Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed).

Before Question Time, we were dealing with the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill and the Order for Second Stage. A number of queries were raised and I wish to clarify the position to the House.

Further to the points made by Deputy Stagg earlier as regards the need to make an Order for Second Stage on the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill, the situation is as follows: the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill appeared correctly on the Order Paper today as "Order for Second Stage" as that was the position when we entered business this morning. The purpose of the Order for Second Stage is to fix the day on which the Bill is to be taken. If there had been no proposal on the Order Paper this morning, an Order would have been necessary before the Bill was considered. The position, however, was changed by proposal No. 4 on the Order of Business that provided that the proceedings on Second Stage shall be taken today. Therefore, the Dáil had made the Order — it had fixed today as the date for the Second Stage to be taken.

Deputy Shortall has cited a number of precedents which I have examined. In all the cases mentioned no guillotined question was agreed to by the House, as was the position today. The procedure followed, therefore, was the correct one and I ask the Minister to continue her Second Stage reading.

During Question Time I got a copy of the blacks that show what was said. When the Ceann Comhairle started the Bill, the Minister said, "I move that Second Stage be taken now." I opposed that motion and the Ceann Comhairle then went to put the question. He was then corrected on the procedure that was used. It would seem the Minister made a mistake in the motion she moved. Rather than saying that Second Stage be taken now, the motion should have been that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

We have also checked and the Minister said, "I move that the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009 be now read a Second Time." That is the correct procedure.

This is being pedantic.

We are not being pedantic. Fianna Fáil was afraid to have a vote that it would lose.

I advised the House of that but, in reality, the fact we had a guillotine vote on the matter this morning effectively decides it and pre-empts any other consideration. We could waste all evening on this but we have gone to the trouble of checking it. The Deputy's Whip has been advised. We need to proceed with this Bill.

That is fine and I very much appreciate the guidance and advice given by the Clerk Assistant but I would say that we did check the blacks and, according to the blacks what the Minister said was that Second Stage be taken now, and that motion was incorrect.

The blacks are only a draft so——

Sorry, on the basis of that——

Apart from that, let us not dwell——

I do not want to hold up this matter any longer.

Deputy Shortall, my interest is to ensure cothrom na féinne, fair play, is administered in the House and we will endeavour to do that as far as possible. The fact that we had a guillotine vote on this matter this morning effectively decided the issue so the question of what the Minister actually said is fairly irrelevant.

A Cheann Comhairle——

I will be brief.

The Deputy knows the position.

I will brief about this because I think the matter is decided. If the Ceann Comhairle decides on something he is in the same position as a Pope, he cannot say he is wrong or the whole house of cards would come tumbling down.

That is not correct.

In my experience I have never heard a Ceann Comhairle say he was wrong. They would always find some precedent for whatever mistake they have made.

We went to some trouble on this; during Question Time, we adjourned and were quite prepared to have the matter examined. If the Deputy's point was correct we would have acceded to that point.

A Cheann Comhairle, we have found loads of precedents.

We would have acceded to that point.

I do not want to challenge any further now.

The Ceann Comhairle said the blacks are only a draft. We have an audio and visual record of what the Minister said. There is no point in the Ceann Comhairle giving us another version of what she said because that is what she said later in the day.

We have had it checked as well.

That is what she said later in the day. Given that the Minister——

Let us not dwell on that.

May I finish the point?

Deputy, the critical point about it is this——

Let me finish and then I will stop.

The critical point is——

The Deputy should stop interrupting.

Very briefly, given the experience of the Minister as a Government Whip, which she boasted about earlier, it is amazing that she made the mistake she did by proposing an order that was not required, according to herself and according to the Ceann Comhairle.

That is not correct. I call Deputy Shortall very briefly.

I do not want to prolong this controversy.

The Deputy should sit down.

Would the Deputy mind staying quiet because his contributions are entirely unhelpful?

On a point of order, Deputy Shortall, I shall have to proceed.

I have the blacks before me here. I see what the Minister said.

If the Ceann Comhairle is suggesting that is inaccurate — I do not want to prolong this any further as I want us to get into the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill — I ask him to agree to meet with me at a later stage this evening so that we can view the actual record.

We can do that but I think the critical point is this——

If the Ceann Comhairle is suggesting that the blacks are inaccurate, I think it is important that we have that clarified.

