Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee and Remaining Stages

As the Members are aware, there is an agreement on the grouping of sections and that list of groupings has been circulated.

SECTION 1

Amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I am unsure about what is the objective of the provision in this section but I assume it is not one that people will find favourable.

The Deputy can be fairly sure of that. That is a given.

I have been told it is technical in nature. I have had people come to see me who have the legitimate expectation that they will end up with a pension because they paid many contributions over their working life. These have been mainly women who have taken time out to rear their children and have then returned to the workforce. I have been told that this is a technical change but I do not trust technical changes. I want to know if this provision will impact negatively on people and, if so, the way in which it will. It is about time the Government started to specify what exactly are the changes in regard to social protection because they are often buried in the detail. My view on this section is if in doubt leave it out because its exact impact has not been properly described.

The Deputy's question is on section 1 which provides for the Short Title, construction, collective citations and for the commencement of sections 13 and 14 by way of commencement order. Sections 13 and 14 deal with the collection from compensators, that is insurance companies, of amounts that the Department would have paid in respect of various benefits such as illness benefits, for instance, for somebody involved in an accident who is subsequently off work. That is all those sections are about. The impact there will be on compensators and we will moving to the same arrangements that apply across Europe generally, which are that if the Department pays income support in respect of, for instance, an illness which is the subject of a compensation claim, those payments made by the public body will be subsequently reclaimed as part of the insurance compensation award.

I do not fully understand the Deputy's references. The Bill is fairly short in length with a limited number of sections. With the House having agreed to time limit the sections, I hope and expect that we will have a very good opportunity to have some debate on each section. This section contains just a general Title description of the Bill and so on. I do not believe there are items in this section which are not set out in some detail in each relevant section of the Bill. As I said, sections 13 and 14 are to do with the Department recovering from compensators, mainly insurance companies, the kinds of payments that I have described.

I remind the House that, in accordance with an order of the Dáil yesterday, 30 minutes are allocated for sections 1 to 4 which are being discussed in one grouping. We are discussing sections 1 to 4 and I will put the question on each section as we deal with it. If there are no questions to be asked on a section it would be helpful if we could agree it and dispose of it and in that way we could concentrate on the other sections within the grouping. After 30 minutes have elapsed I am obliged to cease the debate on sections 1 to 4.

I ask Deputies to help me in that regard. If, for argument's sake, they wish to give more time to section 2, they should dispose of section 1. Does anyone wish to speak further to section 1? No.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 in the names of Deputies Ó Snodaigh and 'Dea, respectively, are out of order. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, line 21, after "income" to insert "in excess of €6,000".

On amendment No. 3, which was ruled out of order, the purpose of the proposal was to compel the House to discuss all proposed changes to the household benefits package. The legislation makes no such provision. Will the Minister indicate on what basis changes are made to the household benefits package? Is it an administrative issue because it is clearly not done on a statutory basis? Can such changes be made at any time or only at budget time?

Amendment No. 3 was ruled out on the basis that it was not relevant to the provisions of the Bill. I have a solution to this problem. The amendment would be relevant and germane to the provisions of the Bill if it was introduced by the Minister as a section in the Bill. I invite her to make such provision, either on Committee Stage or Report Stage in the Seanad. People are entitled to core and ancillary benefits and they can sometimes be as badly affected by reductions in ancillary benefits as cuts in core benefits. For this reason, the House should have a facility to discuss both types of reductions on an equal basis.

On amendments Nos. 4 and 5, the Bill extends PRSI to certain types of income for the first time. If I understood the previous legislation correctly, PRSI will be applied to all incomes in excess of €3,175, a very low level. People can rent out a room of their dwelling under the rent a room scheme. If one were to rent out a caravan or mobile home for only part of the year, the chances are one's income would exceed the new PRSI threshold of €3,175. The figure of €6,000 I propose in amendment No. 4 is, therefore, more realistic.

PRSI is being extended to income which did not attract it in the past. However, those who will pay PRSI under this provision will not receive any benefits from the social insurance system. This is wrong because the basis of the system is that one pays insurance and receives something in return. Interest is already subject to income tax under the DIRT system. This legislation, for the first time, extends PRSI to interest, which will become the only type of income on which PRSI will be applied without a corresponding benefit.

In the same vein, I tabled an amendment to ensure that any PRSI levied in the manner proposed would be reckonable for benefits. While I do not intend to criticise in any way the Ceann Comhairle, as he must work within the rules, the system for accepting or rejecting amendments is bizarre. I have suggested that Dáil reform should allow Deputies to table amendments which may involve a charge on the Exchequer or people. The current rules limit Deputies who identify a requirement to change legislation. In this case, we are seeking to ensure equality by providing that those who pay PRSI on the types of income set out in the section will become reckonable for the same benefits as others who pay PRSI. It is a pity that my amendment was ruled out of order on the basis that it would impose a charge on the people. The vast majority of legislation passed in the House creates some form of charge on the people. We should be allowed to table amendments on Committee Stage, irrespective of whether they are progressive or radical, in order that they can be debated and the Government can respond.

Is it appropriate, a Cheann Comhairle, to speak to section 4 at this stage?

While it may be better for Members if they confine the debate, the Deputy is quite entitled to speak to section 4.

To conclude on section 3, various people have expressed concern that those who are to come within the scope of PRSI will not have PRSI entitlements extended to them. I am in favour of extending PRSI to all incomes, provided the benefits of the social insurance system are also extended.

Section 4 deals with illness benefit. As I indicated yesterday, illness and injury benefits are being cut by means of the provision doubling the number of days that must elapse before the benefits are paid. This is a major change in the PRSI system and is, as I noted yesterday, the equivalent of a cut of €112.80. The consequences of this change will be suffered by employees in some cases and employers in others. The measure is a retrograde step as people cannot afford to cover the additional costs they will incur.

Illness and injury benefits were introduced to ensure those who suffered illness or injury received some type of support to enable them to continue to pay their mortgages and household utility bills, which can increase significantly. By extending the period that must elapse before these benefits kick in, the Minister appears to expect that most people will set aside one week's wages to cover their additional costs should they fall ill or become injured. People are experiencing financial crises and are in dire straits. I urge the Minister to withdraw sections 4 and 7, which deal with illness and injury benefits, respectively.

I mistakenly understood we would deal first with the provisions on pensions.

I concur with Deputy O'Dea on the need to include in social welfare legislation any provisions that amend or reduce the household benefits package. The elimination of the telephone allowance is an example of such a reduction. Many of those who claim the household benefits package paid contributions throughout their working lives and had an expectation that they would receive a package of important benefits in addition to their income.

One needs to closely study social welfare and pensions legislation to find out what is buried in its provisions. We are repeatedly informed that the core rates of social welfare are being protected. While I accept that statement is true, it leads people to believe that savings in the social welfare budget will be achieved exclusively through anti-fraud measures. Savings made in the area of fraud are not as significant as is frequently made out. It is important, therefore, that changes in the household benefits package are not introduced in secondary legislation, namely, regulations or statutory instruments, but are implemented in an up-front manner, which gives Deputies an opportunity to debate the merits of keeping these benefits. There is, for example, significant merit in keeping people connected by telephone given the inadequacy of mobile technology in some locations.

I refer to illness benefit. It is very big issue for people who are on a low wage to lose not only a week's wages but six days' wages. Six days of non-payment, when one is legitimately out sick, is a big knock for a household, in particular a low income one. Very often it takes a long time to recover from that. It may not seem like a big deal but it will have a very big impact on people in the low to middle income group who would have many commitments. We should not minimise the impact of that.

I support amendments Nos. 3 and 4 in the name of Deputy O'Dea. I have great concerns about the broadening of PRSI to all types of income when one looks at what is actually being done in this budget. One of the benefits people had from their PRSI contributions was the bereavement grant. It is ironic that grant is being removed from people who had to make PRSI contributions to qualify for it. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh highlighted, people are paying more but are getting less. It was a particularly cruel, mean and devious act to remove the bereavement grant from people who paid for it. People do not mind paying tax and paying their contribution to society if they believe that when they are sick or in trouble or their families are in trouble, they are entitled to things. How low can a government go by abolishing the bereavement grant? It is outrageous. The irony is that even though the Minister has done that, the Sunday newspapers call her a wonder woman. It is amazing beyond belief.

I remind Deputies we are dealing with sections 1 to 4, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 4 and 5 in the name of Deputy O'Dea.

I refer to amendment No. 3, which was ruled out of order. Will the Minister explain-----

We cannot debate it as it was ruled out of order. We are on Committee Stage.

It is very important-----

I know that but it has been ruled out of order.

-----and the Minister might want to explain why it has been ruled out of order and on what basis she has cut the household benefits package every year without bringing it before this House. She did it in 2011 when she was only a wet week in the job. In 2012, we lost six weeks from the fuel allowance. The electricity allowance was cut last year and the telephone allowance has been cut this year. These are very important payments; they are actually core payments for elderly people but the Minister has cut them over the past number of years. On what basis has she done that and why has she done so without bringing it before the House?

I refer to illness benefit. This is a huge imposition on very low paid workers. It is a doubling of the disregard from three to six days. In most cases, the reduction will fall on the employee. Some employers will pick it up by way of sick pay schemes but the vast majority of low paid employees do not have sick pay schemes and they will have to bear the brunt of this reduction. They will obviously need savings which are very scarce among low paid people who spend almost all, if not all, their money in order to live day-to-day. The Minister should withdraw that provision in regard illness benefit.

I refer to sections 1 to 4, inclusive, in particular section 3 relating to household benefits. As the Minister will be aware, huge investment has been made by voluntary organisations, community alert, Muintir na Tíre and neighbourhood watch, in security for the elderly. People must have a landline to use the pendant alarm. I would say there is anything up to 1 million of them in use. Has any examination been carried out on the cutbacks last year and on the removal of the telephone allowance?

People will disconnect their landlines. In many cases, they will have family with mobile telephones but many of them will not have the use of mobile telephones. However, this equipment will not work with mobile telephones. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Justice and Equality are giving money towards these schemes but the Department of Social Protection is literally rending them useless. People are isolated, in particular in rural areas but also in towns and villages, and this was a lifeline for them. There was two-way communication for them with the monitoring station and friendships were formed. Since last year many people have been disconnected because they could not pay the telephone rental. I am involved in this and I got them reconnected. This is a case of giving with the left hand and taking away with the right hand and it is silly.

The provision in regard to PRSI is a devastating blow. I am a small employer and people genuinely go out sick. In most small companies, there is a good relationship with employees and one tries to pay the first three days but now it will be six days. The employee and the employer will face hardship and relationships will be strained because, as we all know, times are tough for everybody, including employees and employers.

