in the Child Development Initiative Report and, in particular, to:
(a) address the factors that leave 90% of children in fear of the effects of anti-social behaviour;
(b) implement divisional status for the Tallaght Garda region which has been stalled since 1997;
(c) expand programmes designed to improve early school provision and specifically to expand the number of child care places;
(d) enable the local authorities to accelerate a comprehensive programme of refurbishment of public housing stock and, in particular, to commit to the installation of central heating within a reasonable timeframe;
(e) resource the local authorities to improve the environment in the estates surveyed;
(f) restore the RAPID programme in order to fund in 2005 the plans submitted by this and other areas targeted in the original announcement in 2001.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
—welcomes the report of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative;
—notes the Government's commitment to social inclusion and the record spend under the national development plan towards this end;
—acknowledges the success of the broader community in Tallaght and commends, in particular, the efforts of many individuals, community and voluntary organisations to improve the opportunities and living conditions of the communities;
—acknowledges the achievement of the Government in:
—putting in place a strong social and affordable housing programme involving the investment of €1.8 billion in 2004;
—directing public expenditure towards meeting the needs of low income households and those with special needs through a broad range of measures;
—the significant investment being made in west Tallaght through the various social housing measures including the local authority housing programme, the voluntary housing programme, the remedial works scheme, the Traveller accommodation programme and the accelerated gas central heating programme;
—supporting the preparation of five year action plans for the period 2004 to 2008 to deliver across the full range of social and affordable housing programmes and supporting measures to achieve the effect in the long term by tackling real need and breaking cycles of disadvantage and dependency; and
—the major investment in urban public housing renewal during the national development plan; and
—the Government's commitment to respond positively to the recommendations in the report of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative and, in particular, to:
—continue to address the challenge of anti-social behaviour;
—note the ongoing Garda youth diversion projects and juvenile diversion programme which operate in communities nationwide, including Tallaght:
—note that the current and future accommodation requirements of the gardaí at Tallaght is currently under consideration by Garda management and a number of different options are being considered with a view to finalising proposals in the near future;
—welcome the ongoing commitment of very significant Government funding for the support and creation of child care places in the Tallaght area. To date more than €4.4 million has been allocated to the area for this purpose;
—acknowledge the improvement in early school provision initiatives including:
—the provision of Early Start pre-school places for children at risk of social disadvantage;
—reading support programmes;
—extra teaching resources to decrease pupil-teacher ratios, and additional support through the disadvantaged areas scheme;
—measures to reduce early school leaving, through the school completion programme.
—further improve the environment in the estates surveyed and continue with the housing estate enhancement scheme initiated this year under RAPID;
—welcome the prioritisation of €7 million investment in RAPID areas under Phase II of the equality for women measure which is earmarked for projects benefiting women in these areas and notes that a number of applications have been received from groups in the west Tallaght area and that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform expects to be in a position to allocate funding by the end of the year;
—develop mechanisms leading to better delivery by RAPID, including:
—better local co-ordination;
—the leverage fund for small works; and
—the ring-fencing of funds under the dormant accounts fund towards RAPID areas; and
—continue to develop the RAPID initiative in all its strands beyond 2006, including an ongoing commitment to the further prioritisation of RAPID areas in decision-making by Departments.
—(Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs).
I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and Deputy Andrews.
In every contribution I have made in this House since my election as a Deputy for Dublin South-West, I have mentioned Tallaght. I am proud of my association with Tallaght and proud of the people who live there. It is appropriate that today in particular I should stand up for the people of Tallaght. For the past two weeks the people of the area have been subjected to much negative media coverage, not only in the context of the CDI report, which is a positive report, but in regard to other issues. If one reads The Echo, a local Tallaght newspaper which I read every Thursday morning, one will note the manner in which Tallaght is picked on in relation to the launch of Luas, a very positive project. However, the media are now reporting it in a negative way.
There has been a great deal of negative publicity during the past two weeks regarding the manner in which NTL has been treating the people of Tallaght and the wider south-west Dublin region. Tallaght is well used to being picked on but the report we are discussing gives us an opportunity to be positive about it, something which I do every day of my political life.
I compliment my constituency colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, on being able to persuade his colleagues in the Labour Party to table this Private Members' motion. As my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said last night the Labour Party is to be complimented on a fine piece of work. I am happy to support it.
That is the new coalition.
If the Deputy has nothing else to do why does he not find Deputy Twomey and talk about how to join a party and save his seat?
Will the Deputy get on to the issues?
I appeal to Deputy McGrath not to interrupt and to Deputy O'Connor to address his remarks through the Chair to prevent being provoked by interruption.
I am not easily provoked. I have been in Tallaght for 35 years, though I am not from Tallaght as the critics tell me. I have worked hard for the people there and they have been good to me. At a time when I was finding it difficult to struggle through the political system in 1997, the then Minister for Health, Dr. Rory O'Hanlon, gave me my first leg up in the community by appointing me to the board of Tallaght Hospital. In terms of my community endeavour I have never looked back. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is abroad on Government business and would have wished to be associated with this debate. I am sorry he is not here.
The report is viewed positively. Last week the Taoiseach welcomed the report, said it was good and looked forward to all of us in the House working towards the ideals identified in it. I support the positive ideals of the report and compliment the childhood development initiative which produced it. I wish to put on record the various community organisations in the Tallaght west area which contributed to this report: An Cosán, Barnardos, Brookfield Headstart pre-school and crèche, Jobstown child care centre, Killinarden school completion programme, the Caitlín Maud naíonra, the Rainbow House early education and child care centre, the RAPID programme, St. Aidan's senior school, Brookfield, St. Thomas's senior school, Jobstown, St. Anne's primary school, Fettercairn, Knockmore national school, Scoil Caitlín Maud, the all-Irish junior school, Knockmore, St. Thomas's playgroup, St. Louise's playgroup, south Dublin county child care committee, the South Western Area Health Board, Tallaght Partnership, Youth Horizon and the YMCA which is involved in Brookfield. It is clear from that list and the other organisations I will mention later that Tallaght is a positive place. It is important to highlight that given the negative image that sometimes builds up around Tallaght.
I am pleased to acknowledge the presence of my neighbour and colleague, Deputy Crowe. We are all aware that Tallaght took a long time to develop. At one stage we talked about Tallaght in terms of having the population of a city but the status of a village. Some 14 years ago last Saturday, 23 October 1990, that all changed with the opening of The Square and Tallaght has never looked back. If one goes to Tallaght today one is faced with ten cranes which is a sign of much investment and progress. If one cares to look around Tallaght it has a major general hospital, a civic centre, a district library, the national basketball arena, a very successful institute of technology and all the facilities one would expect to find in a major centre of population. I invite all colleagues to go down to Abbey Street, board the Luas and go out and see what a positive place is Tallaght.