Yes, well——

I know it might be difficult for the Minister to admit that she made a mistake.

No, well, I am sure——

There is a record there and I think we should view that later. I am leaving it at that, a Cheann Comhairle, on the assumption that you will agree to my request.

If the Deputy makes contact we can arrange for that.

That is fine. Thank you.

The important thing to remember is that we had the guillotine vote this morning and that is the critical deciding factor in this matter.

The important thing I would suggest, with respect, a Cheann Comhairle, is that we respect the record. I will leave it at that.

It is important to bear that in mind for the consideration of precedents in the future. I call the Minister.

This is a very important piece of legislation.

On a point of order——

Deputy, please.

Will the Ceann Comhairle inform the House when the Minister started to speak and when her time allocation is up?

We will check the time.

Sorry, I beg your pardon.

We will check the exact time.

I do not think she has any time left; that is the point. According to the order of the House, limiting her time, I think her time is up.

I have half an hour speaking time. As the Deputy called for a quorum in the middle of it, that interfered with the speaking time.

That is the Minister's hard luck. If the Government had a quorum here I would not have to call it. I think, in accordance with the order of the House the Minister's time is actually up and the Ceann Comhairle should call the next speaker.

This is a very important piece of legislation. I sincerely hope that it is in order——

The Minister has time left. We will advise the House on the amount of time left shortly.

An order was made limiting the Minister's time on this debate. According to that order, in my calculation, the Minister's time is up.

It is a question of the Minister and the spokespersons having 30 minutes each. The Minister has not extinguished that amount of time yet.

What is the amount of time?

Deputy, please. We will check that.

How long does the Minister have?

We have had a considerable amount of interruptions so the Minister's time was somewhat truncated because of the questioning of the issue before Question Time.

Please, Deputy. I will advise in a minute the amount of time left.

A Cheann Comhairle, you are obliged to rule in accordance with the order that was made this morning.

Yes. We will advise the Deputy.

The order was clear.

We will advise the Deputy very shortly when we have it.

The order was very clear and according to it the Minister's time is now up and the Ceann Comhairle should be calling the next speaker. Am I right or wrong?

I have to advise the Deputy that we had so many interruptions earlier that the Minister was deprived of——

There is no extra time. It is not a soccer match.

I call the Minister for the Second Stage reading. Will the Deputy resume his seat?

How much time is left?

We will advise him in a moment.

Is it a set time?

Will the Deputy resume his seat, please?

How much time has the Minister left?

The Ceann Comhairle is obliged to rule in accordance with the order made this morning. The order was clear, very clear. According to that order the Minister's time is now up and the Ceann Comhairle should be calling the next speaker.

We will advise the Deputy shortly.

A Cheann Comhairle, the public is entitled to know what is in this piece of legislation

On a point of order, the point has been validly made, we are entitled to know how much time the Minister has left.

The Deputy should listen to the details of the Bill.

In the order, half an hour was allowed for the Minister. It is a Standing Order arrangement. There was quite an amount of interruptions as Deputies are aware in the forenoon and the Minister, unfortunately, lost speaking time because of that. Given that we have to take account of that I am allowing——

The Ceann Comhairle is allowing——.

The Ceann Comhairle needs the permission of the House to take account of that. He is not entitled to take such action. He has no such power.

I am telling the Deputy now that we are proceeding with Second Stage. I call the Minister.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. This is a very important piece of legislation and I sincerely hope that members of the public are not watching this on webcasts.

The Ceann Comhairle has no such power.

Please, Deputy.

How much time has the Minister left?

It is not a point of order. We have had several points of order. Deputy, please.

I sincerely hope that those people who will be affected by this budget are not watching the childish antics that are being carried on by the Labour Party.

On a point of order——

A piece of legislation that deserves to be discussed in full.

I wish to make a point of order.

I have ruled on the Deputy's point of order. Will he please allow the Minister to finish?

The Ceann Comhairle has not ruled on my point of order.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the floor. It is my intention to continue because it is an important piece of legislation.

Will Deputy Stagg please resume his seat?

It is a sensitive piece of legislation and I know the public is genuinely interested in this and not in the antics of Deputy Stagg.

