Social Welfare Bill 2004: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

1.—The Minister shall within 6 months from after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the operation of the rent supplement scheme.

On Committee Stage, Opposition Members acknowledged the Minister has moved a considerable distance on the matter of rent supplements. Last year, the minimum contribution required from recipients of supplementary welfare allowance or mortgage supplement was raised by the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, from €1 per week to €30 per week.

Can we have silence in the Gallery, please?

While there is no change in this, the Minister has said there will be no further increases and the measure will be kept under ongoing review. In the case of couples, if one is in full-time employment and the other is on supplementary welfare allowance, both are excluded from rent or mortgage supplement. Again, there is no change in this and it has been sent for review with the social partners.

Changes were made in the other aspects of the supplement for which the Minister can claim some credit. To be in receipt of rent supplement, the tenant must be in need of accommodation and unable to provide from his or her own resources. For the most part, a health board decided whether an applicant for rent supplement was in need of accommodation without reference from the relevant local authority. In future, claimants for rent supplement will be referred to the local authority for an assessment of housing needs in a more systematic manner. The Minister amended this, subject to consultation from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This measure was needed to ensure that rent supplements are paid in appropriate circumstances, in accordance with established policy, and to allow for the objectives of the supplementary welfare scheme which focuses on meeting immediate short-term needs.

This was the critical issue for us. My colleagues, Deputies Seán Ryan and Wall, and I made strong and coherent arguments for focusing on this area, rather than the long-term housing need. The housing groups, such as Focus Ireland and Threshold, all agree that this issue would be dealt with if adequate resources were provided for long-term housing need. However, particular care is needed to ensure the interests of vulnerable groups, such as the homeless, the elderly, people with disabilities and those on unemployment benefit, are fully protected in the course of implementing these measures. The Minister has amended the six month criterion to ensure that those on short-term income needs, such as those who become ill, unemployed or are assessed by a local authority as having a housing need, are not disadvantaged. I acknowledge this development.

The rent supplement was also to be refused to those who refused offers of local authority accommodation. This has been amended so that rent supplement will be continued to be paid, unless the third offer of local authority accommodation is refused. Deputies Seán Ryan and Stanton have brought certain difficulties faced by those in this situation to the Minister's attention. A person may be offered a house in an area with anti-social activities. The Minister was asked to take careful note that turning down accommodation in such a case cannot necessarily be construed as a refusal.

I acknowledge that some improvements have been made to the scheme. Some aspects of the supplement have been untouched as they are going for further review. We will keep the pressure on, as those cuts should never have been visited on the marginalised and those who could not afford to bear them. If €50 million can be found for electronic voting and other madcap schemes with no popular demand, we must ensure the like of these cuts never happens again. The Committee of Public Accounts must examine issues where moneys are squandered and wasted while cuts are visited on those least able to bear them. The poverty-proofing section of the Department allowed these cuts to be introduced. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, is a wise politician who saw the merits of the Opposition's arguments. However, they were rejected by his predecessor, Deputy Coughlan. However, he has only travelled the half marathon; the other half must be completed.

This amendment asks the Minister, within six months of the passing of the Bill, to prepare a report on the operation of the rent supplement scheme. Even after the Minister's amendments to the scheme, it is still unclear how it will work as there is no idea of the impact the adjustment, as it was called, had. One fundamental human right is the right to a roof over one's head.

Questions, however, remain about how one qualifies for the scheme. How does a person prove he or she is homeless? Must he or she register with a homeless agency? What about women in crisis pregnancy situations? If a person finds oneself on the side of the street as a result of a domestic row, will he or she be covered? These issues need to be teased out. In the next six months, the Minister should prepare a report, making it clear where we stand on this scheme. I support this amendment.

I support this amendment as a debate is necessary on the future of the rent supplement scheme. Should it be handled by the Department of Social and Family Affairs or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Should it be come under housing benefit rather than supplementary welfare allowance? A register of landlords exists, but should unregistered landlords be allowed to avail of the rent supplement scheme, contradicting other legislation passed by the House? Many of those who have built much of the accommodation rented out have already availed of considerable largesse from the taxpayer in tax incentives. Should this be allowed?

I have some sympathy with the Minister's predecessor who attempted to provoke such a debate. However, the decision to make the cuts in November 2003, without any short-term replacement, was reckless. To put in place a contradictory rule that rent supplement would be available to those who could subsequently show they could house themselves for the previous 12 months, was the ultimate insult to many needy people. Rowing back on these cuts must be welcomed.

Compiling information on the scheme is necessary if we want to reform it. One criticism of the Minister's predecessor was that she did not seek that information when the cuts were in place. Neither was information collected before the decision was taken to change the qualifications for supplementary rent allowance. The only information was a report compiled by Cross Care as to how it saw the effect of the pernicious cuts. There is a value to having reports of this nature on a regular basis to allow Members assess how a particular payment is effective, or otherwise, in meeting the needs of the beneficiaries. I would like the Minister to be more proactive in examining whether rules should be in place whereby those who are involved in the black economy in making the accommodation available should be forced to account for themselves before receiving any further State subsidy. This is why these reports are needed. On these grounds, I support the amendment.

I support the amendment. One of the concerns of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is that local authorities may not have the capacity to process and support tenants under their remit. Yesterday, my attention was drawn to the problem faced by a Dublin person, living in Kilkenny, who wanted to move back to Dublin but who could not afford the increase in rent. This person could not get a community welfare officer in Dublin to agree to the transfer. Her father died recently and she wanted to move back to Dublin to her family but there was a difficulty in regard to rent allowance. This summed up for me the difficulties people are facing. The previous Minister said people were not affected in this regard. In fairness, while the present Minister has introduced some of the changes we sought, there are still outstanding issues.

