Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to speak to the Bill on Second Stage. This debate was commenced early this afternoon by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. I was interested in the contributions made by the Minister and the spokespersons for Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The Minister referred to the level of increases in social welfare payments, noting, for instance, that the pension rate has increased by 120%, unemployment benefit by 130% and child benefit by 330% in the past 12 years. In the same period, the increase in the cost of living was approximately 40%. These are astonishing statistics. I was amazed, therefore, to hear the spokesperson for the Labour Party, Deputy Shortall, describe the figures as reprehensible. While she may not have used that word, that was the effect of her comments. She also stated the Minister should be ashamed of them. I was very pleased to learn of these increases as they demonstrate that when money was available we gave it to those who needed it.

When, as is often the case in interviews, the accusation is made that the Government squandered money, I always ask whether less money should have been allocated to pensioners, the National Roads Authority, special needs assistants or teachers. The figures I have cited show what we tried to do.

To be fair to Deputy Shortall, she later stated that this money could have been spent on job creation. We must first have regard to those who need State assistance or benefits of one kind or another. While we hope the forthcoming budget and four year plan will allow a much greater focus on jobs and growth in the economy, it is wrong to argue that it this money should not have been spent. It was good that those who were in need received.

I recall reading in The Sunday Times on the Sunday after the Minister’s appointment that he wished to be a reforming Minister. I welcomed his statement at the time because social welfare, or social protection as it is now known, has never been associated with reform. Various Ministers, including some who are in the Chamber at present, sought to make changes but it always was difficult to move along colossus of a Department, the job of which is to pay out and to ensure that no one is left without receiving his or her payment.

The Minister hopes that the moving of the employment and community services units of FÁS will not be a simple transfer to him but that they will be integrated fully within his Department to provide an end to end service to its customers. In other words, labour activation and the other measures will have a positive focus and an end result, in that those who wish to avail of social protection payments also will bring with them the responsibility of seeking jobs and of being actively in the market place to seek a job. It will be the remit of the Department to ensure that they will so do. There will be a new case by case management approach allowing trained staff to interact on a one-to-one basis with individuals on developing pathways to employment with clearly defined milestones and targets.

This is a very good idea and will be focused on progressing people to participation in the workforce. For decades, I have felt that no matter how much the money or the payments were needed, one should not simply hand them out without ever trying actively to help that person in a focused, integrated way. Such a person should be helped to get training and employment in order that he or she would not be caught in the trap of dependency but that he or she would have a chance to emerge from it. The Minister stated, "Such an approach not only makes economic sense but also allows our services to be tailored to meet the individual needs of each customer and to respect and enhance their dignity as individuals". This is correct and must be one of the stronger points of this approach. I believe people's dignity will be enhanced if their chances of getting a job are enhanced, because true dignity lies in being able to earn one's living and bring home something at the end of the week.

It has become fashionable to bewail FÁS and everything it did. I wish to emphasise the good that FÁS has done over the years. I do not stand over events in the latter years. All Members are familiar with them and there is no need to enumerate names or lay out where they went or what they did as that has been well done in the various reports. However, in so doing, one overlooks the great work FÁS did. Between 1992 and 1994 I worked with Deputy Quinn in the then Department of Industry and Commerce — renamed the Department of Enterprise and Employment — as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs. While travelling around the country, I learned of the work FÁS did in enhancing villages and towns, as well as people's capabilities for work, through the very good training it gave participants on its community employment schemes. Moreover, many of those participants then left and were able to take up full-time meaningful paid employment. I acknowledge they were also paid while engaged in community employment schemes and later on in the farm assist and social employment schemes.

However, I pay tribute to Deputy Quinn in this regard because he gave participants a gold stamp. They were not just doing a scheme but were carrying out proper work with proper training and proper payment. Many people went through those programmes and in so doing contributed to the physical enhancement of Ireland. I recall doing a video for the agency at one of its anniversaries at which I was asked to think up a slogan about community employment. I stated that FÁS has changed the face of Ireland. It had done so because there was a period when one could not go through a town or village in Ireland without seeing its red sign, as well as the work that had been done by the participants on a FÁS scheme.

These FÁS units will bring many skills to the new integrated Department of Social Protection. I am sure the Minister will look into the matter but I hope the employment rights of those who have transferred will be kept as they were and there will be no diminution in their rights as they move over. However, cometh the hour, cometh the man and I believe the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív will be well able to complete that integration and to ensure the position of those who enter this new Department.

During the summer, the Minister stated there would be 10,000 new employment opportunities on the new integrated community and social employment schemes. While I am sure it was coincidental, he again announced this in The Sunday Times. While that is a positive development, I would like to see such jobs coming about. People should begin to be employed on these schemes. I acknowledge that those who work on schemes that have access to children or with children must get vetting permission, which must issue from Thurles through the Garda vetting bureau. This can occasion some delay from time to time. However, the Minister should speed up his ambitious target of 10,000 places on a new enhanced scheme. In so doing and in so bringing people’s minds to bear on the opportunity they might have to get into employment, he should not neglect the training aspect of the employment scheme on which they are placed. It is all very well to state that one must show one is willing to work for one’s protection payment, which is quite correct. However, this should not be to the effect of waylaying or failing to fulfil their training opportunities because these should also be available. This is what will make a better person and will produce the better outcome.

The Minister stated that a rent supplement cannot be paid beyond 31 March 2012 in any case where the landlord has failed to provide his or her tax reference number. In addition, the Bill makes it an offence if a landlord does not so do. This is right and will do away with what was an ongoing mini-scandal of one kind and another, whereby people with houses to rent could offer such houses in very poor condition and could impose whatever rents they wished. This is a correct way in which to put a shape on this issue. Moreover, the introduction of electronic means of making and capturing declarations of unemployment that are required for the purpose of claiming jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance also is a very good thing.

Given that times are difficult for everyone, it now is impossible to attend a residents' association meeting, a focus group meeting or a meeting of any kind without the talk turning to fraud. People instance occasions about which they have heard, although much of this is a case of "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi" or hearsay. People gain some kind of relief in giving out about what they have heard in respect of particular rates. People will tell one they know of someone who received a twin buggy and who, only two weeks later, got another twin buggy.

The person concerned must be very fertile if she did, because I do not know how she could have twins twice within a month. However, these are the kind of urban myths which, once promulgated, tend to fly everywhere. Moreover, the community welfare officers and social welfare staff are always blamed. Much of this is tosh, hearsay and incorrect but it gives people a good feeling to think they are pointing out, as they perceive it, shortcomings in the system. My response to people is that they should try to live on what one gets from a non-contributory old-age pension.

It is a sad feature of the difficult times in which people are living that they want to cast stones at others. When I spoke publicly about the non-contributory old age pension, which is basic income, and said people should be left with it, I was amazed at the number of e-mails I received from people who said, "Why should you lift that benefit out and talk about it?" I wrote back to each one and said, "You try living on that some time", to parody a very well-known person. I will not give his name here; that would not be right. It is a sad fact that people want, in an atavistic way, to probe and shout at people who they think are getting more than they are. These stories excite people, who then want to cut, cut, cut. That is wrong.

I am interested in what the Minister said about section 8. Current legislation requires a person registering for a PPS number to submit a photograph and signature. However, the Minister said, "it is not practical to collect these items in all cases, for example where the customer is non-resident or deceased and in probate cases. Section 8 clarifies the position by only requiring that these items be submitted when required". There was a time when I thought the public services card represented big brother looming in on us and requiring too much information. Carrying one's card and zapping it in to gain access to many services now has a very modern connotation and would be a very good thing, in itself. It would augur well.

I am interested in this legislation. I know this might be a catch-all Bill because it is a miscellaneous provisions Bill. Miscellaneous measures usually gather up things that have fallen through the cracks since the last miscellaneous or genuine Bill. I note that the Minister has said he will bring forward a number of amendments. That is very refreshing. He is not even waiting for us to put forward amendments. He will bring them forward himself. They will deal with the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. They will follow up civil partnership legislation. Instead of sitting back and saying, "Weren't we great to bring in that Bill?", there are now outfalls of that legislation which must be finalised, and the Minister is going to do that.

I am interested in the introduction of a partial capacity scheme, which will begin to address a critical limitation of the current social welfare code which categorises people with long-term illnesses or disabilities as either fit for work or unfit for work. The focus within the welfare system on incapacity rather than capacity carries negative consequences for people with disabilities and their families, who may be trapped in welfare dependency. The Minister will also introduce an amendment to provide for the transfer of community welfare officers from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection. That is very good. The Department will also take responsibility for the supplementary welfare allowance, which is currently administered by the HSE.

When Deputies meet people who are unable to get supplementary welfare benefit and put down a parliamentary question on their behalf, the Minister is reliant on the information coming to him from the HSE. We then go round and round the mulberry bush. Officials of the HSE, with responsibility for hospitals, waiting lists and all the rest of it crowding in on them, are very slow to get at supplementary welfare benefit, and particularly slow to get at the real cause of what is wrong.

I did not hear the Minister refer to the habitual residency clause, HRC, but I would like to speak about it myself. When people come back from England they do not look at a map and decide to live in Athlone or Mullingar, for example. Why would they? A couple often decide to settle where one of them has roots. I had such a case recently. A husband and wife came back from the United Kingdom where the husband had worked for many years — he was not work shy — and they settled in a rural town in County Westmeath. The lady of the couple was a native of the town and all her sisters and brothers lived there. They had grown-up children in the United Kingdom and one son of 17, who had started an apprenticeship course in the UK and quickly enrolled and was taken on in FÁS. So far, so good. They then wished to apply for various benefits, but they were told they did not qualify because they did not meet the requirements of the HRC.

I think that is wrong. It is different when people who have no links with an area or were never heard of before suddenly appear there. This couple had strong familial links with the rural town in which they wished to settle. I thought we had protocol arrangements between the Department of Social Protection and the equivalent agency in the United Kingdom, through the office in Newcastle-on-Tyne. The husband in this case had paid national insurance contributions for 41 years. He was not a work shy individual trying to run to Ireland to pick up benefits. Neither was his wife; she was native to the town. As they were not habitual residents they did not qualify for benefit, or so said the supplementary welfare officer on behalf of the HSE.

Supplementary welfare officers are the most dogged people. I am sure they will read what I am saying in the Official Report, and I hope they do. There are hierarchies of supplementary welfare officers. There is the ordinary officer one meets in one's local office. There then appears to be an officer who is a step above that. Then there is a superintendent, who is like God. He — and it is mostly he — will decide whether people are eligible for whatever benefit they are applying for.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, and her officials, who are in the Chamber, to take a note and have a keen look at the habitual residency clause, which is militating against genuine applicants for social welfare benefit.

While I am on my feet I will make another observation based on clinic work. I often think what Deputies hear in their clinics can permeate what they say on legislation. It is a wonderful way of combining two aspects of a Deputy's work.

I know you have an impatient face on you, a Cheann Comhairle, but I simply have to tell this story.

I am loth to ask you to conclude, Deputy. We are all listening to you with great attention.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. You are very nice. Never mind what some other women say to you. I think you are very good.

Of course, I do not cross you, so there you are.

Not as much as I do.

The second case is of a man whose business went belly-up. He and his brother both lost a sight of money. They have no money. This man is a widower. He is getting his widower's pension and only for that he would be crucified. He is looking for mortgage relief but they keep saying he is part owner of a demolished building. It has no monetary value, land value or building value. His application has been refused by supplementary welfare officers, who feed information to the Minister's office for his replies to my parliamentary questions. Finally, and to give the Minister his due, when I put down a fifth written question on the matter last week, I got a telephone call from Deputy Ó Cuív. He said, "You know that case you keep referring to in parliamentary questions?" I said, "Yes", and I trotted out the man's name. He said, "Well, you get him to do the following". He told me to tell the man to go to a solicitor, get a letter saying he had no interest in a demolished building or money in the bank and send it to the HSE.

I cite this case as an example of the dog-in-the-mangerish way some supplementary welfare officers work to their agenda. They will be far better off under the ambit of the Department of Social Protection.

Thank you for you leniency, a Cheann Comhairle. I am finished.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak after my colleague and fellow member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Mary O'Rourke. I will certainly draw inspiration from many of her remarks. She referred to information gleaned at clinics. That is coalface information that can be obtained nowhere else.

Nobody can obtain it except one who deals with people on the coalface on a one-to-one basis.

One obtains an understanding of circumstances at that level that one cannot read about or research. One cannot have the information imparted to one in any other way.

I had a quick glance through the four year plan and noticed that many of the provisions of a punitive nature are to come into effect in 2012 and the year thereafter. It is like a boomerang in that it comes back and hits one more than once. I was wondering why the Opposition was being encouraged to vote for the budget and year one of the four year plan. I now know. It could have implications for all of us.