I am entitled to make a point of order. I have asked a question and I am entitled to an answer.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat? I have ruled on this matter. I will be calling the Deputy's spokesperson shortly after the Fine Gael spokesperson.

I have already outlined the first seven proposals in relation to the Bill. Section 8 provides for the introduction of a four-year time limit for claiming refunds on PRSI contributions.

I am entitled to make a point of order.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

Section 9 provides that where a self-employment contribution record has been used to establish entitlement to a State pension and on paid PRSI contributions and paid from the date of claim, the pension will only be payable from the date it is paid.

In regard to setting speaking time, the Ceann Comhairle is not entitled to change it.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

I am quite satisfied that I have not used the speaking time.

The Ceann Comhairle is not entitled to change that.

Whatever else has been used, it has not been the speaking time.

Section 10 provides for similar arrangements in claims for a widow's or a widower's contributory pension.

Is the Ceann Comhairle refusing——

Will the Deputy please resume his seat? Deputy Stagg, please.

Section 11——

I would accept fairness from the Ceann Comhairle.

The Deputy will get fairness. We have to extend that to everybody in the House. I call the Minister.

The House made an order this morning——

Will Deputy Stagg please resume his seat?

The Minister has said that time——

If the Deputy does not resume his seat I will have to ask him to leave the House.

A Cheann Comhairle, as you have rightly said I have not used my speaking time. It will take me only about four minutes to conclude. It is an important piece of legislation.

On a point of order.

Deputy, the Minister needs about four minutes to finish her speech. Then we move on to Deputy Naughten and Deputy——

It will have to be someone else's time.

It is not a question of giving her somebody else's time. Will the Deputy resume his seat?

Section 11 limits the treatment benefits.

This is not the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Deputy Shortall, resume your seat.

A Deputy

If this was a Labour Party conference——

With respect——

We have dealt with all these points of order. Will the Minister continue?

A Cheann Comhairle——

On a point of order.

Please allow the Minister to speak.

I wish to make a point of order.

The Deputy can make the point of order when the Minister has finished.

The Ceann Comhairle is exceeding his powers.

I am not exceeding my powers.

That is an outrage.

I am not exceeding my powers.

The Ceann Comhairle——

Will the Deputy please resume his seat? The Minister to continue.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Will Deputy Stagg please resume his seat? I cannot allow this disorder to continue in the House.

If I may have a microphone, our difficulty is that the Ceann Comhairle is allowing things that are not in order to occur.

That is not correct. I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

The Deputy should withdraw that remark.

The Deputy should resume her seat and allow the Minister to continue.

The Ceann Comhairle is breaking his own rules.

That is unfair.

The Deputy should resume her seat or leave the House. The Minister to continue.

I find it extraordinary that while the Labour Party had declared it did not have enough time to concentrate on the Bill and not enough time to know what were its provisions, now they will not listen to what is in it.

This is outrageous that the Ceann Comhairle is allowing Fianna Fáil speakers to speak in excess of the time ordered by the House.

Deputy Stagg should resume his seat.

He cannot do that.

That is incorrect. The Deputy should resume his seat. I call the Minister.

The one thing I have not been doing is speaking longer than I should; I have been interrupted constantly which has resulted in my time being longer.

On a point of order——

With respect, I am sure people affected by the social welfare Bill must think this is——

There have already been serious procedural errors made in this debate——


There have been no procedural errors made. We have checked matters out.

I have already said we will deal with them later. A Member of this House is entitled to ask the Ceann Comhairle how much speaking time the Minister has——

The Minister has a total of 30 minutes to speak and she has not used that as of yet and I am ruling on that.

How much time has she left?

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

A reference to the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party should be withdrawn.

The Deputy should resume her seat and allow the Minister to continue.

I did not know that and there should not be preferential treatment given to any Member in this House.

There is no preferential treatment

The Deputy should withdraw that statement.

This House is covered by the Standing Orders.

The Deputy is spreading disorder in this House of Parliament which I cannot allow.

It is not disorder; the disorder is coming through the Chair.

We had a vote this morning and the vote was ——

We had a vote this morning and the Deputy should resume her seat.

——-to allow the Minister half an hour's speaking time.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

I have not been speaking for half an hour but Deputy Stagg has.

I wish to ask the Ceann Comhairle a question.