Deputy Boyle referred to the private rented sector. He is correct that the number of people who have registered with the private residential tenancies board ranges from 30,000 to 40,000, while the accurate number should be in the region of 150,000 plus. I hope landlords who fail to comply with the legislation will be brought before the courts. When I was growing up, it was easy to get rented accommodation. However, it is hugely difficult nowadays to find rented accommodation and charges are increasing all the time. The market exists for these investors. The Minister is doing what he can to help people on low incomes but the provisions in the budget have not touched investors because there are still loopholes. The emphasis in the budget was supposed to be on the less well-off, but my difficulty with the overall package is that the people who made vast fortunes over the past seven budgets are continuing to do so. The Minister will argue that the money was not available, but opportunities existed to do something for the less well-off because multiple house owners were not touched by the budget.

I support amendment No. 1 on the rent supplement scheme for the following reasons. First, it is a positive and effective amendment that reflects accountability after six months, which is important. We need to see how the measure reflects on the most needy after six months. These are the issues at the heart of the amendment. There is no point assisting people if there is not a serious examination of how the money is spent and how the rent supplement directly affects people.

This is an appropriate proposal because the debate about wealth and resources has now concluded. All parties accept that we have a very wealthy country and a strong economy, yet, after seven years of this Fianna Fáil-PD Government, between 23% and 25% of people are left behind completely, which is not acceptable. It is important to face up to this reality because many Members of this House, particularly members of the larger parties, for some strange reason do not accept there are poor people in society after seven or eight years of a massive economic boom. It is important to point out that these people exist, and there is no excuse for not helping them. I said in my budget speech to the Minister, Deputy Brennan, and others, that the proposals in the budget were a step in the right direction in trying to address the imbalance in society. However, much more work needs to be done on these issues. Poverty and rent supplement are still major problems. We could talk all day about rent supplement and poverty, but if we do not face up to reality and deal with the issue of social justice for people, we will be wasting our time. The bottom line is that we can talk about rent supplement, but we must accept that people have a right to a home.

It is important to put forward constructive proposals to the Minister in regard to tackling the whole issue of housing and disadvantage generally. We must consider raising the low social welfare rates to 30% of average industrial earnings by 2007. We must face up to the reality of increasing social housing provision. I would also like us to tackle the two-tier health system. This is all linked into a fairer society and a fairer tax system. We must also deal with the issue of child poverty and address rural and regional deficits. These issues are an important part of the debate on amendment No. 1, which I support.

I appreciate the changes the Minister, Deputy Brennan, made to his predecessor's proposals. These have been brought about because of the concerns raised by the Opposition in this House and by people involved with the homeless, and rightly so. The original proposals were an utter scandal. The requirement that people should be on the housing list has been dealt with. The previous Minister, Deputy Coughlan, would not budge on the requirement to be in private rented accommodation for six months before receiving rent supplement. I thank the present Minister for removing this requirement. I would like the whole issue of rent supplement dealt with, while ensuring there is no abuse of the system. Obstacles should not be put in the way of people who have no other recourse to housing accommodation.

I am still concerned about certain issues, one of which relates to delays in processing applications. Many homeless people who are not on the housing list would not be familiar with the requirement to fill in application forms in order to have their needs assessed. That could be disastrous and I ask the Minister to bring it to the attention of the local authority.

Another issue involves the refusal of accommodation offered by a housing authority. I raised this issue on Committee Stage. The Minister has advanced on the issue in terms of moving from two offers being refused to three offers being refused. Considering the new set-up and structures, will the Minister agree to an arrangement whereby the offers made after 31 December 2004 will be taken into consideration? The Minister is new to his position. There could be people, though perhaps not many, who in the past 12 months have been taken off a housing list because they twice refused accommodation. The Minister has altered the position of the offer. Let him clean the slate and start the new process from 31 December 2004 so that refusals taken from 1 January 2005 will start the ball rolling. If, from that date, three reasonable accommodation offers are made and refused, that indicates that people are not very interested in getting accommodation. If the offers are unreasonable, there should be some flexibility in the area. If the Minister took that on board we might deal with another aspect of the issue. Progress has been made as a result of pressure from the Opposition and the Minister's commitment to deal with the problem.

My question relates to the same section. The decision taken in 2004 was that the rent supplement would no longer be paid to people who refused offers of local authority accommodation or to people who leave local authority accommodation without reasonable cause. That aspect has been dropped in the amendment for 2005, but will people be paid rent supplement if they leave local authority housing with reasonable cause and have letters from the Garda stating that there was intimidation? Over the past six months I have been dealing with a family in these circumstances. The people involved have been in their own house for 32 years and, because of intimidation and so on, had to leave. They have not been paid the rent supplement. Will the local authority address that problem? What is the position in this regard? Is that aspect being entirely deleted or will a person who, with reasonable cause, has to leave local authority accommodation get the supplement? People in a house for 32 years will not leave it without reasonable cause. I would like the Minister to clarify the matter.

I thank Deputies for their contributions on amendment No. 1. Deputies will appreciate that the wording of the amendment is pro forma in the sense that, as I said on Committee Stage, one would not normally insert into legislation a demand for a report, given that it is a money Bill and the Deputies are not in a position to table amendments.

I have no difficulty with reporting to the House after six months on the operation of the rent scheme and will be happy to make such a report to the House either by means of debate or parliamentary questions, or indeed the report to the social partners group. I am happy to look at mechanisms which will allow me to report on the operation of the rent supplement scheme.

It is worth noting that as of last week there were 57,546 people in receipt of rent supplement. That shows a drop of 2,430, or 4%, during the calendar year 2004. Most of that fall was due to an increase in employment. In December there were 1,900 fewer people in receipt of supplement whose primary source of income was an unemployment support payment from the Department. As I said on Committee Stage, since the beginning of 2004 more than 39,000 rent supplement claims have been awarded.

