Private Members’ Business

Social Welfare Benefits: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on Tuesday, 29 November 2011:
"That Dáil Éireann:
notes recent research commissioned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Barnardos which found that at least 96,000 children are going without the essentials needed for an acceptable standard of living such as three meals a day, their own books for reading and taking part in clubs and activities;
notes the programme for Government promise to maintain social welfare rates;
calls on the Government to exempt children from shouldering the burden of recovery; and
directs the Government to maintain current levels of child benefit and other social welfare payments, in particular those impacting on children including adult social welfare payments and eligibility criteria, the qualified child increase and family income supplement."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"recognises the severe impact on families, individuals and communities as a result of the closure of businesses and loss of employment arising from the exceptional and difficult economic circumstances;
recognises the vital role played by spending on social welfare in enabling people to live life with dignity and the importance of child benefit as a universal payment as a source of income for all families;
acknowledges the contribution that spending on social welfare also makes to sustaining economic activity in communities throughout the State and in particular notes the contribution that spending on child income support payments makes to parents raising children and the important role that these payments play in contributing towards alleviating child poverty;
notes that overall expenditure on the child benefit payment grew from just under €965 million in 2001 to approximately €2.2 billion in 2010 and that total spending on child income supports amounted to €3.1 billion in 2010;
affirms that sustainable public finances are a prerequisite for maintaining an adequate system of social protection and that with the scale of the current economic crisis, it is necessary to address all aspects of the public finances so as to ensure that they are sustainable and to ensure that fairness exists in the allocation of resources;
encourages the Government to press ahead with the structural reform of the social welfare system to help better target social welfare support to those on lower incomes and ensure that work pays; and
notes that the Government has established an advisory group on tax and social welfare to examine and make recommendations on a number of issues around the operation and interaction of the tax and social protection systems to address how employment disincentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes, and that the group is currently examining the area of child and family income supports."
— (Minister for Social Protection).

I commend the motion from Sinn Féin calling on the Government to exempt children from shouldering the burden of recovery. It is a no-brainer and, I believe, the Minister of State opposite will not disagree with it. Most people agree that we have a responsibility to protect those who need our protection most. One thing that has come out of the current crisis is that most people accept that there are many people angry with developments in recent years. They are angry for several reasons, one of which is that the recession has been deepening and this has affected many people. The austerity measures affect the less well off more than those who have a little more.

Unemployment is a significant factor and it is making people angry. Many young people are unemployed and this is a significant problem for the State. No doubt people have not forgotten the excesses of bankers which precipitated the crisis in the first place. The growing level of inequality and the growing gap between those who have and those who have not is probably one of the most annoying things of all for people.

I have no intention of second guessing what will be in the budget but I hope the Government will work towards achieving a level of fairness in whatever it does. It should be seen to be fair even if the measures are tough. If there is a sense of fairness and a sense of working towards dealing with the ingrained inequality in our society people will respect us, but not otherwise. This applies not only in Ireland. I admit that the problems exist throughout Europe but there is no doubt that the least well off are being asked to pay for the crisis. Children and old people are among the most vulnerable groups of victims.

Social Justice Ireland, hardly the most militant or revolutionary group in the country, made the point this morning at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education that any cut in child benefit would be a red line issue for it and that if the Government thought that it could get away with replacing the idea of a €10 cut in child benefit with one of €5, then it would not happen. The removal of 1 cent from child benefit will not be tolerated.

I was sickened to listen to representatives from the Government and other quarters saying child benefit is paid to rich people, therefore we need to examine it. It is nonsense. No rich person will feel the pinch from a cut in child benefit. People on lower incomes and social welfare families will pay the price.

We were all circulated with a report from the European Anti Poverty Network. It revealed figures from the CSO which show that those at risk of poverty had increased to almost 16% of the population and the policies being implemented by the Government are contributing to the growth of that group in society. Increasing VAT, introducing a household tax and butchering social welfare will affect the most vulnerable.

The purpose of the motion is to say "Stop" before it is too late. The Labour Party should listen. It has some neck to talk about rich people receiving child benefit when the Government has tolerated a situation where the gap between rich and poor has become greater. If a 1% tax on the top 5% of the population was introduced, revenue of €2 billion could be generated, almost three times the amount to be cut in social welfare, which will cause enormous hardship to ordinary families and children. There is no excuse for it. There is a choice. The Government cannot blame Fianna Fáil and should abandon the policy before it is too late.

I commend the Sinn Féin Party motion. It is excellent and I will support it.

If the Government wants to save money in social welfare it should examine rent allowance. The system must change in order that the tenant is incentivised to get the best possible value. Under the current system a tenant in my home town who is paying €90 per week receives a subvention of €59.60. However, if the person discovers he or she could rent an equivalent property for €70 he or she would receive no benefit. All that will happen is that the subvention will be cut by €20.

In order to incentivise people to get the lowest possible rent they should be allowed to keep a percentage of the difference, thus benefiting the welfare recipient and the State while at the same time bringing rents back to their real level. Given that the bill for rent allowance is over €500 million it would result in massive savings for the Exchequer. It would not please landlords but what the hell. At the same time it would spare the most vulnerable in our society.

Instead the talk is about cutting children's allowance by €10 per month. When I was growing up children's allowance was used to pay the electricity bill. I remember when my oldest brother left home we had serious trouble paying the ESB bill. It is not a nice feeling when one is a young child. This is what will be imposed on people.

The credit union survey states clearly that 25% of people have less than €70 after all their bills are paid. The Government now proposes to take another €10, €20 or €30 from such people. It cannot be done and the Government should not do it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. Children simply want to do the things they do, that is play, have friends and grow up safe. Parents want to provide for children as best they can. Child benefit is one of the most important payments for low-income families to ensure they can do that. Yet, 96,000 children go without the essentials needed for an acceptable standard of living in this country.

The CSO survey of income and living conditions in 2010 shows the percentage of those at risk of poverty has grown to almost 16%. Any reduction in child benefit will send these figures rocketing. According to the Constitution, families are the primary and fundamental unit of society and are indispensable to the welfare of the nation and the State. There is a constitutional obligation to protect children. Vulnerable children cannot be scapegoated in this budget. Across-the-board cuts in child benefit will hit every one of the 96,000 children who are currently in danger directly. I urge the Government to make sure in budget 2012 children are not punished further.

I support the motion. I thank the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which does tremendous work to support families and children, in particular. Its pre-budget submission shows that in 2010 there was a 36% increase in its workload in Dublin, 23% in the mid-west, 36% in Galway and 45% in Cork. It said items like food, fuel, education and housing costs were the main requests. Those most in need of help were households with children in particular, one parent families. It urges the Government to recognise the importance of child benefit in protecting children from poverty and hardship.