The leader of the Labour Party referred to the contrasts between some parts of Tallaght. As one who works hard in Tallaght we should be speaking about one Tallaght. It upsets me and the community when we put walls around parts of Tallaght and say it is different when it should not be different. The Taoiseach used to say that, at a time of economic prosperity, it is important that all boats rise and that we pay particular attention to the small boats. It is important to take particular note of that and understand that Tallaght west which is mainly local authority estates, was built in the main by Dublin Corporation, which at that time was an absentee landlord. Happily that has changed and South Dublin County Council is in place. While everything is not perfect the position has improved enormously.
The communities in Killinarden, Jobstown, Brookfield and Fettercairn are anxious to paint a positive picture of community life. Without wishing to make a political point, all those areas have had to recover from the fact that a previous coalition Government introduced a £5,000 grant to encourage people to leave the area. It took years for those estates to recover.
I wish to refer to the progress made in Tallaght west and to put on record the various facilities and services provided in that area of my constituency. That includes enterprise community centres in Killinarden and Brookfield, both of which are managed by Tallaght working group of which I was a founder member. Recently, there have been refurbishment programmes in the Fettercairn community centre and in the Killinarden community centre. We have completed the Jobstown all-weather pitch which is a tremendous facility for that area. The playground at Jobstown community centre is also completed. The Fettercairn horse project is completed and continues to get huge amounts of Government funding which is important to that area. The all-weather pitch in Killinarden has also recently been upgraded and four local neighbour estate centres have been completed. Much building work is taking place, including a building at the Jobstown community centre, the Jadd centre and the Jobstown drugs treatment centre is being completed. The Jobstown child care centre is also being completed. A particularly worthwhile project which is under way is Citywise's educational recreation centre at Jobstown.
I am pleased to note the presence in the Visitors Gallery of my colleague, Mick Billane, who was the most active and popular councillor when I was a member of the council in 1991. It is regrettable that a combination of mathematics led to him losing his seat but he still has a huge role to play in so far as the people of Tallaght west are concerned. Mick Billanewas involved in the development of the idea of a swimming pool and sports hall at Tallaght west which has gone to tender. Those will be positive developments for Tallaght west and the wider Tallaght area. I have made the point at other gatherings in Tallaght that other facilities, including skateboarding facilities which are popular with the young people of Killinarden, should be provided. In nearby Brookfield, a youth and community centre is to be provided.
It is important to understand there still remains much to be done in Tallaght west as in the wider Tallaght area and we should not take our eye off the difficulties being identified, so far as the drugs programme is concerned. There is a positive community reaction to the drugs scourge in Tallaght west. I am pleased the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, is about to announce details of a pilot programme involving St. Dominic's response centre and the CARPcentre, which has a new building in Killinarden, which will have €90 million to deal with the cocaine problem. I look forward to that announcement for the Tallaght area.
Turning to the report, one of the points which caused much upset was the reference to anti-social behaviour. I agree with other colleagues that we should support our communities in every way possible so far as combating anti-social behaviour is concerned.
Some 94% of those surveyed stated that they are affected by anti-social behaviour. Just 4% report such incidents to the Garda, which represents a particular challenge the authors of the report should be complimented for highlighting. The Garda clearly has a responsibility to the community and there is a wider issue I have never been afraid to point out, that Tallaght needs more gardaí.
The Deputy should tell the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Tallaght is the country's third largest population centre and it is time the Garda authorities and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform put their heads together to provide more gardaí for Tallaght. For some years the gardaí have stated that building more Garda stations is not the way forward. However, this report proposes that there should be a dedicated Garda station in Tallaght west providing a service to the people and I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine that issue. Furthermore, I am pleased the Garda authorities, following prompting from me and other colleagues, are beginning to think that the area should have its own Garda station. Such a facility would supplement services already provided by the city council and the Garda which includes regular clinics every week in Killinarden, Fettercairn and Jobstown. I understand another is to be opened in Brookfield, which is a positive development.
I do not want to introduce too many red herrings but there was a reference last night to how Fianna Fáil operates in areas such as Tallaght west. I do my job in Tallaght west every day and am the only public representative who runs regular weekly clinics in the estates. I am very happy to do so and draw crowds every week. If Deputies want to check on me, I am in Fettercairn community centre every Monday and on Fridays I attend Brookfield and Killinarden community centres. Public representatives should provide such services. To this end I am a founder chairman of Jobstown community college, I am on the board of Killinarden community school and I have been on the board of Brookfield and St. Mark's community schools. It is important that public representatives give their time and energy to such schools.
It is important that this report should attract a great deal of political support because a huge amount of effort has gone into it. We should all contribute to correcting the negative image of Tallaght and Tallaght west. To that end I invite any colleague to come with me any day to Tallaght west and see the positive work being done and to see how much the area has improved. I do not hesitate to point out that there is still a huge challenge and South Dublin County Council has a huge amount of work to do. In this context, I hope councillors of all persuasions will continue to fight to ensure that the environment is improved as much as possible.
It is important that we work hard to deal with the report's various recommendations, particularly in respect of educational disadvantage. At a party meeting last night I acknowledged that the Minister for Education and Science has been particularly responsive in that regard and has already indicated her interest in the Tallaght west area. Moreover, I understand that she plans to accept our invitation to come to Tallaght west and see the situation for herself.
When one speaks to people in Tallaght west, as I do on a daily basis, they state that not only do they want us to build on this report but to highlight the continuing community needs. In all of this it is important that we take the lead from the community rather than the other way around. Anyone who attended the launch of the report in the Plaza Hotel on Monday will have heard 200 community people speaking positively about the area and about where we want to go.
It is important that we highlight the continuing needs of the area. I have already mentioned the need for a Garda station in Tallaght west, which I believe should become a reality. The swimming pool building programme should also be accelerated. Having experienced the success of Luas, there is a huge demand for it to be extended through Oldbawn to the Tallaght west estates and Citywest. It is not pie in the sky, rather the success of Luas proves that such a transport service can and should be provided.
There is a need to examine educational disadvantage. New school buildings may well be needed in the extended area. In particular, the Irish school in Knockmore, Scoil Chaitlín Maude, requires a new building, which I hope the Department of Education and Science will address. We must also examine the need for non-formal education support. I have already raised this issue with the Minister as well as the need to appoint new educational support and youth officers, which has been identified by Jobstown community council.