The Minister stated that, "In the past 12 years, we have increased pension rates by about 120%, unemployment benefits by almost 130% and child benefit by 330%", the theory being that when we had the money we spent it. I am not so sure what the Minister was trying to say. Was he saying that while the Government gave the people money in the good days, it will take it back from them in the bad days? That is what it sounds like and what it means to the people who are facing this dubious prospect. It is not in the good days that people need money but in the bad days. We will soon find out the truth when we start knocking on doors around the country. Knock on doors we will do.

The Minister stated: "In a continuation of the trend of recent years, and as a re-affirmation of the Government's commitment to all those in need of support, €20.9 billion will be spent by the Government in 2010 on social welfare provision — €500 million or 2.45% more than 2009." That does not address in any way the fact that the demand on the Department is much higher than it was heretofore. The Minister continually says, in reply to parliamentary questions, that the number of social welfare appeals of one kind or another has increased by 45%. This is the case simply because there are more people unemployed. While it is understandable that more people are unemployed, how could it be that more appellants are ill? It could not be possible that there is more illness; the only conclusion one can come to is that the manner in which the cases are being processed is such that more regard is had to the availability of funds than to the actual needs of the people concerned. That is a very dangerous place to go and I have said so to the Minister at meetings of the committee.

The Minister stated recently that many pensioners are very wealthy. I do not know how he came to that conclusion. Anybody working at the coalface will know that, in recent years, many people who retired and who had invested their savings in what turned out to be very dubious investment products, lost everything. I do not know whether people realise this but it is a fact. My constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, who is sitting opposite me, knows this full well. I cannot understand why the Minister made his comment on pensioners. Was it to aggravate them? It certainly was not to reassure them. It caused them great anxiety at a time when they feel vulnerable.

The theory is that there will be no cuts to the old age pension in the current year. From what I can gather from the hidden agenda in the four year plan, the plan will not expire without a negative visitation upon pensioners. When the Minister concluded that pensioners are rich, he made no reference whatsoever to the fact that, some years ago before a general election, the then Government, which was 95% the same as the current one, decided to award free medical cards to all those over 70, whether they were rich, poor or otherwise. I do not know why. Was this a sweetener for election purposes? Irrespective of what it meant, the measure was withdrawn afterwards. Not only do pensioners no longer have free medical cards, in many cases they do not qualify for a medical card at all. Many others are in a similar position.

It is all very fine to talk about what the Government did in the good times and to claim credit for it. We must realise we are no longer in the good times. The reason for social protection — the term "social protection" implies this — is to have a stable payment upon which people can rely in bad times, when circumstances are not so secure, when the horizon is not so bright and when a vision of the future is not so stable.

I have noted all the payments that will be targeted. They include child benefit, which has been open to attack for years. Everybody asks about millionaires. What have they to do with it? There is no need for a millionaire to draw child benefit in the first instance but there is a very genuine need for those who depend on the benefit to draw it. Many households in this country depend on child benefit to pay the mortgage. If we believe circumstances are bad now, we must realise that after three of the four years encompassed in the four year plan have expired, we will recognise the need for child benefit in a big way. I predict that before the period encompassed by the four year plan has expired, somebody will have to revisit the social welfare code and increase child benefit to a level not seen before. Otherwise, as I know from my constituency work, it will not be possible for some families to survive.

Punitive elements, as anticipated at all levels, multiply the negative impact on the household. For example, many unemployed people are living in houses that are in negative equity. They have cantilevered mortgages. After six months, or a year or more in some cases, these unemployed people fall behind significantly in their repayments. Those unfortunate people are very concerned. We are dealing with them now and, if not, we should be. It is not a question of how they got into such circumstances or of saying it was their fault because it was not their fault. They were encouraged to go down the road they went down and told to get on the property ladder. They were told to do something for themselves and they did so. Now they are paying for it.

Prior to an election some years ago, there was a headline in one of the newspapers stating that it was payback time. Unfortunately, it is payback time for many of the people to whom I refer who are suffering. It is very easy for us to say funds and resources are limited and that we must cut the cloth according to measure. The fact of the matter is that it is no consolation to those people.

When we try to intervene with the mortgage providers, we do not receive a very positive response. In the past week, I experienced a case in which a mortgage provider asked the mortgage holder whether his house was in negative equity and whether it could be sold. In other words, he was told that if he could not pay, if his house was not in negative equity and if the bank could get its money back, he should sell it and get out on the road. That is harsh reality of life as it is now unfolding. We, as public representatives elected to the national Parliament, have a duty to ensure people are not pushed to the wayside. If we do not do this duty, we are letting society down. The Minister responsible for social welfare, whoever he may be, irrespective of whether he calls himself "the Minister for Social Protection" or "the Minister for Social Destruction",——

(Interruptions).

Deputy O'Connor would make a good Minister for social reconstruction. It is very important that we recognise that, by ignoring the circumstances I have described, there is a price to be paid. It may be a much bigger price than we anticipate.

Let me refer to the transfer to FÁS. Some people see this in different ways. I am of the view that it could be a good development, provided it improves — by way of the provision of training, the creation of job opportunities and the administration of local schemes — the quality and level of services available to communities.

In recent times, a notion has developed that everyone wants to become unemployed because the rates relating to jobseeker's benefit and allowance are high. That is utter rubbish. Nobody deliberately becomes unemployed. Families enjoy a greater level of satisfaction when the adults in the home are in employment. The difficulty is that many individuals can no longer obtain employment. There have been many statements to the effect that people should go out and get jobs. Of course they should do so, and it would be great if everyone had a job. Unfortunately, however, the current economic situation, which has been developing for the past three years or more, provides no encouragement in this regard. In light of current events, it does not appear that people's prospects will be all that great in the near future.

A person will always try to obtain employment if he or she can do so. If, however, someone has a mortgage to pay, he or she will be given some degree of support to pay it but if he or she is working in low-paid employment, this will not be the case. The reality is that this is what we have inherited from the good times to which the Minister referred earlier.

The Minister made reference to the partial capacity scheme. This scheme may be a good development or it may be a bad one. As a former Minister of State in the then Department of Social Welfare——

And a future Minister of State.

I am not sure about the future. I might not be here after the general election. One just never can tell.

The Deputy is bound to be here.

I am hoping that I and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, will be back, possibly on different sides of the House. The Minister of State and I have a good relationship with each other. I hope Deputy O'Connor will also be back because I want to be in a position to slag him.

I wish to comment on a particular notion which has developed about people with perceived disabilities. To say that someone has such a disability suggests that the person with the perception is making a judgment call on the former. That is a very dangerous route to take. There are those who are incapable of holding down employment because they lack either the physical or mental ability to do so. The Minister's proposal that such people should be accommodated may be a good thing. Under the relevant provision, people in this category cannot be forced to work but they will be in a position to engage in light work that will be within their capacity. People with perceived disabilities will certainly welcome this development.

The fact that persons such as these will only be engaging in light work should not mean they should receive reduced incomes. These individuals will require particular care and attention, otherwise they will be obliged to remain on disability payments of one kind or another. As I have stated on previous occasions, there are some individuals who have the mental and physical capacity and strength to overcome even major disabilities and find their own way in the workplace. However, not everyone is blessed in this way and that must be borne in mind. In that context, therefore, we must ensure that any guidelines put in place will deal fairly with people across the board.

In recent times, a great deal of attention has been paid to the elimination of fraud. Deputy O'Rourke's comments on this matter are extremely valid. I do as much work in my constituency as any other Member of the House and I continually hear urban myths in respect of people who are obtaining social welfare and supplementary welfare payments on a daily basis. It is a case of dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi. I am continually informed by people that individuals from other jurisdictions are using the social welfare system here to rake in money on a daily basis. Some 95% of these stories are rubbish.

I accept there have always been isolated cases of fraud. It is stated that the level of fraud or attempted fraud can be up to 5%. There are some cases where, for one reason or another, a person may have inadvertently failed to supply information or where the Department did not take action in order to update is records. We must be aware that punishing people for perceived fraud is a dangerous route to take, particularly in the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.

The Minister complained about the number of cases that were submitted for appeal in recent years. He indicated that the level of appeals increased by 45% or thereabouts in the past couple of years. That is the case because we are in the midst of a recession and there are huge numbers of people who are unemployed. There are those who, even though they have disabilities or are ill, have sought out employment. These individuals sought special concessions, permission and exemption from the relevant schemes to seek employment. However, it is not always the case that they can do so in the current, extremely competitive labour market. There is a need to monitor the position of such people.

As stated on many previous occasions, the habitual residency clause is an appalling and, in my opinion, unconstitutional method of refusing a payment to someone who would ordinarily be entitled to it. Irish citizens, regardless of whether they were born here, continue to come to this country to care for their relatives. The fact that they do so saves the State a considerable amount of money in the context of its not being obliged to provide institutional care. However, such individuals are informed that their place of habitual residency is not in Ireland and that, as such, they are not entitled to payment. Some of these people were here or were born before those in the Department who make the relevant decisions. Many of them lived through hard times and made a contribution to the economy of this country. However, the Minister and his Department have the cheek to inform them that they do not qualify for payment.

These people have made their contribution. They may not live here now, they may have lived in another jurisdiction for the past five or ten years or they may have left during a previous recession. There is no doubt that they have paid the price and have returned to care for their relatives. There are numerous cases of this kind. It does not matter from where these people come. If a person has a major disability, is in need of care and is legitimately living in this country and has a right to be here and if one of his or her relatives offers to care for him or her, it is far more cost beneficial to the State to facilitate this arrangement rather than to place that individual in an institution. That is a fact. Anyone who wants to challenge my argument in this regard may do so but there is no possibility that I will be proven wrong.

At a recent meeting of the relevant committee, the Minister requested suggestions on this matter. I suggest that those who return here from abroad to care for their relatives should be given the relevant payment. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to devise a way for people in such circumstances to qualify for payment. I return to my original point that if a lack of available resources becomes the determining factor in assessing whether people qualify for payment, then the cause is lost.

There is one final matter to which I wish to refer before the Ceann Comhairle calls time on my contribution.

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

There is no way that I could complete my contribution in that amount of time.

The Deputy will find a way.

It should never be forgotten that people who paid contributions — regardless of whether these relate to sickness benefits, pensions or whatever — during their working lives were obliged to make huge sacrifices in order to pay them. They often raised large families and sometimes found themselves on the bread line, but they survived. When they had finished paying their contributions, they supported their sons and daughters who could not raise the deposit necessary to allow them to purchase houses. The houses that were then bought are now in negative equity and they must try to assist their sons and daughters once again. It is unfortunate to suggest to them that some of them might be wealthy and perhaps we might find ways or means of screwing something out of them once again. It would be unfortunate at any time and it is particularly so at this time.

I note that the State pension is the new name given to the old age pension. The term State pension suggests that the State is paying for it but in fact the contributors themselves paid for it. All that money over their working lives was invested in various funds, such as the social insurance fund, the welfare fund, the pensions fund, etc., and it now should be coming to fruition for them, and we are not so sure about that.

In conclusion, I would say the following to those who now must rely on a payment. Incidentally, Deputy O'Rourke is obviously a very experienced politician and I must compliment her on this. The simple fact of the matter is that when one meets the people face to face in their particular circumstances and they tell you what their circumstances are, it is very easy for those who condemn the unemployed, and state they are being paid too much, those pensions are being paid too much and those who made contributions on sick benefit of one kind or another are being paid too much, to state that they should not be getting that because if they were not getting that much they themselves would feel a little bit better. That is the way society always was. Read about the 1930s. That is what people felt then as well. John Steinbeck wrote eloquently about it at the time and I would recommend it as reading to every Member of this House.

I hope that we have the resolve, determination and strength to come through what lies ahead of us. I hope we do not take it out on the vulnerable in society, own up to what we are going to do and tell the people honestly before, during and after election campaigns. If we do that, we will be doing ourselves a great justice and the nation a great and fair service as well.

I welcome the opportunity to make this brief contribution to the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill. I note that the provisions include transferring the employment services and community services programme of FÁS to the Department of Social Protection, provisions on rent supplement, electronic certification for jobseekers and changes to current provision on the public services card.

The Ceann Comhairle will understand that it is demanding for me, a humble Dublin man, to follow such an esteemed speaker as Deputy Durkan. By the way, I am cheered up by the fact that his Fine Gael colleague, Senator McFadden, appears to have come into the House just to hear me speak. That really encourages me.

Senator McFadden is keeping an eye on Deputy O'Connor.

That is good.

I was interested in Deputy Durkan's reference to the election, which, let us all admit, is fast approaching. I hope he is correct about who will and who will not be returned, but I hope everybody in the Chamber will be returned, although I note from previous experience that the only person in this House sure of coming back is the Ceann Comhairle because of his esteemed position, but I wish everybody well.

I note that there is a fairly good attendance in the Gallery and Members will be interested to know that some of them are from Tallaght.

That could not possibly be.

I am really pleased that a group of young people from St. Dominic's parish centre and community centre in Tallaght have come in. They heard Deputy Durkan was speaking and they came in to hear him, and I hope they enjoyed it.

I doubt they came in to hear me.