I acknowledge the role played by the Members opposite and on this side of the House in seeking a review of the rent supplement — I refer in particular to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Penrose. The points he has made in the past day or two were also made by him some time ago.

The rent supplement expenditure this year is in the region of €350 million, up 5% on last year's figure. I have abolished the six-month rule to ensure that people who have a short-term income need, such as people who become ill or unemployed, or are assessed by local authorities as having a housing need, are not disadvantaged. We have amended the rule that excludes those who refuse two offers and raised the number of offers to three.

Deputy Seán Ryan made a point about people caught in certain circumstances. I suggest that they contact the local authority in writing and indicate the position that has arisen for them. I can discuss with local authorities whether they will take a sympathetic view of such cases in view of the changes made. That is probably as far as I can go. The people involved should write to the local authority and explain how they have been caught in a situation. Now that there is a new circumstance I will ask local authorities to take a sympathetic view.

I have transferred €19 million in funding from the rent supplement scheme to local authorities. I did so as an initial measure to enable them to put long-term housing solutions in place because at the end of the day, that is the solution. Rent supplement is not a long-term or even a medium-term solution, but at best a short-term solution. A sum of €350 million is an appreciable amount of taxpayers' funds aimed at a short-term solution. The real answer is to supply housing and get people into the houses as quickly as possible.

Other Deputies raised other issues. The specific provisions to ensure that the interests of vulnerable groups are protected will continue. Included are women with crisis pregnancies — the situation mentioned by Deputy Crowe — the homeless, the elderly and those with disabilities. Such people are excluded from the requirement to be on a housing authority list so they will be dealt with automatically, and any such person on a housing list will be offered a rent supplement.

Deputy Crowe asked about the conditions in the private rental market. We continue to keep that under review. Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the level of rents being charged has dropped by 3% between January 2004 and November 2004. I will keep the issue of the cap under review and see what happens regarding charges. We will respond to the situation as best we can.

I have taken on board the requests made by Deputies. I will send a circular out soon which will lay out the manner in which this will have to work and the methodology involved. We are consulting officials to ensure that circular reflects what I want to see achieved, which is that anyone who needs a rent supplement gets it. The criteria will be solely the housing and accommodation needs of people.

I thank the Minister for his efforts in this regard. He should not send out the circular at Christmas, though there will at least be ameliorating circumstances this year. I recall that a very crude circular arrived on 23 or 24 December last year. I will never forget it as it added insult to injury.

The Minister is astute enough to know that we cannot table amendments with financial implications. This is all about having our voices heard in discussion. The number of Deputies who have remained in the House until this late hour to contribute to the debate indicates how sincerely they feel and how difficult this issue has been for many people. I will withdraw the amendment and I accept the Minister's bona fides. He has demonstrated them up to now and has honoured many of his commitments. Perhaps he will report after six months to the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs.

We want to ensure there is no recurrence of what happened when the Minister's predecessor was in office. I recall there was some controversy involving rent supplement and a local authority housing development in Ballymun. This should take care of all the territory about which we are concerned, so that there are no exclusions. I will accept the Minister's commitment to report to the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs after six months. That is important and will give our colleagues in the House the opportunity to contribute to that debate while reporting on how the legislation is operating at that point. In that context I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 11 are related and will be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

1.—The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of abolishing the means test for carer's allowance.

We have had an intensive debate and I know colleagues want to deal with other amendments. The Minister will tell me he has made significant improvements. I have to accept he has made some improvements. The Labour Party position, however, is that we want to abolish the means test. We believe in the principle of universality. As far as I can recall, 10% of schemes are means-tested across the European countries. In Ireland 28% of schemes are means tested. I have put much work into this area, not just for the sake of having something controversial to say. My father was a beneficiary of the medical card scheme. If the medical card is given to people with an income of €100,000, we cannot tell carers the State cannot afford this proposal. We should be able to find €220 million, which would be the cost of abolishing the means test. Abolishing the means test would be only due recognition for the people who have given the State tremendous service. They do not want money as such; it is only to allow them to buy in some additional respite care.

I acknowledge the Minister's efforts under the respite care grant but I can see administrative problems arising. Only 23,000 or so will benefit from the carer's allowance, either at a full or reduced level. Approximately 9,000 will benefit from the additional respite care grant and that is good, but how is it to be administered? The Minister's accountancy background will be tested in this regard. I accept that it will be done and am delighted about this, as another step. However, €154 is only a small amount for people who give 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

We gave the example of someone looking after a child, where the husband dies and the widow does not get a carer's allowance because the double social welfare payment rule precludes this. The Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs recognised such an eventuality and suggested that the widow in such cases be given half the carer's allowance in recognition of the work being done. It is just a small token. There are some 150,000 carers, whole-time and part-time. Money is not the issue, but rather a small degree of recognition from the State.

It is estimated that carers save the State approximately €2 billion. That is a 9:1 return, on a cost-benefit analysis of money invested versus money saved. We are able to put money into urban renewal, car parks and accommodation schemes of all kinds. The State can never get a return from these equivalent to what it can get from the carers, if it invests appropriately and it should recognise carers. We will continue to fight on their behalf. We will certainly keep them on the front burner. We gave that commitment at joint committee level and the Labour Party believes it is its duty to articulate the cause of carers. It harks back to something we believe in very strongly. There is not a family in this State that has not helped this country in providing care for someone who was ill or disabled. I hope the Minister reaches a point where the means test can be abolished. It is miserly, time-consuming and costly to administer, apart altogether from the form being so complex and so on.