I have often stated in debates on Private Members' business that it will always be necessary for colleagues to make political points, with which I have no problem.
The Deputy's party is in power.
It is delivering. If the Deputy wants to come out to Tallaght some day, I will show him what has been delivered. Perhaps he might then return to his constituency and replicate what has been done. Tallaght has become a great example of what should be done. It was built the wrong way around. There were too many houses with too few facilities but we are now catching up. We have not yet done so and much more needs to be done but the Government is continuing to deliver. I do not want to make political points but, since 1997, the Government has been continuing to deliver. The reason I was lucky enough to be elected as a Deputy is that people recognised that the work was being done.
It is important that the people who compiled and presented this report get our support in a non-party political manner and I hope the four Deputies who represent Tallaght will continue to give that support. There has been an enormous amount of co-operation and this report gives us a huge blueprint for the future. I thank my colleagues for bearing with me.
I propose to share time with Deputy Andrews.
I agree with Deputy O'Connor's remarks. I welcome this report, as does the Government amendment to the motion. As the Minister of State with responsibility for children, I am arranging to meet the authors of the report and examine its conclusions to see how we can progress matters. The National Children's Office, under my direction, has engaged in a great deal of research on children's welfare and the State now has a research base which it never had before. One of the interesting statistics to emerge in recent years is that the volume of consistent poverty among children has shown a considerable decrease and it is important to note that there has been such a decrease. That is not to take away from some of the disturbing findings in this report, which must be addressed by all of us, as Deputy O'Connor stated. I look forward with my colleagues in the Government to meeting the challenges posed by this report.
There is no doubt that there has been a huge increase in volume of national wealth in recent years nor is there any doubt that it has trickled down to all social classes. However, it has not made some fundamental changes in certain areas, which we would like to see. There have been improvements, but much remains to be done, as Deputy O'Connor stated.
When I consider my constituency and, in particular, the Blanchardstown area, and contrast the state in which it was a decade ago with how it is today, I see a radical transformation. Likewise, Deputy O'Connor has seen a similar radical transformation in Tallaght, which has been assisted by substantial public investment in the health service and educational and transport infrastructure. In addition to investment, we have to examine social structures, in particular, the collapse of social structures in certain neighbourhoods in the grim decade of 1980s and consider how we can rebuild them and create vibrant communities.
In the programme for Government agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party in 1992, it was decided to establish partnerships. They have tried in a focused, holistic way to tackle the problem of disadvantage in their areas. They have done a great deal of work and have been in operation for more than a decade. The partnerships have been reviewed by many Ministers. They have made a signal contribution to try to pull together public policy on this area. Despite the partnerships, the volume of public investment, a favourable economic climate, considerable increase in social provision and considerable reduction in the incidents of personal taxation, especially among the lower paid, certain persistent social problems remain. Nobody is denying that on this side of the House. We have to address those social problems.
I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, specifically in regard to paragraph (a) of the Opposition’s motion, which calls on the House to address the factors that leave 90% of children in fear of the effects of anti-social behaviour. That need was echoed by many speakers.
In regard to west Tallaght specifically — the position there mirrors that in other parts of the State — there is in operation a Garda juvenile diversion programme. The purpose of it is to provide an opportunity to divert offenders from criminal activity by providing for various alternatives to prosecution. That programme has been operating on a statutory basis since May 2002. In 2003 alone, the National Juvenile Office received 19,915 referrals relating to 17,043 individual children — children being persons under the age of 18, with the majority of such persons being the youth. Some 77% were male and 23% were female. The diversion programme has been successful in diverting young persons away from crime by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families. Of the children referred to the diversion programme in 2003, 50% were over the age of 16 with the balance being between the ages of seven and 17. The age at which offending commences is one of the most significant predictors of prosecution levels; the earlier the onset of offending, the greater the number of prosecutions subsequently recorded.
Garda youth diversion programmes have also been set up to challenge the anti-social or criminal inclinations of youngsters involved in crime. There are three Garda youth diversion projects in the Tallaght district, in Killinarden, Jobstown and Whitechurch, receiving total funding of €295,826 this year, and these projects accommodated over 140 participants.
Having pointed out the existing structures, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and myself are concerned about our youth justice system. Serious concern has been raised about offending behaviour. It is an aspect of criminal activity which is of particular concern to the Government. The incidents of violent crime and public disorder offences involving young persons are becoming too frequent. We have a sound statutory framework in the Children Act 2001. I am happy to inform the House that I have been in a position to implement and commence quite a number of provisions of this legislation. However, the Minister and myself decided more is required.
We have established a task force in the Department to examine specifically how the State might better manage and target the delivery of services in the youth justice area. The task force is consulting the relevant governmental actors. It will evaluate international thinking on youth justice where advances have been made in recent years. We are particularly interested in the Youth Justice Agency in Northern Ireland which evolved from its criminal justice review. It is intended that the task force will report to the Minister and myself so that recommendations can be brought to Government next summer.
I thank the Minister of State for sharing time.
An interesting development regarding the issues raised in the motion will be the operation of the Garda Síochána Bill when it becomes law, in particular that part of it which will deal with the involvement of local communities in the affairs of the gardaí. One of the issues raised by the motion refers to perhaps disengagement with the gardaí and with law enforcement. I am confident the involvement of local community representatives, local authority members and other people with an interest in the future of Tallaght and other such districts will have a role to play at that time. I am sure that will make a difference in addressing the problems identified in the motion.
It is unusual that Private Members' business should focus on a particular area. The Green Party has generally introduced legislation or proposed minor Bills by way of Private Members' business. The focus on a single area may reflect the fact that the Leader of the Labour Party represents this area, but I would be slow to accuse him of priming the pump by the use of this type of motion. It would be inappropriate if that was the case.
I wanted to speak on this motion for two reasons, first, to point out that Deputy O'Connor, who recently spoke on this issue, is perhaps the best advocate for his area and perhaps the person most associated with an area in this House. He has been a great advocate for the area he represents during the time I have known him in this House. It is a little unfortunate that he will find himself technically voting against the interest of his area. Anybody who knows this area and the Deputy would know that would be a poor and inaccurate reflection of the kind of work he does. The same could be said of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan.
Second, I want to address the question of early childhood education. A report was published last year by the Centre for Early Childhood Development in Education. Effectively, it was an audit of services in this area. One of its conclusions was that accurate information on the range and nature of early childhood education was extremely difficult to access. For that reason the report provided by the West Tallaght Childhood Development Initiative is of great importance. Effectively, politicians have no excuse now not to provide or properly target the necessary services. However, the audit of the Centre for Early Childhood Development in Education found that the provision of services was well targeted. Some 82% of services were targeted at the disadvantaged and the remaining 18% of services were targeted at those with special needs. The report discussed in this motion is of great assistance. It provides politicians with the data required to make the necessary changes to ensure that provision is properly targeted.