It is important on a day like this, with everything that is going on, that we go about our normal business and I am really pleased now that the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has come in just to hear me speak.

I look forward to supporting the Minister. I hope I can speak for everybody in the House when I say he has a difficult job. Politics are politics and the election is on, but the Minister has a difficult task between now and whenever the budget is published, and we need to get a message across to him in that regard.

By the way, I have no hesitation in stating from the Government benches that it is always my belief — this is why I joined Fianna Fáil — that the Government and its successor must continue to protect the vulnerable, and I am not a bit afraid to say that because it is important we would do that.

I come from a humble Dublin background. I remember difficult times in Dublin all those years ago. I still live in Dublin, in Tallaght, and I am aware of the difficulties. Often I say that I bring to my politics my own life experiences. I have had many good experiences but I have also had many challenging experiences, including being made redundant on three occasions. I know exactly what it is like to go to the nice staff in the local social welfare office. By the way, not to be flippant, some of them have told me — I hope I do not get them into trouble — in recent days that if I am going back to them, they will look after me and do their best to facilitate me.

I listened carefully to all of the previous speakers. A previous speaker from the Opposition stated that this Government bought the people with their own money over the past decade. That is an opinion and one can say that.

It is fair enough.

I believe genuinely that this is not a time for party politics as usual but, for the sake of the record, I want to make the point that when there were budget surpluses, the Government acted to greatly improve the range of services in schools and in hospitals, to increase the numbers in the Garda Síochána and to improve the support for carers, for one-parent families and for older persons, as well as ensuring that we kept many vulnerable unemployed persons out of poverty by improving social welfare payments.

I am proud that the Government also invested in a new motorway network that has increased the competitiveness of the Dublin region and of all the regions in the global market. The Government also invested in a light rail system for Dublin and we should not be ashamed that there is a Luas line serving the communities, in my case, in Tallaght, with easy access to the city centre. These infrastructural developments have not gone out with the economic tsunami.

It is a day where we must reflect on where we are as a country. I note that the national recovery plan has been published in recent hours and I believe that it is about putting the country back on the road to recovery. The plan is about giving people hope by showing the way ahead and giving certainty about the next four years. I believe it is the duty of the Government to do more straight talking to the people about where we are as a country economically and how we get out of here. Put simply, a big cut in Government spending is required to stabilise the public finances and to turn the economy around.

At the same time, we should continue to support the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, and his successor to ensure that the more vulnerable in the community continue to be supported, and I hope that the Minister would clearly take that message back to Cabinet. I believe strongly that it should not be merely a matter of talking about looking after the vulnerable; we should do it. While we all will be worried about what the national plan states about social protection, the Minister must continue to fight his corner and get the job done.

Many will speak in this debate of the transfer of services relating to FÁS to the Department. Here, I have been impressed, if I can admit that, since Deputy Ó Cuív became Minister in the manner in which he has gone about his business, listening to people and making a strong case for getting people back to work and for labour activation. The Minister accepted an invitation from me in the early days of his new position to come to Tallaght — I am not a bit afraid to talk about Tallaght — and I brought him to Fettercairn community centre. We gathered around him people who were involved in CE schemes, people who were involved in JI, people who wanted to get back to work and people who had issues to discuss. I was accused on a radio programme recently of being president of the Deputy Ó Cuív fan club. If that is what people want to taunt me about, that is okay. I am not a bit afraid to say that I was glad that the Minister came to my community, and he has been out to it a number of times since. He listened to what people were saying and I believe that he is trying to implement a number of the suggestions people made. Indeed, the Minister, if I can be parochial again, since came out to Killinarden and Jobstown at the invitation of the local committees to launch their enhancement programmes, where, again, he had the opportunity to hear what people were saying and to hear what the challenges are for those on community employment. This morning, we had a very interesting meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection, of which I am Vice Chairman. Deputy Durkan and Senator McFadden were in attendance. A delegation came before the committee to discuss the "Your Right Your Fight" campaign of community employment workers. SIPTU and OPEN were also present as were a number of lone parents and other interested parties. The Minister will be glad to know, on the difficult day he might be having today, that the delegation put on record its appreciation of the response he has already made to it. I understand the Minister met the representatives last week. They were very impressed with his attitude towards them and they understand he has undertaken to ensure the campaign is successful. This is very important. Given the all-party approach we took at the joint committee it is important that I record this.

It is important to stress to the Minister that people are making a point about labour activation. They are anxious that the community employment scheme would continue. I can talk all day, as can other colleagues, about my community. I stated at today's committee meeting that my community has a number of very successful community employment schemes. I am a member of the board of Trust Us, which was the Tallaght Welfare Society. I was involved in Get Tallaght Working, which is now known as Partas. At present, I am on the board of the Tallaght rehabilitation project, the Tallaght drugs task force, the Tallaght centre for the unemployed and the Tallaght homeless advice unit, all of which have supported community employment schemes in very strong way over the years.

I have already mentioned the presence in the Dáil today of representatives of St. Dominic's community centre. It is one of the more successful community employment schemes. The Minister has been to St. Dominic's where he was welcomed by the fine board and by the manager, Deirdre Cleary. All of the young people know the type of centre which operates there. The worth of community employment and job initiative schemes can be seen in such centres where people have an opportunity, at a time when they need to be boosted, to get some confidence back. They can get involved in these projects and do good. Not only do these schemes give an unemployed person something very positive and meaningful to do which will boost his or her confidence, it also helps in a very positive way the local community. Tallaght, Firhouse, Templeogue, Greenhills, Brittas and Bohernabreena are no different from anywhere in Louth, Galway, Kildare, Tipperary or Roscommon. People are given an opportunity to go on schemes at a time when, let us be honest, jobs are not plentiful and getting people back to work is a challenge. It has to be about jobs. Whatever about everything that is going on and everything that we will read about tonight and tomorrow, solving the country's difficult situation is about getting people back to work, job activation and creating employment.

I hope, and I state this from the Fianna Fáil benches, that whatever else is in the budget, and there is much doom and gloom about this at present, the Government will understand that whatever about the clear need to stabilise the economy we must also give people confidence. We cannot cancel Christmas. We cannot tell the unemployed, the new poor and people under pressure that there is no future. We must allow people to get about their business, to continue to have confidence and to continue to be able to invest.

In my local social welfare office almost 11,000 unemployed people are signing on. This is the challenge. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has visited my community and many others throughout the country. In whatever time is left to the Government I hope the Minister will continue to do what he is good at, which is listening to people, caring about people and trying to do something in a very positive way for those who are less well off. He continues to have my support in this regard and I wish him well.

I am not despondent. Whatever happens to me in the future and whatever happens in the election is okay by me because I am a democrat. I did not come into politics for selfish reasons. I never set out to be a politician; I was a happy community worker living in my community and people encouraged me. I came to the Dáil at an interesting time in my life and I was happy to come here. I am still a happy Deputy despite all of the difficulties that are going on. All I am doing is getting up every morning, working for my community and listening to what people in my community are saying. Not everybody is happy and, let us say quietly, there is some abuse flying and that is fair enough. As I see it, my job when I come to the Dáil on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays is to represent what people say to me and to appeal to the Government to continue to look after the vulnerable, and I will not be distracted from that.

I expect the Bill will continue to get various reactions. It would please people if the Minister took control of those elements of FÁS handed over to the Department of Social Protection. Other colleagues have spoken about FÁS and we all know the challenges and the difficulties faced by FÁS in this regard. I also heard colleagues, including spokespersons, paying tribute to local centres and local offices. The old AnCO centre in Cookstown industrial estate was first opened all those years ago by that good man from Cork, Gene Fitzgerald. I attended that opening; I was much younger then but I remember the day very well. I remember the boost it gave to my community. This was in the days when Tallaght did not have the facilities the community enjoys now. The FÁS centre in Cookstown industrial estate has become very important but it is used less than it should be. On behalf of my community, I hope the Minister will speak to the FÁS management about this. Let us use these centres. Let us get people in and help to retrain them. Let us give them confidence and help them invest in their future. FÁS has challenges but it still has a job to do. If FÁS had a job to do in the good times when there was no real unemployment, it certainly has a job to do now when there is major unemployment. My community has suffered from unemployment in recent times and this has to be tackled.

In the midst of all the gloom, I was present on the Airton Road in Tallaght last Wednesday when the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, visited for the announcement by Paddy Power bookmakers of 500 top-quality jobs. One would be amazed at the boost this gave to our community. All of the other local Deputies, namely, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and Deputies Pat Rabbitte and Brian Hayes also attended. It was a great day for Tallaght and the media made the point that we all seemed to have a smile on our face. It is important that we have more such days and other Deputies can speak about their constituencies. As we go forward and tackle the crisis in which we find ourselves, it is important that more jobs are created. This will put less pressure on the social protection budget and it will also, in a real sense, cheer up people and give people an opportunity to be confident and do something about their own situation.

If I were the Minister I would reflect on what has been stated by Deputies throughout the Chamber about FÁS. There is a job to be done. I believe the management of FÁS by the Department will be positive and welcome. The Minister needs to consider the future of community employment and job initiative schemes. There is much talk about the future of these schemes and how they will be developed. We have already had good news in that regard today from the Minister at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection. It is important the Minister understands there is work to be done.

I remember listening to the Minister one evening at a meeting in Tallaght and hearing him speak about what needs to be done in communities. The recession has added to that. I mentioned the St. Dominic's community centre earlier. When the Minister visited that centre he saw computer groups and young people, a group of whom have come to visit the Dáil today through the courtesy of the local Garda Síochána to listen to this debate. These young people would tell the Minister how positive that centre is on any given day, as a result of the work done through the schemes mentioned. We could all bring the Minister to centres in our constituencies that are not quite utilised as much. It is important that where the opportunity arises, the Minister continues to ensure these centres are properly used. I suspect the Minister has had some talks with FÁS management already, but I hope that before the passage of this Bill, he will talk seriously to them and make it clear that we are now in a situation where with the challenges facing the country real employment challenges face communities. FÁS has a job to do in local areas and the need of my constituency is no different in that regard.

The Minister will understand that representations are being made to all Deputies by lone parents and others who are concerned about all the reports they are reading in the newspapers. As I said recently, when I emigrated all those years ago, I went because I could not find a job. I did not know, because the media had not informed me, that the country was in dire straits at the time. I do not suggest information should not be available, but many people have told me that they are almost afraid to read the papers. Somebody advised me recently that I should read the paper once a week and listen to the media once a day. I do not wish to blame or pick on the media. They have a job to do and they do it. However, people are getting so much information that it adds to their fears. They are angry. For the past three or four weeks, every Sunday paper has been telling us what will be in the budget. Perhaps, with the publication of the national plan today, we will have some idea of the truth. There are clear suggestions in the plan about the shape of social welfare in the future. Nevertheless, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, made the point last night that he will not anticipate the budget until the day. However, we will continue to get speculation that will upset people.

The situation affects people who are in difficulties and challenged by poverty, people who are unemployed and the so-called new poor. Many people who were well off a year or two ago are now challenged. They can no longer take a holiday or buy a new car and, more seriously, are under pressure with their mortgages. I do not want to deviate from the issues, but ——

The Deputy has run out of time.

The Chair did not stop me.

I do not like stopping Deputies in full flow.

Allow me a few more seconds. I hope somebody in government is telling the banks that the State support depends on them looking after people into the future. I challenge the new Government, when it comes, on this also. The banks have a job to do — to look after people and I hope they continue to do that. I look forward to supporting this Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Frank Feighan.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill. The amalgamation of FÁS employment services with the Department of Social Protection is a welcome and timely development and is something that is long overdue. I have concerns and questions with regard to certain aspects of the Bill, but will get to those later.

I refer first to the important point made by Deputy Durkan when he stated that people on social welfare payments should be looked after in these difficult times. As a country, we owe this help to the underprivileged. We also owe it to pensioners and older people. In that regard, Fianna Fáil Deputies should stop putting it out that they are in negotiation with the Minister. Some of them have issued newsletters, while others have issued photographs of themselves in negotiation. They suggest they are trying to persuade the Minister to stop making a reduction in pensions. However, they know in their hearts and souls that there will be no reduction in the pension. We all know that and that news has been broadcast on the airwaves. I understand that at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting last night some people stated they were fighting to protect the old age pension. It is high time people stopped using and abusing the pensioners in this regard. It is nonsense. People should be ashamed of themselves for using our older generation in this way. This should not happen again and I hope the Minister will clarify the issue here. I know pensioners will not be affected, but there are other vulnerable people in society, such as people who are genuinely unemployed. These people, people on carer's allowance and those entitled to other social welfare payments must be protected as possible.