I would welcome some form of PRSI for the self-employed so that they would be entitled to something. When the recession came, thousands of self-employed people were left on the scrap heap. Thankfully, employees got some assistance but employers got nothing after all their hard work, sleepless nights and creating jobs. We must be mindful of these measures. They might be devised by officials who think they are not relevant but they are very relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

I am delighted with the opportunity to speak and to support the previous speakers. The Bill most eagerly awaited by the public after a budget is the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill because usually the devil is in the detail in terms of the cuts. The Minister said there were no cuts to the elderly but there are. The cut in the telephone allowance is a huge issue for the people who have a monitoring system at home, as Deputy Mattie McGrath said. I had one in my own house for my late mother. A telephone line is a bit of comfort for an elderly person living alone. Many elderly people will do away with their telephone line when they see the telephone allowance being withdrawn because many of them have mobile telephones. Will the Minister reconsider this?

I support Deputy O'Dea's proposal that the household benefits package will not be touched without the approval of Dáil Éireann or that no cuts can be made by the Minister.

That amendment has been ruled out of order.

I will take some of the general points first, starting with the point made by Deputy Catherine Murphy and other Deputies about why the household benefits package is not set out in legislation.

The Deputies should be very careful with regard to what they wish for. Depending on the perspective from which one considers the matter, one of the problems or positives relating to our social welfare system is that the number of people on the household benefits package has increased to an extraordinary degree during the past seven or eight years. The latter is responsible for the pressure which has been exerted on the funds relating to the package. Approximately 135,000 contributory pensioners and in the region of 53,000 non-contributory pensioners are in receipt of the household benefits package. In addition, widows, widowers and people on deserted wives benefit, blind pension, carer's allowance and disability allowance also receive it. There is also a further cohort of individuals who are identified by the Department as qualifying for the package.

This is an extremely complex scheme and the benefits relating to it encompass free electricity and gas allowances and the free TV licence. Up to now, free telephone rental was also contemplated under the scheme. The Deputies appear to be suggesting that every small change or add-on in respect of those who qualify for the scheme should be set out in law before the House.

They should be discussed, not set out in law. The Minister should not be dishonest about what we are seeking.

(Interruptions).

People may possibly have forgotten that last April, when the weather continued to be cold, I extended the payment of the fuel allowance by an extra week.

And the Minister took another six from them.

(Interruptions).

That is the way----

What is being suggested here-----

(Interruptions).

Will Deputies allow the Minister to conclude please?

-----is that there would be no discretion to, for example, increase payments to particular categories of people and that the legislative route should be taken on each occasion the latter needed to be done. All I am saying is that the Deputies opposite should be very careful what they wish for.

We are wishing for the Minister to reverse the cuts.

This feature of our social welfare system is probably unique in Europe if not the world.

The Minister is playing games.

On the point relating to the core weekly payments, the single largest proportion of the Department's expenditure relates to pensions and the next largest relates to widows and widowers. Of the €19.6 billion the Department will spend this year, €6.5 billion, or 32%, exclusively relates to pensions. If anyone is suggesting that protecting the core weekly rate of the pension is not important, I urge them to think again.

The Minister is playing games. She is on the merry-go-round.

Am I correct in stating that there is a time motion in play here?

(Interruptions).

The Minister is shouting.

This year the Department will be spending an additional €190 million in respect of the increased number of people who will qualify for contributory and non-contributory pension payments.

We are not dealing with pensions.

That is a credit to Irish society and to every political party in this House which has actually prioritised this matter. Suggestions, therefore, that------

On a point of order, the time for this debate is limited.

I am aware of that.

This part of the debate was supposed to conclude at 10.30 a.m.

No, it is to conclude after 30 minutes.

We started proceedings at 10 a.m.

No, we did not start at 10 a.m.

We started much earlier.

We started after 10 a.m. and there are three minutes remaining.

If the Minister is going to persist in not answering any of the questions asked and is instead going to continue to discuss matters which are irrelevant-----

The Deputy is only wasting more time. Deputy Keaveney still has to move his amendment.

I was just pointing out that contributory and non-contributory pensions account for over 32% of all the funds the Department spends and that is right and proper.

The Minister has reduced the value of those pensions over three budgets.

Included in that spend for this year is an extra €190 million for the additional numbers of people who are reaching retirement age.

So that is why the Minister asked the Sunday newspapers to call her Wonder Woman.

Will Deputy Healy-Rae please stop shouting? Instead of being so smart, he should allow the debate to continue.

It was very late last night when the Deputy referred to me as Wonder Woman and I took it as a compliment.

It was her friends in the Sunday newspapers who gave the Minister that title.

The Deputy should not start calling anyone Wonder Woman this early in the morning.

It will be Desperate Dan this Sunday.

Those who are interrupting should stay quiet. There are other Deputies who wish to contribute.

Some Deputies have proposed that PRSI for employers and employees should be increased. Deputy O'Dea's amendment relates to the broadening of the PRSI base, which is what is set out in section 3. The measure in section 3 is a result of the demographic changes to which I have just referred and which, happily, mean that there are pensioners and that retired people are living longer. Outside anything else which might affect the finances of the Department, the annual pressure resulting from these changes - in monetary terms - is approximately €190 million. I am obliged to provide the latter from tight existing resources. In the context of Deputy O'Dea's proposal, the base-broadening measures are being brought forward because the Social Insurance Fund - which is the cornerstone of our social insurance system - has a deficit. That deficit was well over €1 billion in each of the past two years and it will be of the same order again this year. Next year, however, as a result of the numbers of people returning to work - CSO figures show that some 33,000 more people were at work at the end of June - the deficit in the Social Insurance Fund will be in the region of €700 million to €800 million.

Some Members, including Deputy Ó Snodaigh, have proposed that the level of employer's PRSI should be increased. Others, including Deputy Grealish - who is a small business owner and employer - advocate that it should not be increased. There is a debate in this regard. Above and beyond that and as a consequence of the economic crash, however, people in this country are obliged to pay the universal social charge, USC. The latter is a charge, not a contribution. One of the debates in which we should perhaps engage in the future is whether some of the money collected via the USC should actually take the form of a contribution. The USC was introduced by the previous Government at a time of absolute crisis and it is simply being levied as a charge.

As the 30 minutes for this part of the debate have concluded, I am obliged to put the question.

What we are doing now is engaging in a modest expansion whereby people with other incomes of less than €3,174 will not be charged the additional amount of PRSI.

Unless there is co-operation and in view of how the business for today has been ordered, I am of the view that these proceedings are going to be a complete disaster.

They are already a disaster.

(Interruptions).

I am obliged to adhere to the order of the House which has been set down. One Deputy has an amendment down and he has not even had an opportunity to move it. We will be obliged to agree-----

A guillotine is being applied.

The changes under the Bill will not come into effect until 1 January.

I am just seeking agreement but if Members do not want to listen, that is fine by me. As the time for this part of the debate has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That in respect of sections 1 to 4, inclusive, each section undisposed of is hereby agreed to in Committee." Is that agreed?

Deputies

No.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 36.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J..
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Walsh, Brian.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 5

We will now move on to section 5.

On point of order, it is obvious to everybody here that today's proceedings will be an absolute shambles.

They will not be a shambles if the Deputy co-operates with the Chair.

(Interruptions).

That is not a point of order. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. We are wasting time. Will the Deputy respect the Chair and resume his seat? I must deal with the order. Amendment No. 9 is in the names of Deputies Lucinda Creighton, Denis Naughten, Terence Flanagan, Peter Mathews and Billy Timmins. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are alternatives and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 8, line 37, to delete "January" and substitute "September".

I am pleased to move the amendment. As the Minister will be aware, some 975,000 women are active in Ireland's labour market. Of these, more than 500,000 have children, which means they have caring responsibilities. My concern about this section is that the reduction in maternity benefit from the State at a time when, inevitably, the private sector is also reducing its benefits for working mothers, or in some cases abolishing payments on top of the benefit, is likely to have three effects. First, it is likely to act as a disincentive to come off the live register and seek employment for young women on it who may wish to have children. There is a clear disincentive there. Second, it might lead to an increase in illegal discriminatory practices by employers. Third, it may affect child welfare, as women may be forced to return to the workforce faster than they would have planned in order to obtain a full salary to meet all their bills and financial requirements.

I believe the consequences of this section are unintended, particularly the effect of the introduction of the benefit cut in January 2014. That operational date means that existing pregnant mothers are now essentially being unfairly targeted. I fear that a large swathe of women who planned their pregnancies on an economic basis will lose approximately €800 because of the operational date of this legislation. They have had no forewarning. Our very simple amendments suggest a date of September for those women or, alternatively, a more immediate date of April, which obviously would have less effect in terms of the overall savings expected. I have estimated that the gross cost would be less than 25% of the expected savings, or €7 million, if the April date were implemented. If the Minister was willing to accept that amendment to this section, it would be a very generous and constructive move and ensure that pregnant women who were planning on the basis of the existing maternity arrangements would not be discriminated against. Essentially, we are appealing to the Minister to postpone the introduction of this cut until April at the earliest so that expectant mothers are not unfairly targeted or discriminated against. I hope the Minister will consider accepting the amendment and looking at the other amendments we have tabled relating to the impact of measures on the number of women entering the labour force, which, as we know, has been declining since 2008.

Does Deputy Mathews wish to contribute?

I support the amendment, even though I oppose this section as a whole, because the amendment at least will capture those who are pregnant and planning their maternity leave and possibly their unpaid leave thereafter. People make those assumptions, and justifiably so, because when one pays tax or PSRI one has some expectation that there will not be a substantial change in one's lifetime. As we have seen recently, that does not stand up, particularly under this Government, because this is not the first change to maternity benefit. The first change was to tax it. Again, that had a negative effect on all those who were pregnant or planning at the time. The consequences of that affect women as we speak.

This amendment proposes that the cut to maternity benefit rates, which is what it is, will come into effect in January, so there is some logic behind Deputy Creighton's proposal. This cut will mean that the majority of maternity benefit recipients will see their weekly payment cut by €32. That is a substantial cut for anybody. I am surprised at the Minister, given the party to which she belongs and its history - perhaps not in respect of its history, because it has introduced some retrograde measures when it has been in Government before. However, it has never introduced a measure that goes as far as to target those who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant in the future. As Deputy Creighton said, the Government will end up forcing some women back to work early.

That is contrary to everything that has been in the programme of work of this Government and its predecessors which aimed at encouraging women to breastfeed. If the Government is forcing women back to work, not every employer facilitates breastfeeding or child care arrangements which will allow the child to be nearby or the mother to leave the workplace on a frequent basis. I urge the Minister to reconsider this measure because it is a retrograde step. I am not the only person saying this. A number of organisations, as well as many Deputies in this Chamber, have come out against the cut. Women who are currently pregnant or will in the future become pregnant will be affected by it. One constituent wrote the following to me:

The recent cut to maternity benefit, following as it does closely behind the taxation of this benefit that came into play in July, can be interpreted in only one way. You don't want working women to have families. I have been in full time tax paying employment since I was 19 years old and I have now been working almost half my life. I am the only source of income in my family as my husband has been unable to find employment and we are not in receipt of any social welfare benefit...

Although the HSE publicly state that babies should be breast fed exclusively for six months, most women have to return to work somewhere around the baby's five month birthday. Maternity leave must be taken at 38 weeks at the latest and 37 to 42 weeks in a normal term. The HSE also encourages continued breast feeding to two years in line with WHO guidelines but there is no support in the legislation beyond six months. If you want healthy future taxpayers you must rethink your fiscal policies. Before the benefit was taxed some of us were maybe able to save a bit so we could avail of unpaid leave to extend the time at home with our babies.