One of the recommendations of that audit report is that there should be more co-ordination between Departments to ensure the delivery of services is properly targeted in those areas where they are required. If nothing else, the findings of this report should ensure there is proper co-ordination between Departments in that regard, which hitherto seems to have been lacking.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Crowe, Gregory and McGrath.
The welcome given to this report by all sides of the House must be a great source of pride to the authors and the people in the community concerned who helped compile it. As a principle of community development work, producing a report such as this and identifying problems that exist in an area, the extent to which the community can marshal resources to address those problems and where external help is needed, is always a useful exercise.
Unfortunately, it is in the third area that Government and State agencies tend to let down communities such as those in Tallaght. My experience of working in the community youth sector shows that, unfortunately, there already exists in Departments a library of such reports on communities throughout the country. Reports similar to the one on west Tallaght could be produced on Darndale and Muirhevnamór in Dundalk. Reports have been produced in the Mahon community in my constituency. Mahon is a good parallel to Tallaght because the two communities have similar histories. Although they have different populations, they were developed at approximately the same time. Mahon has particular advantages in that the quality of the housing is higher than that in Tallaght and lessons were learned from other parts of the country where mistakes were made. Unfortunately some of those mistakes continue to be made.
Difficulties in disadvantaged communities arise from a combination of the standard of housing, housing allocation policy and the failure to achieve a proper blend of economic and social life. When the balance is out of kilter, we find that social problems arise that would not otherwise exist. Unfortunately, State agencies and the Government in particular have not been addressing them properly.
In the Mahon community, my colleague councillor Chris O'Leary has been speaking very much on the anti-social behaviour indicated in the Labour Party motion. He has suffered two attacks on his house in recent weeks. A number of approaches can be taken when an incident such as this happens. He has taken the approach, which I support, of suggesting that if anti-social behaviour is to stop or decrease in such communities, it must be on the basis that people speak out. The law-abiding citizens of such communities, who comprise the great majority, must be allowed to speak and be afforded the right to live appropriately.
Returning to the central aspects of this motion, there are a number of Tallaght-related issues that the Labour Party is seeking to promote. They have a wider context, as evidenced in similar communities throughout the country. The call for the Tallaght Garda station to have divisional status is fully supported by the Green Party. As highlighted in Deputy O'Connor's contribution, the fact that west Tallaght, which must have a population equivalent of that of Kilkenny, does not have a Garda station shows how badly wrong our planning has gone in that community.
The issue of child care will be covered by other Members so I will speak about the RAPID programme. The motion calls for the programme to be restored to fund in 2005 areas such as Tallaght that were targeted in an original Government announcement prior to the general election of 2002. RAPID is the cruellest acronym that was ever developed by a Department. RAPID funding was meant to be directed into 26 communities around the country, but very little additional funding has been provided in many of them. This has only added to the burden of the residents. In effect, the Government has cheated these communities. I support this motion and I would like the Government to address the issues it raises to meet the needs of the 26 identified areas and many others.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. There has been some criticism of the report of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative but I welcome the fact that both the Government and Labour Party welcome it. It does focus on the problems that exist in the west Tallaght area.
The endemic problem in west Tallaght is poverty, which has been systemic down through the years. Regardless of what the Government says about different programmes designed to address it, the reality is that the unemployment rate in the area is double the national average and over half the children living in the area are still depending on State benefits. In this debate we need to talk about how we will address these problems.
Deputy O'Connor referred to the policing problem. Many of the problems faced by the community are triggered by poverty. Policing is a huge issue. The closest contact people have with the police is when they try to report a crime. The immediate difficulty in the Tallaght area is trying to get through to the local Garda station. The gardaí have been telling people for years that the telephone system in the station will be upgraded, but I recently received a letter from the Minister stating that there is no such plan. Even at this basic level, there is a problem. If there is crime happening in one's area, one cannot get in touch with the gardaí.
Another problem that has been mentioned is that there are not enough gardaí. Could we make a comparison with other parts on the country in this regard? The reply from the Minister was that this would cost too much and waste Garda resources. However, if one asks Members of this House if there is a crime problem in Tallaght, they will certainly say there is. If one asks them privately whether they believe there should be more gardaí in Tallaght, they will say they do. However, this view does not seem to have drifted into the mind of the Minister.
The report does not cover the anger, frustration, sense of abandonment and sense that no one is listening felt by the people of Tallaght, but it does come up with solutions. On the crime problem, a report is to be released next week entitled Youth Needs in Tallaght 2004. It refers to the need for a forum and the fact that young people feel isolated from the gardaí. One positive solution would be a forum in which young people and other members of the community could sit down in a neutral environment to address their problems.
There is also a drug problem in west Tallaght which, again, is related to poverty. The community has been trying to address it. If people are asked whether there is a need to double the Garda resources in the area, they will answer in the affirmative.
Last night Members referred to playgrounds that are to be opened in Tallaght. We already have a playground in Jobstown but it is closed for two days per week because there are no staff to supervise it. There is talk of providing three more playgrounds. Will they be staffed? People talk of joining the dots but it does not require a knowledge of rocket science to know that playgrounds need to be supervised if they are to remain open. Similarly, if there are no people to open other facilities in the area, difficulties will arise.
As I stated, the community has twice the national average level of unemployment, yet CE schemes and JI schemes were cut at a time when the community was crying out for facilities. These cuts had a knock-on effect.
Yesterday I asked the Minister about education and she stated her Department would examine the ideas in the report. I would like confirmation that the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health andChildren and those responsible for the RAPID programme will actually look at the report. I welcome the statement of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, that he will meet its authors.
The report refers to solution-based approaches. We need solutions to the problems that have been affecting west Tallaght down through the years. We can outline all the programmes that exist but this is not enough. Redress is not happening fast enough and children are growing up in an unacceptable environment. The report outlines the solutions to the problems and we are asking that the Government take them on board.
I support this motion on the report of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative and acknowledge the work of all those who helped produce it. As the motion states, the conditions in Tallaght are replicated in other disadvantaged communities throughout the country, nowhere more so than in my constituency, particularly in parts of the north inner city.
It demonstrates that this country is a very divided and unequal society. Various recent reports suggested that Ireland is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. This seems unbelievable in the context of the years of extreme affluence, with budgetary surpluses of billions. The budgetary policy in this State for many years has served to benefit most those who need it least and has failed to make any effort to redistribute wealth so that the weaker sections of our people might benefit and a fairer society emerge.