I am glad the Minister is present for this discussion and hope he will address in his response the significant concern among the public about fraud in the social welfare system. I believe there is not as much fraud as is suspected, but the taxpayers need to be assured of this. We have a serious difficulty with this issue. After today's announcement, some people will pay more than 50% of their income back to the Government. These people work hard, but on a daily basis they hear about fraud in the system. I urge the Minister to make a special effort to get the truth to the public and prove to it that significant fraud does not take place. He should also clarify the entitlements of non-nationals and the new Europeans and others who have come to Ireland. Rumour and speculation abound that these people are on the take constantly. The Minister needs to address this issue. I understand this may be difficult to explain, but when people are paying high taxes, they must be assured that their taxes are not being wasted. That is only fair. Irish people are supportive and helpful; they want to help the underprivileged, pensioners and provide child benefit. We are in this together and that is one of the messages coming from this recession. However, they cannot understand how fraud can be tolerated. We need clarity on that. We need to get over the hurdle of the notion of wholesale fraud.

The Minister has a duty to explain that and restore the confidence of the people. I do not have an answer to the problem but some sort of effort is required in terms of publicity or figures to reassure us that people are being checked and looked after.

The Bill's provisions on text, voice and Internet declarations on social welfare are daft. If people are unemployed and have nothing else to do, there is nothing wrong in asking them to make the trip into town to sign on.

What does it prove?

It brings them in and proves they are there. It would be wrong to go down the road of text messages because that is not the way to build confidence. I will not be supporting this section of the Bill and I hope my party opposes it, unless the Minister can persuade us otherwise. I had major concerns about the measure when it was first announced.

If claimants know in advance when they have to sign on, it is easy to turn up. This system can catch them at any time. That is the difference.

I am concerned about the perception that claimants can send texts from County Donegal.

I apologise for interrupting the Deputy but we like to debate issues. It was reported in the media that the Bill provides for a text system when in fact the system calls claimants to speak to them. Claimants have to be in the country and near a telephone because otherwise they will receive a text message asking them to visit the office. We can debate the issue further on Committee Stage.

We will agree to differ. I fear the Minister is sending the wrong message.

We will have a good debate on Committee Stage because we need to investigate all these issues.

I am merely raising my concerns.

I apologise for interrupting the Deputy, who is a gentleman.

FÁS has received appalling publicity in recent years. The allegations made against it have done irreparable damage to the entire organisation but we should not neglect the huge contribution FÁS schemes have made to improving sports fields, recreational facilities and schools around the country. My constituency of Tipperary South benefited hugely from community employment schemes. My county was the first to link with FÁS schemes and, as our numbers are higher, there is threat that some of them will be let go. I am aware that representations on this issue have been made to the Minister and a campaign has been started by the people concerned. They want to help their communities and local authorities but they need jobs.

I welcome the announcement that people would be asked to work in return for payments and I understand the measure is included in the four year plan. There is great potential for creating jobs from this measure. Many of the 450,000 people on the live register want to contribute to their communities.

FÁS schemes have helped out various mental health services around my county. Particular mention should be made of Cashel, where considerable support has been offered through FÁS schemes. That work needs to continue.

It is ironic that we are debating the integration of parts of FÁS into the Department of Social Protection given the way in which this Government took its eye off the ball and allowed senior officials in the organisation to waste thousands of euro. FÁS's culture of waste and its abuse of taxpayers' money appeared acceptable to the higher echelons of the public sector. This is why we are consigning the organisation to the past.

Details emerged in the Committee of Public Accounts about the €5.7 million spent on travel and other expenses in 2007. Senior executives and their wives took first class flights, played expensive rounds of golf and ran up bills at beauty and hair salons. When the committee finally received the internal report on these activities, large sections of it were blacked out. This is not a democracy or open government; it is a secret society. While FÁS has done good work, the actions of its senior executives have brought it into disrepute. Fine Gael has proposed that FÁS should be replaced by a better and more cost-effective alternative.

Seven years ago, nobody took FÁS training courses because there was full employment. Despite this fact, FÁS continued to spend millions of euro to promote its courses in local newspapers and radio stations. Was a value for money calculation ever done on this expenditure? The question of whether the money was used by the Government to ensure that people who were in positions of power in newspapers and radio stations knew who buttered their bread has never been answered. I have a sneaking suspicion that the managing director of FÁS and others had a budget for greasing the machinery of information so that when push came to shove at the next election, these people knew who was good for their organisations.

We need a strategy to bring the country back from the brink. I have great respect for the Minister and the work he has done over the years. The rural social scheme he introduced has been a great success for the small farmers who can continue to work while also farming their land. That scheme could be expanded. Coillte owns thousands of acres of land and it is open to partnership with the Government. If funding was available, a bicycle track could be opened in a forest in Donegal or walking routes could be developed throughout the country. Most importantly, as in the Obama stimulus plan, it would get people back to work. For a mere €20 million, 1,000 people could be got back to work providing amenity areas and credible alternatives for leisure. It is an issue the Minister should consider.

We are not thinking outside the box. I spoke to Mr. Jim White, the former Fine Gael Deputy, while I was in Donegal. He owns the Abbey Hotel in Donegal and various other hotels and is finding it very difficult to survive in business, as is the case with most businesses. We know Germany is the home of the thermal spa. Mr. White was able to bring 5,000 German tourists to Lisdoonvarna last September, which helped to keep his hotels going. He was one who thought outside the box. As an example, the travel tax is causing huge difficulty. Under Fine Gael, we will go to the two airline companies, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, with the proposal to abolish the travel tax if they agree to bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors. It will be a quid pro quo which is good for tourism, in particular the hotels. That is thinking outside the box.

I would not dismiss the Minister's idea of using texts. It is right to use technology and the issue is worth exploring further. The Minister has explained that it makes sense. However, there is a strong perception that people have been on the take for the past ten or 15 years and that the recession is not affecting them. At the same time, there are those who worked all their lives and the current situation is a huge challenge for them — Deputy O'Connor pointed out he has been unemployed three times. People do not know where to go or what to do. In particular, there seems to be no back-up for the self-employed. The public perceive that such people have a nest egg. Most businesses and the self-employed have dug in with their life savings to protect their company and their employees and now they have nothing. After creating so many jobs, the State does not seem to have made provision for them. It is a difficult and disappointing situation.

I sat on a doorstep in Donegal two weeks ago with a lady who cried because her three children have gone to Australia. All she wants is hope and a future for those children. We will work together to create a spirit that will ensure a future for young, innovative, educated children who do not have an opportunity at present.

We need to establish an independent fiscal council to advise Parliament on issues such as borrowing levels, debt reduction and taxation planning. A colleague of mine said this Dáil has been a doss house for the past ten years. He is probably correct. No decisions were made here by the Opposition; they were made by the Government and the social partners. I find it strange to see trade union leaders wagging their fingers and saying "You got it wrong". They had more power than Deputy Enda Kenny or I, yet they are abdicating their responsibility by saying it is everyone else's fault. While some good deals were done, we priced ourselves out of the jobs market with the deals that were done in social partnership.

I spoke to a man recently who told me of young plumbers working for him who were getting €600 per week but were told they should be getting €1,200 under new provisions. The man had to tell them he could not afford to run his business at that cost, or to send them to a house at €170 per hour because people would not pay it. We priced ourselves out of the market. We killed the golden goose through regulations, red tape and greed.

I wish the Minister well in what he is doing. We have crossed paths on numerous occasions and I have the height of regard for him. I hope he does well.

I wish to share time with Deputy Cyprian Brady.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to discuss the Bill, which is generally designed in line with the Minister's thinking. Reference was made to transferring responsibility for FÁS from the Minister for Education and Skills to the Minister for Social Protection, which is a radical and positive step. None of us will resile from the criticisms of FÁS, which were eloquently detailed by Deputy Feighan. While I do not agree with all he says, what has happened in FÁS must never happen again in any institution in the State. It was a disgrace and took away from the good name of those many staff members working at the front line in FÁS over the years, who have been under particular pressure in the past two years. It is welcome that it will move Department. While it is a technical change, it is very important nonetheless.

The Bill also provides for FÁS staff to be integrated into the Department of Social Protection, which is necessary. The restructuring guarantees that all the services will be under one roof and delivered more efficiently. Integrating the staff into the Department also has the impact of combining all the knowledge so people will not just go to the Department of Social Protection seeking money or a handout but seeking a hand up and help in regard to training and education. That is the best way forward.

Despite all the criticism of the Government's activation plans in regard to training schemes, many have done very well out of them and received an excellent education in recent years through training schemes such as the back to education scheme. There are, of course, others who are not satisfied, of whom we have certainly heard. However, the Minister will use all of his skills to ensure as many people as possible are brought into that system, thereby ensuring a satisfactory outcome for them and the wider economy by ultimately making them better prepared for jobs.

People ask where are the jobs. The point is that we must train workers in new skills. We must forget the building industry for many of those who used to work in it because, unfortunately, they will never work in it again because we will never again build houses at the rate we were doing so. I hate to say this. It is an issue I raised at a joint meeting of the Committee on Social and Family Affairs and the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the summer of 2008, as the crisis began to hit. FÁS was telling us all about the great schemes it had to get people back to work in the building trade and I made the point that a huge proportion of those people will never work in the building trade again. It is very important that they are given excellent opportunities to train in areas that employers will find attractive, particularly foreign investors coming into the country who should find a trained workforce that is fit for purpose.

The rent supplement changes made under the Bill might be described as technical but they are necessary to ensure that landlords claiming rent supplement are tax compliant. It is just another way of bringing them into the net. The HSE must now be provided with the tax reference number of the landlord. There is an interesting provision whereby the landlord is allowed to say he or she is non-resident for tax purposes. My understanding is that if a tenant is paying rent to a landlord in that circumstance, the tenant is liable to return a certain amount of money to the Revenue Commissioners. Perhaps the Minister could check to see if this has any wider implications. It is an onerous obligation on tenants as well as on estate agents who deal with non-resident landlords. I hope nothing in the Bill will add to the burden on tenants. If the house is rented through an agent, I understand the responsibility for the landlord is with the agent. While I do not claim to be an expert in this field, it is an issue I have come across and is worth investigating.

I would like to see more radical changes in the rent supplement system, as would the Minister. I accept it is difficult in current financial circumstances but I must agree with the criticisms, not of the Minister, but of the policy in that it is a disincentive to employment. There are no two ways about it. If someone wants to enter work and faces the prospect of losing rent supplement, it is a tremendous disincentive. The issue must be dealt with in a fair way. This idea of time-limiting the supplement also creates difficulty. At a fundamental level, we need to keep food on the table and ensure shelter, and the rent supplement certainly keeps many people sheltered in nice homes, by and large, though there are some problems. It is an issue, but making landlords more tax compliant will result in more money for the Revenue Commissioners. There will be more efficient services in the Department of Social Protection, including the electronic signature process for certification of some of those on jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit. Much work is being done to tackle fraud. Only this week my wife received a letter regarding child benefit. I do not know why she was targeted for review but we signed the form——

Everybody is to be reviewed, without exception.

——and sent it back. She lived in the United Kingdom where she trained as a nurse many years ago. I wonder if——

Everybody will get a letter.

We did not say we had had another child in the past ten days so we will have to send a separate form for that.

That is good. I have received complaints from people who have been subject to random checking, delays and so forth, but I explained to them it is necessary. There is considerable public disquiet about social welfare fraud, in particular, child benefit, on the part of people who do not live in the State and may not have an entitlement to the benefit. The work the Department does to check claims is absolutely necessary. The remaining measures in the Bill are technical. I support it.

I look forward to what may be called the urban social scheme, the equivalent of the rural social scheme, which is an excellent one. My father-in-law is to retire from the rural social scheme next week. I believe the Minister is to visit Gorteen next week on the day after he retires so the Minister might give my father-in-law his best regards. The scheme is an excellent one in rural Ireland and the scheme the Minister is introducing will extend the provision around the country. I hope it will answer the prayers of all the community groups that seek CE or FÁS workers, and those of people who want to get involved. There is an enormous demand for this scheme and the sooner it happens the better.

Deputy Cyprian Brady has 13 minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on Second Stage of this Bill on the day the Government published the national recovery plan. This Department will play a significant role in the success of that plan in the coming three years. I got only a brief glance of the Minister's statement but am delighted to see that the three areas on which he and his Department will concentrate are activation measures, structural reform and fraud control. Those are three areas this Minister has taken on in a way no previous incumbent tackled the matter. For many years, as public representatives, we have listened to people who come to us claiming that other people have payments and privileges to which they are not entitled. There is enormous scope for reform in this area and I understand that at least €500 million has been saved. I know the Minister has great interest in the activation measures. There is a great opportunity for the Department to ensure that numbers are reduced and that alternatives are provided for people in order to take them off the live register and get them back to work.

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this important piece of legislation which contains a number of important provisions. These include the full transfer of the employment services and community services programmes of FÁS to the Department of Social Protection. There will be a change to the current provisions by means of the public services card which is due to be rolled out in 2011. Electronic certification for jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit are to be provided as are provisions requiring that a landlord's tax reference number be supplied before a rent supplement can be awarded to new claimants.