Barnardos specialises in this area and does a huge amount of work in less well-off communities. It also called on the Government not to touch child benefit. Some 90,000 children are living in consistent poverty, a figure which is expected to rise when new figures are released later this month. Barnardos states quite clearly that 90,000 children are going without things many of us take for granted, such as a hot meal or a chance to take part in activities like swimming or school trips.

These are the most vulnerable people in our society. Both Government parties promised to ensure vulnerable people would be protected in their election manifestoes. A cut in child benefit would be the direct opposite of that and I call on the Government to ensure that not alone is child benefit not cut, but supports are put in place for families.

Children have a certain vulnerability, often even in the care of well-intentioned parents, and it is vital that in this country we provide a secure environment for them to grow up and flourish. As the leaders of future generations it is indisputable that children have a central role in this society and therefore there is a special duty on the State and Government to protect them. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has ratified, acknowledges the family as the fundamental unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children. It also states that the family should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.

The term "family" should be given its modern definition, encompassing the many different forms and types of families in our society. Within this context, it is vital that the State provides a robust infrastructure for children and their families. This extends far beyond child benefit and welfare rates to encompass child care support, social welfare protection for parents, family income supplement, employment opportunities, health care, education and security. To view the State's role in the protection of children solely in monetary terms is narrow, short-sighted and sometimes ignores the wider impact of State services and actions that encompasses a child's life. The welfare of a child cannot simply be judged on the basis of a payment.

A holistic approach is required as there are many other important factors to be considered. A child's life is impacted, for instance, when his or her parents cannot get work, grandparents cannot get the care they need and family resources have to be diverted towards them or siblings cannot get help with special needs and the family has to put its hands in its pockets to pay for it. Resource demands on parents have an expenditure reducing impact on families in the same way as income reductions.

The welfare of the child has to be judged as a whole in the context of his or her entire family and how the family unit is treated in society. In order to safeguard parents in this country, it is fundamentally necessary to protect the social welfare paid to parents and ensure the most vulnerable families are shielded from the very worst effects of the recession.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and in order that the most vulnerable in society are protected an ambitious reform of the social welfare system is absolutely necessary. The Labour Party, under the guidance of the Minister, Deputy Burton, is committed to doing so in line with its principles of solidarity and fairness.

The programme for Government rightly states that the elimination of poverty is a Government objective and commits to reducing the number of people experiencing poverty. The range of initiatives which the Government has introduced and put in motion includes things that will have a direct impact on people and their lives. Reversing the minimum wage cut will do more to protect people from poverty than social welfare rates. Reforming and putting in place the JLC protections for lower paid workers so they have an income stream will protect children and families. Maintaining the Croke Park agreement and its protection of low paid workers in the Civil Service and public service is a way of protecting children from poverty by making sure their parents can afford to look after them. Introducing the jobs budget also helps to create jobs, which is the best way to keep people out of poverty.

This debate must expand beyond a simple focus on monetary provision. We must examine how the State interacts with children on every level. A constituent told me today he is awaiting an appeal for domiciliary care allowance in respect of his two children, both of whom have special needs, with one suffering from severe autism. Those types of additional facilities and services are much more important in ensuring people have stability in their lives and do not have to put their hand in their own pocket for services which should be provided by the State.

I support the thrust of the motion and call for a broader debate. We will not agree with colleagues opposite on the specifics of the proposal, but we can agree that child poverty should be at the core of every decision in the next budget.

I welcome the debate on this important and sensitive issue in the week leading up to the budget. We are discussing it against the backdrop of the horrific circumstances facing not only Ireland but the European Union as a whole. One does not have to be an expert in economics to recognise that the situation has been deteriorating rapidly in recent days. The Government came to power in February with a strong mandate and is doing its best with very limited resources. That is the context in which the budget is being brought forward. The budgetary process itself has been very transparent, with information made available on several aspects which traditionally would have remained a mystery until the Minister arrived on the plinth, briefcase in hand.

The single greatest loss to this country in the last 100 years was the loss of our economic sovereignty. On 28 November 1920, Kilmichael in my county became a focal point of the War of Independence. On 28 November last year the previous Government ceded our economic sovereignty. Not only was this utterly humiliating but it had huge consequence for the State and its citizens. That is the historical context in which we find ourselves.

We are borrowing €1.25 billion every month in order to meet our outgoings, exclusive of banking-related costs. Now the very existence of the euro is being called into question. Figures today show that the unemployment rate in the eurozone has risen to an all-time high of10.3%, equating to 16.3 million women and men out of work. Central banks around the word have this afternoon moved to ease market strains by providing cheaper dollar liquidity to European banks. However, the next ten days will prove vital in terms of an effective conclusion to Europe's response to the crisis.

This stark reality brings into sharp focus the dire economic context in which tonight's debate is taking place. Much has been said and will be said about the Labour Party's participation in this Administration, particularly in the run-up to the budget. There are no easy options, no low-hanging fruit. I am confident that our presence in government, along with our colleagues in Fine Gael, will ensure this budget, tough as it will be, is also fair. The last three budgets certainly were not. The overarching ethos must be job creation and the protection of the most vulnerable and least well-off in our society. When delegates of the Labour Party met in O'Reilly Hall in University College Dublin and voted to go into government last March, we knew full well that difficult decisions lay ahead. This is not a popularity contest. It is about restoring economic sovereignty and restoring Ireland's reputation abroad, which was severely tarnished by the outgoing Administration.

It should be acknowledged that we have had several important achievements since coming into office, not least of which was the restoration of the minimum wage. Of all the poor decisions taken by the previous Government, one of the worst was the €1 reduction in the minimum wage, which amounted to an attack on the most vulnerable and least well-off. The restoration of the minimum wage was one of the first tasks this Government set for itself. While by no means an economic panacea, it is an indication of the Government's commitment to the least well-off. We also reduced the pay of the Taoiseach and Ministers, abolished State cars and State drivers, reduced retirement packages for Secretaries General, introduced a public sector pay ceiling of €200,000, reduced the number of Oireachtas committees, abolished the €10,000 allowance for Vice Chairmen of committees, halved the €20,000 allowance for committee Chairman, and held a referendum and subsequently published legislation to allow for reductions in judges' pay. Many of these measures will not of themselves get us out of the hole we are in. However, for the benefit of an informed debate, it is important that they be acknowledged.

The bottom line is that while the Department of Social Protection spent some €20 billion last year, the State took in a total of €34 billion. That is wholly unsustainable, which is not to say that I do not join colleagues in hoping that child benefit will not be reduced next week. It is incumbent on all of us to be proactive and constructive in our contributions to the debate on this and other issues. We are all very fond of Deputy Mary Lou McDonald on this side of the House. She is a great colleague and a fine politician. However, her proposal that all earnings in excess of €100,000 be taxed at 100% is unrealistic. What is needed in this debate are proactive, constructive policies which serve to ensure that the least well-off do not suffer disproportionately in the budget.