At least the Progressive Democrats do not attempt to disguise their political philosophy in regard to inequality. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, boasts and believes that inequality is necessary and good for the economy. However, the Government's amendment to the motion is not so forthright. Instead it reeks of hypocrisy when it refers to the Government's commitment to social inclusion, while the same Government obliges people on the lowest incomes, and even pensioners, to pay tax while those earning millions pay no tax. Governments whose persistent budgetary policy is to favour the rich cannot claim to be committed to social inclusion, yet the Government amendment perversely claims to be directing public expenditure towards meeting the needs of low income households. Any objective analysis of Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats budgetary policy will demonstrate that those who benefit most are those who are already affluent. To say otherwise is simply false and hypocritical. This is why there are areas like west Tallaght, the north inner city and many others like them. The Government's amendment refers to its strong social and affordable housing programme, which is laughable, yet tragic for the unfortunate families trying to get a home of their own, and this coming from a Government that capitulated to the builders and developers who refused to deliver the 20% social and affordable housing.
The west Tallaght report highlights the importance of education for disadvantaged children and calls for the expansion of programmes designed to improve early school provision, and rightly so. The recent OECD report indicated that, despite the years of the Celtic tiger, Ireland remains a blackspot when it comes to early school provision. I have drawn attention in this House to community-based after school projects in my area, doing the work which the OECD pointed out as vital, yet in short supply. These same after school projects are undermined by lack of funding and a constant struggle to keep going. Despite the importance of education and tackling disadvantage, local schools in my area contacted me to say that a recent change in Department policy will result in the most vulnerable disadvantaged schools in the inner city losing badly needed resource teachers, while larger advantaged schools, such as those in Foxrock, will gain additional resource teachers. This is apparently on the basis that allocations will be based on size rather than on need. It is yet another example of what the Government refers to as commitment to social inclusion.
Unless there is a radical change in Government policy to redirect resources to areas in need and to the most disadvantaged people, extreme inequality will continue to be a blackspot on our society.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me an opportunity to speak to the motion today, which expresses concern at the serious picture of inequality and social deprivation in some parts of the State, and not just in Deputy O'Connor's constituency. Right in the middle of a wealthy country there is massive poverty, anti-social behaviour, serious crime, bad housing and blatant neglect. That is the reality and the content of the motion before us today. It is the reality for many people in society, for whom it is a nightmare. Children are intimidated and cannot sleep at night and the elderly are bolted into their homes each night at 7 p.m. in fear of attack. This is the dark side of our vibrant healthy economy. It is something we must face up to and I welcome the fact that the report does so. It is why I welcome the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative and let us hope its recommendations are implemented. We now need action, and I mean decisive action. When we talk about poverty, let us stop beating around the bush and say straight out it is about a quality education service, a decent home and a decent job. If one has these three things one will never be poor.
I urge people involved in studies and surveys to reflect on Karl Marx's advice when he stated, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." This is what the motion is about. It is about the urgent need for radical change and putting the resources, no matter how unpopular, into the most needy and the most disadvantaged. Education, a home and a job are always the starting point. The rest will fall into place and we cannot allow a situation where Ireland has one of the lowest levels of social protection expenditure in Europe. As a proportion of GNP, the Irish figure is 16.5% compared to the pre-enlargement EU figure of 27.3%. In Sweden, for example, the figure is 32.3%. Social protection expenditure includes expenditure on sickness, old age and disability, which relates to expenditure from taxation and social insurance. Societies with high levels of social protection typically have low levels of poverty risk and vice versa. In other words, despite our great economic growth, the Government is not delivering to the most needy in society.
It is time for tough decisions to be made for working people and the lower paid. It is time their issues were put at the top of the political agenda. This initiative is the beginning of urgently needed change. We need to invest in disadvantaged communities. Investment begins at pre-school and primary level, otherwise it is a waste of time. If we are serious about democracy, there needs to be more community development and more social justice. We also need active labour market policies to assist people into good quality work. We need a strong social protection system and good and accessible provision in areas of education, health care, housing and community and public transport. These are the key issues for investment. Then we will lift people out of poverty, and for those who are still doubtful, it also lifts and develops economic growth. A society that turns its back on the 20% of its poorest is doomed to failure. This report is an opportunity to deal with this problem. I urge Deputies to support the report because it is a breath of fresh air.
We must ask ourselves certain fundamental questions. After seven years in power — I address this question to Deputy O'Connor, the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and other Ministers — why are there still people living in poverty? These people are not just living in the Deputies' constituency, they also live in my constituency. There is massive social and educational disadvantage, where people do not have a proper home and the elderly are totally intimidated. After seven years in power by Fianna Fáil, and the massive wealth and resources of the State, why are people still living in these circumstances? This is the reality of the debate. I urge all Deputies to support the motion.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Higgins and Deputy Wall.
This is an unusual Private Members' motion because it deals with a specific report about a specific community, which I welcome. Defining solutions, which the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative has done, is essentially about ensuring that politics can respond to people's needs at local level.
The Government must respond because what is set out in this report is a record of struggle but also of strength. If communities are supported, they can attain remarkable achievements. Without support and solid measures, they suffer, and children in particular. There is an onus on the Government not simply to put out the vague aspirational words that are contained in this amendment but to present the solid measures that will make a real difference and bring about real change. If the report's challenge is met by the Government, it will bring benefits not only to west Tallaght but to all areas of disadvantage. This report is simply the portrait of one such community but there are many others with the same problems and strengths in all our constituencies.
The recent report on child poverty by the Children's Rights Alliance parallels points made in the report on west Tallaght. The issue of children's poverty is fundamentally attached to the issue of access, or the blocking of access, to health care for children and their parents. A medical card is a passport to accessing health care for people on low incomes and the Government has promised repeatedly to introduce 200,000 additional medical cards. Rather than an increase, however, 101,000 medical cards have been lost and the system has become more unfair and inaccessible for thousands of people. The chief medical officer of the Department of Health and Children argued in his annual report a number of years ago that all children should have medical cards. Instead, the extraordinary decision is made by the same two parties in Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, to extend medical card eligibility not to children of families on low incomes who are living in poverty, but to those people over 70 years of age not previously eligible, many of whom are at the richer end of that age group. The wealthy over-70s were given medical cards by the Government while children continue to be neglected.