One of the most important elements of the Bill is probably the full transfer of the employment services and community services programmes of FÁS to the Department. In addition, FÁS staff will be integrated into the Department of Social Protection. As other speakers noted, the vast majority of front line staff in FÁS had no hand, act or part in the difficulties in which the organisation found itself in recent times. A very small minority of people in very powerful positions abused their positions and tainted the brilliant name FÁS had. Fom my constituency I know that without the FÁS centres and programmes and the CE schemes a great number of people would have found themselves in great difficulty and without any alternative. I know that front line staff such as centre managers and those who deal with people looking for employment had no part in the way FÁS went. The organisation still has an enormous role to play in the future of this country. Its integration into the Department of Social Protection is logical and makes great sense. The vast majority of front line staff are hugely committed to what they do.

The integration of FÁS will provide a more streamlined response to the needs of unemployed people by integrating income support through the social welfare system, with supports for activation and preparation for returning to work. As the Minister is aware, groups have recently been in touch with us to voice their concerns about the future of some of the schemes, including the CE schemes. However, the employment and community services programmes play an integral part in sustaining communities and in these difficult times are probably even more important in ensuring that people have an alternative to staying at home with nothing to do. Even when jobs are harder to come by training and further education provide opportunities for people and their families. I see this on a daily and weekly basis in my constituency. People are looking for alternatives and opportunities and they seek support. This Department and the various organs attached to it play a significant role in that.

I very much welcome the changes in the rent supplement scheme. For too long some landlords have abused the system although the vast majority are conscientious, fair, business people. In my constituency I have had first-hand experience of the dire conditions some tenants are forced to endure. It is not only the tenant who suffers in this situation; so does the surrounding community. There is a large knock-on effect when an unscrupulous landlord neglects to look after his business. We are paying more than €500 million in rent supplement. For that investment we need to ensure, first, that there is no abuse of the system and second, that we get value for money and that the 95,000 people in the rent supplement system are treated fairly. The changes being made in this regard will ensure landlords are registered. For some time there has been difficulty in this regard. My area has large tracts of flat-land where older dilapidated buildings are used on a regular basis to accommodate people. It is not fair, to either the tenant or the system. The State is investing vast sums of money in these premises. I reiterate the vast majority of landlords are compliant and provide a great service for their tenants. However, the changes envisaged in this legislation will ensure there are improvements.

Provision is also provided in the Bill for the introduction of electronic certification for jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit which will allow certain people who receive jobseeker's allowance and benefit to complete their signing on process by electronic means. I welcome the cost savings that should derive from this as the efforts and attention of staff are refocused. Staff resources will be freed up to concentrate on the client, the claim, the payment and control issues. As other speakers noted, the Department is examining the possibility of using mobile telephones for jobseeker certification. That plan is at a very early stage and much work needs to be done on it. If anybody had said five, seven or ten years ago that we would have electronic banking that would enable a person to sit at home and do all his or her banking business over the Internet, or shop via the Internet, placing an order to be delivered to the house, people would have said this could never happen. I happen to have experience of the Department of Social Welfare in the 1980s. At that time it was one of the most progressive Departments in terms of the use of technology. It was one of the first Departments to have all its records in electronic form and it made a huge difference even though it is very costly at the time. It made it easier for the staff to administer the different payments and also made it easier for the client.

Electronic signing is a step forward and the use of a digital signature pad will prove very popular, in particular in areas where the nearest local office might be some distance from a person's home. The savings from these advances will help to maintain payments to those who need them most. However, reasonable control has to be kept on electronic signing on and it is essential that the system is not open to abuse or fraud. The fact that huge savings have been made so far through control measures means it is the way to go. One only gets so much out of it and it can be costly to follow up on every individual case but it is a lot of opportunity.

While most of the stories are anecdotal, the Department follows up on each case and ensures that money is not being wasted very seriously. In a very difficult time, such as we have at the moment, where the Minister is required to cut its budget by hundreds of millions of euro, any opportunity should be taken to tackle those problems and ensure that the people who have to avail of social protection payments and are the most vulnerable people are those who benefit most from a reducing pot of resources. As we said earlier, one of the biggest problems facing the people in this country is the lack of work opportunities and the money difficulties for households which come from that.

This Bill is a welcome step forward in reforming and improving the range of services across Government which assist and support people when they lose their jobs. They need income support and support to get back into employment. There are opportunities for people to retrain, change the direction they have been in for a very long time, reskill, look at a different area and take advantage of whatever changes are coming along. The workforce is very fluid and changing pool of people and people have to adapt to that.

It makes good practical sense to locate all the services for unemployed people in one office. People can access all the services which may be available to them, have all their entitlements are accessible in the one centre and are not travelling from office to office, as has been the case for many years, filling out form after form in order to claim their entitlements. They would also not have to chase around trying to do the best they can to look for whatever opportunities may be available to them. If we can centralise that and make it more efficient and streamlined it will be cost effective which is hugely important in the current climate. It would also encourage people to take advantage of whatever is available to them.

In a particularly difficult economic climate we must make sure that any changes which are made, whether through legislation or whatever other measure, ensure that the resources we have as a country are spent properly, efficiently and targeted at people who need support most. Any changes that are made to encourage and support that are to be welcomed. I look forward to the speedy passage of this Bill through the House.

I wish to share time with Deputies Costello and Ó Snodaigh.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and a number of developments within it which are intended to reform and streamline the Department which deals with the most vulnerable and those most at risk in society. I have some concerns but it has taken so long to implement some of what I would consider to be very obvious reforms.

There is huge expenditure on rent supplement and it is totally unacceptable that there are still some landlords who may not be tax compliant and who are not owning up to their responsibilities in this area. Further to that, I sympathise fully with what Deputy Brady said about landlords, in regard to their behaviour, attitude and quality of provision they make for what are very often vulnerable people . I have a number of examples in my constituency where that is the case.

I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran about this. It is a cross-departmental issue in many ways. It has been very difficult to get any resolution to it. I am not sure whether some landlords are tax compliant; all I know for certain is that the quality of the housing they provide to very vulnerable people is appalling, disgraceful and should not be tolerated in any civilised society. I cannot understand why they are allowed to continue as landlords. There must be some system whereby they are brought to book and made to be responsible. I hope the Minister takes that on board. I accept his reference to it but it is unacceptable that they are not tax compliant and taking advantage of people who simply cannot look out for themselves.

I welcome the proposal to sign on by electronic means. If this goes some way towards taking account of social welfare fraud it is very welcome. Another issue which I do not think anybody else has referred to but which is important are the very sad circumstances where one sees people queueing up for many hours outside social welfare offices. Their dignity is being put at risk. People who have been employed for most of their lives and now find themselves unemployed have to suffer the indignity of queueing for many hours. I am very conscious of that in my constituency. On Thomas Street and Bishop Street one sees photo shots of people queueing up. It is very sad that happens to be the case.

If the electronic system was introduced it would free up staff which would be very welcome. On the timeframe which is involved in dealing with applications and appeals, it is totally unacceptable that people have to wait so long. I am aware of a number of very sad cases. I am conscious of one lady who is waiting on the domiciliary care allowance and has been waiting for weeks on end for a very sensitive and delicate case which has not been addressed. It is an appalling state of affairs. If staff can be relocated that is to be welcomed.

While the vast majority of staff who are delivering front-line services in social welfare offices are hugely positive in their approach and very courteous and efficient, I unfortunately am aware of a recent case where one of my constituents was very badly treated, which is totally unacceptable. As far as I am aware this is not widespread but it is not acceptable that it should never happen. Given the current climate we are living in and the sensitivities surrounding people who are queueing up for social welfare, whatever pressures people are under — I am conscious of them — a client who has to queue up and wait for attention must be treated with courtesy and dignity.

The area of habitual residency is one where courtesy and common sense might be very welcome. I want to refer in some detail to a particular case I encountered recently. A gentleman who was abroad for a number of years came back to live in Ireland. I understand the rules regarding habitual residency and the regulations that apply but there is a time when bureaucracy and red tape must be set aside. When the man returned to Ireland he was diagnosed as having a serious mental condition and clearly was not in a position to look out for himself.

He was able to return to live with his elderly parents who are both pensioners. I suppose he is in the fortunate situation that they are able to support him. He has been told he has no entitlements whatsoever. The situation gets worse in that he has now been diagnosed with cancer and he has not been able to get a medical card. I find that totally unacceptable and it should not be allowed to happen. I would like to think those kinds of cases could be treated with respect and that such an individual, where there are very particular circumstances surrounding the case, would be given the support he needs. His parents, who are elderly pensioners, are extremely worried about him and are very concerned for his future. He is a gentleman in his late 30s.

We need to look at the background to all of this, namely, the problem of unemployment. Serious efforts must be made to sustain and create jobs. We must examine how that can be done. Barriers to job creation must be removed. Many of our young graduates are booking their tickets to leave the country. Unfortunately, this country again faces the famous brain drain we witnessed in the 1980s. It seems such a waste. Services must be provided to encourage them to stay. We must give them the opportunity to stay in productive environments where their skills will not be lost. It is all very well to put in place training or retraining programmes but if one is a chef, does one want to be retrained as a architect? Some of the offers made to people are ridiculous and do not make sense. There must be co-ordination between the retraining programmes and the opportunities that might exist for people in the workplace at a later stage.

I am reluctant to mention the air travel tax again but it is one my party has addressed on a number of occasions. We are trying to encourage people to visit the country. If this tax were removed, it would have a significant impact on job creation and on improving tourism.

I refer to guaranteeing work experience for people under 25 years on further education courses. In recent days I met a person aged approximately 21 years who is living on his own and is paying rent. He has been on a Youthreach programme but cannot get on to another training programme. His total income is €100. Individual cases are not being looked at in the way they should be. It is all very well to have this blanket requirement but there is a strong case for looking outside the box in some cases to see the impact on the individual. As a society, that is what we need to do.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation, certain aspects of which I welcome. Undoubtedly, there is a need to consolidate the areas of employment, training, the social welfare system and job creation. Too often we forget what training is about. There should be something at the end of the training programme. Too many of the programmes in operation currently are short term, temporary programmes and do not have a defined function at the end of the road. Linking job creation to the end of a training or education programme is very important as is linking it to the social welfare system.

I welcome the consolidation proposal but I am not sure how it will work in practice with the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Social Protection in terms of staff and the various programmes.

Electronic certification for jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit is a welcome move to bring us into the 21st century. Appropriate protective mechanisms will be a welcome development.

Rent supplement is the most interesting area of the Bill and the Minister could have gone a good deal further in this regard, although what he has done is extremely welcome. At last, landlords will have to provide tax references. That should have been done by the Minister's predecessors a long time ago. It is incredible that landlords in receipt of State money did not have to give any evidence that they were tax compliant. I cannot envisage a situation where a landlord, absentee or otherwise, would not have to be tax compliant. If money is going to the landlord, surely he or she should have a reference number if this money is provided by the State. There should be no exceptions. The Minister must find a mechanism to ensure even non-resident landlords have a tax number and pay some level of tax if they are taking money out of the State. I am not too happy that landlords will not have to take any real action for another 15 months. The requirement will not be automatic until March 2012. That breaking-in period is far too long and should be changed. It is not the Minister's responsibility, but if a landlord is in receipt of State money for rent supplement, why should he or she not be registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board? That is obligatory under the legislation. That may be the mechanism the Minister is using but it is obligatory.

The Deputy is absolutely right. A number of people referred to this. The problem is that under the Private Residential Tenancies Board legislation, one gets the tenant first, something which I find strange, and then one registers with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. When one takes a tenancy, we inform the Private Residential Tenancies Board and it should enforce registration. If standards are not up to speed, it should go to the local authority.

I have spoken to the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, and he is seeking to make people pre-register not the tenancy but the fact they have a property to let. That change must take place because that would ensure——

That is the way it is currently. People are supposed to pre-register with the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

No, they are not.

Yes, they are. Under the legislation, every landlord is obliged to register as a landlord before he or she does any business with anybody, private or otherwise. Whether the landlord takes public or private money, he or she is expected to register as a landlord under the Private Residential Tenancies Board legislation. I am quite satisfied that is the case. If it is not the case——

Unfortunately, it is not the case. If the Deputy is right, a problem I am told exists does not exist.

The Minister is taking up Deputy Costello's time.

I am trying to be helpful.

I presume it is the Minister's time and that my time continues. I understand there is a statutory obligation on every landlord, whether getting public money from rent supplement or private money from a private tenant, to register every unit of accommodation and that he or she must pay a registration fee, and that must be done before he or she seeks business.

As was explained to me, the law requires one to register tenancies. Ergo, one must have the tenant first and then register. I agree it should be the way Deputy Costello says it is.

We agree that every landlord should be registered and that is the key. I hope the mechanism in the Bill effects that purpose because it is very important that happens.