I wish to focus on the importance of the principle of child benefit as a universal payment. There is a danger in the current climate that we will begin rolling back on progressive initiatives taken over many years. Child benefit, formerly known as children's allowance, was introduced in 1942 for third and subsequent children. It is interesting to read the speech made by the Minister who introduced it, Sean Lemass. He gave several reasons for his decision not to means test for the allowance, one of which was that the Government wished to ensure there "was not the slightest suggestion of charity associated with the allowance". A means test, he said, would "involve an inquisition into the affairs of families which is often resented and which is generally undesirable". He also argued that a means test would be cumbersome and would involve a substantial additional cost. His main argument for the allowance was that having a large family would mean greater financial hardship for households. He reasoned that because wages are based on productivity and supply and demand, they did not relate to family size. The only way, he contended, to ensure parents had sufficient income to provide for the additional needs which come with having larger families was through the payment of an allowance for children. He concluded his speech by pointing out that the introduction of a children's allowance would result in all taxpayers, whether they had children or not, paying more tax.

It is surprising how progressive that debate was compared with some of the debate taking place on the issue today. The reasoning Mr. Lemass offered in 1942 still stands in 2011. The same issues apply when one considers the arguments for means testing, namely, that there is a cost associated with it and that children have no means. Introducing means testing would necessitate scrapping the existing child benefit payment and introducing an entirely new allowance which would instead be called a family supplement or something like that. This would dilute the idea of supporting children in themselves. Academic research has shown that where there is means testing, some of those who are entitled to an allowance under those criteria will be deterred by the existence of a means test from applying for it. This is borne out by experience in regard to family income supplement.

In regard to proposals for taxing child benefit, a constituent of mine made a good point in an e-mail to me. Taxing child benefit, she argued, would create an inequity. Take, for example, two households each earning €100,000, one of which comprises two adults and two children and the other comprising two adults and no children. Taxation of child benefit would reduce the income of the former while having no effect on the latter. In other words, the two-person household would maintain its income while the four-person household would see a reduction in income. There is an inequity there.

Some have argued that people like Michael O'Leary do not need child benefit. The question we should ask is why he, and others like him, should not be taxed more highly on their income. I do not mean to single out Mr. O'Leary, but it was he who put himself forward in this regard. The way to get the wealthy is to tax them on their wealth and income. Child benefit is an income for the child and we should not go near it in terms of taxation.

It is also important to bear in mind, when considering any move to subject child benefit to means testing or taxation, that it is middle-income families who will lose out. Benefits which are means tested do not go to middle-income families. Middle-income families with children are the people with the high mortgages, where both parents have to go out to work, the people with the high child care costs which can amount to €150 a week per child. This is what the child benefit is expected to cover. These families have endured many cuts already. Child benefit was reduced to cover only those aged 18 and younger. The early child care supplement was reduced to the first five years from six years and then it was finally scrapped. There was also a straight cut in child benefit. Many other countries have universal child benefit payments and those countries also provide free health care for children. These are the progressive countries where there is not the type of inequalities we experience and neither have they broken economies. It is given to all children because all children are valued equally.

I wish to speak in support of the Government amendment to the motion. Sinn Féin appears to be living in two different economic realities. In the North, the party is a partner in a government which is cutting £4 billion in public services over the next four years and a government which is cutting teacher numbers and closing schools——

British rule, Deputy.

——and part of a government that has increased public sector pensions by 3%. I know some people may argue they had no choice but the Scottish Executive managed to fight its corner. Sinn Féin is part of a government that is closing libraries——

It is a financial package.

Down here, the Sinn Féin Members say there is a different economic reality and different financial packages——

It appears they are living in a different economic bubble.

(Interruptions).

If we were to renege on the IMF deal, what would happen the front line services? In Greece, it was necessary to lay off 30,000 staff temporarily. The Greeks must sell off €50 billion of state assets to pay their way.

The ATM argument.

Their international reputation has been completely ruined as a result and it will be ruined for years to come. It will affect their ability to create jobs and to generate inward investment. I do not think that is what Sinn Féin wants for Ireland and it is certainly not what the Government wants——

Deputy Hannigan should read the alternative budget.

We are creating a very fair and clear path to recovery. It will not be easy and it means we will have to make unpopular decisions. We want to bring in a fair and balanced budget so that we can regain our economic sovereignty as soon as possible. However, this means living in the current economic reality and not in some fantasy economic land. The creation of a fantasy is not going to help anybody and it will not create jobs. Sinn Féin in the North seems to know this and I think the Sinn Féin Deputies know it in their hearts, but they need to learn the lesson about what their colleagues are doing in the North where they are trying to strike a balance and introduce a fair and balanced budget, just as we are doing here. The people of Ireland elected this Government because they think we can make a difference and that we can get the country back to work. They think we can restore our economic sovereignty——

They elected the Labour Party because of what it said before the election.

——and this is what we are trying to do. All of us will agree that spending €20 billion on the social welfare system is unsustainable and the Minister is looking at reform. I understand she has commissioned a report, due in March, on issues such as how the system can be reformed to make it fair and equitable for all. I look forward to that report and will support the amendment to the motion.

I must listen to what Deputy Spring has to say so we can both explain it to the people of north Kerry and west Limerick.

I agree with the sentiments of the motion but it would be remiss of me not to deal with the issue of the eurozone. Two months ago, Jean-Claude Trichet said we were facing into the gravest time facing the continent since the Second World War. Eventually, Angela Merkel paid attention and she has echoed these sentiments. Child benefit and the budgetary matters of our country might be insignificant if the euro is to collapse. It would mean spending over €4 on a litre of petrol. The negative effect would be hardest felt by those who are most vulnerable and who are the lowest paid. There would be mass emigration and mass unemployment. I do not wish to act as a scaremongerer but we must do what we can within the European Parliament and within our own parties.

I am slightly frustrated and I agree with the views of many speakers. Deputy Tuffy spoke about how means-testing would be inappropriate for determining the payment of child benefit. I agree with the view that benefits provided by the State should also include facilities and opportunities for children. As a social democrat I believe that every child born in this country, from whatever ethnic or social background, should be able to achieve prosperity in health, in economic terms and also in community terms.

The argument regarding means testing can only be solved by cloud computing which has so much to offer this country. Ireland has had a boom in its birth rate whereas countries in central Europe have not experienced the same growth in population needed to sustain a society, never mind an economy.

The budgetary process is ongoing and it will not be finished until Sunday night. The Government is taking note of everything that is said in this House and outside. I apologise for saying that this Chamber is redundant to a large extent. This House should examine every Department and offer proposals and, in that way, work out a budget.

We put forward an alternative budget.

I acknowledge that some of Sinn Féin's policies are valid but so too are the Government's. However, the votes indicate that Sinn Féin is against everything the Government tries to do——

It is not about that at all.