If any one of the 11 millionaires who paid no tax in 2001 is over 70, he or she qualifies for a medical card while children of low income families in west Tallaght and other areas cannot get a medical card because the income thresholds are so low. In one case, a family doctor working quite close to west Tallaght was unable to supply the newest and best medication to a 21 year old patient suffering from schizophrenia because the latter's income exceeds the limit of €142 per week. This represents a deep injustice to that young man but is only one of many such injustices. This injustice with regard to health care has been bolstered and deepened by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. We must ensure this is recognised and that a new, radical approach is taken to tackle inequality.
Some 15% of the children who were questioned during the research for this report suffer chronic poor health, including depression, eating disorders and problems managing simple tasks. Some 41% live with adults experiencing depression and 26% live with adults who are chronically ill. There is an extraordinary set-up with regard to health care in that the communities and individuals who suffer most ill-health because of their social class are the ones who experience most difficulty in accessing health care. Access is in inverse proportion to need.
This is especially true with regard to mental health, which is rarely spoken about in general discussions about health care. We talk about other things, such as inequality in terms of life expectancy, cancer and heart conditions, all of which are real. It has been highlighted in this report, particularly with regard to children and young people, that lack of access to mental health care is a real and pervasive issue. The percentage of money spent on mental health has plummeted while the Celtic tiger economy has grown.
It is interesting that different research documents in the area of health care reflect and affirm the findings of each other. A report carried out by the Irish Psychiatric Association is of great interest. Concerns are expressed in this report about the layout of services and how they relate to need. When the researchers analysed the availability of services, they found an inverse proportion between the provision and the level of deprivation and extent of need. Various measures were used to conduct this research, such as the number of medical cards in an area, a simple and straightforward measure of deprivation. The report states:
The results of this survey indicate that for many key services within mental health, clinical resources tend to be concentrated in the least deprived rather than the most deprived areas. The most deprived areas have significantly fewer acute beds, larger sector sizes and a greater temporary consultant to consultant psychiatric staffing ratio. There are almost significant trends for the less deprived areas to have better access to psychology and OT services. Basic speciality services were not readily accessible to the vast majority of services surveyed. Lastly, services with higher medical card holder ratios are significantly more likely to have only a temporary clinical director in post.
This is a damning indictment of the failure of this Government to ensure the fruits of the Celtic tiger are distributed to those most in need.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. It will astonish many in Europe and throughout the world to hear we are debating an issue of child poverty in a country which has been describing itself globally as one of the great successes of modern times. The report that is the subject of this motion is akin to those great reports of the 19th century which drew attention to the tenements in England and the deprivation of young children. The Government should accept this motion and announce, for example, that it will combine the existing services by way of intervention to put into practice these concrete proposals.
The report is significant in a number of ways. For example, it is research-based and makes reference to eight or nine international models which could be tried out. It also suggests a strategy for combining different Departments and agencies to secure the best type of intervention. Sadly, the Government's response speaks of the total amount which has been spent nationally on housing and other types of social provisions. For example, €1.8 billion has been spent on social housing. Buried under this assertion is the reality that some 68 houses were provided last year out of the tens of thousands under social housing because the Government favours the handing over of housing to speculative developers and rewarding the latter, with significant consequences.
The report is a disgrace and makes a mockery of the term "republic". It makes people like me go back to those early documents of the founding of the State which stated that every child would be treated equally. How ashamed members of this Government should be to walk through Tallaght, or any of the many more places like it. I remember visiting Tallaght during my time as Minister to discuss the building of the Tallaght theatre and I met many different people with positive proposals about how to help their community.
What struck me when I read the Tallaght report was that Tallaght has just under 7,000 children under the age of three. The kind of question the people of Tallaght must ask parliamentarians, not just those in the constituency but those in this House, is how life will change for the 6,900 plus children under the age of three. Will they have better prospects of attending school regularly. In 2004, is it not extraordinary that in some areas in the north of Dublin city where food is provided in the morning, school attendance rises? Where hungry children are given meals at school, attendance improves.
We have a welfare Act in existence that is supposed to establish education welfare officers who might liaise between children, the home, the school and the environment, yet these positions have not been filled. People have also been written off and we have gone through the details on this previously. We had a change of Government in 1973 at a time when a war against poverty was under way under the Johnson regime. Initiatives on poverty were also taken in Britain and Combat Poverty was established in Ireland, and then as a European programme. I remember all the debates suggested, for example, that the poor are poor because of characteristics associated with themselves.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has suggested we should help those who are making an effort to help themselves, as if there was no need for a structural intervention for children who will be poor after another cycle or to prevent this happening. The current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has made outrageous statements, from his well-heeled privileged background. He never listens to people, but he has a continually bullying tone. He talks to himself. His suggestion that inequality is good for society reaches back to the 18th century for an archaic version of life and society to impose on people. How dare he suggest this? How can he speak of equality if he says the children of the children who are poor must look forward to even less in terms of education, nutrition and services of the State?
How can the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government justify the situation where when 46% of housing is local authority housing, children are being reared in damp unsuitable conditions that are not conducive to their development, education or job prospects? Where also is the report of the task force about which we heard so much and which was funded under RAPID, the money for which has largely disappeared? It was supposed to make a comprehensive intervention across agencies and Departments to address this issue.
This issue concerns a fundamental philosophical policy position. It is the Progressive Democrats's version of life, to which they have converted Fianna Fáil, that everyone will be lifted in the end. It is rather like as Deputy Gregory said, those who are buried in poverty should hope that one day one of their number will rise to be like the McDowells and the rest. In its resolution the Government is opposing our conscious intervention towards changing society to establish and make the first few steps towards equality. That is a shame.
I am pleased with the opportunity to speak on this motion. I was interested to see some people from Tallaght in the Visitors Gallery last night and again today. They are here to see what hope the Government will give them with regard to the positions they hold and the groups they represent.
Volunteerism keeps a society together and it has done so for generations. One must wonder when one examines the Government amendment to this motion what these volunteers can take home from this debate. What message can they bring to their particular groups in Tallaght about what funding they will get or what future each group will have? The message they get will reflect the message that groups throughout the country will get, both in my constituency and others, rural and urban.
This motion is concerned with ensuring the success of the various groups and the development of their communities. It was concerned initially with Tallaght where people felt they were hard done by because many of their basic human needs were not supported. This has come out strongly. The aspect of the report that has most affected us is that 90% of children are in fear of anti-social behaviour. It is for this reason I mention the volunteers. They are important, whether as part of a residents' association, a crèche or a sports club. They support children after school, during recreation and in the home. We must improve funding for such groups in areas like Tallaght to ensure they can support the social needs in the area.