Why does the Department of Social and Family Affairs, on medical grounds, turn down so many applicants for carer's allowance? A significant number are turned down. It is ironic that they are accepted at the social welfare appeal level. A reasonable, compassionate view should be taken when they go to the Department. They deserve a gold medal for actually filling in the form, for a start.

I was a guest of honour of the Carer's Association of Westmeath, in Mullingar the other night. There were 148 carers present, who acknowledged some of the improvements made by the Minister. However, one woman said something I will never forget, when I asked her how she felt now. "They ground us down," she said. With all the forms to be filled in, and having to care for someone in an electric bed, she was not in a position to do anything. She was physically exhausted and had to visit the doctor twice in the past month on her own behalf. Often carers suffer some debilitating illness. Some die from the strain and others end up in rest homes. That is what we are facing. Let us acknowledge the contribution those people are making. If ever people deserved money out of dormant accounts or any other pot filled through detected tax evasion or whatever, this was the community on which the maximum benefit should devolve. They deserve it. It was they who were deprived in the past by the actions of some of the guilty people. The State could have made a name for itself by saying, in effect that carers deserve a share of this pot and acting accordingly. Not alone do they deserve a fair share, but they will repay us all a thousandfold.

The total number of carers is 148,300 or 148,700. The number in receipt of carer's benefit is approximately 23,000. Some 120,000 carers work day and night to provide for their loved ones and save the State billions of euros. In the end it will be about choices. I will not be satisfied until the efforts of these people doing Trojan work are recognised in a tangible way by the State. The only real way for the Minister to do that is to do away with the means test on carer's allowance. As outlined, we in the Labour Party will pursue that. In the meantime I would like to see this Minister create a situation that would enable this goal to be accomplished much more quickly. For too long the role of carers has been taken for granted, defined by tradition, culture and religious factors. They want to be recognised for what they are and the roles they play. The least we can do is work toward the elimination of means testing of the carer's allowance. Other than that, the Minister has made some tangible improvements for them. However, I feel that carers still want to be recognised in the way outlined in this amendment.

I will be brief because we have to go through 12 more amendments and unfortunately there is a guillotine on this Bill tonight. In the Minister's estimation, how many people will receive the carer's allowance when this measure goes through? There is uncertainty about this figure. Colleagues in the House have said that 23,000 are already getting it, but the Minister has said that everyone who is providing full-time care to an older person or a person with disabilities, regardless of means, will get the carer's allowance. I would certainly welcome that if it is the case that the respite care grant would be given to everybody who is providing full-time care and attention. We need to see if that includes the number mentioned by Deputy Ryan a while ago.

Disappointment was expressed that people receiving a relatively small social welfare allowance are excluded from the carer's allowance. If their circumstances change and someone is in need of full-time care, they get nothing extra for it. A change was expected in that area as there is so much money around. Such people, who are often older people, would get that extra help. The Minister said that he had to make a choice, but I urge him to make available as soon as possible payment for people who are providing full-time care and attention, especially those who are in receipt of a payment and who are barred from getting this. It is confusing for them as they have a payment and think that they qualify for the other payment, yet they do not. Sometimes, they have a carer's allowance, they become eligible for an old age pension and their carer's allowance is taken away. That does not make sense. There is an enormous workload and very often the carers end up needing care as they wear themselves out. Such people need that extra help.

I support these amendments on the means test for the carer's allowance. This means test should be abolished. It is important that we face up to the reality of what is happening. Many Deputies have touched on the issue of carers and their role in society. They are our health patriots as far as I am concerned. Thousands of people are looking after our sick, elderly and people with disabilities. We have to recognise this as they are a part of our health strategy and part of our health service. In many ways, they are the backbone of our health service as they look after the elderly and the disabled. We have to thank them and commend them for their work. However, it is not good enough just to thank them; we also need to assist them by abolishing the means test for carer's allowance. That is why I support these amendments.

I welcome the fact that 9,000 carers were helped in the budget, but we need to face up to the reality that there are 120,000 carers who do not get help. They are saving the Exchequer approximately €2 billion. It is very important that we recognise that and that is why these two amendments are before the House. The carer's role with people with disabilities has been crucial, as has the role of those involved with the carer. They have been fighting, screaming, pushing, protesting and lobbying, and they had an input into the budget. There is a special disability funding package of almost €900 million in the budget. I welcome that because it is a major step in the right direction. It is a major step for those who are waiting for day care places and respite care and those with intellectual disabilities who were waiting for residential places. These are people who do not have carers and they are very sad cases. People with intellectual disabilities in their 40s and 50s whose parents have died are now on their own. As a society, we have a duty to protect and safeguard them. That is why I welcome the €900 million that will be spent between 2006 and 2009.

Hidden among the figures is a massive poverty problem. A recent ESRI study found that there was a dramatic increase in poverty among households headed by a person who is ill or who has a disability. It is very important that we target these people with resources.

I strongly support amendments Nos. 2 and 11. The Minister will probably say that it is not fair to assist people who are very well off in society. The number of carers is very small and if the means test is abolished, the families who need the support will be targeted. These are the families who are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We all know them. Among them are our families, neighbours and friends. There is cross-party consensus on this and I urge Deputies to support the amendment.

I agree with Deputy McGrath that there is cross-party consensus on this, but I would go further. I have met people in Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats at carers' conferences and we all know of the difficulties that families have trying to look after a loved one. It increasingly impacts on us as our society gets older. The figures from the 2003 report of the national intellectual disability database show that almost two thirds of those with an intellectual disability, or 15,563 people, live with their families. Of this group, 15% of them are over 55 years of age. These carers save the State a considerable amount of money. A residential place costs approximately €40,000 per annum. The 2003 report by the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs on the position of full-time carers made the abolition of the means test for the carer's allowance its first recommendation. It was reckoned that the cost of implementing this was between €150 million and €180 million, which is a small amount in the overall picture. Deputy McGrath was right that very few rich people would abuse the system.