Rent supplement should not be paid directly to the tenant but to the landlord. That should be done by the local authority. That is the way it is done under the rental accommodation scheme and I do not see why it should not be done in all cases in order that we know precisely what happens. In many cases, the landlord requires a top-up from the tenant's social welfare payment and it puts him or her in penury. Another poverty trap is being imposed by rent supplement. The whole area needs to be examined. I compliment the Minister on what he has done, but we now have a situation where the Department of Social Protection will be responsible for tax. Local authorities, under the auspices of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, are responsible for the housing side of it, with the Department of Health and Children's community welfare officers responsible for rent supplement payments. Needs assessment is done by local authorities. We now have three Departments involved in the area.

The Deputy has gone way beyond his time.

We have touched a hornet's nest with regard to the role of landlords and tenants in the rent supplement. There would be much extra savings to the Exchequer, which could be usefully obtained, if we ensure landlords are brought properly into the system, registered and made tax-compliant.

Is trua go bhfuil an t-am chomh gearr mar bhí sé i gceist agam píosa maith cainte a dhéanamh ar an mBille seo. Tá loighic leis an méid atá sa Bhille seo agus níl mé chun cur ina choinne. Is trua gur thóg sé an oiread sin ama ar na cinntí atá sa Bhille seo teacht chun cinn, ach go háirithe an loighic leis na seirbhísí comhphobail a bhíodh faoi FÁS a aistriú chuig a Roinn, ionas go mbeadh leanúnachas ó thús agus daoine ag déanamh iarrachta dul ar ais ag obair agus na tacaíochtaí uilig a bhíonn ag teastáil uathu ar fáil. Tá sin an-mhaith.

Is trua go bhfuil daoine laistigh d'Fhine Gael agus de Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre atá ag rá gur chóir FÁS a dhúnadh ina iomláine. Níl aon loighic leis sin mar tá gá le heagraíocht éigin ann a dhéanfaidh an obair chéanna agus a rinne FÁS ó thaobh apprenticeships agus a leithéid. Gan sin ní bheadh aon bhunús le pleanáil don todhchaí. D'oibrigh foireann FÁS go han-mhaith in ainneoin fadhbanna móra ó thaobh airgid de, atá léirithe le tamall anuas. Sa chuid is mó den obair a rinne FÁS, bhain an Stát tairbhe as. Is trua gur bhain tíortha eile tairbhe eile as nuair a d'imigh daoine ar imirce agus gur chuireamar daoine thar lear leis na scileanna is fearr ar domhan.

Ceist eile lena raibh an Teachta Costello ag déileáil ná an rent supplement. Tá an ceart aige ó thaobh an t-airgead a íoc go díreach leis an tiarna talún. Níl mise ag tabhairt tacaíochta ar bith do thiarnaí talún ach sa deireadh thiar thall, cothaítear fadhbanna nuair a íoctar an t-airgead leis an tionónta. Má tá sé le híoc go díreach isteach i gcúntas bainc an thiarna talún, tá níos mó smachta ag an Stát. Déanfaimid déileáil leis seo nuair a bheimid ar Chéim an Choiste.

Ardaíodh an cheist, an é seo an t-am ceart chun €25 milliúin a chaitheamh ar chártaí aitheantais do leas shóisialta. Tá an ceart ag an Aire go mbeimid ag déileáil le haon chaimiléireacht sa chóras leasa shóisialaigh, tá sé thar am go mbeimis tar éis déileáil leis seo i gceart, ach go minic caitear amach an figiúr mór millteach go bhfuil caimiléireacht nó fraud i gceist ann agus ní fíor sin. Go minic, i bhfolach san fhigiúr sin tá thar-íocaíochtaí, overpayments, i gceist chomh maith. Tá sé tábhachtach go ndéanfar déileáil leis sin.

Cá seasann an tAire leis an méid a dúirt an Teachta Mary O'Rourke nuair a labhair sí faoin bpinsean a chosaint agus, mar a dúirt sise, young people can do a nixer? Sin ag admháil gur chóir go mbrisfeadh daoine an dlí. B'fhiú labhairt léi le rá nach sin atá á rá ag an bpáirtí.

Tá a lán ceisteanna agus beimid ag déileáil le gach uile rud a fograíodh inniu. Beidh impact acu ar an méid atá sa Bhille seo agus tuigim go raibh deifir ar an Aire an Bille seo a fhoilsiú. Is trua nár fhoilsigh sé go luath cinn an mBille. Gabhaim buíochas leis as an ofráil go mbeadh duine ón Roinn ag tabhairt comhairle dom ar an Bhille. Ní raibh mé thart chun an chomhairle sin a ghlacadh ach tuigim cad atá sa Bhille anois toisc gur foilsíodh é ach is trua go ndearnadh faoi deifir é mar bheimis in ann déileáil leis i bhfad níos fearr agus níos cuimsithe.

Tugaim tacaíocht don mBille agus tá súil agam déileáil leis ar Chéim ar Choiste.

Má theastaíonn ón Teachta go dtabharfar eolas dó faoin mBille roimh Chéim an Choiste, socróidh mé sin má dhéanann sé teagmháil liom.

I wish to share time with Deputy Niall Blaney. I am delighted to speak on the Bill this evening and I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, whom I compliment for his reforms and understanding attitude in the provisions of this Bill. He has also been understanding in interacting with backbenchers and the committee responsible for social welfare. We have had many engagements, some of which have been robust, but he knows what he wants to do and sees the need for change.

The Bill will provide for a full transfer of the employment and community services programme of FÁS to the Minister for Social Protection. The uncertainties relating to FÁS over the past number of months have aggravated the already difficult positions facing communities and individuals; I cannot say enough about that. The Minister believed that results could be garnered without changes to the Bill but we have had to do it properly. The process has been too slow but cannot happen fast enough.

It has been very frustrating to be faced with cuts in FÁS services, especially in my area of south Tipperary. There have been cuts to community employment schemes at a time when these services are needed more than ever and more people are unemployed who need to take on these places. Part of the difficulty has been a lack of clarity around which Department has responsibility for employment aspects of the service and who is accountable for the service. This has been a significant problem in my constituency, and I have been in daily contact with FÁS officials. We lost a good official recently when Mr. Liam O'Brien retired, and I compliment him for his outstanding work in south Tipperary.

We are being penalised in south Tipperary because we have been told that in the south east we have too many FÁS participants. I cast that out of hand and I have had many robust debates on the matter. We have many active community sponsor groups who saw a need in communities for services. The setting up of sponsor groups is an onerous task and I thank all those who helped to do so. When the groups applied for schemes, each participant was assigned a one-year contract. The subtle allegation that we have too many participants in south Tipperary, which has been made by senior FÁS officials, is very regrettable. Those involved should desist from the allegation as it is not fair to the sponsors, participants or community groups. An attitude prevailed where up to 150 participants were to be cut but those involved have backed off somewhat. These are uncertain times and the behaviour is not very nice.

I am looking forward to such issues being resolved under this Bill. It is necessary for us to work with the Minister for Social Protection and the committee to develop services needed by unemployed people. We must also look at the need to build sustainable community services. I have long called for an audit of the social value of FÁS schemes, particularly as they relate to the participants, communities and the people they serve, especially where social services are involved. There are many such services but an audit has never been carried out. It would prove the value of such services.

The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has ambitious plans for the labour market activation scheme. As well as these projects there will also be a need to stimulate job creation in both private and public services. However, the schemes from the Minister are most welcome and cannot come too soon. A community scheme has been long promised.

Members of Muintir na Tíre in south Tipperary and nationally invested much work in developing the scheme. The scheme cannot commence soon enough.

The hundreds of thousands of people who are unemployed have a wide range of skills and are interested in supporting and giving to their community. It is a pity this welcome scheme will not be introduced until 2011, even if it is late 2010, because the work needs to be done, people are eager to do it, the numbers required will be found and the community will benefit. It is a no brainer because communities need all types of work to be done, not only shovel and spade labour, but delicate and sensitive work. People could support social services while those with skills or degrees and other qualifications could help develop their communities or sustain voluntary community driven businesses. We need a new framework. Many unemployed professionals, including architects, are willing and able to help people to apply for funding available under various grant schemes or through county enterprise boards, LEADER groups and so forth.

The labour market activation scheme must address a broad range of issues. I do not mind who manages it provided the work is done. People are available; all they want are the tools of the trade. Among the greatest problems facing the country are the lack of work opportunities and the financial difficulties facing households. Being made unemployed or redundant, in some cases after 20, 30 or 40 years in the same job, causes shock and turmoil. People are left uncertain and fear for their families. I welcome the provision to transfer community employment services to the Department of Social Protection. This long overdue measure will create a one-stop-shop.

I compliment departmental officials in south Tipperary who run social welfare offices in the various towns in my constituency. They have done sterling work in the past two years as the number of people unemployed climbed and face difficult challenges. Social welfare customers must be facilitated. Those who have lost their jobs are traumatised, uncertain and anxious when they visit their local social welfare office. I compliment social welfare staff in south Tipperary and elsewhere on the dedication they have shown.

In welcoming many of the provisions of the Bill, I appeal to the Minister to examine the issue of domiciliary allowance. It is unfair and traumatic for people to find they are not entitled to social welfare benefits when they return from abroad to look after relatives, including their parents. It costs the State thousands of euro per week to have people cared for in hospital or a nursing home. This issue, which has been raised previously and which the Minister is examining, must be addressed. I thank the Minister for taking a proactive approach and addressing the case of miners who have suffered serious illness. He has shown an ability to see around corners by examining and addressing the issue in a frank and open manner.

Greater use of technology is needed in the social welfare code. It is unfair to have people queueing outside social welfare offices with no cover in all types of weather. I was informed recently of the cost of providing an awning to shelter people queuing to receive payments in County Donegal. I assume the Office of Public Works completed these works. Electronic signing on will facilitate people with disabilities, those who must travel abroad, people who have had an accident and so forth and should proceed speedily.

The unemployed need to avail of social welfare assistance. They are at their lowest ebb and must be dealt with efficiently and treated with courtesy, respect and clarity. They also need to be informed about the schemes available which would enable them to upskill or re-skill. Education is a lifelong process. The unemployed need and want clarity about the training and educational opportunities available to them.

Social welfare offices are very receptive towards facilitating unemployed people who wish to avail of the back to work enterprise allowance scheme for the self-employed. Many people are availing of the scheme and are doing so with the assistance of social welfare officials. The scheme is designed to encourage people in receipt of certain social welfare payments to become self-employed. Successful applicants continue to receive their full social welfare payment for the first year, at which point the payment is reduced gradually. Job activation is essential. We need to be more proactive, engaging and visionary.

Fraud must be addressed, although many of the anecdotes about social welfare fraud are probably untrue. The system of payments to landlords must be modernised. Every landlord with a tenancy must register. Local authorities should have responsibility for administering rent allowance because they are primarily responsible, alongside voluntary housing associations, for providing housing for those in need. I compliment voluntary housing organisations on the work they do in this area.

I wish the Bill speedy passage and look forward to debating it in committee. I also look forward to helping people return to work in order that they will have the dignity of doing a job.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, for sharing time and affording me an opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010. The past few days have left no doubt about the difficulties that face the nation. It is clear these difficulties will affect everyone but however difficult are the decisions that face us, we must look forward and work through them.

We have found ourselves in an unfortunate position and have faced numerous tough budgets in the past two years. While many people have been adversely affected by the decisions taken in recent budgets, we must remember that our job is to put the country back on its feet. We are making the right decisions and working towards a brighter future with a more stable economy. While some choose to knock everything, the economy has certain strong fundamentals which suggest a bright future lies ahead. For example, we have had many job announcements this year while growth predictions for the eurozone, including Ireland, for next year and beyond are positive. We also have a flexible workforce. These factors indicate we have a bright future but we must take the correct decisions now if the country is to prosper.

The changes in our economic and financial position have left us with no choice but to reform the social welfare system. I commend the Minister on taking the necessary action and showing a willingness to do what is required and make appropriate adjustments to reflect changed times.

As I have stated previously, our priority must be to ensure the review supports those in need. We must not lose sight of the most vulnerable and needy in our system. We are all aware of how generous our welfare system has been in the past 12 years and the significant variation in welfare payments between Ireland, the United Kingdom and beyond. There is no doubt that amendments must be made to the social welfare system. In the past, the generosity of the system has resulted in people from across the Border unlawfully claiming welfare in Border counties such as Donegal.

I welcome the changes proposed in the Bill. They will result in a social welfare system that is more efficient and will clamp down on unwanted activity, while providing necessary support and services for those who are on the live register. With the unemployment figure standing at 13.7%, improvements need to be made to address the problem. Unemployment among the young and those able to work is addressed in the Bill.

I commend the Minister on taking measures to fully integrate the employment and community services of FÁS with the Department of Social Protection. This move can only help provide those on unemployment welfare with the services and advice they need. The integration of these services, which should be completed by 1 January 2011, is being done at the right time. Young people have an enormous ability to learn new skills and this must be encouraged. The current labour market demands flexibility of skills and one can never learn enough. The integration of FÁS with the Department of Social Protection will enable this area to be appropriately addressed.