It is the duty of the Government to legislate for fairness. People are weak and vulnerable in all segments of society. I trust in my Cabinet and its members are very approachable and they listen to what we have to say.

There are many similarities between this jurisdiction and Northern Ireland. The funding for Northern Ireland comes from the Westminster Parliament in an annual envelope and for the past 12 months, our funding has come from a troika in an annual envelope. We are no longer the authors of our own destiny, no more than the representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive are a sovereign government. I know that people find it unpalatable to close 52 schools and reduce public sector pay in the North of Ireland. However, when one is in government for life,ad infinitem, and one cannot be voted out of it, I suppose it makes it a bit more palatable, by virtue of the fact that the D’Hondt system prevents any opposition in the North. This may be why we are not hearing the type of argument we hear down here where there is no opposition to what is being done in the name of saving a few pounds north of the Border.

(Interruptions).

It is like listening to a foreign radio channel on my left.

I agree with a point made by Deputy Derek Nolan. I worked in the area of education and I know there is a lot more to child neglect than is caused by the level of income of a family. One must take a holistic approach to any discussion of child welfare. Why, when thousands of euro from the State coffers are going into some households, are some children being subjected to what I, as someone who has worked in this area, consider to be serious neglect? Why is the system still not interconnected? Why are the Health Service Executive and the social welfare, education and juvenile justice systems not talking to each other? In many cases, they are failing to support highly vulnerable and struggling parents who do not have the skills required to raise a family. No amount of money will solve the problems faced by many such parents because in some households they are cyclical in nature. Parents who lack parenting skills are crying out for support but our institutions and services are not linked up. One can throw all the money one wishes at the problem, as the previous Government did when it threw money around like snuff at a wake, but child neglect remains widespread.

On the issues raised by Deputy Spring, one can choose to ignore the €20 billion deficit, not to speak of problems in the banking sector, and oppose everything for the sake of opposition. We have not heard a single proposal that would address the deficit. The Fianna Fáil Party is coming to the table full of hypocrisy, while Sinn Féin north of the Border is wielding a carving knife and cutting as deep as it likes. We have not heard a single suggestion despite calls from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Minister for Finance for others to make credible proposals. We do not want suggestions for income tax rates of 100%.

The Deputy should read Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission.

We did not propose a 100% tax rate. The Deputy, like the Minister, has not bothered to read the document.

I am correcting the record.

The Government volunteered the services of the Department of Finance to cost any such proposals but the Opposition will not produce any. The cheap seats are always the easiest seats and those who say they do not want to do this or that are seated in them. We want to fix the deficit, however. We have listened to suggestions that we take the Bolivian or Argentinian route, which would mean placing screens over every ATM and padlocks on the doors of the banks and seizing everyone's assets. We could then have a great Marxist-Leninist state and pretend there was no crisis.

The Deputy is dreaming now.

To use the words of a person who graced these corridors once upon a time this is a case of, "Crisis, what crisis?" Members of the public are neither fools nor stupid. They know that if one is earning €500 per week but spending €800, one must choose between borrowing or cutting expenditure.

One can also earn more.

Like our friends north of the Border, we no longer have the capability to borrow and are beholden to three institutions which have come to our assistance, namely, the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission. Our friends in Sinn Féin would have us tell these institutions to go home because we can manage our own affairs. I want to have a functioning social welfare system in this State next year. I also want teachers, nurses and gardaí to be paid. When the Deputies opposite produce a credible alternative that allows us to wave goodbye to the EU, IMF and ECB while allowing us to have a functioning democracy I will listen to them.

We could grow the economy.

Sinn Féin opposes every single suggestion made by the Government.

We do not oppose every suggestion.

It has refused point blank to engage in any form of constructive reality, despite being given an opportunity to do so week in and week out.

One of the Deputy's Ministers praised us today.

Since the general election, the most widely used word in the Sinn Féin vocabulary has been "No". North of the Border the party appears to live in some sort of parallel universe which is probably more akin to reality than the little planet its Deputies inhabit down here. It acts in a quasi-responsible fashion in the North in what is not a sovereign parliament but one for which Westminster is the paymaster. Given that its public representatives, North and South, get together every now and again——

We come together for Christmas drinks. Perhaps the Deputy will subsidise them.

——I wish they would have a chat with their colleagues north of the Border. It should place the headings "Priorities" and "Realities" on top of a sheet of paper and underneath write the following, "We are bringing in €30 billion and spending €50 billion". They can then do a calculation which children in first class can do, although I do not have a problem if the Deputies opposite need a grind. If one is bringing in €30 billion and spending €50 billion, one has a gap of €20 billion. If one has a tap that is filling a bath at a rate of 30 gallons per minute and a plughole that is emptying at 50 minutes, one has the choice of turning off the tap or plugging the hole. The Deputies opposite want to jump into the bath and have one while they are at it.

(Interruptions).

Sinn Féin will come back next week with the same tired argument. I ask them, for God's sake, to bring their calculators with them the next time they come to the House.

I have an abacus; I could not afford a calculator.

They should do the sums in advance and tell those who elected them the truth. I respect the mandate they have been given but when Sinn Féin Deputies speak of burning the bondholders and produce paraphernalia such as matches, they should not forget that thanks to the previous Government, we have imposed a debt on every citizen. They should be mindful that in burning the bondholders, they would also burn the citizens of this jurisdiction.

Most people listening to this debate will feel betrayed and let down by politicians.

The Deputy is dead right.

People are hurting and their children, the victims, are going to school hungry. What are we doing about this? The choices made in the next budget will determine their future. The Proclamation of 1916 demanded that children be cherished and nurtured and given all that is needed for them to become fine citizens in a true republic. That document and those sentiments are at odds with the wisdom of punishing those who have no power or voice and had no hand in the destruction of this State's economy.

In case our comrades on the Government side are not aware, child benefit did not cause a European banking collapse. The payment is not the reason we are paying for a bailout of European bank debt, nor did it create the budget deficit. While it may be an uncomfortable obligation for the Government to perform, it cannot and will not be allowed to shirk its obligation to pay for the future of this country and not simply the salvation of European banking. Child benefit, the lone parent payment and other entitlements, payments and grants which go towards supporting children are the dressing with which we frame this argument, the essence of which is simply that we must nurture and cherish the children of our nation if we are to have a hope of building an economy and society.

The Government bemoans the fact that in 2010 it was required, through child benefit, to invest €2.2 billion in the children of this State. This money was spent on books, clothes and other expenses in the local economy, mainly on the basis that the State, since its inception, has failed to provide for school-going children. It decries this investment as a waste which we cannot afford. By the end of January, however, it will have given nearly €2 billion to unguaranteed bondholders in the space of three months and will defend this action to the hilt. It will, as it did at the start of November, stymie debate on this robbery of the public purse. If drawn on the issue, Government members will wring their hands and say, "It is not good enough". The Government must wake up to the fact that its duty is to the people of Ireland rather than to its adopted masters in Europe.