I am deciding it is not in order. The Deputy should resume her seat.

On a point of order and in an effort to be helpful I ask the Ceann Comhairle to advise the House in what circumstances the Chair, in this instance the Ceann Comhairle, can depart from the terms of a time allocation motion that has been agreed by the House.

I am not departing from the times. The time allocated is 30 minutes per speaker and we will be keeping to that. The Minister to continue.

The Minister has exceeded that time.

Section 11 limits the treatment benefits to the free examination elements of the dental and optical benefits and the medical and surgical appliances scheme——-

On a point of order.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

I have never experienced anything like this——

The Deputy is dead right because we have never experienced anything like the Deputy either.

When the Ceann Comhairle unilaterally decides that a Minister is given additional speaking time despite an order being made——

It is not additional speaking time.

It is additional speaking time.

I suggest to the Deputy that no matter who is in the Chair of this House, he or she cannot allow Members to continually interrupt and deprive the Minister, no matter who it is, of adequate speaking time as set down in the order. I simply cannot allow it and nobody else would allow it either.

That is not the case.

The Minister is going to have time to finish her speech.

All of the interruptions, as the Ceann Comhairle calls them, were legitimate points of order.

The Ceann Comhairle is acting beyond his powers.

Way beyond his powers.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

The public are anxious about this piece of legislation and it deserves proper consideration in this House and not the type of antics we have seen here.

Section 12 provides that in determining entitlement to mortgage interest supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the amount of mortgage interest relief received by a person and any mortgage allowance or mortgage interest subsidy payable by local authority under a shared purchase scheme, will be deducted from the gross interest payable. This section also provides for definition of "institution" for supplementary welfare allowance required for the purposes of section 14.

Section 13 provides for reduced personal rate of supplementary welfare allowance of €100 per week for persons aged 20 and 21 years and €150 per week for persons aged 22 to 24 years. It also provides for a reduced rate of €100 in respect of a qualified adult to recipients of social welfare allowance aged 20 to 21 years, for couples without children. Again, I wish to make it quite clear these changes will apply only to new claims for supplementary welfare allowance made on or after 1 January 2010.

Section 14 incorporates into primary legislation an existing requirement in the regulations that to be entitled to rent supplement the applicant must be in a position to demonstrate that he or she could reasonably have afforded the rent at the commencement of the tenancy. In order to qualify for rent supplement, a person must have been a tenant or living in homeless accommodation for a period of at least six months.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Section 14 extends this provision to include periods of residence in an institution, as defined in Section 12 of the Bill. Under existing provisions, a social welfare inspector may, if accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána, in uniform, stop a vehicle and question anyone in the vehicle where the inspector reasonably suspects that it is being used for employment or self-employment. Section 15 extends these provisions to provide for similar checkpoints operated by social welfare inspectors and customs officers without the need for a Garda presence. It also provides that an inspector may question any occupants for the purposes of the control of any social welfare payment. This is an important provision in aiming to clamp down on fraud which the Department takes very seriously.

Section 16 contains another anti-fraud measure. It provides that an officer of the Minister, authorised by the Minister for this purpose, may serve notice on a financial institution requiring it to make available for inspection records which may contain information about possible welfare fraud. This might be to examine whether withdrawals of money are being made, particularly where the only lodgments may be from a social welfare budget. We are anxious to ensure that if money is only being withdrawn in another country we will be able to check this and this is a serious anti-fraud measure. Section 17 provides for the transfer of bulk information relating to recipients of social welfare payments to the competent authority of another member state or international organisation or other country with which a reciprocal agreement has been made. We will be able to check automatically through bulk information as to what is happening with social welfare in those other countries when recipients may also be in this country.

Section 18 provides that payments made under the scheme known as the special Civil Service incentivised career break scheme will not be regarded as earnings for the purposes of the various earnings disregards applied in determining entitlement to social assistance payments and will therefore be fully assessable as means. Section 19 provides for the inclusion of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and Road Safety Authority in the list of specified bodies authorised by legislation to use the personal public service, PPS, number as a public service identifier.

Under the provisions of the Pensions Act, an application to the Circuit Court for an order to enforce a determination of the Pensions Ombudsman must be made by the Minister. Section 20 provides that such applications will be taken by the Pensions Ombudsman.