All this impacts on our hospitals, where we have difficulties in accident and emergency departments with a lack of step-down beds and so on. Many families often feel that they cannot afford to take back a loved one into the home. This should be analysed across Departments. It could save money for the Department of Health and Children, but it may cost the Department of Social and Family Affairs a lot of money. However, it saves the State money at the end of the day. It also improves the lot of those who go into care because the ideal situation is that people stay with their families. The abolition of the means test could cost between €150 million and €180 million. The Carers Association believes that, depending on the level of care required, alternative care by the State might cost over €1,300 per week and that carers save the State €2 billion per year. The Minister should look at his proposals for the previous amendment and come back with some provision on this. He might say that it costs the State money, but it certainly needs to be considered. There is support for this measure among all parties, including the Minister's party, and throughout the State, and it needs to be addressed urgently.

Most of what needed to be said has been said so I will be brief. It has long been the Department's position that carer's allowance is not an income support and in that case, a means test should not be applied. It is that simple. Once the Government manages to bridge that gap, there will be a degree of reality in the debate.

Two of the areas of greatest disappointment in the context of the advances that could and should have been made in social welfare payments were in payments related to children and carers. The double jeopardy rule regarding existing social welfare payments has been mentioned. The first surrender was by the Minister's predecessor when, after the savage 16 cuts, the widow's half-rate payment was reinstated. Once the principle exists for one social welfare payment, an argument cannot be made that the double jeopardy rule should be applied in other payment schemes, particularly those for carers.

My final point is a grammatical one. I might be wrong but my understanding of using the apostrophe before the "s" in "carer's allowance" means that it is an allowance for one carer rather than an allowance that exists for carers as a group. I do not know if there are grammarians in the Department but these are matters we should consider when introducing legislation. We do not wish to convey the message that we are passing legislation under which the carer's allowance would be a benefit for one carer in the coming year.

I will be happy to find a mechanism to report on this to the House and the social affairs committee. I acknowledge the work of the committee in this area. Its members have put much work into it.

The budget allocated approximately €40 million extra for carers. There are 23,700 carers in receipt of carer's allowance and carer's benefit. The cost of the scheme in 1997 was €46.36 million and it was €190 million at the end of 2003. That figure has been increased this year by approximately €40 million. A new rate increase of €14 per week for recipients of carer's allowance and carer's benefit was also announced in the budget. That is a substantial across-the-board increase.

I have made provision for an increase, from April 2005, in the income disregard in the carer's allowance means test from €250 to €270 and from €500 to €540 for a couple. This will enable an additional 1,000 new carers to qualify for carer's allowance and 2,400 existing carers to receive an increased payment. It will ensure that a couple with two children earning a joint annual income in the region of €30,700 will qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance. If the same couple had an income of €49,200, they would qualify for the minimum carer's allowance as well as the free schemes and the respite care grant.

Most Deputies spoke about removing the means test. I estimate it would cost approximately €160 million to abolish the means test, pay the maximum rate of carer's allowance, the respite care grant and the free schemes to the approximately 9,170 people who are estimated to be providing full-time care and are not currently receiving carer's allowance or benefit. I am acutely aware that there are differing views on whether the best use of the €160 million is to remove the means test or to target it in a more focused way at a time when there are competing demands for funds.

Deputy Seán Ryan referred to 150,000 carers. I dealt with this on Committee Stage but will do so again. According to the Central Statistics Office, there are 84,000 carers providing up to two hours' unpaid help; 15,000 carers providing care for over two hours but less than four hours; 8,000 are providing care for over four hours but less than six hours per day; and 40,000 are providing care for over six hours per day. The total number involved is approximately 150,000. The oft-quoted figure of 150,000, therefore, is broken down by the Central Statistics Office to show that 40,000 are providing care for over six hours per day. I am not saying the other caring is not useful and valuable, but in terms of the caring being substantially full time, the relevant figure is 40,000.

This year we focused on the respite grant, which was increased from €835 to €1,000. It was extended to all carers who are providing full-time care to a person who needs such care. By extending that grant to all carers, I hope to meet, to some degree, the requirement that widows get an additional 50% rate, which is what the committee sought. They will now get the €1,000. It does not quite meet the 50% sought by the committee but I reserve the right to continue to examine that issue to see what we can do in that area. I believed it would be more appropriate this year to give them an immediate lump sum for respite care. This acknowledges the fact that they do the work even though they do not get the allowance. Providing the respite care grant is, perhaps, a show of our appreciation for what they do.

A number of categories will receive the respite care grant. The recipients of carer's allowance and carer's benefit will continue to receive their respite care grant, as will recipients of other social welfare payments, for example, widow's pension, old-age pension, one-parent payment, who are also carers, and carers who are not currently receiving payment from the Department but who are providing full-time care. These improvements mean an additional 9,200 full-time carers will receive this grant for the first time. There are criteria relating to employment. The carer must be providing full-time care to a person in need of such care for a period of time and, as in the case of recipients of carer's allowance, a full-time carer must not be engaged in employment for more than ten hours per week.

A total of almost 33,000 full-time carers, therefore, will receive the respite care grant of €1,000 per year. Another change that has been made is that a separate grant is paid in respect of each person for whom the carer is caring.

I thank Deputies for their comments on these amendments.

As I said on Committee Stage, and the Minister agreed, this is a subject on which the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be involved on a cross-departmental basis. This transcends a number of Departments, especially the Department of Finance. On that basis, I withdraw the amendment. The Minister will report back to the Houses. The issue is being developed in the Department with the Mercer and O'Shea reports and the report from the committee. I hope more progress will be made in this regard because we owe it to the people involved.