These cuts will restrict that possibility and will force many women back to work when they should be spending time with their newborn children. This is a retrograde step for women in Irish society.

As we are discussing sections 5 and 6 together, whatever we say about section 5 is equally applicable to section 6, which deals with adoptive leave. I am opposed to these sections. Let us consider what has happened to maternity benefit in less than 12 months. In last year's budget, the Minister for Finance decided, for the first time in history, that maternity benefit was to be taxed at the marginal rate. In most cases people who pay tax on their maternity benefits are taxed at 41% because people enter the marginal rate very early under the Irish tax system. This Bill proposes that the rates of maternity benefit be standardised. The measure is not being presented as a cut. Standardisation means that some people who earn less than €230 per week will be brought up to that rate and those above it will be brought down. The difficulty is that approximately 96% of recipients are over the new standardised rates. In effect, it is a cut. The cumulated amount taken from the pocket of an expectant mother paying tax at the 41% rate averages approximately €3,500 between this cut and the taxation provisions.

For all the reasons set out by other speakers, this is a very retrograde step. Ironically, it comes less than one week after a body which the Government consulted, the advisory group on the early years strategy, proposed that the length of maternity benefit be doubled from six months to 12 months. We are now going in the opposite direction by reducing the benefits paid over six months. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said she would fight to have the advisory group's proposal implemented. Judging by what she has already allowed to happen to maternity benefit, excuse me if I am not bursting with confidence about her ability and prospects for success in that regard.

There is no chance the Minister, Deputy Burton, will withdraw this section but I think Deputy Creighton's amendment is very reasonable. It is particularly unfair that women who are already pregnant will bear the brunt of this. If the amendment was to be accepted - I think at little or no cost to the Exchequer - these women could at least be exempted from the impact of this change. I have been approached by pregnant women who will be suffering from the impact of this cut. It is like applying a tax increase or a social welfare reduction retrospectively. It is very unfair and, while I am totally opposed to the section, the least the Minister can do is accept Deputy Creighton's amendment. I speak more in hope than expectation but it is a very reasonable proposal.

The amount of time allocated for this debate is ridiculous given that the Dáil will not even be sitting next week. I hope people watching our proceedings are aware of that.

I am happy to support the very moderate amendment proposed by Deputy Creighton and her colleagues, although I believe this section should be removed in its entirety. If one wants a demonstration of the patriarchal nature of Irish politics, one need only look at this section and its deliberate targeting of expectant mothers with a reduction in maternity benefit for the vast majority of them. As with many other sections in this Bill, it is indicative of what has been happening since the outset of the crisis, namely, the gradual erosion of people's protections and security under the social welfare system. I cannot understand how the Minister can bring forward a measure of this nature. Most people will find it quite bizarre that she proposes to cut maternity benefit. We cannot consider this Bill in isolation from the Government's capacity to generate revenue, which it has failed to do, in the overall budgetary process. I give my qualified support to Deputy Creighton's amendment but I ask the Minister to withdraw the section.

I support the amendment because it contains common sense in terms of giving people the opportunity to plan for a significant part of their lives. Like Deputy O'Dea, I oppose sections 5 and 6, simply because they are mean. The notion that we will take €32 per week from parents who want to take adoptive leave to enjoy spending time with a child they are about to adopt, thereby interfering with the circumstances of that family while they are trying to become familiar with the joy of adoption, is particularly mean.

I refer to yesterday's debate in the Dáil. There was an opportunity to raise revenue through the budget. The wealth taxes that were introduced last year, and much lauded by the Minister, Deputy Burton, as countermeasures to some of the odious decisions in budget 2013 are failing to yield revenue from wealthy people in this country. This budget is instead imposing levies on people who cannot afford them. It takes away from expectant women and families who want to adopt children. The amount being taken, €32, is not insignificant. It is appalling to think that the figures produced this week are not yielding the revenue expected from the wealth taxes introduced last year. Families are being required to pay for this shortfall.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is on the list. I called Deputy Catherine Murphy in accordance with the Deputies who oppose the section. I am calling them in order. One only needs to look at the list to understand why I am doing so.

Standardisation is a nice, soft term that makes it sound like one is simplifying something or making it easier to understand. The reality is that this measure represents a €32 cut for 96% of mothers, or approximately 27,000 women.

For approximately 1,000 women, it will be an increase of €300 over 26 weeks.

People may have factored this cut into the costs that they must cover while out of work. It will force women to return to work earlier. The reality is that there is no choice for the majority of women. If a woman has a job, she must try to keep it. Taking time out while trying to keep a career going is difficult. We all know the cost of housing and, particularly in the first year, child care. In the private sector, the first year is costed differently from subsequent years.

The amendment would allow people time to factor this cut into whatever plans they might have for having babies, but the section and its impact on adoptive benefit should be opposed. The amendment would soften the section, but it does not get to the core of the problem. The section is likely to produce a poor outcome, with women returning to work earlier to make ends meet when they should be getting the maximum amount of time during the baby's first year, which is an important period.

We should implement good public policies. This section will achieve the opposite.

One part of the Government strategy to deal with unemployment is to drive all of the young people out of the country. From this section, I wonder whether the other part of the strategy is to stop women having children. That is what it looks like and that is what the effect will be. In a disgraceful way, the Government is disincentivising women from having children. It is appalling that the Labour Party would be complicit with this sort of attack on expectant mothers, mothers who have just had children and families that are adopting.

As the first year or so is critical, this is not just an attack on mothers, but on children when they are most vulnerable and most need support and nurturing. It does not get much lower than - we have been trying to total up the numbers - taking €936 from mothers who have just had or are expecting kids. This is a large chunk of money. On top of the child benefit cuts imposed last year and the taxing of maternity benefit, many will not be able to have children.

As with all of these cuts, the least well-off will be hit hardest. Having children will become an option for the rich, but not a viable option for the less well-off. Shame on the Minister. She should withdraw this section. It is a disgrace.

Honest to God, I cannot get my head around the Labour Party supporting a second cut to maternity benefit. The net saving will be approximately €20 million. Let us put that in context. Add together automatic pay rises in the public sector since the collapse and the approximate €700 million for increments in the budget next year. Compare that with €20 million.

As the Minister knows, consistent research across the world shows that social transfers that go directly to the mothers of young children are passed on almost entirely to the welfare of the children. This is accepted policy worldwide. Instead, we are taking €832 away from the welfare of newborn babies. If Deputy O'Dea's figures are correct and the Minister, Deputy Noonan's tax cuts from last year are included, the overall figure is €3,500 that used to go directly to the welfare of newborn babies. I cannot get my head around it. Some have claimed that this will force mothers back to work more quickly, but we have some of the most expensive child care in the world. They are damned if they do and damned if they do not.

This is another policy in a consistent trend of discrimination against women since budget 2008. For example, there is a second cut to maternity benefit in a year, yet there are tax breaks for the construction sector. This is borne out in the social outcomes. The unemployment figures are interesting. Since 2008, the number of men on the live register has decreased by approximately 50,000. The number of women on the live register has not moved at all.

That is a statistical fallacy. There were more men on the register in the first place.

Research that I read last night asserted that 18 out of every 20 new jobs created were being taken up by men. The Minister may find it funny, but I cannot get my head around-----

The Deputy is referring to a statistical fallacy. If I get the chance, I will go into the-----

The Minister will. I will call her.

If it is, the Central Statistics Office is issuing made-up numbers, but I would be more than happy to debate it with the Minister.

The Deputy knows that more than 100,000 men lost their jobs in construction.

Please, Minister. I will call you.

Happily, many of them are going back to work.

Will Deputy Donnelly please proceed?

This is bad economic and social policy. The Minister knows better. I am astounded that she is proposing this.

The Estimate provision for my Department in 2014 will amount to €449 million which consists of €414 million in current expenditure and €35 million in capital expenditure. The allocation represents an increase in net expenditure of almost €15 million or 3% over the 2013 resource provision. This level of funding is especially significant when account is taken of the €9 million in savings which are built-in as a result of commitments made in the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure 2012 – 2014. These savings are being achieved, to the greatest extent possible, through increased operating efficiencies and value for money to protect front line services.

I consider that my Department`s Budget allocation for 2014 will enable the delivery of a significant level of public services, as well a number of new policy measures which include additional funding to support the programme of reform for child welfare and protection services that will be implemented by the new Child and Family Agency which is due to be established in January 2014; delivery of a Preschool Quality Agenda which seeks to support high standards through supporting the efforts of providers and their staff in delivering improved and more reliable quality; and to respond to concerns raised by parents; additional investment to address child poverty through the Area Based Childhood (ABC) programme - a joint initiative between my Department and Atlantic Philanthropies to improve outcomes for children in disadvantaged communities.

Absolutely. I will make it again today if the Deputy chooses.

In just two years, the Minister has cut child benefit to €130. She cut it last year and is doing so again this year.

Absolutely, and it is correct.

The Minister is part and parcel of the cabal that has brought this country to its knees in the past ten years. I urge her not to dismiss the Opposition, but to listen to the people who need this money. A mother or someone who is adopting a child needs that support of nearly €900, but the Minister is unilaterally cutting their heads off in terms of bringing their children up in a good environment during those first months. I urge the Minister to reverse this cut. There is no easy way around it.

Briefly on sections 5 and 6, it is a sad reflection on Ireland that these important people, human beings in society, are viewed as being easier to pick off than the corporates, who have been armour plated by the clearing house group, etc. We should have a clearing house group for families, mothers, fathers and grandparents. The human beings within our society are being picked off. The figure of €3,500 is demoralising. It is a colossal amount of money. We should reflect on it.

I call the Minister.

I am sorry, but is my name not on the roster?

No. The Deputy was not listed as opposing the section.

I indicated and the Ceann Comhairle nodded.

I will give the Deputy 30 seconds because I want the Minister-----

I indicated that I wanted to speak.

He is entitled.

I want the Minister to reply.

The Minister has guillotined this debate.

I have no sympathy for the Minister in that regard. I indicated that I wished to speak and the Ceann Comhairle nodded.

Go on and speak.

This Bill is targeting less well off people, effectively making middle- and lower-income families pay for the recession. I simply do not know how a Labour Party Minister can introduce these cuts to adoptive leave and maternity benefit. Not too long ago, the Minister for Finance told me that the top 10,000 earners in this country have average earnings of €595,000 per year, while the top 20,000 earners receive an average of €436,000 per year, yet these people have not been targeted. They do not pay a higher rate of PAYE or a wealth tax. Data from the Central Statistics Office show that the top 10% of people have increased their wealth and their assets-----

The Deputy should speak on the section.

-----yet we have no wealth tax. This is the second year in a row that maternity benefit has been targeted. Last year, it was hit by tax at 41% in most cases. Deputy O'Dea gave a figure for that. I am not quite sure if it is the exact figure, but it is a significant figure anyway. This year, maternity benefit will be cut by €32 per week. We are told that the payment is being standardised, but 23,000 of the 23,500 people who benefit from the payment are on the high rate, so they will take a hit of €32 every week. That is a total of €832 each.