Given the short timescale involved in bringing this Bill to the House, there are three areas where legislative changes are considered necessary but which could not be finalised in time to be included in the Bill as initially presented to the House. I will, therefore, table three amendments on Committee Stage. I will introduce an amendment to section 246 of the Social Welfare Act relating to habitual residence to provide that a person who does not have a right to reside in the State cannot be habitually resident here and that asylum seekers cannot be habitually resident in the State. The other two amendments are being introduced to ensure that where an 18 or 19 year old is on the reduced personal rate of jobseeker's allowance or supplementary welfare allowance, he or she will continue to receive the lower rate when he or she reaches the age of 20 and 21 years.

Even with the changes provided for in the Bill, €21.1 billion will be spent on social welfare in 2010. This is €676 million or 3.3% more than the expected final expenditure figure of €20.4 billion for 2009. While the Government appreciates that the cuts we are making in the welfare area will not be easy for people, we also genuinely believe that if we do not take steps now to reduce overall public expenditure and restore stability to the public finances, we risk making the economic situation much worse for everyone, including welfare recipients, in the long term.

The Government has taken highly selective steps. The Minister's contribution is a complete misrepresentation.

We have avoided making any cuts in the State pension. We have also fully protected more than 420,000 children in welfare dependent and low income families from cuts in child benefit. We have ensured that cuts in weekly rates for those aged under 66 years are lower than the decreases in prices over the past year or thereabouts. I appreciate, however, that the budget will be difficult for all of those affected. The choices could have meant taking more money out of services, respite care, day places, home care packages and education, all of which are important for welfare recipients.

The Government hit the weakest and left millionaires alone.

Unfortunately, the changes in the Bill are necessary. Notwithstanding what has taken place in the Chamber thus far this afternoon, I hope we can have an informed and sensitive debate about these difficult issues in the next couple of days.

Let us have an honest debate.

It is not necessary for Government Deputies to leave the House when I rise. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. Looking across the Chamber yesterday, the faces of Cabinet members brought to mind the recession. They were tired and had a look of hopelessness about them. Sadly, the Minister for Finance's budget was devoid of ideas. The attitude of the Government is to fumble from one budget to another and yesterday's budget had no direction and did not make reference to jobs.

Normally, at this stage in the debate on the day after the budget, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment makes a contribution on the impact of the budget on jobs. Regrettably, rather than debating the issue of job creation, we are discussing the impact the budget is having on the most vulnerable people in society. Job creation is no longer a priority for the Government. Instead, the House is debating cuts in payments to the blind, the disabled, carers, widows and children. The new mantra of the Government is to cut supports for those who cannot work, remove opportunity from those who want to work and force those on low pay out of employment. That is its priority. It is afraid even to allow backbench Deputies home for the weekend in case they have to face the disabled, the blind, carers and mothers who have had their income slashed in the budget. So much for being the voices of the people.

Budget 2010 is not fair. Half of the McCarthy report recommendations on cuts in social welfare were implemented in the budget, whereas only one quarter of the recommendations pertaining to other Departments were implemented. On pay and taxation, measures worth only €55 million have been directed at the rich. This figure is one twelfth of the money the changes proposed by the Fine Gael Party in this area last Friday would have generated. We proposed changes in the social welfare budget which would achieve savings of €400 million net of job activation measures. While we also proposed to cut adult working age supports, we excluded pensioners, carers, the disabled and the blind. Crucially, we also published detailed proposals on how we would create jobs and training opportunities.

The Fine Gael Party also made proposals on fraud, an issue to which I will return. We proposed measures on the rent supplement scheme where significant savings could be made on the basis of trends and market rates and by expediting the transfer of people from the rent supplement scheme to the rental accommodation scheme. The Minister gave no indication that her Department will focus on this issue.

The main tenet of the Fine Gael Party proposals is the protection of the most vulnerable and to enable as many people as possible, particularly young people and the unemployed, to return to work or upskill through education and training. We want to reduce current spending on large bureaucracies such as the Health Service Executive, FÁS and CIE and eliminate or merge 150 of the quangos established in the past 12 or 13 years. Cutting professional and third party fees would also have delivered savings, as would the implementation of certain aspects of the McCarthy report.