I accept the Minister's bona fides and that he is trying to target resources this year. We will certainly be more critical of him over the next 12 months. If money becomes available in the Exchequer, the Minister will have our support in ensuring that it is targeted at the people who need it rather than the fat cats who are getting fatter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 3, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

2.—The Minister shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on pro rata contributory pensions for those with less than 10 years contributions.

The Minister agreed on Committee Stage to examine thepro rata pensions issue so on that basis I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 3, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

2.—The Minister shall, as soon as may be, after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the impact of the increasing of the Back to Education Allowance qualifying period from 6 months to 15 months.

This is an important amendment which was strongly debated on Committee Stage. The Minister agreed that we must do the best we can to assist people to improve their lot and better themselves. It is acknowledged that the best way to do that is through education. Members saw what happened to the back to education allowance last year with a certain amount of disbelief. The qualifying period for the allowance was increased from six to 15 months. That disqualified people from getting the allowance.

The education cycle usually starts in September or October. That is when people have an opportunity to enter it. If the qualifying period is increased, as happened last year, to 15 months, the effect is to disbar people from involvement in education with the support of the allowance. Ideally, we would like to see the qualifying period brought back to six months as soon as possible. A cost-benefit analysis would show that in the long term the person who is unemployed, the State and society would all benefit greatly. The more people we can encourage to return to education, the better. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much extra the proposal would cost and how much extra has been saved. I contend the sum is very small relatively. My colleagues and I would strongly support the Minister if he were to get rid of the current nonsense and bring the period back to six months.

There was talk of foreign nationals being disbarred or abusing the system, but we were not provided with any facts or figures. Even if that is the case, why does it matter? There must be a way to use the allowance to encourage people to go back to education. A number of people have come to me who dropped out of school early or did not progress beyond the leaving certificate and who, a few years later, found they wanted to return to education to pursue a degree or certificate. They want to qualify to obtain better jobs and are willing to return to third level. While no one can become a millionaire on the back to education allowance, it has certainly helped. It has provided people with the extra support they needed. I urge the Minister to do what he can. We would all support an amendment were the Minister to introduce one. We have been barred from doing so.

While we welcome the move which has been made, it is not nearly enough. We speak constantly of the need to be more competitive and to empower people to stand independently rather than depend on the State. As the back to education allowance was the one sure winner in this context, I cannot understand why the Government went against it and did what it did last year. I still cannot understand why the Minister will not completely rescind last year's decision and reduce the qualifying period to the original six months. I can make my plea no stronger. The case is very persuasive. I see no reason the original period cannot be reintroduced. All we can do is ask the Minister to issue a report on the matter, which will appear feeble to anyone looking in from the outside. We are barred from doing anything else.

I withdrew previous amendments due to the guillotine, but this one is very important as my colleagues realise. We debated the matterad nauseam on Committee Stage. While the Minister said he could not reintroduce the six-month period due a number of difficulties, we urge him to consider a reduction to even nine months. A nine-month period would allow people to get back into the cycle in September whereas to go to 12 months might put them outside the academic year. To establish a nine-month period would cost approximately €2.5 million, which is small beer in anyone’s estimation. While the Minister has made an adjustment in the criteria to bring the period to 12 months, I still do not understand why the Department emasculated the back to work and back to education allowances in the first place. It amazes me.

The national anti-poverty strategy and all reports emanating from the Minister's Department indicate that the best way to bring people out of poverty is to encourage them into work. The back to education allowance relates to the third level stream. I have previously provided the House with the example of a young girl who became a lone parent. She had completed two years of her degree and was ready to return for her third year. She planned to be a teacher. The scheme would have helped her return to the third level institution at which she had studied, but because she had only been out for 11 months, her parents had to try to assist her. It did not work out. What sort of society do we have if that can happen? The allowance represents something we set out to achieve and the cutback in the scheme was one of the more insidious introduced by the Government. It undermined the very ethos and policy of the Department and the supposed policy of the Government to facilitate and ensure the orderly transition of people from welfare to work.

Deputy Finian McGrath and I spoke about cost-benefit analyses a few minutes ago. In the back to school allowance there is a very positive relationship between cost and benefit. Young people from the third level stream contribute to our economic enhancement and development. Many of the back to education allowance beneficiaries were single parents who were getting on their feet and escaping circumstances of poverty to enter the workplace. While much of the money they were given was consumed by crèche payments and child care, they were at least in a position to gain independence and make a solid contribution to society.

I hope the Minister has come to the House to knock us back on our heels by telling us he is prepared to go to nine months.

Three months.

The Minister is a very reasonable person and we have had very productive debates so far. My colleagues will acknowledge that.

The Deputy is being too soft on the Minister.

We are always optimistic. While it can be difficult, the Minister must show us his bona fides as we have shown him ours. We have made very solid arguments on other matters but accepted the Minister's position. If the Minister fails to make an amendment in this case, he will have to vote in a division. It is a matter about which we feel very deeply. We have bypassed a number of other important amendments to discuss amendment No. 7 due to the guillotine. Deputy Finian McGrath and others wanted to contribute, but cannot. We cannot resile. We have found the empirical evidence of what the cut has meant on the ground and seen the negativity it has brought into the lives of people who wanted to prosper and get on.

While we will not see as many pictures of the current Minister as we have of the last, next July he will publicise the savings which have been made in his Department. In the context of the potential savings, €2.5 million will be very small beer. Every year, the Department indicates that it has saved €180 million to €190 million by eliminating abuses. As we say at home, "the cock always crows". The Government always says it is on a winner and the Minister will tell the House about the savings which will no doubt be made. We want the Minister to ensure some of the money is redistributed in this area. The sums involved would be €2.5 million if the qualifying period were reduced to nine months or €5 million if it were reduced to six months. We are prepared to play ball with the Minister and assist him to reduce the period to nine months to fit it with the academic year. We appeal to him to do so.