During the 2011 election the Minister was knocking on every door and putting Tesco advertisements in the newspaper telling us that child benefit would not be touched by the Labour Party. Now, for the second year running, she has attacked child benefit and there is a further reduction in child benefit from 1 January 2014 for fourth and subsequent children. The Minister should be ashamed of herself and should withdraw this section.

I am sure Deputies would like to hear the Minister's reply.

The situation concerning maternity benefit is that, like other such payments, it is paid out of the social insurance fund. When Deputy Donnelly examined those statistics he will have seen that there was a fall of about 250,000 people in employment, most of whom were men. The consequence of that reduction is that more men are going back to work because construction has begun to pick up slightly again. What the Deputy was saying was basically a fallacy. He is well up enough on statistics to know that. Pressure on the social insurance fund has resulted in an enormous deficit. The fund is the core way in which we make a whole variety of payments, particularly to contributory pensioners, as well as widows and widowers who have a contributory entitlement. That fund has been in serious deficit since the crash because of the reduction in the number of people in employment. The fund is beginning to recover slightly because more people are going back to work, as Deputy Donnelly acknowledged. More men are returning to work than women because more men were affected in relatively huge proportions by the crash in construction.

On a point of order, the clock is at zero.

Will the Deputy resume his seat, for goodness' sake?

The Minister has stopped us speaking with a guillotine.

Resume your seat.

Is she entitled to keep speaking?

Please resume your seat.

On the basis of the order of the Dáil yesterday and today-----

If the Deputy is not careful I will not call him. If he is going to behave like this, I will not call him. I ask the Minister to conclude.

A Cheann Comhairle, I am asking for a ruling on a point of order.

What point of order?

I am talking about the time. The Minister should have stopped by now.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

The Minister has introduced a guillotine.

Will the Deputy resume his seat so I can explain something to him?

Yes; please do so. I would appreciate it.

If I were to apply the rules, I would not have called the Deputy. Under Standing Orders, I am entitled to choose whom I call. I obliged the Deputy by calling him. It is only right that those who want to hear what the Minister has to say should be able to do so.

I am talking about the time.

The Deputy will not be called in future if he is so concerned about the time.

I am speaking about the time.

I call the Minister.

For the information of the House, although this may not have been shared with Deputy Healy, I offered to be here for much longer today. More importantly, I offered to be here next week.

What about next week? What about Second Stage?

Deputy Healy should take the issue up with his own Whip.

He does not have a Whip.

The Government said there would be no guillotines, except for emergency legislation.

I offered to be here next week.

Two out of every three Bills have been guillotined by this Government.

Deputy Healy, you are an absolute disgrace in this Chamber. Would you ever behave yourself, please? Shouting and roaring.

The Government is a disgrace. This a very important Bill and the Government has guillotined it again.

Will the Deputy resume his seat?

I will, certainly. Thank you.

The Deputy should show some respect for the institution.

I have no respect for this Government, a Cheann Comhairle.

Well, it is not the Government I am talking about. Would you resume your seat? I am on my feet.

The Government is targeting sick people.

If you do not resume your seat, I will ask you to leave the House. I am not going to take this sort of abuse from you on an ongoing basis.

The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 25 October 2013: "That in respect of sections 5 and 6, each section undisposed of is hereby agreed to in Committee."

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 78; Níl, 41.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared carried.
NEW SECTION

There is a total of seven minutes allowed for debate on the next amendment.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 9, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 62 of Principal Act

7. Section 62 of the Principal Act is amended—

(a) in subsection (7) by inserting the following paragraphs after paragraph (c):

“(d) the person’s aggregate income in the preceding twelve months, excluding reckonable earnings and any payments under this Act,

and

(e) the person’s periods of absence outside the State in the preceding twelve months.”,

and

(b) by inserting the following subsection after subsection (7):

“(7A) Regulations made under subsection (7) may provide for the annual provision by claimants and recipients of bank and other financial institution statements indicating, to the extent these details are routinely recorded by the bank or institution, the amounts, sources, dates and locations of lodgements to their accounts and the dates, amounts, methods and places of withdrawals from those accounts.".".

I am afraid that there is not much we an say in seven minutes but I would like to make a few remarks relating to this specific amendment. It concerns giving the Department of Social Protection more powers to investigate whether social welfare benefits provided from the State - either child benefit or jobseeker's allowance - have been used abroad and therefore are not being used for their intended purpose. It is fair to say that the Minister has made it a mark of her savings strategy to tackle welfare fraud and I believe the proposed amendment would help in this objective.

Persons who are regularly absent from the State may not be genuinely seeking employment. That is clear. Persons who routinely withdraw money from their bank account at locations that are not in any way adjacent to or convenient to their place of residence on a regular basis may not be available for employment, or genuinely seeking employment, as is required to fulfil the criteria for jobseeker's allowance, or may be working elsewhere while claiming. The purpose of these proposed amendments is to permit investigators to review patterns in a person's financial transactions that could indicate systematic withdrawals abroad or at locations that are not consistent with the normal patterns for persons residing and working in their locality.

Depending on the experience gained from reviewing bank accounts in jobseeker's cases, there may be a case for extending this type of activity to other benefits and universal payments to detect cases of potential abuse. Examples would include where a claimant is deceased or otherwise does not meet the conditions for receipt by virtue of residence or employment abroad, or the receipts of earnings that do not fall within the normal income tax system, or perhaps that are consistent with the benefit being claimed. In the case of child benefit where the children reside in the EU but not in the State, analysis of bank statements of the accounts used for receipt of the benefit may provide very valuable insights on how unwarranted recourse to that scheme might be better managed by the Department officials.

Through the enactment of the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013, the Minister has already been provided with additional powers to take funds directly from bank accounts, so if she could equally monitor transactions or lodgments which are based on geography, that may well give the Minister additional firepower to tackle welfare fraud and thus reduce the amount of more difficult and savage benefit cuts that she has been forced to make. Essentially, what I am advocating is that the savings which have to be found to fulfil our objectives for 2014 and beyond should be savings made from people who are genuinely defrauding the State, rather than those who are genuinely the most vulnerable in our society. I believe that this proposal would help the Minister in achieving that goal.

I have four other speakers and the Minister would like to reply, so I will keep one minute at the end for her.

I do not know whether it was an order of the House which decided how much time each of us will get, but even though it is seven minutes, I will try to be brief. This section deals with the injury benefit and Deputy Creighton's interesting proposal does not relate to the specifics of this section, but is an insertion of a different issue altogether. We have already had a very brief discussion - due to the guillotine - about the illness benefit in section 4. Both of these benefits are being cut to the same extent. The number of days without payment is being doubled from three to six, and that represents a cut of €112.80. Those who are ill and those who are injured are going to suffer the consequences of that cut because there is no entitlement to statutory sick pay. In some cases, the sick person would cover the cost and in other cases it is the employers who would do so. We have heard quite a lot about employers struggling to retain jobs and the cost of that.

This is a blunt revenue raising issue and it gives the lie to what was contained in the programme for Government that this Government would protect the vulnerable. Who is more vulnerable than those who are sick or ill in our society? I am reminded of the old slogan that the cuts would hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped, but in this Bill it is the young, the old, the pregnant, the disabled and those who are injured and ill in our society. I reject this section in its entirety and I believe it should be removed.

Briefly, in respect of the Deputy's concern------

On a point of order, my name is on the list of those opposing the section. I am the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on this and surely I am entitled to say a few words on it.

I have something to say on this, because I could not speak on section 3 due to the guillotine. This is a mirror image of section 3. If a person is entitled to illness benefit or injury benefit, the Minister is cutting-----

I am sorry, but the Minister has the floor.

I am not accepting that.

A Deputy

Scandalous.

This is an order of the House that seven minutes-----

The Opposition are entitled-----

My name is on the list of those opposed to section 3 and this section. I have not had the opportunity to speak on either. Is that the new democratic revolution?

That is Dáil reform about which the Minister spoke glowingly.

This is Dáil reform.

I want to reply to the facts of the amendment.

We know the Minister's views.

The Minister should allow us express our view, not just mine but the views of all those other Deputies whose names are on the amendment of opposition to this section.

Please take your seat Deputy. The Minister has the floor.

I have the floor.

You do not. You have not been called.

Are you telling me-----

----- that we who put our names to an amendment opposing section 3 have no right to speak on the matter?

You have rights within the time-----

Now the bullyboy tactics are coming out.

The bullyboy tactics are on that side of the House.

The Acting Chairman is choosing to let the Minister speak. We want to speak on this. We have views on it. We know the Minister's view.

It is the job of the Chair to decide who speaks. The Minister is getting 35 seconds-----

The time is up.

-----to respond to the proposer of the motion-----

The job of the Chair is to be fair.

-----who is entitled to a response.

I am entitled to give our point of view on this also. I am entitled to speak on this.

I insist on my right to speak.

The Deputy agreed to the seven minutes.

There is no point in making this argument because it will apply to every single amendment and the Deputy is wasting time now.

I insist on my right to speak. I did not agree to the guillotine.

The Deputy agreed on the seven minutes.

(Interruptions).

I am sorry, I cannot hear you.

Deputy Stagg is a spoofer and a bluffer. It is no wonder that young people looking in on this see this place as a disgrace.

Deputy O'Dea is bullying the Chair.

Call her a bully.

The Deputy has undermined politics fundamentally. He is a hypocrite.

Deputy O'Dea knows that the Dáil has decided the speaking times. It has all been agreed.

We did not agree to any guillotine.

I agreed to no guillotine.

Please resume your seat and let us not waste any more time.

I did not agree to any guillotine and I am entitled to express my views on this. We already know the Minister's views.

It is not a democracy.

It is not democratic.

I ask Deputy O'Dea to please take his seat.

It is not a democracy; it is the Reichstag 1932.

Labour Lockout 1913; 2013.

I wish to respond briefly to the amendment the Deputy tabled. We already have extensive and appropriate investigative powers for the appointment of authorised and designated officers who have the power to obtain information from financial institutions without the consent of the customer where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person has been fraudulently claiming a social welfare payment. This is an exceptional measure that is used judiciously and proportionately. I understand the Deputy's sentiment, which I strongly support, to make savings from potential fraud against the State. However, we have already introduced measures-----

A Deputy

Time is up.

----- that are proportionate and judicious.

I believe those measures are appropriate in the current circumstances.

The time has now expired so-----

We cannot discuss it.

----- I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil: "That section 7 is hereby agreed to in Committee." Is that agreed?

Deputies

No.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 41.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared.
SECTION 8

There are no amendments that are in order but we can discuss the section. I call Deputy Nulty.

Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to oppose the section.

On a point of order, it is usually customary to call people based on the parties they represent.

We cannot hear Deputy O'Dea.

I have no difficulty whatsoever with Deputy Nulty and I assure you I will give everyone ample time to speak.

It is not the custom in the case of amendments.

I have started so I will finish.

That is what the Ceann Comhairle does.