What we see in the budget is a focus on the most vulnerable. Widows, carers, people with disabilities and the blind are being hammered by Government cuts. It is unfair that the Government is turning a blind eye to those who are robbing the State through social welfare fraud. While I accept the Minister has announced proposals and changes in this area, regrettably they do not go far enough to address the fraud issue once and for all. The Department will fall far short of its targeted savings of €616 million from anti-fraud measures. The shortfall of one fifth or €123 million would have protected payments to carers, people with disabiities, widows and the visually impaired. Cuts in benefits for these groups would not have been necessary if the Department had reached the savings target set by the Minister for anti-fraud measures.

The cost would have been much higher than €123 million.

With respect, I did not interrupt the Minister and I would appreciate if she refrained from interrupting me.

A 6% cut in the pension for blind people is a callous and unjust attack on the most vulnerable in society. Blind people will not only have their payments cut by 4.1%, as announced in the Budget Statement, but next week they will have the cancelled Christmas bonus cut by 2%. This cut is far in excess of the rate of inflation, which is running at an average of 3% for people in receipt of social welfare payments.

People who are blind or visually impaired incur considerable additional costs through adaptation measures in their homes, increased heating use from spending much more time at home than most other people, the purchase of aids, appliances and equipment to maximise their independence and additional transport usage. The Government chose to save only a few bob by slashing the blind pension, rather than focus on anti-fraud measures where significantly more savings could have been made.

The most vulnerable in society are facing a 6% cut in the next couple of weeks. Government Ministers, on the other hand, will take a 5% cut in their salaries. That is the wrong focus.

That is not true.

As I stated, I did not interrupt the Minister and she should show respect by not interrupting me.

Please allow Deputy Naughten to continue.

On a point of order, while I do not wish to interrupt the Deputy and appreciate the respect he has shown, it is important to set the record straight when false allegations are made. The cut in Ministers' salaries is 15%.

That is not true.

The Minister can deal with any allegations in her summing up.

There will be a 5% additional cut in the budget for Ministers. That is a fact. Some 10% was taken already earlier this year. Let us compare this with the 6% cut that blind people will receive between now and 2 January. It is not acceptable that the blind are the focus of this Government and it should not be the intention of any Member to focus the cuts on the most vulnerable in our society. There will be a cut in the disability allowance, the blind pension, the blind welfare allowance and the carers' allowance. The cuts will affect the most vulnerable people in society and those unable to work. That is where the focus of attention has been on this occasion.

The average full-time carer in this State saves the taxpayer approximately €40,000 per year. It will be a bleak winter for them because the Government has ignored the contribution that carers make to society. Some 47,000 people in receipt of the carers allowance can expect a 2% cut next week and there will be a further 4% cut in the first week in January. The cut goes against stated Government policy of caring for people in their own homes for as long as possible and further demonstrates what little appreciation and recognition it has for carers. Let us not forget the long promised carers strategy, which was supposed to address the needs of carers but which has been shelved by the Government. Further, last week the HSE announced it would shelve the home care packages so that the staff can be used to carry out the swine flu vaccination programme.

It has been extended.

I did not interrupt the Minister, with all due respect.

Earlier, the Minister harped on about interruptions. I allowed her that respect and listened to what she had to say.

On a point of order——

The Deputy without interruption, please

Allow me the respect to make my contribution without continual interruption. I gave way to the Minister already.

On a point of order, is a Member entitled to make a false allegation? Some €10 million extra has been put into the home care package.

There are no false allegations and, in fairness, the Minister will be able to contradict any statement made in her summing up. The Deputy should continue.

I am disappointed the Minister has not afforded me the courtesy that I allowed her.

They are false allegations.

There has been a good deal of disruption. You made accusations in your contribution that I could have interrupted and contradicted, but I allowed you the respect and had the decency not to interrupt.

She has been doing it all day.

However, you continually interrupt me in my contribution.

The Deputy should speak through the Chair, please.

The Minister should have the manners to allow me to say what I have to say. She will have the opportunity to respond. I hope I will be given credit for this time, as the Minister was earlier.

The Deputy should speak through the Chair and not draw attention to himself in this manner. Please continue.

How much time have I remaining?

If it would help the Deputy——

The Minister made her statement.