I support strongly amendment No. 7 on the back to education allowance. The amendment is very positive and its provisions would prove very effective. It is important to note that the way to escape poverty, about which we had a debate earlier, is through education. We all accept the truth of that. Educational disadvantage is a common subject of discussion in the Chamber. We talk a great deal about investing in early education, especially at pre-school level, in disadvantaged schools and in schools in poorer communities generally. We speak about the number of children who drop out of secondary school and about students from disadvantaged communities who do not get to third level. Amendment No. 7 presents us with an opportunity to address the problem. It is a strong and important amendment and will help us to help people who find themselves in the situation outlined. We have a duty to address the matter.

I strongly support back to education opportunities and other supports because those type of projects are not only good for society but for the people concerned. They pay back their cost ten-fold when one sees what happens to people who benefit from such schemes. I urge the Minister to listen to the constructive proposals on this issue from people like Deputy Penrose. He has serious knowledge of the issue and is sincere about it. This is a sensible proposal to help people deal with major financial hardship and get them back into the education system. If we are serious about the welfare to work issue, we should support amendment No. 7.

I worked for more than 20 years in a school in a disadvantaged community, where only 3% or 4% of our children got as far as third level. One of the saddest aspects of working in communities that suffered badly, particularly in the 1980s, was to witness the extensive poverty, major heroin abuse problems and educational disadvantage. For the few children who got through, however, there was recognition from their community. I remember attending a function one night for a past pupil of mine who graduated from DCU a few years ago. He invited some of the staff to meet him and his family and to have a few drinks in the fire officers' club in Parliament Square. Thinking only the family and a few friends would attend the function, some of us went along to offer moral support. We walked in the door to find 450 people from the north inner city celebrating the fact that this man went to third level and got a degree. That drove home to me the importance of third level education because he was the only person in their area who had gone to college and gained a degree but every one of those people — street traders and many people from the north inner city — came out to celebrate with him. It was like a wedding or some other major family celebration. It was a brilliant night and a very proud night for the person concerned but it drove home to me the message that children from disadvantaged communities can make it to third level and be an example to many others. That is very much part of the debate on welfare and work. If we are talking about breaking the cycle in terms of education, personal development and reducing crime and poverty, amendment No. 7 hits the nail on the head in that respect and should be accepted.

The €2.5 million cost is chicken feed when it is something that can be dealt with effectively. We can do something with that amount of money and get value for money. I ask the Minister to listen to the sensible proposals from this side of the House. Amendment No. 7 is vital and I strongly support it.

One of the more satisfying experiences I had in local government was becoming a member of the vocational education committee in my second term and, subsequently, becoming chairman of a further education college. That experience showed me the benefit of what is known as "second and a half" level education in that 90% of the people attending the courses were doing so because of the economic safety net that was provided either through the vocational training opportunities scheme or, more importantly, the back to education allowance. The changes announced in November 2000 were regrettable.

Special importance is attached to the back to education allowance because it has a particular effect on the more marginalised groups in society, particularly lone parents. The Minister had a sojourn as Minister for Education and Science and he should use that experience to critically examine how the back to education allowance can fit in more closely with the academic year and be made more effective. The benefit of the scheme is that not only does it improve the self-confidence of many people who have been economically and socially isolated from conventional education but it makes them more economically active and helps them become assets to our society and economy. On those grounds, the Minister must closely examine the operation of the back to education allowance to ensure it becomes more effective. I have confidence that his experience in other Departments will allow him to do that.

I will be brief. Members of all parties in this House will be aware of individuals throughout the length and breadth of the country, most of whom are lone parents in receipt of the lone parent's allowance whose opportunity to get back to education was taken from them when the previous Minister raised the requirement from six months to 15 months in respect of third level options. That is the reality. Life changed overnight for a substantial number of people who aspired to get out of unemployment and into education.

We are talking about making choices in a country where the tax receipts were €1.7 billion more than expected yet the Government's borrowing was €1.6 billion less than expected. We are talking about this House, as part of the Oireachtas, making choices. A total of €5 billion is being provided for people who already have money under the SSIA scheme. The choice was made to throw money at people, including myself, who already had sufficient money. We now have a proposal to take people out of the mire, get them into education and back to work by reducing the time to nine months, as recommended by Deputy Penrose, rather than 12 months as recommended by the Minister, at a cost of €2.5 million. The Minister knows there is more buoyancy in his Department than that €2.5 million and I urge him to go that extra yard and reduce the requirement to nine months. If he does that we will all support him.

I said in the committee that no Government should deprive anyone of education. That remains the line on this issue. This Government, or any Government, should not be known as the one that deprived someone of an education, but that will be the effect of this measure. It is depriving those who are less well off in society of gaining access to education and it is a major blunder. I ask the Minister to ensure that requirement is changed.

I recently attended a seminar on anti-social behaviour and many of the speakers talked about ways of dealing with the youngsters who were causing the problem. A number of them asked whether those youngsters ever got the education needed to give them responsibility and respect for society. It was agreed that lack of education was one of the main causes of anti-social behaviour. We are talking about giving people a chance to have pride in the society and the area in which they live.

I spoke about this issue on local radio the other day and I was asked if I thought the Minister would be positive in regard to this measure. I said I believed he would be positive and that he would change the requirement to the benefit of the people because no Government should be known for depriving people of an education. I doubt the Minister will want to be known for that and I am confident he will make a change in that regard.