Sinn Féin has put forward other options in recent years. We outlined alternatives in a number of pre-budget submissions and brought them time and again to Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The trade unions have also put forward options. The Government has not capped the pay of top earners in the public sector nor ended the ministerial pension scandals. It has not introduced a wealth tax for millionaires or standardised tax relief. Rather than impose cuts on the wealthiest, it is imposing them on children. The Government has a choice and it should not choose to cut from struggling families who spend everything they receive on a monthly and weekly basis. It is not fair, it is not right and it does not work. After more than three years of this kind of thinking, we continue to have 450,000 people out of work and massive emigration. Over 100,000 people have left these shores in the past three years. Inequality is continuing to spiral massively. There is no sign of recovery or real growth. The number of people dealing with forced deprivation has doubled. This figure is even starker when one considers that, according to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, some 96,000 children do not enjoy an acceptable standard of nourishment, educational materials or social outlets as a consequence of this forced deprivation. How can the State stomach these facts? How can the Government allow these figures to be true? How can Ministers stand over the onslaught they have inflicted on the most deprived people in the State since last February? They are continuing the tradition of those who went before them and who created this mess. I urge the Minister to examine the alternatives that have been proposed by Sinn Féin, the trade unions and groups like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It is in the interests of the Government parties, including the Labour Party, to do so.

One of the saddest aspects of child poverty is that a large proportion of children who live in poverty come from families in which one parent is working. During the protest against the reduction in the minimum wage, which the Government thankfully restored, I was struck by how many people in minimum wage jobs spoke about how they are unable to adequately look after the basic needs of their children. That is surely the ultimate indictment of a society that is allegedly based on encouraging work and self-sufficiency. That those who often have the hardest and most unpleasant jobs are rewarded in such a manner exposes the myth that those who are subject to poverty are somehow responsible for their positions. The vast majority of unemployed people are out of work through no fault of their own.

The working poor are being penalised, rather than rewarded, for their efforts. They are being exploited by low-wage employers. They are being over-charged by other members of the rack-renting Irish elite in return for a roof over the heads and the means to live. If that is not enough, the working poor, like the rest of the working population, are seeing their social provisions being undermined in order to pick up the gambling tabs for the banker losers of that elite. Just as no child should be in poverty, no child should be subject to the draining experience of such a life. A child whose parents are working has all the more reason to ask why he or she has to go hungry and badly clothed. All children are entitled to have the costs of their education met and to enjoy the small pleasures of childhood.

When Deputies consider this motion and the report to which it refers, which shows that 9% of children are having their childhoods taken away from them, they should do more than engage in platitudes. They should not merely talk about maintaining social welfare rates. They should move away from and reject the plans to further undermine the wages and conditions of the working poor. Low-wage employers, with the collaboration of this Government, including, to its shame, the Labour Party, have engaged in a cynical assault aimed at further undermining those wages and conditions.

Christmas is a few weeks away. Next week, we will come to the House for the budget. It appears that the budget will target low-income families, unemployed people and those in receipt of child benefit once again. That spin is being put out there. People are afraid as a result of what they are hearing on a daily basis on television. The rumours are not being killed off by those who are in a position to do so. If these cuts were not going to happen, Ministers could deny them and thereby put people at rest, at least. That is not happening. Instead, they are choosing to exploit people's fears cynically. They will probably deliver a budget that is less hard-hitting than what is being propagated, as if that will make it all right.

Thousands of children in this country will not have a Christmas because of the failed policies of those who sat on the Government benches previously and those who are continuing the same policies now. At a time when children are hungry, it is an absolute and utter disgrace that €700 million was put into Anglo Irish Bank in recent weeks, with a further €1.25 billion to follow some time in January. Many parents do not have enough income to heat the house, put enough food on the table or clothe their children properly. The social and economic conditions in which they are living are preventing them from developing the benefits and abilities that every child has. I listened to the Deputy on the other side of the House with the curly hair. He is gone now. He did not even bother to wait.

Deputy O'Donovan.

He spent all of his time talking about the Six Counties. I am surprised he knows where they are. He referred to what is being done in Westminster.

I do not think he sailed on theMarita Ann.

He said nothing about the austere measures being introduced by the Government of which he is part. He tried to deflect the blame for what will happen after next week's budget. He tried to project blame on other people even though these cruel decisions will be made by his Government and his party. He would be better off learning a little about the circumstances in which young children are being reared in this country. He should go into the homes of people who are suffering and struggling on a daily basis. He would be better off meeting parents with tears in their eyes because they cannot put necessities on the table for their children than coming in here and talking bullshit. That is all he did for the ten minutes for which he spoke.

He obviously got through to the Deputy.

It was pure bullshit.

When I first sat in this Chamber in March of this year, I listened as the Taoiseach hailed this as a new era. Perhaps I was a little naive, but I was impressed when he said the new Government would listen to constructive contributions from Opposition parties. I reckoned it was the best way to go. I was glad to hear the Taoiseach's remarks. What have I witnessed since? The Government does not listen to Opposition parties. It does not listen to the public, which is even worse. Some of its backbenchers engage in childish sniping and shouting rather than rational debate. I stress that not all of them do that.

I tried to find a name for the behaviour of the new Government, but I could not find it in any of my books on political science. I decided the most appropriate thing to call it is the Bart Simpson school of political defence. Government Deputies seem to say "nobody saw us do it; you can prove nothing; we did not do it; but if we did do it, it was the big bad boys in Fianna Fáil and the big bad boys in the EU, the ECB and the IMF who made us do it". Can we have any hope that the fine words about listening and co-operating will be delivered on? Can we expect the Government to reconsider its opposition to this? I call on Government to do so.

I appeal to those backbenchers with a conscience to support this motion and to reject the Government amendment. I do so in light of the further evidence of rising poverty levels that was presented in the latest statistics released today. The figures show that every measure of poverty and inequality is rising. This was a wholly predictable outcome of the budgetary approach adopted by the Fianna Fáil Government. The number of people experiencing enforced deprivation doubled from 11% to 22% between 2007 and 2010. Such people are going without at least two basic essentials, such as a warm and waterproof coat or a substantial meal, every day. This is a direct consequence of the previous Government's decision to cut social welfare spending year on year, rather than targeting the assets and high incomes of the wealthy of this nation.

The Government has some basic choices to make. It can continue following theapproach taken by the previous Government to balance the deficit by cutting spending and imposing flat rate stealth taxes, the result of which will be to push even more people into poverty.