I wish to move an order that might be helpful. We are due to take a sos at 5.30 p.m. and if it would assist the Deputy, he could continue with his contribution and move the sos back. We would be willing to do so, or if he would prefer, we could take a break. I am trying to be helpful to the Deputy.

The Order of Business was determined this morning. We are due to take a sos at 5.30 p.m.

If the Deputy wishes to continue, it can be done by agreement of the House and I would be agreeable to it.

That can only come through the Whips and I have no direction from the Whips.

No. It can happen on the floor of the House.

I would be agreeable to that but I realise the Order of Business was made this morning and I have no wish to breach the orders made this morning. There has been enough of that.

We cannot simply make order by decision here.

We can, by agreement of the House.

The position is the Order of Business was made this morning. Unless the Chief Whip indicates otherwise to me, I will follow the Order of Business as agreed. I call on Deputy Naughten to continue.

How much time remains in this slot?

Some 18 minutes and 36 seconds.

I refer to the point concerning carers. It is appalling that home care support will be cut as a result of the need to carry out the swine flu vaccination programme. I accept it must be done but the focus of cuts should not be on the most vulnerable in society.

Other Members may wish to clarify the position when they make a contribution in the debate but I have not encountered any individual who has successfully received the fair deal scheme under the nursing home package. To the best of my knowledge, all such applications are being shelved until the new year. It is clear that the focus of the Government is to get people out of their homes and into a nursing home bed. However, at the same time they are not prepared to process those applications.

I refer to another aspect of the carers' allowance. Some 64% of people with an intellectual disability live in their own home. We are aware of the challenges facing parents who must take care of a person with an intellectual disability on an ongoing basis, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. In my view the majority of such people should be canonised and should receive awards and recognition. Instead, we are cutting back the money they are due to receive. At the same time, they are saving the State approximately €70,000 per annum in the cost of residential care for a person with an intellectual disability.

I refer to the Christmas bonus because in her contribution the Minister air-brushed it out and made the point that we are dealing with only a 4.1% cut. However, at issue is a 6% cut in respect of the income people will receive as a result of the cuts that will be implemented before Christmas and the cut that will be implemented afterwards. On 27 October last year, the Minister stated:

Even with the challenging budgetary situation, the payment of this additional money to social welfare customers is a clear sign that helping those most in need of support remains the key priority for the Government. We all recognise that there are significant pressures for families and individuals around Christmas time, and this funding will go some way towards meeting their needs.

However, we will not give them a cent this Christmas. Christmas has been cancelled for many of those social welfare recipients and they are struggling to survive at the moment. They will have to turn to expensive money lenders and are likely to fall deeper into debt. There remains a difficulty in respect of debt collectors in this country the cause of which the Government has ignored time and again. It has not regulated this area.

I refer to social welfare fraud. I was disappointed with the announcement by the Minister yesterday that the target for next year is €83 million less than the 2009 target. Significant potential savings could be made in the area of fraud control and prevention. I accept the fraud controllers are busy processing claims and, as a result, they have been diverted from fraud prevention, as highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I put on record that the Minister's control unit is doing an excellent job under very difficult circumstances. Recently, I had dealings with the control unit in respect of a particular case and I was very impressed with the level of detail it had available. However, it was amazing that although such detail was available to a control unit for a considerable period, a particular case of fraud continued for five years. It is clear that if the resources are allocated to the control unit, based in Carrick-on-Shannon, it could carry out a good deal more work than at present. I accept that every inspector in the Department of Social and Family Affairs is conscious of fraud. However, a good deal more could be done and, as I remarked earlier this week, additional staff are available with a suitable skill set in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Meanwhile, four or five agricultural inspectors are landing out on a farm, trying to justify their existence. Surely, it would make more sense to second those staff to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and to get them to do what they are very good at doing, that is, going through and using the data available. The Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted the fact that in four or five cases of over-payment, the data are available to the Department already.

I am also disappointed that it has been disclosed this week that the integrated public service card will cost approximately €24 million to roll out. That represents very small money. Fraud is a significant issue. In the departmental targets set out for fraud in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the target is €1 billion. Surely, that falls short of the level of fraud taking place.

As we have reached 5.30 p.m. I call on the Deputy to adjourn the debate until 6.15 p.m.

I presume I will have credit for interruptions.

That option is available to the Chair.

Debate adjourned.