Amendments are put in and they are called in the order in which they have been submitted. I have Deputies Nulty, Keaveney, Catherine Murphy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins, Ó Snodaigh and O'Dea. I am sorry.

So we are last. Is that correct?

We will not get in at all.

I am sorry. In this case you are last.

Did you check with the Ceann Comhairle, incidentally, whether you are in order to be making these kinds of decisions at the expense of the Opposition?

We have to put up with that frequently.

Absolutely. Please resume your seat.

Are you satisfied that you are in order doing that?

Fianna Fáil does not run the country any more.

Did you check that?

Ritual is important in people's lives. The abolition of the bereavement grant is a demonstration of a process. Last year, we saw changes made in the allocation for communions. We have legislation discriminating against racism and sexism but this grant is class-ism. Working class communities and people are entitled to celebrate important days, good news days and days to mourn and to bury their dead with dignity and compassion as well.

Will the Minister explain how she can justify discontinuing these payments? What is the economic case for it? To me it is a mean, ruthless and vicious targeting of people at their most vulnerable time and at some of the darkest periods in their lives like when they are burying a loved one. The Minister would do the House a great service today if, rather than voting down those of us who want to maintain the bereavement grant, she acknowledged that she has made a mistake. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, often admits when he makes mistakes and when he attacked disadvantaged schools he rowed back. The Minister should do the same and withdraw the section.

I believe it to be an absolutely disgraceful attack and cut that is beneath contempt.

This is one of the sneaky measures contained in the recent budget that again will hit certain people and lower and middle-income people will be most affected. Speaking as a representative of a Dublin constituency, funerals certainly are extremely expensive and this payment was something on which people could depend to help them with those funeral expenses. While death is traumatic at any time, inner-city communities have seen much death due to addiction and suicide and the bereaved depended on this small grant. Although one might think this is only a small amount, that grant could mean a lot when one has limited means and knowing it was available has been highly beneficial. I hope the Minister can reverse this measure.

Is my microphone switched on?

I will wait for the Minister to switch off her mobile telephone.

It is not my telephone.

It is not mine either.

It definitely is not the old people's telephone, as the Minister has cut them all off.

It definitely is not the pensioners.

Although the old people can never make a call again and cannot telephone the Minister, they are waiting for her.

It is not my telephone.

Can I just point out the clock is ticking?

The Deputy is one of those Members who wishes to speak.

If the Labour Party once stood for anything, it was the welfare state and the idea of cradle-to-grave protection and welfare. However, in this budget the Minister literally is providing cradle-to-grave austerity and to hit people at the saddest times in their lives really is obnoxious. No other word describes it and as other Deputies have noted, this will hit at the least well-off. Death is a terrible time for people, as well as being extremely stressful, and it is simply appalling to add to that stress by imposing a further financial burden on less well-off families while they are trying to bury their loved ones. As it stood, the bereavement grant of €800 would not even pay a fraction of the cost of a funeral these days. Even in death, the inequality in society manifests itself, as those who are less well off are under pressure, are stressed and are pinned to their collars to bury their loved ones. This small support that was available to them now is being pulled away from them by a Labour Party Minister. She should be ashamed of herself about this measure. She should withdraw it, like so many of these other nasty, ruthless and cruel cuts she is imposing in this Bill.

I heard Deputy Boyd Barrett echo a point made by other Members about the cradle to the grave. In fact, the cuts extend from the womb to the tomb, because they also encompass those cuts to maternity benefit with which Members dealt earlier. This particular measure is one of the saddest cuts with which any government could come up. It targets those who are bereaved, for whom some relief had been available and which would contribute to an extent to the cost of a funeral. During yesterday's debate, I mentioned the average cost of a funeral in general across the country is approximately €4,000 or upwards. However, in the city of Dublin, one would not get change out of €10,000. Were one frugal, one might manage to have a funeral for €8,000 or €9,000 but in so doing, one would be lucky to have the cost of a hearse included.

The bereavement grant was promised as part of the range of benefits arising from PRSI payments and people now are beginning to question the benefit of the PRSI system if the benefits they are meant to derive therefrom are being cut. Members have already dealt with the cut to maternity benefit. In addition, the duration of jobseeker's benefit was cut earlier this year from 12 to nine months. Members have only just dealt with injury benefit and the changes to illness benefit. In addition, they will deal later with measures in respect of invalidity pension. While the Minister will claim the reason for all this is the obligation to manage the Social Insurance Fund, I note Opposition Members put forward proposals on how to address the shortfall in the Social Insurance Fund. In any event, it was set up in such a way that there would be times when it was short and times of plenty. These amendments were positive proposals to increase PRSI payments from companies that could afford it. They would not affect companies that were struggling or barely hanging on to employees but those which are making an absolute fortune in this country because of our tax regimes. Some of those in our society who can afford it could be asked to make a higher contribution. In addition, this Bill does not deal, as promised, with PRSI for employers to allow them to avail of some of these benefits. I do not know whether the Minister heard my contribution yesterday when I referred to the costs of funerals in Dublin but she definitely needs to think again about this measure. It is taking €17 million out of the pockets of those who are bereaved and shame on her.

As there will be other speakers, I will not labour the issue but this is a particularly contemptible and pitiless cut. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated, people have paid for this benefit, as it is part of that for which one pays one's social insurance. One does not get a bereavement grant unless one satisfies the appropriate contribution conditions but from henceforth, while one will continue to contribute at the same rate - some people have had PRSI extended to income that did not bear it previously - one will experience the gradual erosion of one's benefits. In other words, on the one hand there is the continued burden of increased PRSI and additional PRSI while on the other, there is a gradual erosion of the benefits to which it is meant to give rise.

I deeply resent the Government's explanation for the withdrawal of this bereavement grant or rather its justification for it, when it claims that those who are badly stuck can apply to their community welfare officers.

They are not there any more.

I would not like to give that advice to my constituents in Limerick.

Half the offices are closed.

The budget has been cut.

Not only are the offices closed and the budget cut but the average of what one currently receives in Limerick and the mid-west region is hardly worth speaking about, because the budget for such exceptional needs payments has been cut repeatedly. At a recent meeting of the social affairs committee, I confirmed it had been cut to such an extent that community welfare officers have referred people to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other similar organisations on the basis that their own budget had expired. Consequently, it will not do much good for new widows and widowers to approach such officers, only to find themselves referred to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

I do not know what sort of world the Government is living in but from experience in my own constituency, I can tell the Minister about many people who qualify for the bereavement grants. I know families in receipt of social welfare or with low incomes who are entitled to the bereavement grants. However, having received the grant, the rising cost of funerals - the average cost in Limerick is approximately €5,000 - has meant I have then been obliged to apply on their behalf to the community welfare officer for a top-up grant. Moreover, even on getting a small top-up grant, the funeral bill is still not paid completely. As an example of how far the Government appears to be divorced from reality, the Minister for Education and Skills was asked about this issue on radio recently. In his response, he stated the problem was that funerals had become too expensive and this expense was being driven by the bereavement grant, by what process I do not know. He also went on to suggest there was insufficient competition in the sector. Obviously, the Minister for Education and Skills envisages that on becoming a widow or a widower, a person will hold a tendering process and invite undertakers to make competitive bids.

It would have to be a European Union tender.

A Deputy

One could go to Bulgaria for it.

It would take six months to process.

That really is contemptible. It is an insult to the people who already are traumatised by the death of a loved one for the sake of €17 million.

Of all the issues in the budget, this is the harshest. By bringing in this measure the Government is attacking the most vulnerable, the elderly in our society. This week alone we helped three elderly people who called to my office in Galway to fill out an application for the bereavement grant, and it was stressful and difficult for them to do that.

The average bill for a basic funeral in Galway is between €3,000 and €4,000. The cost of one funeral was €3,854 and this grant meant a great deal to the family. In one case I dealt with recently I had to contact the undertaker to ask if they would arrange a staged payment scheme for the family and the undertaker agreed to that. Such payment arrangements are now being made. This grant means a great deal to families who could not even afford to pay for a cup of tea for people after the funeral.

As my colleague, Deputy O'Dea said, I am sure there are areas in the Minister's Department or in other Departments where the savings that will be achieved from the abolition of this grant could be found. I presume the decision to make these harsh cuts was forced on the Minister by her Cabinet colleagues. The savings that will be achieved from this measure should be found somewhere else. I ask the Minister not to hit the most vulnerable, the people who built this State, who put us where we are now and worked hard all their lives but who now unfortunately find themselves in a situation where they do not have any money saved. They are living basically on what money they get and find that when their husband or wife dies, or even a son or a daughter in some cases, they do not have the money to pay for their funeral. I ask the Minister to reverse this decision.

I am disappointed to note that none of the Minister's colleagues from the Labour Party or Fine Gael - bar one - is sitting alongside her to support her.

They are probably at a funeral.

I ask the Minister to reverse this decision. She has done a few U-turns on other issues, as has the Minister for Education and Skills, and I ask her to do that on this issue.

Will one get a grant now not to be in the Labour Party?

A Deputy

They will need one.

I want to make two points regarding this provision. The first is that people have paid into this. If a person passes away before reaching their 66th birthday this may be the only entitlement claimed in respect of them in terms of PRSI after their years of contributions. The Ceann Comhairle has ruled my amendment out of order, but I ask the Minister to consider it. I believe she is creating a serious anomaly here that will lead to significant overpayments. The bereavement grant is €850 and it is paid out in respect of 20,000 people a year. If account is taken of those who receive the widowed grant of €6,000, that leaves approximately 19,000 claimants who only receive the bereavement grant. More than 200,000 people are in receipt of electronic payments of their contributory old age pension. Up to now those people, or their next of kin, would have been entitled to the bereavement grant. I cite the example of an elderly person, who has been receiving their pension payments electronically and has no assets and no savings, who passes away and has no surviving spouse. The funeral takes place and the undertaker sends out the bill for €5,000 or €6,000 six or eight weeks after the funeral. The family members then decide they had better sort out everything. They do not have access to the deceased's bank account because the proceeds are frozen on the person's death. In the intervening period €230.30 is being paid into the deceased's account every week. There is no trigger mechanism for the Department to indicate that this person has died. Money continues to be paid into the bank account until the solicitor eventually contacts the Department two or three months down the road notifying it that this person has died. When the accounts are settled priority is given to the funeral expenses before the Department gets its money refunded. Instead of paying the €850 towards the funeral costs, the Department will end up paying the full cost of that funeral before it gets the balance back in a repayment. I believe the Minister is causing a serious anomaly because this grant causes a trigger within the Department to suspend the contributory pension that is being paid electronically. There is no other mechanism in place currently to make that happen, or is it the case that the Minister will have Department officials listening to the local radio stations, contacting undertakers on a regular basis to find out who has died?

The Minister might want to respond briefly to those points.

In the case of a person who dies, there is a range of supports-----

-----available from the Department of Social Protection which are very valuable and more valuable than the bereavement grant.

A Deputy

They are probably more expensive.