Despite the nonsense we heard earlier from some Members, the Government must focus its efforts on the incomes and wealth of high earners instead. It can adopt Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission that presented a range of policy options, all of which would reduce the deficit while also reducing poverty and inequality. Let no one on the other side of the House claim Sinn Féin did not present options. The size of disposable incomes of those at the top relative to incomes at the bottom increased further between 2009 and 2010. The number of children deprived of basic essentials rose substantially from 23.5% in 2009 to 30.2% in 2010. This is a sad indictment of our society. Moreover, it is a sad comment on the politics and economics of austerity when we are debating whether the Government should take more money off those children deprived of basic essentials. I call on all Members — be they frontbenchers or backbenchers — to do the right thing.

I note there are only three Labour Party Deputies in the Chamber. I assume their 34 colleagues will join them to vote against this motion later this evening. My party colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the Sinn Féin spokesperson for social protection, referred to the Labour Party's 2009 Private Members' motion which had the same demands as tonight's Sinn Féin motion. When debating its motion in 2009, the Labour Deputies used emotive and passionate language. I would be particularly mindful of the comments made then by Deputy Joan Burton, now the Minister for Social Protection, and Deputy Róisín Shortall, now a Minister of State at the Department of Health. Their arguments for retaining child benefit were compelling and reflective of how much it is a stimulus to the economy. For a typical low or middle-income family with three children, a €10 reduction in child benefit may not sound much but over a year that would come to €360. That is a lot of money for an ordinary family in these difficult times.

I will not preach to the Labour Party Deputies opposite because they represent the same type of people I represent. However, during the general election the Labour Party published a poster on what Fine Gael would do to social welfare benefits and how Labour could be counted on to protect them. Will those three Labour Deputies here in the Chamber, along with the rest of their parliamentary colleagues, honour this commitment? Will they demonstrate a reduction in child benefit is a red-line issue for them in government? Will they defend the interests of those families and children who rely on this benefit to pay the bills every month?

Earlier today I, along with my party leader, Deputy Adams, challenged the Taoiseach to change the Government's focus on its macro-policy of bailing out Anglo Irish Bank's unsecured bondholders to the tune of €715 million recently and €1.2 billion next January. Even if this is a kite to soften the blow in the budget, it is a cruel exercise. I do not presume to have a monopoly over decency, nor do I wish to preach to Deputies. However, it is shocking and wrong not to stand up to our so-called European partners and refuse to pay international gamblers who purchased bonds in secondary markets while cutting child benefit which will affect the most vulnerable in our society.

Instead, the Government can put in place a 48% tax on those earning over €100,000 which would raise over €400 million a year. If the Government introduced a 1% tax on assets of over €1 million, excluding farm land and property, it would raise €800 million a year. The yield from these new tax measures would amount to €1.2 billion which the Government should not pay to unsecured bondholders. At the very least, the Government should put up a fight and become the squeaking wheel, which Greece has been for so long, on behalf of the Irish people.

Tonight, the Labour Party Members will vote against the very proposition they put to the House two years ago. They should not betray the people they represent. As we learned last February, the people will wait in the long grass to give their retribution. The Labour Party Members should do the right thing instead and vote with the Sinn Féin motion tonight.

I have received much correspondence from people who have serious fears about how the Government's cuts will affect their incomes. It is important their voices are introduced into the debate and I will give one example from an e-mail I received recently. It states:

Hi there. Said I would private e-mail you because there seems to be such a shame in being broke. These cuts cannot be made. It will tip us over the edge. We have six children. My husband is self-employed and recently had to sign on. Because he is self-employed, he did not get the dole. He is still registered and it breaks my heart to see him hanging on in the hope work will come in.

We are not social welfare people, never were. We both worked hard to have what we have and it breaks my heart to see it slowly being taken away. We are struggling to pay our mortgage and put food on the table. We have to budget to the last penny. Any cut and something will have to go — maybe the coal for the fire. We cannot afford the oil for the heating anymore. Where did it all go wrong?

During the good times we did not buy properties or have flash cars. We just lived. My daughter is doing her junior cert at the moment and talks of wanting to do medicine when she leaves school. I sit, listen and encourage her but all that goes through my head is how we are going to pay for college when we cannot even afford to let her go to the cinema with her friends.

Christmas is coming and you cannot explain to a five year old that Santa cannot afford that new bike, so something else has to be cut. Government needs to live our lives for just one week and they would see what has happened to this country. All they are doing is day-to-day crisis management and not actually coming up with solutions. I have a 19 year old son who is considering leaving the country. I did not raise him to ship him off. People's hearts are breaking. They need to listen to us.

Sorry for the rant but it is just so hard week to week trying to feed them all, keep them warm and clothed when you are looking into an empty purse by Thursday. We never wanted to end up on social welfare but for the time being that is all we have. Thanks for listening.

That is representative of hundreds of thousands of people in this State who are in extreme fear over what they expect to happen to them in the budget. The Labour Party Members have enormous power, opportunity and influence. They can dictate how this budget will go. They have the power to dictate whether this family and hundreds of thousands of others will be able to buy oil, put their children through college or put food on the table. That is within their gift.

We are told that our sovereignty has been hived off to Europe. Lack of sovereignty has resulted in the country being badly treated in the past. The Famine and significant numbers of deaths related to emigration were due to a lack of sovereignty. The lack of sovereignty is leading to mass emigration, unemployment and poverty. Ironically, at a time hundreds of millions of people around the planet are fighting for sovereignty, Government Members are preparing to hand more fiscal sovereignty over to the EU and to prepare a Lisbon Mark III, which will take away our ability to manage our own affairs in the future.

For the sake of the woman who wrote this e-mail and the hundreds of people and their children who must have written letters and e-mails to Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies, the Government needs to prioritise Irish interests rather than slavishly following the policies dictated to us by Germany and France and the EU core for their own internal electoral needs. It needs to put Irish people first.

I would like to address the bulk of my remarks to the Labour Party because this debate is about core values. Last night, in her remarks, the Minister for Social Protection accused Sinn Féin of paying less in child benefit in the North than is paid in this State. As she knows well, child benefit rates in the North are set by the British Government. The Executive has no powers whatsoever on this issue and many people I know in the North are bemused by the number of times Government Deputies have spoken about the Six Counties and the plight of poor people at the hands of Sinn Féin. This is all an attempt by the Government to defend its indefensible positions by making distracting remarks, false accusations and diverting attention from what it is doing.

With regard to the current debate and the past number of weeks of leaks, the Government has had ample opportunity to say clearly that child benefit will not be touched. The Minister will have that opportunity later. The failure to do so thus far has caused considerable distress and anxiety for families and particularly mothers who are usually the managers of the family budget. In December 2009, the Minister said: "Child benefit is keeping many families afloat. It is keeping bread on the table and paying the food bills of a huge number of families." I agree with her. The motion gives her and the Labour Party the opportunity to follow the logic of these remarks and to defend child benefit.