The number of children living in damp and despair in overcrowded housing has doubled in the years from 1991 to 2002. What the previous Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, did with regard to the rent subsidy, means that families are deprived of their subsidy. They must live in hovels, not alone in Tallaght, but in every town and city. It is unthinkable that when a person comes to the door of the community welfare officer, who must follow the guidelines of the Department, they are told the place they are going into is too good. It is unbelievable that we must witness this and then have to try and appeal that decision. Is it not an awful indictment of this Government and the previous Minister for Social and Family Affairs that they are told the place is too good for them? This is what the people in the Visitors Gallery and people around the country must think.
They must wonder what we are doing here. Can we not instil in the Government the belief that this is wrong? We are depriving the children of a decent standard of living. They have not a home of which they can be proud or to which they can bring their school friends. I hope the current Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, who has stated that he will investigate the savage 16 cuts, will do so and return some pride to the children of this country. He must allow the children to mix with other children, be proud of what they have and bring their friends to their homes. If that happens we will see an essential mix which will improve the standard of living. This mix in society will allow volunteers to work in their community and improve society. It will assist the decline in anti-social behaviour and the result will be that the 90% of the children in Tallaght, who are reflected in many other areas, will be able to go out and mix socially without fear. Surely they are entitled to that. They are entitled to enjoy themselves from the time they get up in the morning.
Children are entitled to go to play-school, national school, clubs etc. We must ensure that people in towns like Tallaght, Athy, Newbridge and Mallow etc. can do this. In that way we will have standards acceptable to all of us. However, there is nothing in the Government amendment that proves the Government is willing to achieve this. I urge a review of its amendment and ask it to ensure funding is provided for the Tallaght strategy. The volunteers in the Visitors Gallery, who are the heart and soul of their community, must be allowed to go back to their groups with positive results.
I thank the childhood development initiative in Tallaght west for its report which highlights the issues faced by the Tallaght west community. Research such as this is valuable and can be positive. We must be careful to pick the positive aspects from reports such as this and prevent people from presenting them with a negative spin. The report contains interesting and worthwhile suggestions and information, which is being given serious consideration.
One could find similar situations in communities in other parts of the country and certainly in parts of Dublin with which I am more familiar. It would be wrong to claim that these problems exist in one part of the city and nowhere else. Much good work is being done by families and communities in Tallaght west and many people in those communities are proving to be successful citizens.
When I was first elected to Dublin City Council in the middle of the 1980s, the corporation was building massive estates in Tallaght and Clondalkin and around the fringe of west Dublin. Estates were designated as Neilstown A, Neilstown B and somewhere else C. We would build 400 houses in this green field and another 400 houses in that green field. I understand the political pressure to provide houses which existed at the time, but those involved did not look down the road. I can understand that now having been Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Nevertheless, we must realise that providing houses is not the solution. We must also provide facilities and build sustainable communities. We did not do so in the 1970s and early 1980s when the economy was not going well and many problems arose as a result.
If we are trying to solve these problems and pull together the services provided by different Departments, we must try to be reasonable. Opposition Members are inclined to treat reports such as this in a political way and to raise red herrings to which I will not refer in the short time available to me.
In large parts of Tallaght there are thriving communities. If this report had been done 15 years ago, it would probably have shown a far worse situation. Tallaght now has The Square, a shopping centre, Luas, the hospital and the institute of technology. It is a more developed place than it was. I will not bore the House by listing what various Departments are doing. No single solution will solve the problems experienced by areas such as Tallaght. Communities need improvements in education, employment, facilities and living conditions. Above all, they need hope. Tallaght has been given hope. The people of Tallaght are not being told they are living in a less desirable area. We are telling them what has been done and what is being done.
People are succeeding and providing good role models in areas such as Tallaght. Communities can be assured that the Government is committed to doing more. The Government has a responsibility to provide structures and plans but that cannot be done without the support of the community. There are wonderful community people in Tallaght. It is vital that they work with the system. I know from my experience in my constituency that one can do nothing without the support of the people. Government help is available. I will not list the vast supports which have been put into education but they show the support given by Government and the progress that has been made in recent years.
While recognising the progress that has been made, especially in employment and participation in education, no one can be complacent. I certainly am not complacent about the issues in west Tallaght or anywhere else. The issues dealt with in the report are interesting. They highlight and bring home to Government what needs to be done, if any of us were forgetting or did not know. The Government will be unrelenting in continuing to ensure that Tallaght west and other areas like it are targeted by the range of Departments. We are doing that and we will continue to do so.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Penrose. In his response, the Minister of State said repeatedly that the report contained good and interesting suggestions. He did not say he was fully committed, in the shortest period possible, to working with the communities in Tallaght to implement the report's recommendations.
I am delighted to hear the Minister of State confirm that once again.
If I had an hour, I could list all the good work the Government has done. Central heating systems have been installed in houses, for example.
I compliment all those involved in producing the Tallaght west childhood development initiative report. Much time, work, energy, thought, ideas and meetings were involved in drawing up the report. It is clear that there are people who are prepared to work for their own area. These people seek the support of Government and the local authorities in providing the infrastructure necessary to improve the quality of life for themselves and their children. Given its implications for so many people in this area the report must not be allowed to gather dust on a Minister's shelf. Too much is at stake. My party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, will not allow that to happen, whether in or out of Government. I share his concern on that matter.
The planners and decision makers in Dublin have much to answer for. Some 25 or 30 years ago, decisions were taken to take living communities from the centre of Dublin and drop them into green fields in the middle of nowhere near the border between County Dublin and counties Meath and Kildare. Estates were unfinished and there were no shops, schools, roads or public lighting. Above all, there were no jobs. Unemployment in the region of 80% and 85% was not unusual in some of these areas. In addition, the young people who were moved out to new estates lost contact with their families in the city centre because there was no public transport. Young parents had to push prams and go-cars three and four miles across muddy fields to reach public transport to shops and to their families. Planners and decision makers have much to answer for.
Parents and community activists are now saying enough is enough. They want to do something themselves and they want the support of Government and the local authorities. We are one of the richest countries in Europe. During the Celtic tiger era, Ireland had one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and it still has. We have seen many benefits. We have created jobs and unemployment has fallen. We may have a successful economy but do we have a successful and all-embracing society?
Ask the people who feel disadvantaged or maginalised, those who feel there is little or no support for them. They may even feel there is no benefit in casting their votes at the ballot box. The Government may deny it but we have a relatively high level of poverty and social exclusion in various parts of the greater Dublin area and throughout the country. Political will and leadership both at national and local level must be provided to help the people cited in this report.