Many speakers spoke about pensioners. If one partner of a pensioner couple dies, their spouse continues to get the social welfare payment of the deceased spouse for six weeks. That is worth roughly €1,200 to €1,400 depending on the rate the person receives. The second and the biggest payment the Department makes is in respect of a person who becomes widowed who is entitled to the widow's contributory pension either on their or their spouse's contributions or on the basis of a non-contribution pension if their means are not sufficient. In terms of the social welfare budget, approximately €1.3 billion a year is currently spent in that respect. It is a very significant amount of money and again we have kept all those core payments intact.

Second, a widow, widower or surviving partner who has a dependent child or children, up to the age of 18 or in full-time education up to the age of 22, receives a cash grant that is not means tested of €6,000. Those are significant supports to the immediate next of kin of the person who has died. I hope that Deputies agree that the immediate next of kin of the person who has died, particularly the widow, widower or the dependent children, are the people who should receive the most significant level of help. That is the way the Department has done it and will continue to do it. Where a person dies in an accident, an accident funeral grant of €850 is paid and that grant will continue to be paid.

A number of Deputies raised another issue at different points in time, namely, that for the past number of years, including this year, the Department will spend just over €5 million on funeral expenses in respect of approximately 2,500 funerals. I advise Deputy O'Dea that the average support given by the community welfare office in Limerick to people who are in the distressful situation that he correctly described of having very limited means is around €1,500. Unfortunately as the Deputy is aware there have been many deaths of younger people in Limerick, leaving widows behind and people who have been in receipt of social welfare, as has the spouse or the partner who has died.

Are you going to go into the graveyard and take it off them?

These payments are far more significant than the €850 payment.

(Interruptions).

For instance, in Tipperary the average payment - Deputy Healy is possibly not aware of this but I suspect he is very aware of it - by the community welfare service-----

I am very aware of the fact that the Minister is taking €850 off people whose spouses have died.

-----in supporting funerals so far this year has been about €1,300.

The Government is also reducing the exceptional needs payment-----

The suggestion that this State, through its spend of €20 billion-----

You will be going around the graveyard looking for-----

The Minister has no shame. The Labour Party was founded in Clonmel. She is a disgrace.

The suggestion that this State-----

You will be going to the graveyard like a peeping Tom looking for-----

-----does not support people who have expenses arising out of bereavement is utterly and completely wrong.

Thank you, Minister. The time permitted for the debate on this section has expired.

We are spending and will continue to spend very large sums of money. Deputy Naughten spoke about-----

-----people celebrating the death of the deceased person.

You will be like the banshee going around-----

I am happy to say, Deputy Nulty, that if he reads the entitlements of------

(Interruptions).

Minister, the time has expired.

-----the people he was talking about that the very large amounts of money we spend are maintained intact.

Are we into injury time?

I hope Deputy Nulty will be decent enough to acknowledge that.

Minister, the time has expired. I am required to put the question.

Question put: "That section 8 is hereby agreed to in committee".
The Committee divided: Tá, 77; Níl, 43.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 9

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

We are opposed to section 9. I accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling on amendment No. 13 but what I was trying to achieve was that people over the age of 65 who lose the transition pension should not be subjected, when they apply for jobseeker's allowance, to the usual requirements to seek work, training, etc. I note the Minister in her opening speech yesterday indicated she had given an instruction to the Department that these criteria would not apply to jobseekers aged over 62. Is that the case?

The Minister gave that instruction to the Department that these requirements-----

It has gone out by way of circular.

That is fine. I accept that.

We are opposed to this section generally because the philosophy behind it seems to be that if one cuts young people's social welfare sufficiently, one will force them out to work and into training places, which are available in abundance for them. The problem is depicted as a lack of ambition among the young and not a lack of opportunity and that there are plenty of jobs, plenty of training places, etc., and that if one squeezes people sufficiently, all those lazy people will stop sitting in front of flat screen televisions seven nights per week and avail of the opportunities there.

The difficulty with that philosophy is that there are different estimates of how many training places, education places, etc., we are short but there is consensus on one thing, that is, we are short of training and education places and that there are not nearly enough such places for everybody who wants to avail of one. If somebody genuinely cannot get a training or an education place and is under 26 years of age and in receipt of jobseeker's allowance, cutting that allowance will not create any extra employment. How will it create extra employment if the training or education place is not there?

In regard to employment, there are 32 applicants for every job vacancy. If one cuts somebody's dole, or jobseeker's allowance, and he or she gets on his or her bike, as advised by Norman Tebbit many years ago, and eventually manages to get a job, what about the other 31? If there are genuinely no jobs for people, how will cutting their social welfare create those jobs?

It also seems to have escaped the Government's attention that many, among the army of young unemployed, are highly qualified people - graduates, people with honours degrees, masters degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications. They do not need any further training or education; they need a job. If, with the best will in the world, they cannot get a job, which should not surprise anybody, how will cutting their social welfare create more jobs and tackle the unemployment crisis?

The only way I see it working is that if social welfare for those for whom training places are not available and for whom a job is not available - educated people, in particular, who do not need further training and education - is cut sufficiently, they will be encouraged to emigrate. That will make the unemployment figures look better, which seems to be the thinking behind this proposal. If it is otherwise, I would like to hear the Government's justification for it.

On a point of order, we were told earlier that the order in which speakers were called was according to the list. The Ceann Comhairle told us that, as did Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

It is up to the Chair to call the speakers. I always call the spokespersons for the parties first because they are speaking on behalf of their parties. Will the Deputy resume his seat?

With all due respect, we were told the exact opposite of that just before the last vote.

I am telling the Deputy what I am doing.

We were told that by the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

Whoever is in the Chair is entitled to call a person-----

Why did the Ceann Comhairle tell us the opposite earlier?

I am not telling the Deputy the opposite.

The Ceann Comhairle told us it was going according to the list.

I have been calling the speakers in that order since I came here.

The Ceann Comhairle was calling them according to the list.

Will the Deputy resume his seat and stop wasting time? I will not call him at all, if he is not careful. He should sit down.

I am entitled to be called as I have tabled an amendment.

The Deputy is not entitled to be called at all. He should read the Standing Orders.

The Ceann Comhairle is making the rules up as he goes along.

The Deputy should adhere and show some respect to whoever is in the Chair. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

I tabled two amendments dealing with section 9 but they come under section 10 for some reason. They are amendments Nos. 15 and 16 but they relate to section 9.

This provision is discriminatory. The Government is adding to what the Fianna Fáil Administration did in the 2010 budget. I recall members of the Minister's party, which was in opposition at the time, leaping up and down and stating that they were completely opposed to the measure being introduced by the then Government. To a large extent, they were able to put the argument against changes to jobseeker's allowance which would establish a different standard for young people in a much better way than I ever could do. What is being done now is much worse than what was done in 2010. The Minister is cutting the allowance for young people by 30%, which is an utter disgrace.

Outside of those who are caught in the poverty traps that have been created, people in this country have a clear incentive to work. Successive reports have shown that this incentive takes the form of the increase in income which comes from being in employment. However, the Minister is penalising young people supposedly because they are sitting at home waiting for the work to come to them. The work is not there and the various reports have shown that there are 32 unemployed people for every job vacancy. It is not possible to squeeze people into jobs that do not exist. In addition, it is not possible to squeeze all of the young people to whom I refer into training opportunities or education courses that do not exist. While we welcome the announcement of additional places, these do not in any way match up with the number of people who are unemployed. For example, more than 20,000 young people are unemployed but the Minister only announced an extra 3,500 places. The number of places and the number of people seeking them simply do not fit with each other.

The savings that will be obtained as a result of the proposed cut will not be used to create additional opportunities. Rather, the moneys involved will disappear into the black hole of the Exchequer. I referred to this matter at length on Second Stage and what I said stands. I will not repeat what I stated at that point, particularly in view of the fact that quite a number of Deputies wish to highlight how disgraceful this change is. I ask the Minister to listen to the points of view of a variety of organisations prior to the Bill's final passage. I refer, for example, to the National Youth Council of Ireland and Focus Ireland. The latter has shown that the number of young people who are homeless has increased as a result of the austerity measures that have been introduced. The measure before the House is going to force even more young people into homelessness. On the basis of that fact alone, I urge the Minister to row back on it. She must also recognise that what is being done is forcing many young people to emigrate.

One of the things that was very evident during the Celtic tiger era was that there was virtually full employment. There is no real evidence, therefore, that people are lazy or that they will not take up employment. What has always been evident is the fact that a certain percentage of those on the live register were people who were in transition between jobs. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, people who were unemployed were almost accused of being spongers. The latter word resonated for a long time afterwards. We are at risk of placing an entire group of people into a particular category. It is as if they are almost being blamed for the fact that they are unemployed. I completely accept the point that the best thing for those who are unemployed is training and education. However, many of the individuals we are discussing have primary and masters degrees and some even have PhDs. I met a person last week who wanted to obtain access to the Momentum programme. He is eight weeks short of being a full year out of work, which is the requirement to qualify for the programme. A place is available on the particular scheme in which he is interested. This is because there were not enough people to fill the places on offer when the scheme was originally established and, as a result, it had to be postponed. It must be recognised that people's circumstances sometimes do not match up to the requirements for the type of course that would lead to their receiving the necessary training to enable them to obtain employment when the course comes to an end.

I recently spoke to some people involved in the hospitality sector and I was alarmed to discover that individuals are offering to work within that sector for well under the minimum wage. If this happens and if it becomes a feature, people's prospects for earning a living wage will be driven right down. There is a need to examine the sector to which I refer to discover whether what I have outlined is happening on a small scale or whether it is wholesale in nature. It would be a matter of some concern if the latter were the case.

The primary point I wish to make relates to whether the proposed measure is even legal, particularly as it discriminates on age grounds. It is important that this aspect be dealt with. I have a fundamental objection to targeting a group of people, many of whom are very well trained and educated, and almost blaming them for the fact that they are unemployed. All they need is work.

I just want to ask the Ceann Comhairle a brief question. I am trying to understand what is happening here.

It is very simple. We are dealing with Committee Stage and the Deputy is just about to make a contribution. He should proceed to do so now because he is wasting time. Many other Members are waiting to contribute.

I do not want to fight with the Ceann Comhairle.

I am not fighting with the Deputy. If he does not want to speak, he should sit down.

Well then, the Deputy should proceed to do so.

Is the Ceann Comhairle calling Members in the order in which they submitted amendments?

I am calling people as I see fit and I am trying to be as fair to everyone as possible. Will the Deputy please proceed?

I just want to know if everyone who has submitted an amendment will have an opportunity to speak.

That is why I called the Deputy.

We move on through the depressing list of targets set in this really ruthless Bill. We have already dealt with women who are having children, people who are burying their dead and those who are injured or become sick at work. Now we are moving on to young people. The Minister laughably tries to justify this measure with references to labour activation. I am sure she is aware that the real activation for young people is to leave the country. The fact that they are leaving certainly shows they are not sitting at home in front of plasma-screen TVs, lazing about the place waiting for someone to offer them employment, or living in luxury - as the Minister might see it - on social welfare payments. These individuals are leaving because they are energetic, educated and dynamic and there is nothing here for them. How much more dynamic and energetic does the Minister want them to be? They want jobs, but what she is doing is attacking their incomes and providing them with lots of fake jobs.