This payment, as many of my colleagues have said, provides families, particularly on low and middle incomes, with the ability to provide for their children. Before it joined this conservative Government, the Labour Party used to defend the payment and in its manifesto for this year's election it said, "Labour believes that our children should not be made to pay for the current economic crisis. Labour will not cut child benefit". If that is the truth, then let the Minister send a clear signal that the party will abide on this occasion at least with its manifesto. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade went as far as to say, "Cuts to child benefit would be a make or break issue for Labour in coalition". Since then, circumstances have worsened for families and, in particular, for children. What would James Connolly do if he was here? What would his view be on the Labour Party's record thus far, as it targets child benefit, increases VAT by 2%, increases prescription charges and much more? It does not even make economic sense. By the Government's own admission, there will be more people unemployed in four years than there was when it came into power.

Other measures such as household, water and septic tank charges, student fees, stealth taxes and welfare, education and health cuts are deflationary, unfair and wrong. However, the Government thinks it is okay to bail out bondholders, pump taxpayers' money into zombie banks and allow a golden circle of former politicians and senior civil servants to continue to live off lavish pensions. While I appeal to the Fine Gael Party, I appeal, in particular, to the Labour Party to stand by struggling families and children, to oppose any cut in child benefit and, if nothing else, to deliver on the manifesto it was elected on, which is to ensure our children are cherished.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Sinn Féin motion on the subject of social protection payments, particularly those relating to child income support payments, and to sum up the arguments in favour of the Government's amendment. A number of Deputies made reference to statistics released earlier by the CSO showing preliminary results of the 2010 survey on income and living conditions and I will be pleased to refer to these results later in so far as they relate to children.

As the Minister for Social Protection highlighted last night, the improvements that have been made in both child income supports and child care provision in recent years have been significant. In 2011, it is estimated expenditure by her Department on supports for children and their families will be more than €3 billion, two thirds of which will go on child benefit. Child benefit is paid on a universal basis to approximately 600,000 families in respect of 1.1 million children. In addition to child benefit, qualified child increases are currently paid in respect of 500,000 children and 26,000 families benefit from family income supplement, which provides additional income support in respect of approximately 60,000 children.

These income supports for families have been supplemented by expenditure by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Some €166 million is being spent on a universal, free preschool year and a further €43 million is being made available to provide additional targeted child care support for low income parents under the community child care subvention scheme. Furthermore, in response to the issue of the universal nature of child benefit highlighted last night, the Government is conscious that this payment can be an important source of income for all families, especially during a time of recession and high unemployment.

While it was possible to deliver significant increases in payments to families when resources were available, we simply cannot afford to keep spending at the same level we did when our tax revenue was much higher. We must act responsibly and recognise that a failure to stabilise the public finances and return to a more balanced budgetary position will jeopardise our ability to fund income supports and social services in the future and make the situation worse for everyone, including social welfare recipients, in the longer term. These adjustments cannot be achieved without affecting social welfare spending, including child income support payments.

I would like to touch on the issue of poverty, which was raised a number of times in the earlier part of the debate. Poverty and disadvantage are firmly rooted in our society and many of us entered politics to do something constructive about them. It is all the more essential that the supports we provide be directed at changing this repetitive cycle of need and hardship. This problem must be tackled from a number of directions through income support, early childhood supports, education, training, job opportunities and providing the prospect of improvement and hope for a better future. The Government is committed to the elimination of poverty and the national poverty target in the national action plan for social inclusion is a key expression of this objective. The pace of progress in reducing poverty is dependent on increasing employment and a return to sustainable growth.

The CSO figures released today show that jobless households account for 70% of those in poverty and demonstrate the importance of prioritising employment in tackling the economic crisis.

The challenge is to restore economic growth. In meeting this challenge, the Government is determined that those who are most vulnerable will be protected. Tackling child poverty is a priority for the Government and a key goal of the national action plan for social inclusion. It is widely acknowledged in research that the factors contributing to childhood poverty include living in lone parent households, labour market inactivity of parents, low parental educational attainment and living in households dependent on income supports. The environment in which a child grows up is a major determinant of health and success in adulthood. The capacity of parents and communities to provide a nurturing environment must be enhanced and fostered. Early childhood supports — including those relating to parenting and life skills — and income supports are essential to ensuring positive life outcomes. Social protection resources must be targeted to ensure that those most in need of support receive it. We must also ensure that supports are used in the best way possible in the formative years.

Results on poverty rates, released today as part of the CSO's survey on income and living conditions for 2010, show the emerging effects of the recession on households, the decline in average incomes and the impact of the economic crisis on living standards. One of the key indicators of concern in the context of this debate is the consistent poverty indicator. For children, this remained broadly stable between 2009 and 2010. Income supports would be expected to have played a strong role in maintaining this indicator in light of broad income trends. The report also highlights the significant role played by social transfers in reducing the at risk of poverty rate from 51%, before such transfers come into effect, to 15.8%, after they are made. In effect, this is a poverty reduction effect of 69%. Consequently, the social protection system can be seen to have a stabilising effect for families and their children during this difficult period of economic recession.

The Government is still considering the best approach to take in respect of the budget for 2012. My colleagues and I are well aware of the difficult situation of many of our citizens, particularly those who are reliant on the social protection system. I fully appreciate that for many families child benefit and other payments in respect of children are an important source of household income. As the Minister, Deputy Burton, indicated, the Government will endeavour to do its utmost to cater for the most vulnerable in society and ensure that any measures introduced will be fair and equitable, while continuing to take steps to put this country back on the road to recovery, economic growth and stability.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ar son Teachtaí Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach éinne a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo, go háirithe iad siúd atá ag tacú lenár rún. Tá am fós ag na Teachtaí eile dul ar an mbealach ceart agus votáil ar son an rúin. Tá rogha ag an Rialtas — bochtanas do pháistí agus saibhreas don uasal-aicme, nó cothromas agus ceart do gach saoránach. Is é sin an rogha.

I wish to begin by welcoming the new found interest in the economy of the Six Counties on the part of the Fine Gael and Labour parties. I have been a Member of the Dáil for almost 15 years and never — even when the debates on the peace process were at their height — have I heard so many references to the situation north of the Border or such real and genuine concern regarding the plight of ordinary citizens there. The level of concern to which I refer is both amazing and wonderful. Is it that the partitionist voices in Fine Gael and Labour — I do not refer to both parties but rather to voices within each — have experienced a conversion similar to that which befell St. Paul on the road to Damascus? Perhaps it is a conversion on the road to Dungannon. I wish that were the case. Dungannon is the only possibility in this regard as the Government could certainly not undergo a conversion on the road to Derry because it has just vetoed the project relating to the latter into oblivion.