I am sure the Minister would not like to hear Deputy Wall criticising him on the radio. It is up to the Minister. The measure introduced by the Minister's predecessor was a bolt from the blue. When questioned at the time she spoke in terms of education tourists coming to Ireland to have the craic. She suggested that people from other EU countries were abusing the scheme. She later reaffirmed her belief that this widespread abuse was continuing. Those of us who pride ourselves on having our ears to the ground have never heard of people abusing this scheme. Perhaps it is not a Dublin phenomenon or perhaps the people who are in contact with me have not come back to me on the matter.

However, all groups which deal with poverty are opposed to this measure. They all recognise that the longer a person is on welfare, the harder it is to get off it. We need to encourage people back into education and to upskill. To abolish a scheme which encourages the move from welfare to work because of mythical individuals who are abusing it is a contradiction.

If this abuse is widespread, will the Minister give us figures for the number of people who abuse the scheme? Where is the abuse happening? Is it prevalent in tourist areas? I have never heard of it and neither have the groups or individuals who talk to me.

I ask the Minister to accept this amendment, which merely asks him to place a report on this matter before the House within the next six months. I ask the Minister to make the correct decision on this matter next week. It is a simple and cost-effective scheme.

The Department said the scheme was being abused. What harm would it be if it was being abused? The scheme brought people into full-time education. They wanted to educate themselves and would not use the social welfare system in the future. They would have been a benefit to the State. The changes made last year by the Department of Social and Family Affairs mean that new residents of Ireland cannot draw social welfare. Therefore, the 12-month limit does not make sense.

I ask the Minister to go back to the old system, which worked. When Deputy O'Dea was Minister of State with responsibility for adult education, he introduced a White Paper which stated that someone who was out of education for more than six months found it difficult to get back.

Deputy Brennan has been a good Minister for Social and Family Affairs, given that he was thought of as a reluctant Minister. He has reversed many of his predecessor's cutbacks. This measure does not make sense and I urge the Minister to ignore his officials in this regard. They will tell him what they want him to hear. I urge him to make his own decision and to make the correct one. He should show his officials that he is in charge, unlike his predecessor. She was not in charge; her officials were.

I ask the Minister to make the correct decision. He should not wait for six months. I urge him to accept this amendment. Next week, he should go back to the six months rule and look at the matter again in two years' time.

This matter is not in the Social Welfare Bill. The amendment before the House will not change it. The amendment asks me to make a report to the social affairs committee in six months' time, which I will gladly do. This matter is dealt with by way of regulation. I make that point clear because the House will vote shortly. After five years as Chief Whip, I know we will vote at 10 o'clock because that is the temperature of the House. We will vote no matter what I say.

As a former Minister for Education, I like this scheme and I am determined that it will survive and do the job it was intended to do. We are talking about third level education. Many of our clients are struggling at first and second level. The back to education scheme is not affected at second level. The qualifying time for that is still six months. I have reduced the qualifying period at third level from 15 months to 12 months because 12 months unemployed is the definition of long-term unemployment, and the scheme was intended for the long-term unemployed. Some 35% of participants in the third level scheme have been on the register for nine months or less and 15% for 12 months or less. Therefore, 50% of those receiving the allowance are unemployed for less than 12 months. This indicates that the third level scheme is being used substantially by those on short-term unemployment while it was intended for those on long-term unemployment.

With 7,212 participants in the scheme at present, it will cost €2.4 million to reduce the qualifying period from 15 months to 12 months and it would cost €4.4 million to reduce it to six months. I am well disposed to reducing the qualifying period to nine months. Nothing I can do to the Bill will make that happen but I will examine the situation in the coming weeks and come back to the House with a clear decision. I have listened carefully to what has been said. I am unlikely to change the time to six months but if, having looked at the matter more closely, I conclude that nine months is manageable within our financial constraints and will strike a balance between abuse and targeting funds at those who need them, I will gladly make the change by way of regulation in the coming months.

Time is on our side because most participants join the scheme in September. I have a couple of months to examine his matter and I will gladly do that. However, that decision is not relevant to the Bill.

The amendment was our only way of raising the issue.

I thank the Minister for his response. The fact that he can make the change by way of regulation means it does not require primary legislation. The ball is now in the Minister's court. On the strength of that, I will withdraw the amendment. We will hold the Minister to his commitment to come back to the House within weeks with a positive decision. A reduction to nine months would make a huge difference. If we had had more time, we might have progressed other amendments.

We would have got them all sorted.

I thank the Minister. He has proved he is prepared to listen to reasonable suggestions from this side of the House. We appreciate that our work is not always looked on negatively. I have no doubt the Minister will honour his commitment. He has proved himself a person of his word. I look forward to continuing this work.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 3, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"2.—The Minister shall as soon as may be following the passage of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the costs and benefits of extending the school meal programme across the State.".

The school meals programme provides financial assistance to local urban authorities for the provision of school meals for national school children who are unable, by reason of lack of food, to take advantage of the education provided for them. My Department provides funding for school meals under two strands, the urban school meals scheme and the local projects scheme. The urban school meals scheme operates in conjunction with certain local authorities and is co-funded by the Department whereas the local projects scheme provides funding for secondary and national schools, pre-schools and community groups in urban and rural areas which provide school meals.

In 2003, the school meals programme cost €3.29 million. I estimate that 382 schools, with a total of 50,000 pupils, benefited from the urban scheme while 347 schools and voluntary organisations received funding which benefited 26,000 children under local school meals projects. The 2004 provision for the overall school meals programme is €6.08 million. A review of the urban and Gaeltacht school meals scheme was published in 2003. A number of recommendations were made and my Department is working with the Department of Education and Science in this regard. I will be happy to report to the joint committee on this issue as well.

In accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day I am required to put the following question: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 40.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Breen, James.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghail, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.
Question declared carried.