It is important to place on record the fact that officials from the Department of Finance came before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and highlighted an anomaly in the Government's figures. This anomaly relates to an apparent drop in unemployment and a slight rise in employment in circumstances in which no corresponding economic growth had occurred. The officials could not explain the reason for this, but there is an explanation, namely, that everybody is leaving the country and that the so-called jobs that are being created are not real jobs. People are paid virtually nothing when they take up these jobs but they are still classed as no longer being unemployed. The officials stated that the surveys carried out by the CSO ask people whether they are employed or unemployed. If someone is on a Tús, JobBridge or JobsPlus scheme or if he or she is involved with the Government's new brainchild, the Gateway project - which is a disgrace - under which people on social welfare payments will be given an additional €20 per week to do council workers' jobs, thereby essentially doing away with real jobs, he or she will be classed as being employed but there will be no corresponding growth in GDP because the person is not actually contributing to the economy but is in a fake job. Such jobs do not give rise to growth.

This explains the anomaly pointed out by the Department of Finance. We need real jobs. They can happen only with investment, not by taking money from people, which is an attack on them and on their spending power and in turn damages the economy. We need real investment to create jobs. That could be done by taxing wealth instead of attacking young people, as many on this side of the House have said time and again. It is a disgrace that the Minister is making this attack on young people.

Focus Ireland noted that the policy objectives of the Government in making these changes were to create incentives for young people in training and employment. There is, however, concern about the unintended consequences of these actions. One major concern is housing, which I mentioned when I spoke last night. Some young people can afford to stay in private rented accommodation now but will no longer be able to do so. They are probably there because of overcrowding where they originally lived. If they lived in local authority housing this move will increase stress on local authorities. We know that Dublin City Council does not have enough housing to meet demand. That is one consequence of this.

There is no doubt that this will drive more young people into homeless services whose resources are already strained. If young people go into emergency hostel accommodation it will be virtually impossible for them to access the jobs or training opportunities that the Minister says they will get. The hostels will charge them between €50 and €75 per week. That will not leave them with much money to live any type of life with dignity. They will then go out begging. It will be necessary to put more resources into homeless services which will negate the saving from this move.

I was a teacher so I know about the bright, articulate, great young people who have come through our education system, on whom a great deal of money has been spent. They will go abroad and will support the economies and welfare of other countries, not their own country, where they want to stay. That would be all very well if we had jobs, training and opportunities for young people. Will there be enough jobs, training and educational opportunities for all those young people who want them?

The impact of the reduction in jobseeker's allowance for young people could show this to be one of the poorest decisions made by this Government. I do not think that the Minister has analysed its impact on young people and the number whom it will drive into poverty. It will have a knock-on effect on the JobBridge scheme. If these people were available for €100 per week and received an extra €50, bringing that to €150 for 40 hours they would receive €3.80 an hour which is less than half of the minimum wage. It is not possible for anyone to live on €3.80 an hour in Ireland, given the cost of living here. It looks as if we want to compete with wages in eastern Asia although the cost of living here is several times higher than it is there.

Young people do not have a prayer of surviving on this type of money. It closes the door completely on them. They will be left with no option but to leave the country. The situation is stark. They are being pushed out of the country. I do not see how they can stay here. I do not know how any who stay behind will remain out of poverty. This will be a terrible move on the part of this Government.

I am surprised that Fianna Fáil decided to contribute to this debate because that party started the process of targeting young people and has no credibility in commenting on this debate. If I were them I would stay quiet.

The Deputy does not have much credibility himself. He was elected for the Labour Party. He was out canvassing for the Labour Party-----

I have plenty of credibility. I have never driven people into poverty as Fianna Fáil did. Deputy O'Dea is a hypocrite. He is as bad as the Government so he should stay quiet.

Would the Deputy please speak through the Chair?. I will give the Minister three minutes to speak so the Members have only six minutes speaking time.

Fianna Fáil guaranteed the banks so the Deputy should stay quiet.

Is he stabbing them in the back?

Deputy O'Dea should stay quiet.

I am talking about credibility.

The Deputy should speak through the Chair.

That is right, through the Chair.

I was interrupted.

There will be no Labour Party to canvas for the next time.

The Deputy should keep going because we are very short of time.

As one of the youngest Deputies in this Dáil I feel the need to speak up for my generation which is fast becoming "Generation Emigrate". The policy of this State is to drive people away. The skills, ideas and knowledge that young people have are not being utilised. The Minister claims to protect basic rates of social welfare but it is clear that she is cutting them today. The social welfare of a new applicant looking for jobseeker's benefit will be cut. How is that cut not a cut? The same mantra is repeated time and again. It has also been said, correctly, that the taxpayer pays for the social welfare system and the money should be used efficiently. I agree. People on social welfare are taxpayers. The Government has increased VAT and excise duties, which are the most regressive form of tax increase available.

The changes today will affect two groups in particular, graduates coming out of third level education next year, people who are highly qualified in engineering, architecture, the arts, whatever the case may be. How can the Minister justify cutting their social welfare payment while they look for work? It is totally wrong.

As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and others have said, this will lead to more homelessness. The Minister should please speak to Focus Ireland, to the people who deal daily with young people at risk. They have identified this as a dangerous measure which will increase homelessness.

I call Deputy Donnelly. There are only a few minutes left. Will the Deputy please be quick because many people have indicated and they will not get a chance to speak. I also want to call on the Minister.

I will be quick. This is discriminatory. I spoke earlier about the discrimination and inherent bias against women. The Minister called that a fallacy. I have the figures. They show that in the past year there were 20,000 fewer men on the live register and 790 fewer women. This year 50% more women than men will emigrate. This is happening. This is the result of Government policy. This section is another Government policy. This implicit bias is explicit discrimination. Other Deputies have described very well the policy failures of this decision. I agree with them. My single point, however, is that this is discrimination. It crosses a line. The Equal Status Act 2000 is very clear. It would be illegal for an employer to do what the Minister is about to vote through here. It would be illegal because it is wrong. This is discrimination. This is crossing a line that should not be crossed.

Once again I will bring the Minister back to 2010 when she said:

The experience of past recessions shows the legacy of the past three years will be long-lasting. Unemployment at an early age can leave permanent scars. Many studies have shown that someone laid off during a recession suffers an earnings loss even when he returns to the labour market. He [or she] returns to less well-paid employment and earns less than those fortunate enough to remain in work. Even 15 to 20 years later...

They were the Minister's words on unemployment and its effects. Now she has the audacity to come in here and call for a cut again affecting people who are aged between 22 and 24.

What I said is correct.

The Minister also said that having compared IMF deals for other countries she cringed for the small humiliations included entirely unnecessarily in the Irish deal. She thought that the Government ought to have had the courage to at least say "No" to a few of those. Will the Minister please say "No" to a few of these cuts?

I would have much preferred that the Minister had seen the amendment I proposed but which has been ruled out of order. It would have given her an opportunity to explain to the House the detail of the counter-measures that everybody disputes because there is no confidence in the House that the scale of the Minister's anticipated activation measures will meet the demand of the number of young people affected. I agree with those who have expressed concern. Only 3,000 additional activation posts were announced in the budget. Relative to the number of people affected this does not add up to provision or a strategic plan for them. For that reason I will oppose the section.

The Minister lauds this Bill as an achievement to protect core rates of social protection. I said yesterday that her language on this subject sounds akin to my telling her that I would extend the ushers' rate of pay to cover her in her position as Minister and that it would not be a pay cut.

This is a cut in the core rate of social protection - nothing more and nothing less. The Minister cannot leave this debate, walk out of this Chamber today and say ever again that the Government has adhered to the commitment in the programme for Government to protect the core rates of social welfare. That is simply untrue.

I put it to the Minister that this country can only survive the economic collapse if attention is paid to solidarity. This savage cut, which continues on from where Fianna Fáil left off, represents an enormous slap in the face for young people. It is basically telling them to get lost. It tells them to emigrate and go elsewhere and that they are not needed here.

To date, we have seen no evidence of any kind of inter-generational solidarity within Irish society. Those who are better off - the middle-aged, middle-class element of Irish society - has, by and large, pulled the ladder up after it. There is huge bitterness among the younger generation about what this country has done to them and their future. The Minister is compounding that. I appeal to her to listen to those organisations that have been working with young people who know what they are dealing with. These are organisations like the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, Focus Ireland and the National Youth Council of Ireland. I appeal to her to hold back on this and not to damage our young people's future hopes in the way she proposes to do. It is wrong and I believe she knows it is wrong. She should not be doing it.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to this debate. As a House, we should have ambitions for our young people. If the extent of the ambition of some of the Deputies here is to have young people signing on at 18 and staying like that for a long period of time, that is wrong. Deputy Catherine Murphy had the honesty to say that her preference was for education, training and employment opportunities.

(Interruptions).

The Deputies have had their say so they should let the Minister respond.

Can I continue? In a very tight budget, I have committed multiples of the savings made by this measure to additional training, education, work experience and work placement positions.

(Interruptions).

The Minister should keep going.

(Interruptions).

Your idea for a 22 year old may be for them to be on social welfare. It is not my ambition. My ambition is to have people working and that is why we will have a flow of places. We expect that about 14,000 young people will be affected by this measure over the next year. Youth unemployment has been falling for a number of distinct reasons. First of all, there were fewer births in 1994 and 1995. Deputies can check this with the CSO because it has the data. The second thing is that the number of young people in work is stabilising and rising so the level of youth unemployment is falling. We need to come together as a Chamber and country to get all our young people back to work.

I want this to go out as a challenge to employers because they are critical in terms of getting young people back to work. From 1 January 2014, any employer who takes on a young person who is more than six months unemployed will qualify for a monthly cash subsidy of €300. I expect and want Deputies to urge their local employers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, to take on one young person and give them a chance. We must all work together to get young people back into work, apprenticeships, training or work experience. Earlier, several Deputies described young people coming out of college with PhDs and expecting not to work. That is a tragedy for this country and the investment in their education.

Question put: "That, in respect of sections 9 and 10, each section undisposed of is hereby agreed to in Committee."
The Committee divided by electronic means.

Due to the serious and blatantly discriminatory nature of these sections, under Standing Order 71, I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

In accordance with Standing Order 71, 20 Members are required to stand in their places in support of Deputy Donnelly's proposal. As at least 20 Members are standing, we will proceed to a division.

Question again put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 44.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Stephen S. Donnelly and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 11

We now move on to section 11 and there are 30 minutes for this section. As there are no amendments, I will put the question.

Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to speak on section 11. As I understand it, section 11 proposes that the mortgage interest supplement will be phased out over the next four years. I do not understand the rationale for this. I do not want to delay the House, but all I can say is that 143,000 mortgages are in arrears and the problem appears to be getting worse. It may be getting worse more slowly, but that does not mean that it is getting better. I cannot think of a worse time to introduce a measure like this.