The issue of youth unemployment is highly relevant in my constituency. Becoming unemployed as a young person can have a negative impact on one's general outlook on life. It is vital that young people are encouraged to stay close to the labour market. Idleness amongst young people is hazardous, therefore providing a solid service focusing on assisting them to find employment and to prepare themselves for entry into the labour market by accessing training or providing career advice, work experience or job placement is a welcome development.

The restructuring of these areas provides a more streamlined response to the needs of the unemployed and offers the necessary support to re-enter the job market. Given the job crisis, placing importance on training, development and finding employment will further strengthen our already resilient work force in Ireland. I look forward to seeing a more focused service aimed at those searching for employment. This is a major step forward for this Department, which will move away from being an income support service to providing a more proactive response, which clearly is targeting those who wish to re-enter the workforce.

I believe that necessary changes must be made to the social welfare system to cope with the higher number of people on the live register. The introduction of electronic certification is helping to create a more efficient service that will benefit those on the live register. Not only will it free up resources in order that they are more able to concentrate on client, claim payment and control issues, it also will reduce pressure on local offices and will mean a saving in costs to the Department. Given the current figures on unemployment and increased pressure on social welfare offices nationwide, it is of great importance that the system be assessed and changes made to improve work flow and how claims are processed. These improvements will benefit those on the live register through a more efficient service and will help to strengthen the social welfare service as a whole.

Clarifying the calculation of entitlement to jobseeker's allowance where weekly means comprise earnings from insurable employment in section 5, ensures the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 is not ambiguous when applying this practice. Changes and amendments such as this will help to ensure there is clarity throughout the system and can provide a concise framework of reference. Section 6 provides that the reduction in the basic rate of supplementary welfare allowance from 4 January 2010 for people under 25 years will not lead to any reduction in rent or mortgage interest supplements payable to people getting other social welfare payments. Given that reductions to social welfare are necessary, this Bill is focused on being fair and is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.

Through the introduction of a provision which will allow for certain people who receive jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit to complete their certification or signing-on process by electronic means, the entire service can become more productive and can ensure a more up-to-date method of dealing with unemployment claims. This Bill highlights how the Government is taking the necessary steps to reform and create a comprehensive service by integrating the functions of income support, employment services and work function through the one Department.

I refer to the introduction of an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage which will provide for the introduction of a partial capacity scheme. By making such a change, the Bill will address a critical limitation of the current social welfare code, which categorises people with long-term illnesses or disabilities as being either "fit for work" or "unfit for work". As Members are aware, the focus within the welfare system on incapacity rather than capacity carries negative consequences for people with disabilities and their families who may be trapped in welfare dependency. Therefore, the amendment will have a positive impact on those dependent on welfare and will provide a clear, more effective method of dealing with claims. I know from my own constituency experience that this is an important issue and I am relieved that changes are being made to ensure a more positive response and understanding of this situation.

Similarly, section 7, which provides a new condition requiring that from 1 January 2011, the landlord's tax reference number must be supplied to the HSE before rent supplement can be awarded to new claimants, will also help to make the Department of Social Protection more efficient and will ensure that where tenants are in receipt of the State's rent supplement, the landlords of those premises are fully tax-compliant. I believe the social welfare system can be strengthened by these amendments and that by providing a more focused, streamlined service that sets out clear guidelines for both the public and those working in the service, one can move forward and help those in need of the social welfare service.

This Bill is thorough, fair and forward thinking. As we are going through changing times, it is vital to ensure that social welfare provisions are adapted appropriately. I am relieved to see the amendments set out in this Bill and have every faith that these changes will ensure that the Government is taking the necessary steps to ensure a more integrated social welfare service that clearly focuses on those in need. In particular, given that over the past six months there has been much criticism regarding unemployment and the Government's commitment to helping those on the live register, this is a most welcome development.

I again note the Minister's intention to table a number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage. These will include changes to social welfare legislation arising from the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. In addition, as mentioned previously, an amendment will provide for the introduction of a partial capacity scheme and another will provide for the transfer of the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive to the Department of Social Protection. These measures, when taken together, will help to foster a stronger social welfare service focusing on helping those in need and providing a more efficient service to them, which has proven to be a priority for the Government.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this legislation. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Social Protection and its predecessors for many years and have some understanding of the difficulties in this regard. The introduction to the explanatory memorandum states: "This Bill provides for a reduced rate of Jobseeker's Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance for claimants who refuse to participate in an appropriate course of training or to participate in a programme under the National Employment Action Plan." I do not have a problem with this as to be blunt, if a job is available for someone, he or she should be encouraged to take it up in every possible way. However, I seek assurances that fairness will obtain in this regard because I often have seen instances whereby people have actively sought jobs but the documentation they received was not acceptable to some social welfare officers.

I understand what the Minister seeks to achieve and it is important to move forward in that direction but one should be cognisant of the different areas in which people live. It may not be as easy to get jobs in some areas as in others. For instance, people who live in small villages who are obliged to travel long distances in the absence of proper transport may not find it as easy as would someone who lives in a more major town.

The earlier Social Welfare Bill dealt with many other issues. For example, the explanatory memorandum states that it "sets out the rules to determine with whom a child normally resides for the purposes of social welfare payments with the exception of Child Benefit." The issue of child benefit has annoyed me for quite some time. While I do not mind someone who lives in this country being in receipt of it, we must be extremely careful about giving it to someone who lives outside the country in the present difficult economic situation. The explanatory memorandum to the earlier Bill also states that it provides for an amendment to the definition of spouse to include different sex cohabiting couples. I presume this pertains to the legislation already mentioned by Deputy Blaney but it represents a changed situation within an Irish structure.

In the Minister's contribution, he made some interesting comments in the light of the present situation where one does not know from day to day how we will finance ourselves whether we will be able to so do. He stated, "The Government is proud of its unrivalled record in increasing the level of social welfare payments". What worries most people at present is what will happen in the future. They are scared stiff because of the Government's record and the manner in which it has handled the economy. This is what is causing such an explosion in the need for social welfare payments to young people who either cannot get jobs or who are obliged to emigrate. The language used by the Minister and the issues he raises are interesting at this time, because the State must pay €20.9 billion in social welfare payments this year and an unknown amount next year. This is an indication of how well the country was run. If 450,000 or perhaps somewhat fewer people are in receipt of unemployment benefit, it means this figure is much higher than it otherwise should be.

The Minister has said social welfare expenditure for 2011 will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget, having regard to needs and to the resources available to meet them. It is vital that those in need are safeguarded in the budget, in spite of all the difficulties. I think of the blind, disabled and others whose benefits were cut in the last budget.

I remember when Deputy Ó Cuív began his work as Minister for Social and Family Affairs. He referred to that time in his speech this afternoon. I looked forward to a new beginning and new hope. Unfortunately, in some areas that has not happened.

However, I welcome the fact that the Minister will be in charge of FÁS. The record of that organisation is abysmal although its record at local level is outstanding. The red tape local FÁS employees have to deal with is ridiculous. Often someone who could have stayed on a FÁS scheme was unable to do so because of a discrepancy in dates. If a public representative tried to get something done, the person concerned had to explain how tight his financial situation was. Later, we discovered that the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Harney, and others could spend money like chaff.

We saw how money was spent and mismanaged at the top. One has to hope the Minister, for whatever length of time he is in office, will see that never happens again. Part of what got the country into the state we are in was the complete mismanagement and abuse of taxpayers' money. I make no apology for saying that. To read through what happened during that period is frightening. In my own area, people received certificates from FÁS that were not worth what they should have been. We have to look at the management structure of FÁS. With Deputy Ó Cuív as Minister, I believe there will be tight scrutiny and tight management. This is vital at the present time.

With so many people unemployed, the more people we can get into FÁS type structures — whether for education, community welfare or whatever — the better. People will have a better chance of permanent employment with FÁS experience on their CV. Members from all sides of the House must work towards ensuring that young people especially get a chance to put something on their CV.

The other day I came across a case of two young lads. One of them had made an effort and gone out and worked in a local filling station and supermarket. He had also worked on his family farm. His father told me about him looking for and getting a job where he was studying away from home. His father said he had looked at the CV before the young man sent it away. He had written that he had worked in a filling station and had also said, "I helped my dad on the farm and, mind you, that was hard work". The CV worked and got him his job, which he badly needed to remain in college. He has the job every week-end. It will be tough for him but it is important for young people like him to get into the system and on the job process.

I look forward to the Minister moving forward his ideas for ensuring that as many people as possible get into structures like FÁS. To that end, I do not object to the fact that he is attaching strings to those who gain access to those structures.

The Minister has stated that he is working with the different structures to devise a service regime and a model for the integration of FÁS with his Department. It is important that there is new thinking and new work going on. The integration of FÁS and the community service programme within the Department of Social Protection marks an important step towards ensuring that more people are put into jobs. There is much work that could be done around the country. Money could be saved if people, young and older, were put to work and paid for working 19 or 20 hours per week rather than getting money for nothing. We must work towards that.

The Minister mentioned electronic certification. I welcome any improvement of any kind. However, I hope this will be better than the electronic voting system or the effort to get electronics working in the HSE.

Would the Deputy fly in an aeroplane?

They are landed by electronics.

I am well aware of that. If it is properly overseen and worked it is valuable. I have no objection to using electronics so long as it is done properly.

The Minister mentioned rent supplement charges and the fact that someone should have a tax certificate. This should have been part of legislation long ago. It is ridiculous that someone could have an income, through rent allowance, from the State and not have to show he is tax compliant. If someone applies to a local authority for a grant of €6,000 to add a bathroom to his house he must produce a tax clearance certificate for himself and a C2 for his builder. I completely support the Minister in introducing this measure. It is ridiculous that someone could take in €100 or more per week and not put it through the taxation system. That is unforgivable and unsustainable in the present situation. I was worried to hear the Minister say rent supplements would continue to be paid until the review date for the supplement. I would have thought the rent supplement should be stopped from the hour a person looks for a certificate. I accept that a balance must be maintained but the sooner these people are grappled with and dealt with the better. We cannot afford blackguarding of the tax system at present. I feel very strongly about this.

The Minister said the Bill will clarify the provisions for the calculation of the duration of payment of illness benefit claims. I am worried about this area. I know of a number of individuals with genuine medical problems who were asked to go for medical assessments and who were not even looked at by the doctor in charge. I know of a young girl who had been the victim of a bad accident. When she went with her mother for the assessment she was told the room was too cold and she should not take off her coat. She was later told she did not pass the examination. Who paid for that examination? Why was that girl not given the opportunity to show the damage she had suffered and what she had gone through for the previous 18 months? I know things are tight and people may be given to exaggeration, but that is not the only example I have come across where people were not given an examination of any kind by a doctor who was paid to do the job. There are other cases of refusals in which doctors' letters are not even looked at. I am fully behind the Minister in trying to get rid of fraud but we must not take matters for granted and abuse the rights of people. People are entitled to care and fair play.

This leads me to the issue of appeals. The appeals system is completely unworkable. I tabled questions on two cases last week but was asked to withdraw them. One of the cases was referred to an appeals officer, who proposed to hold an oral appeal hearing. The officer stated, "Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a date and venue for the hearing but every effort is being made to have the appeal determined as quickly as possible". The individual in question, a young farmer with a wife and two infant children, sought help in June 2009. He was assessed and the Department refused to take into account the actual milk price at the time of the assessment. It insisted on taking into account his income from the previous year. I have in writing from the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Hanafin, former Minister for Social and Family Affairs, documentation stating the Department was taking into account the incomes that were being earned at the time of assessment. In the case in question, however, this was ignored completely. The price of milk had fallen by 50% in 2009.

The average national farm income in that year showed a drop of 40% according to Teagasc. In Cavan-Monaghan and such areas, which have heavy, wet land and have extremely heavy rainfall at times, cattle had to be kept indoors during the months of May and June. As I still have a slight interest in the farm I live on, I know that meal bills were atrocious in 2009. The price of milk was unforgivable, yet this was not taken into account. I have encountered several cases similar to the one in question. The appeal in the case in question was submitted in December. We tried to proceed by way of review but reviews did not work. Still no date can be given for the appeal. The same applies to another case I have to hand.

Members are not tabling parliamentary questions on such matters for the sake of being awkward but because families are experiencing very real difficulties. Some are under more pressure than others from banks and their circumstances are extremely serious.

With regard to a case I was dealing with some days ago, the young lady of the house does some work outside the home. The calculations done in respect of her show that her income will increase massively due to what is describes as "the possible improvement" in the economy. The officers are not taking into account the factual position as it exists today. While this may not relate to the Bill, the Bill does refer to miscellaneous social welfare provisions. What I describe is not a joke.

Another case on my books concerns a man whose father dropped dead at the age of 50. The case had to go through the inheritance system. The Minister has some idea what it is like to deal with this. As a result of the man's circumstances, none of the farm grants, area aid payments or other benefits were paid to the family. The lump sum the man received helped to pay off the debt he had incurred but that was then considered as his actual income for the year in question. Arrears in payments from previous years were not taken into account. The list goes on. All I want is some common sense and reason. I fully believe the Minister wants to do his best but he must realise some control must be taken in this area.