More children than adults face the risk of poverty. Groups of children particularly at risk are those living in welfare-dependent or other low-income households, those living in lone-parent households, children in large families and those with disability. The Government introduced a restrictive and prudent policy but this time last year it made savings of €58 million on some of the most disadvantaged people to whom the report refers. The savings were made on training, education and jobs. Most of those affected were hit by the €58 million in cutbacks. It is no use blaming the former Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, because at the same time the Government made an extra €67 million available to the rich and famous in the racing industry. How can we provide social justice and equality in such circumstances?
The report can be applied to various areas of the country. This group has said, "We've had enough. We're going to help ourselves. We're looking to the Government and local authorities for help". It is no use stating that there are good and interesting aspects in this report. It is up to the Government to build on the report to ensure that people living in such environments, whether in Tallaght in my constituency of Dublin North, in Limerick or in Galway, will have an opportunity to benefit from these recommendations that must be implemented by the Government.
The Minister of State should work to implement this report.
I am glad the Labour Party has taken the opportunity of moving this important motion. I thank everyone who has supported the broad thrust of the motion before the House, as well as acknowledging the work of those people from Tallaght who participated in this project and brought it to fruition. The situation as outlined by my colleagues is replicated around the country. The people of Tallaght have played an important role in bringing this report to the point where it has become a matter of political focus.
I was the eldest of ten children and our family lived in a three-bedroom house. It was warm and snug but we did not have running water and there was a dry closet. No matter how bad things were at that time, however, the Government of the day — it was nearly a one party State at the time — led by Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass, provided milk for young children and shoes through the community welfare system. In one form or another we were helped as a family. Nowadays, however, when the Government has to make a choice, the first thing it does is to take the hatchet to any scheme that benefits the less well off. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, is trying to develop a policy to reverse the worst excesses of what has happened as a result of cutbacks in the community employment and job initiative schemes. My colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, referred to this matter in yesterday's debate. Those schemes worked tremendously in the community by providing crèches, meals, environmental enhancement programmes and places where people could meet. Instead of abolishing the schemes, the Government should have developed them into urban and rural initiatives encompassing such aspects of community endeavour.
My colleague, Deputy Howlin, will make strong and detailed proposals to deal with this matter. That is the type of action we need. When there is a choice to be made, the Government always comes down on the side of the rich. Look at what happened as a result of this Government's past budgets. If one earned €100,000 per year or more, one gained approximately €600 per week as a result of the past seven annual budgets. However, down at the social welfare end of the scale, a person would have gained only €50 per week over the same period. The Government is perpetuating the division and inequality, which goes to the heart of this motion. That political choice underlines the difference between the Government's philosophy and that for which the Labour Party stands. The Minister of State may not like it but we stand for something different. We believe that if there are choices to be made, the poor should not bear the brunt of hard decisions but should be included instead.
The Minister of State's brother, who is leading the country as Taoiseach, talks about the decline in consistent levels of poverty but it is an inappropriate measure of real poverty. This is a regressive policy that the Taoiseach has tried to justify by saying that consistent poverty is in decline. When the Government launched the national anti-poverty strategy in 1997, it adopted the concept of consistent poverty to assess ongoing levels of poverty. It continues to use that measure despite the fact that it is not relevant to actual poverty as experienced by people around the country.
The more widely used and internationally accepted definition of poverty is "any household with an income of less than half the average household income". The Government does not refer to that definition because it is inconvenient. The consistent poverty measure was developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1997 and included eight specific indicators of deprivation, such as whether one could afford a waterproof overcoat or had not eaten a substantial meal in the past week.
The National Economic and Social Forum has added its concerns to the continuing use of consistent poverty measures, stating that "the credibility and usefulness of monitoring poverty targets will be undermined if the camera remains trained on what may no longer move". Given that the chairman of the NESC is also Secretary General to the Government and the Department of the Taoiseach, is it possible that the Taoiseach is unaware of the views expressed in the NESC report?
The Conference of Religious of Ireland has also published a report. I know the Minister of State does not pay much heed to CORI, apart from inviting them down to Inchydoney for photo opportunities. CORI's report, entitled Priority for Fairness, makes it clear that it does not accept this measurement as being adequate, adding "Consequently, we welcome the conclusion by the ESRI that on its own this measurement does not tell the whole story, nor does it represent the best way to frame a poverty target in current circumstances".
If the Minister of State is framing budgets on an incorrect basis how can he tackle the fundamentals as outlined by the authors of the excellent report in the motion before the House? If the Minister of State and his Government colleagues do not know the correct measure of poverty themselves, how in the name of God can they tackle the problems outlined in the report? The Minister for Social and Family Affairs disgraced the Government and the country by visiting the hatchet of €58 million worth of cuts on ordinary working people and lone parents. The back to education allowance was swiped.
I will give the Minister of State an example in case he is not aware. I know a young girl who qualified for the back to education allowance. Having completed two years in college, she became pregnant and, 11 months later, wanted to start her third year. Everyone tells us that education is the best way out of poverty. However, because the then Minister, Deputy Coughlan, had increased the qualifying period from six months to 15 months, the right of centre Government decided this girl who wanted to start her third year and qualify for a degree should not be included under the pretext of abuses of the system.
It is time to wake up and get away from the ideology of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, that permeates the Government. It is time for the people to wake up and give the Government one hell of a boot out of office. For the past seven years this Government and the previous one have destroyed the fabric of society by undermining and attacking at all times those on the margins.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 61; Níl, 46.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Andrews, Barry.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Brady, Martin.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Browne, John.
- Callanan, Joe.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carey, Pat.
- Carty, John.
- Collins, Michael.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cregan, John.
- Cullen, Martin.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dempsey, Tony.
- Devins, Jimmy.
- Ellis, John.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
- Glennon, Jim.
- Hanafin, Mary.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Hoctor, Máire.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kelly, Peter.
- Killeen, Tony.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Lenihan, Conor.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
- McGuinness, John.
- Moloney, John.
- Moynihan, Donal.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Mulcahy, Michael.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- O’Connor, Charlie.
- O’Dea, Willie.
- O’Donnell, Liz.
- O’Flynn, Noel.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- Parlon, Tom.
- Power, Peter.
- Roche, Dick.
- Sexton, Mae.
- Smith, Michael.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wright, G.V.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Breen, Pat.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Burton, Joan.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Cowley, Jerry.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Enright, Olwyn.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gormley, John.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Healy, Séamus.
- Higgins, Joe.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Hogan, Phil.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Paul.
- McManus, Liz.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Murphy, Gerard.
- Neville, Dan.
- O’Keeffe, Jim.
- O’Sullivan, Jan.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Penrose, Willie.
- Perry, John.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ring, Michael.
- Ryan, Eamon.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Timmins, Billy.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Upton, Mary.
- Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.