Is it the case that the owners of the voices to which I refer are of the view that they have found a number of convenient sticks with which to beat Sinn Féin? I offer an expression of pardon to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and some of his old comrades when I make that analogy. I am of the view that we all know the answer to my question. It is a simple answer, so let us set matters straight. In this State the Fianna Fáil-Green Government signed away our economic sovereignty and ceded fiscal powers to foreign interests. That surrender of economic sovereignty and fiscal powers is being continued by Fine Gael and Labour. In the North, Sinn Féin is battling to take fiscal powers back from Westminster. We are battling to restore economic sovereignty to the people of this island, North and South.

In the Executive in the North we have worked to defend citizens against the cuts imposed by the Tory Government in London. We have successfully resisted — our record in this regard stands up to scrutiny — the imposition of water charges north of the Border. Hark, the current Government of this State. We also successfully resisted the imposition of prescription charges. Again, hark, the current Government. We have introduced a range of measures to assist the most vulnerable and to try to shield them from Tory cuts. Members should make no mistake: the Tory Government of Britain still controls the purse strings in the North of Ireland and that is why public service workers there and those on the neighbouring island in England, Scotland and Wales took strike action today. Sinn Féin fully supports those workers both in their action and in the context of their demands.

We will take no lectures from Fine Gael and Labour on our record of defending the people we are proud to represent, North and South. In her response to this Sinn Féin motion, the purpose of which is to defend child benefit, the Minister, Deputy Burton, either demonstrated a complete ignorance of where the fiscal powers relating to the North rest or she is just happy to peddle — as do a number of her party colleagues on a continual basis — any and every falsehood regarding Sinn Féin.

I understand that an unscheduled meeting of the Labour Parliamentary Party was held last night. The Minister is reported to have stated at that meeting that she has resisted at Cabinet the proposed cuts to child benefit. I hope she will be successful in her endeavours in that regard, if she is indeed engaged in such endeavours. I wonder what support, if any, she received from her party colleagues at the Cabinet table, namely, the Tánaiste and other Labour Ministers? The details in this regard have yet to be revealed and there are not many days left for the real facts to emerge.

The Tánaiste recently launched a new edition of James Connolly's writings. He might remember Connolly's phrase that the British were experts at "ruling by fooling". Is that not what this coalition Government is all about, namely, ruling by fooling? Where did people last see the slogan "Protect Child Benefit — Vote Labour"? It was printed on posters that were put up by the Labour Party during the general election campaign earlier this year. The Fine Gael-Labour programme for Government states: "We will maintain social welfare rates".

What is Sinn Féin asking in the context of its motion? All the motion seeks to do is to require the Government to fulfil its own programme, which was adopted only nine months ago. We are seeking nothing more and nothing less. The two parties that comprise the coalition Government should stand by the commitments which are contained in the programme for Government and on which they signed off. The motion does not propose increases in social welfare rates, although many such increases would undoubtedly be justified. It simply asks the members of Fine Gael and Labour to walk through the lobbies tonight and fulfil their commitments to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

We have heard more than once in this debate statistics that more than 205,000 children, 19% of children in the State, are at risk of poverty. Another 96,000 are already living in consistent poverty, which means they are experiencing material deprivations such as not having a warm waterproof coat or a substantial daily meal.

According to the figures published today by the Central Statistics Office, the deprivation rate in the State has doubled from 11.8% in 2007 to 22.5% in 2010. What is the figure at the end of 2011? People experiencing deprivation under that definition experience such hardships as not having a warm coat, being unable to heat their homes adequately and not being able to buy a present for their family or friends even once in a 12-month period. That is important as we meet here because that is the prospect that awaits one in five of our people as we approach Christmas 2011. These people, and many others, look now with trepidation at the budget in prospect next week, to be introduced over Monday and Tuesday.

Today also saw the release of figures showing a rise in the live register of jobseeker's benefit and allowance claimants to 448,600. There are nearly 450,000 unemployed, many of whom have young children and many of whom are newly jobless and with mortgages to pay, and yet the Government is contemplating cutting child benefit. Many also are experiencing long-term unemployment and generational unemployment, putting them and their children on the margins. For these, a cut to child benefit is almost unthinkable.

It cannot be stressed often enough that child benefit is a vital payment that keeps many families with children from going under. There can be no Deputy in this House, in government or opposition, who does not know that is a fact within his or her own communities and wider constituencies. Child benefit's universal nature helps to ensure that it reaches all who need it. The introduction of a complex and costly means test would achieve nothing and certainly would penalise many.

Those who focus on the fact that the wealthy also receive child benefit need to re-focus on the fact that the wealthy are not adequately taxed. That is something I ask the Labour Party to take on board — the wealthy in this State are not adequately taxed. There are alternatives to the measures signalled in budget 2012. This is shown by the CSO figures released today which demonstrate that the size of the disposable incomes of those at the top relative to incomes of those at the bottom increased further between 2009 and 2010.

The Government wrings its hands before it wields the axe and tells the people that it has no choice. It has choices, as we have demonstrated in this Chamber time and again and in my party's pre-budget submission. The Government has already made the wrong choices — that is the problem. It, the Labour Party included, has chosen to extend the bank bailout. It, the Labour Party included, has chosen to pay the Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. It, the Labour Party included, has chosen not to tax excessive wealth.

My party is willing to acknowledge that this is still a new Government. This is its first budget and it can make new choices next week. There still are critical days when a real difference can be made and real principles can re-emerge and be imposed in this relationship between the Labour Party and Fine Gael. The Government can protect children from poverty by refusing to cut child benefit and by protecting other welfare payments that are vital for low-income families with children.

Iarraim ar Theachtaí Fhine Gael agus an Lucht Oibre a gclár Rialtais fhéin a chur i bhfeidhm. Ní cheart dóibh ualach eile a chur ar phaistí na tíre nó cur le bochtanas in Éirinn arís.

Like my party leader earlier, and other speakers, I appeal directly to the Labour Party because I have no faith in Fine Gael and never had. I only can have hope that the Labour Party will make a difference in this Government. Why else could they possibly be there? I ask Labour Party Members to consider that voting against this Sinn Féin motion and for the Government amendment will be voting against the programme they endorsed when they voted to go into Government earlier this year. Most certainly, they will be voting against the commitments they gave to the people who elected them. Of that, there can be no doubt in each of their minds.

We all have an opportunity tonight to force the Government to pull back from the brink and not to impose further misery on families who are already overburdened. The pain is real. What Deputies are reflecting here is the reality within the communities we are proud to represent. I ask the Labour Party Members, in particular, but I appeal also to those of conscience in Fine Gael who have a sense of social justice, to pull back from the brink. They should pull back from inflicting yet more pain on the most vulnerable in the proposed budget next week. I urge all Deputies to seize this opportunity this evening and to write a new chapter in terms of the relationship between parties in coalition in future.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 99; Níl, 41.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided by electronic means.

I wish to give Members an opportunity to exercise their consciences, rather than their buttons. This time they can walk through the lobby. As a teller, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

As Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh is a Whip, under Standing Order 69 he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 97; Níl, 41.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.