I pay tribute to community welfare officers, who do an excellent job and do their very best in very difficult circumstances. They are under enormous pressure from all sides. They can help out in circumstances where people must wait for jobseeker's allowance or other such benefits but, in the cases to which I refer, it is much more difficult. They are asked to assess everything themselves. They must engage in the same assessment process as the social welfare officers.

I ask that some structure be put in place to deal with these cases in a reasonable manner that takes the facts into account. I could refer to non-farmers, including builders, who have lost their jobs. I genuinely believe the Minister means well but he must deal with the structural problems if ordinary people are to secure their rights.

When I meet IFA members from all over the country, they agree with me that the problems to which I refer exist but they do not seem to be prepared to raise them themselves. I do not know why this is the case.

I compliment the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. He set out to be a reforming Minister and succeeded. This Bill is an example of a very important and significant reform that should have taken place long ago. It is very welcome that FÁS functions are to be transferred under this Bill. I refer to the transfer of functions under the employment services and community services programmes from the Minister for Education and Skills to the Minister for Social Protection. It is best to integrate the services because it allows for an important step to be taken away from a passive model of income support to a more proactive model focused on getting people back to work. The customer-focused and job-focused design of the scheme represents an important and significant development.

Creating jobs for the unemployed has been very difficult because of the recession in recent years. I recall the job search programmes and other major initiatives that were taken during the last recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We will now see similar types of programmes, which are more focused on giving the unemployed an opportunity to obtain work and improve their income supports. Directly linking social welfare payments and the finding of a job is an important and significant step forward.

I welcome the introduction of electronic certification. It is past time that we moved into the modern era and used new technologies. I welcome the use of such technologies because they will ensure that the certification process will be more efficient and will assist in delivering a better service to customers and that the important checks and balances which form part of the manual process will be retained.

The use of mobile telephone certification, which is currently being explored by the Minister and his Department, represents a novel approach. It is now possible to obtain a great deal of information — including that relating to bus schedules, etc. — on one's mobile telephone. In such circumstances, I hope that the results of the review into the use of this type of certification will prove to be positive. I accept that examinations must take place in the context of ensuring authenticity. I am of the opinion that the use of this type of certification would be a good development, particularly in circumstances where people from outside the country might be coming here from time to time to claim jobseeker's allowance. The latter type of behaviour must be brought to an end.

The changes to the rent supplement scheme are also welcome. In the future, landlords will be required to make available their tax reference numbers and tax clearance certificates on an ongoing basis. That is a significant development.

I wish to comment on two programmes with which the Bill does not deal directly but which are dealt with in the national recovery plan that was published earlier today. I refer to the community work placement programme — to which the Minister has referred on a number of occasions — and the skills development and internship programme, which it is intended to introduce. The former is an excellent initiative. It is somewhat ironic that when I served as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, I tried to introduce a similar initiative whereby people in receipt of social welfare who wanted to work would be permitted to do so. I recall that I was ridiculed by the Labour Party when I proposed this initiative.

I am firmly of the view that those who are in receipt of social welfare and who want to work should be allowed to do so. I would not force anyone to take up this option and I am of the view that what is envisaged should be facilitated through a voluntary programme. There is so much good work which could be done in communities by people who are on community employment or other schemes. A great deal of good work has been done in the past — in sports clubs, community organisations and local authorities — by those on community employment schemes. However, there is much more work to be done. I have no doubt that when the community work placement programme is introduced, it will prove to be a significant success.

There is also much work to be done in the areas of caring and social services and a great deal of potential exists in this regard. At present, public health nurses are run off their feet trying to care for old people. They are doing a wonderful job in keeping many of the elderly out of nursing homes. People should consider the significant support and care that could be provided by those on community employment schemes while working alongside local public health nurses, GPs, etc. I urge the Minister to implement this programme as soon as possible. I accept that it does not relate directly to the legislation before the House but I welcome the fact that it is included in the national recovery plan. There is no doubt that the worst situation in which one can find oneself is to be at home all day with nothing to do, to be anxious to become involved in doing some work and to not have an outlet in this regard. The community work placement programme is undoubtedly the mechanism by means of which we can assist people who are in receipt of social welfare payments to return to the workforce.

I suggest that the Minister be bold enough to take this programme a step further by seeking to discover if labour-intensive private sector businesses which are under pressure and which are not able to pay their bills as a result of the recession might be allowed some leeway in respect of taking people into employment for a limited period each week. This would bring individuals back into the workforce and provide them with an opportunity to prove themselves. If a person spends one day each week working for a particular company and gets the opportunity to prove his or her worth, when that company's situation improves those who run it will be familiar with the individual in question and might give him or her an opportunity to work perhaps three or five days per week.

The types of initiatives to which I refer are required in order to try to restart the process of employment creation. There is no better man than the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, to run programmes of this nature. In light of the climate that obtains at present, I am sure he will receive widespread support from Members on all sides of the House in this regard.

There is no question that difficulties have arisen with regard to people who are currently working for three days per week and who simply do not want to return to working five days each week. Many employers will inform one that people do not want to return to working a five-day week because it is more advantageous to work three days per week. This type of behaviour must be curtailed. It should never be the position that it is more attractive to be in receipt of social welfare rather than in employment. Some of the measures contained in the national recovery plan will address this issue and the reduction in the minimum wage will be of assistance.

Good employees should not be limited to receiving the minimum wage. While it was necessary to reduce the rate of the minimum wage in order to correspondingly reduce the cost of production, etc., I hope employers will continue to pay good employees what they deserve and will encourage them to work harder in order to earn that bit more. The reduction in the minimum wage should not prove to be a disincentive. We are all aware that businesses in the hospitality sector, the retail sector and some of the labour-intensive sectors are finding it extremely difficult to retain employees as a result of the current level of the minimum wage. I hope that the relevant provision in the national recovery plan will prove to be of assistance in this regard.

I endorse the Bill and I give it my full support. The sooner it is enacted and the sooner the Minister can put in place the other initiatives contained in the national recovery plan, the better it will be.

I thank Deputy Fahey for sharing time. I welcome the Bill and I also welcome the opportunity to offer some suggestions and ideas to the Minister. Deputy Ó Cuív is one of the few Ministers who is always prepared to listen to new ideas.

The full transfer of the employment services and community services programmes of FÁS from the Minister for Education and Skills to the Minister for Social Protection is a good idea. FÁS has been the subject of some very bad comments and criticism in recent months, not because of the actions of its ordinary employees but because of the shenanigans in which people at the highest level in the organisation engaged. I deal with ordinary FÁS employees in Wexford and Enniscorthy on a daily basis. I find them to be excellent individuals who work very diligently on behalf of people who wish to avail of training courses, upskill themselves or create opportunities to allow themselves to return to the work environment.

In view of the fact that the transfer to which I refer is taking place, I suggest that the Minister get out and about in order to meet those who work in FÁS offices. I am sure he has already visited certain offices in parts of the country. Those who work in these offices and who operate in our communities have some excellent ideas with regard to the way forward for the organisation. They are of the view that many of the diktats which come from on high in respect of training schemes, upskilling and the preparation of programmes are not relevant to the day-to-day operation of FÁS.

I wish to provide the Minister with an example of the work done by FÁS employees in my constituency. These individuals are of the view that at times they are not listened to and are not involved in the development of the new schemes that are required within communities. The green agenda and the development of wind energy have been very much to the fore in the work programme of the current Government and many wind turbines have been erected throughout the country. However, the amazing fact relating to the erection of such turbines is that, because they lack either the necessary skills or training, very few Irish people are employed during the construction phase.

Recently, where turbines were being erected in Wexford there was a number of job opportunities but when the people applied, the first question they were asked was whether they had a climbing certificate. A climbing certificate is essential for the erection of turbines. I followed up the matter on behalf of four persons in my area and I was told by FÁS that it has no training facility in Ireland for the climbing certificate and it would have to send trainees to the UK which would cost between €1,500 and €2,000 per person, with additional funding for bed and breakfast accommodation or whatever accommodation would be required. I raised this with the new chairman of FÁS and I asked him to initiate a scheme because wind energy and wave energy will be very much part and parcel of the future of this country.

This is one area in which FÁS should be involved at the coalface in Ireland. We should not need to send people to be trained in England, which takes time and money. It is an idea for a new scheme within FÁS. There are other areas where there are opportunities for upskilling and training in our communities where there is not the necessary facility within FÁS and I am sure the Minister will look at all of them.

Another issue I wish to raise is that of job facilitators with Youthreach. I discovered this week that the job facilitator with Youthreach in Enniscorthy who is funded by FÁS, at a time when young people are finding it difficult to acquire work, is being withdrawn from March next. As the Minister will be aware, Youthreach is run through the VEC in the Department of Education and Skills. Perhaps it is because of the break-up, but there is widespread anger in my constituency that the job facilitator is being withdrawn and the young people must fend for themselves in getting work experience and job opportunities. The person involved in Enniscorthy in Youthreach has a 70% or 80% record on placement. He is there for the past 15 years. He will be paid a considerable sum in redundancy and all of the experience he has built up over the years will be gone. That is another issue that needs to be looked at. Given that there is a break-up between the Departments of Education and Skills and Social Protection, there should be some cross-over from time to time.

The social employment schemes and the farm assist schemes are worthwhile. Many people are anxious to get on to such schemes because they want to be in a position to get involved with community groups, with GAA clubs and with care facilities, and I welcome in the plan announced today that the Minister is moving in that direction. However, it is important that the Minister would speed up the process. I am not blaming him personally, but there seems to be a dragged-out system of getting people on CE schemes and on farm assist schemes. People are anxious to get on them and I hope that would happen as quickly as possible.

I refer to the new technology in electronic certification. It is a good idea. However, the problem is not with people signing on but with people getting the decision. It can take many weeks to process, particularly in respect of jobseeker's benefit which can take months. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that if genuine young people make an application having lost their jobs, perhaps without enough stamps to qualify, they should not need to have all of these inspections carried out. It should be taken in good faith. There should be periodic inspections carried out subsequently and if it is discovered that they are working and signing on, then action should be taken. Many genuine people aged 18 or 19 are applying having lost their jobs, but the Department has all of these inspections being carried out involving months of delay. People are finding it difficult to get decisions. It is an area where there should be much more trust in applicants. I am totally opposed to any fraud and I would encourage the Minister to wipe out fraud, but there are many genuine cases waiting an inordinate amount of time to have their applications fully dealt with.

Another issue the Minister has heard me raise at my parliamentary party on a number of occasions is the pre-retirement scheme. There used be a pre-retirement scheme in social welfare when the late Séamus Brennan was Minister, where people when they reached approximately 60 years of age did not have to sign on anymore. They got their book, they went to their post office and they claimed their money. The Minister should look at reintroducing that. A person in his or her 60s should not have to make a claim every month. The person has served his or her time. It is important that such a pre-retirement scheme would be considered. I would ask the Minister to look at that.

Rent supplement has been mentioned. Some community welfare officers are good on rent supplement and some are very tough on it, but we all know the genuine cases. There is an area that causes some concern where a person who gets the rent supplement usually must pay the landlord a deposit upfront. If the tenant wants to leave that landlord and go somewhere else, more often than not the landlord will not give back the deposit. There are some genuine landlords but there are some unscrupulous ones who will not give back the deposit. On behalf of students here in Dublin, I received a letter in the past week from the students' union asking for this deposit retention to be brought into some kind of legal framework because students are finding it difficult to get back their deposits. It is an area the Minister should look at. There should be a quicker response.

The breaking up of FÁS is, to a certain extent, to be welcomed. The break-up is one matter but how relevant FÁS will be in future because of the high unemployment rates is another. There is new thinking and ideas required. The Minister is driving on with the new thinking and the new ideas, but he needs to implement them as quickly as possible. There is a considerable number of GAA clubs in my county who say to me that they are even prepared to pay the difference or give a top-up if they get people on community employment schemes or under the new scheme of which the Minister speaks, the community work placement programme. As Deputy Fahey stated, there are many care facilities also.

As the Minister and Deputy Ring will be aware, every half-parish and parish in this country has a GAA club, a rugby club or a soccer club, and FÁS is not tapping in to the wonderful facilities in community sporting organisations throughout the country. There are many community sporting organisations willing to play their part in helping young people to get off the dole to give them job placement opportunities. Recently there was an excellent article, written by Eugene McGee in the Irish Independent, suggesting that there should be far more co-ordination between GAA clubs and the Departments of Education and Skills and Social Protection to set up new work schemes involving the sporting organisations. I ask the Minister to look at how we can tap in to the sporting organisations for the future.

I welcome the changes contained in the Bill. The Minister, in the different Departments he was in down the years, has been innovative and has been involved in coming up with new ways and new thinking. We are going in the right direction but there are a few areas I raised where the Minister needs to get his officials to speed matters up and ensure that they are implemented as quickly as possible.

Debate adjourned.