The Government has been phasing out mortgage interest relief, as is shown by the expenditure figures on this particular provision over the last couple of years. However, there are still 13,000 families depending on mortgage interest relief, so what is their position now? Are they being cut adrift over a four-year period? Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on that.

I wonder sometimes about the economics of this matter. If I remember rightly, the Minister made the point last year that she was not going to be able to avail of the mortgage interest supplement for the first year. She said she was going to try to force the banks to deal with people. They have done that, but very slowly. The Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform examined this matter during the year and saw that some of what the banks did was an excuse for contact in that all they had done was to send out letters.

It has failed from the point of view of getting the banks to deal with people in a way that results in sustainable ways forward for people who cannot repay their mortgages. The presumption is that people will be out of work for a full year. What will happen if people are out of work for short periods during the year? The mortgage interest supplement allowed people in such situations to at least meet the interest portion of their repayments, thereby not reaching the point of having to defer payments into the future. No provision is made for this type of flexibility in respect of people who find themselves temporarily unemployed and who on return to work can again take up paying their mortgages.

This issue cannot be looked at in isolation. Account must also be taken of how the banks have handled over-borrowing and unsustainable borrowing. The thinking behind what was put in place last year has not resulted in the delivery of the types of permanent solution which I think even the Minister was hoping for. What is the point of making this decision when clearly what was intended last year has not produced the result the Minister herself had expected?

As I said during the Second Stage debate last night, I cannot understand how the Minister has come to this decision to discontinue the mortgage interest supplement when during several years in Opposition it was Labour Party policy to extend and expand eligibility for mortgage interest supplement. It was a core element of the Labour Party's commitment to dealing with the mortgage crisis, but it is now being discontinued. I do not see the logic of this.

As the Minister is aware, mortgage interest supplement is not payable forever and a day to someone who qualifies for it. It is supposed to assist people in meeting their mortgage repayments during short periods of unemployment, which is reasonable. Discontinuance of this assistance can only lead to more people being at risk of falling into arrears. This is yet another erosion of people's social security protections. I ask the Minister to reconsider this proposal.

The cut to mortgage interest supplement means hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs as a result of crisis caused by others will have the misery of losing their jobs compounded by the great likelihood of losing their homes. This is a case of making a bad situation worse and of rubbing salt into the wound. It is appalling.

There is an implicit acknowledgement in this measure that the Government does not believe any of its own talk about economic recovery and improvement in the employment situation here. If it believed there was any serious prospect of economic and employment recovery it would not feel the need to introduce this cut. It would see it as a stopgap for people who lose their jobs but have a realistic prospect of getting another one sometime soon. Obviously, Government does not believe that. It does not believe for one minute that its policies are capable of providing employment for those who have lost their jobs and who now face the prospect of losing their homes. The Government is implementing this cut because it does not believe its own propaganda and because it sees mortgage interest supplement as a potential drain on the public finances.

A better and fairer way of resolving this situation would have been to force the banks to write down unsustainable debt, which the Government has refused to do. Yet again the banks are protected and ordinary people suffer the loss of their jobs and, now, the likelihood of losing their homes. This cut, like so many of the other cuts proposed in the Bill, is shameful.

I have mixed feelings about the mortgage interest supplement. I have seen it used to great effect in a few cases to keep people in their homes for a small number of months while they recovered financially and could get on with their lives. Similarly, I have seen it used to assist people in cases in which there was no real prospect of their recovering financially. In such cases, it is wasted money.

The proposed saving as a result of this cut is €6 million gross or €4 million net to the State. Obviously, this change will be implemented. Would it be possible for some of the savings made to be ring-fenced and reinvested in the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS? The banks are rushing to meet the new Government targets on restructuring. In many cases, mortgage holders are going into the banks unarmed, unequipped and without the knowledge they need. We are all aware of the hugely stressful situations in which people have found themselves. Organisations such as MABS and New Beginnings are doing a great job but they can only take on a fraction of the number of people who have to be processed to meet the new Government targets.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, has any analysis been undertaken of how many people to whom mortgage interest supplement is currently of assistance will be pushed into unsustainable solutions as a result of this measure? Obviously, there will be some genuine losers. Second, would it be possible to ring-fence some of the savings to assist MABS in increasing borrowing support for this year and next year while the Government targets for restructuring are being met?

Again, I will quote from what the Minister, Deputy Burton, had to say in Opposition in 2010. Just how much she has changed her position since then is quite revealing. She said:

I believed the Government, including the Minister, would have had something to say about the people who are under water or in difficulty with their mortgages, particularly after the Government Members' experience of campaigning in Donegal. These mortgage holders are facing Christmas terrified that they may lose their homes. The Government, in addition to saying "Yes" all the time to bankers, could make an effort to provide people with certainty that they will not lose their family homes, particularly when those family homes are also the homes of their children. ... At the end of this set of Fianna Fáil budgets and as a direct result of the Government's policy, the gap between rich and poor will have widened. Ireland, after this budget, will be a more divided society than ever. It is the disadvantaged who will carry the bulk of the cost and those whose reckless antics caused the disaster will survive best of all. While their wealth will be diminished, they will have escaped, waiting for the chance to strike and come back again.

Three years on, is this the Minister's resolution to the crisis for mortgage holders?

It is part of it.

Currently, there are 100,000 people in mortgage crisis. A recent report on local authorities indicates that they are also experiencing a crisis in respect of home loans. The Minister's response is to cut the mortgage interest supplement, which is assisting people in keeping their heads above water. As regards the Minister being a wonder woman, which comment the Minister welcomed this morning, I believe the Minister will be forever remembered as "Burton the Butcher of Benefits". I cannot reconcile the points made three years ago by the Minister with what she is doing here today.

I join in the concerns expressed about this mean-spirited cut. I recall what the Minister, Deputy Burton, had to say when on this side of the House on the night of the introduction of the bank guarantee, and many other times since. Those memories are not happy ones. At that time the leader of the Labour Party was promising to burn the bondholders.

Many speakers have referred to the 100,000 people that will be affected by this cut. I believe it will affect many more people, some of whom are proud and continue to struggle without telling anyone, hoping their situation will improve and that they will be able to keep paying to keep the roof over their heads. This Bill also introduces cut to benefits for under 25s living at home and many other cuts. Two pieces of other legislation were recently passed by this House, the first of which overturned the Dunne judgment on the repossession of homes.

We lifted a cap put on banks and other institutions, which are now terrorising people with extra phone calls and other contacts.

When we put all these things together, it is a tragic situation. People want to trade out, but the banks will not talk to them. They fooled us all into voting for the bank guarantee. I said I voted for it and I made a profound mistake. We were completely fooled and blindfolded. I know the Minister voted against it, but I voted against the bailout because it was a clean out. They have codded us all and they are still codding us and are not dealing with people. The Minister knows that, as does the Minister of State and everyone else from dealing with these issues in their constituency. Deputy Donnelly pointed out that this measure was futile for some people, but it kept other people in the game. However far behind they were in the game, they were on the pitch. This is really putting them off the pitch and it is a severe blow. I would hate to refer to the Minister as a wonder woman, because I think she will be remembered in history as a blunder woman. I know she is fighting a lone corner with her own colleagues in the Labour Party and she especially has no support from Fine Gael, but this is the last straw. What message is it sending out when we see the bankers laughing at us all the way to the bank?

There is no doubt that the mortgage interest supplement has helped keep people in their homes. I would like to refer to the submission that FLAC and the Northside Community Law Centre made yesterday on this issue. The first point they made was about the lack of proper time to consider all of these cuts and changes which will have a massive impact on those people who get absolutely no say on what the budget will be about. They saw this abolition of the mortgage interest supplement as being contrary to the stated policy of the Government. They want the mortgage interest supplement to be retained at least until the Central Bank can produce satisfactory evidence that lenders have sustainable strategies to maintain people in their homes without the need for the supplement. That is a very valid request.

That submission by FLAC had a very interesting quote from the Programme for Government 2011-2016, which noted that "making greater use of mortgage interest supplement to support families who cannot meet their mortgage payments ... [is a] better and cheaper option than paying rent supplement after a family loses their home". The Minister has just taken away one of the supports available to some of the 180,000 people who have ended up in mortgage crisis, not all of whom would qualify for the mortgage interest supplement. Yesterday saw the publication of a report of the two thirds of local authority home loans which are in arrears, and the newspapers listed them in each county. That is the scale of it. The work is not there for people. The Minister might be correct in the logic that this was supposed to be a short-term scheme, but so is rent allowance yet she is not tackling that, but perhaps that is her plan next year. We have not seen sight of the HAP, which is the Minister's hapless scheme that she is supposedly bringing forward to address the rent allowance.

The abolition of mortgage interest supplement is contrary to the Minister's stated policy to try to work on solutions. The solutions on offer at the moment come down to the Government putting faith in the banks addressing the situation and offering solutions. Part of the solution offered by the banks is in repossession. The Central Bank set a target of 20% of offers to be made by the banks to mortgage holders in arrears of over 90 days. The banks have claimed that they have met that target, but it is only because those banks have issued 14,721 repossession letters in the last number of months, along with 2,439 requests for voluntary surrender in the same period. Clearly the banks are abusing a system which was flawed in the first place, and are not co-operating with the mortgage holders in the spirit of the mortgage arrears resolution process. I believe that the Minister is ahead of time, because we have not seen the banks engage properly in that mortgage resolution system. In the absence of proof of that, the only support that some people were able to rely on, or were hoping to rely on, was the mortgage interest supplement. The Minister last year changed the criteria to ensure that people were engaged with their banks for over a year before they would qualify, but I believe that people who engaged in the past year are now faced with the fact that the mortgage interest supplement will no longer exist by the time the 12 months are up. She held out a carrot to them and she withdrew it through this measure.

This is a retrograde step. Until there is a proper mortgage resolution process and until there is sufficient social housing in this country that people can fall back on in the event of them not being able to address their mortgage arrears, the Minister should withdraw this measure. It is a scandal that this is her response to those who are in this crisis.

I wish to echo some of the comments that have been made by some of the previous speakers. The idea behind mortgage interest supplement is that it is supposed to be a short-term supplement. The important thing about mortgage supplement is that it is a safety net for people who lose employment. It allows them to keep their heads above water and ensure that they do not lose their home, pending the opportunity of getting another job. The difficulty at the moment is that people cannot get alternative employment, but that should not mean that this safety net does not remain in place.

The Aire Stáit in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was reported in today's newspapers talking about the need for the banks to release capital to allow young people to get mortgages. What is the point in allowing them to get mortgages when, if they get into difficulty and lose their job, they will end up losing their home in a couple of years and have this additional financial burden placed on top of them? Have we not learned enough from what has gone on in this country over the last five years to ensure that we have a sensible regime in place?

The ethos behind government is to give people a hand up and hopefully get them into employment and onto the first steps of the property ladder in this country. What is the point of encouraging them to go down that road when a basic safety net is not being put in place for them? If someone has never worked or never owned a home, then they have nothing to lose from this Bill. However, people who try their damnedest to get into employment and get a roof over the own heads are the people being penalised by this Bill. I urge the Minister to reconsider it.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate on this section. Deputy Collins just quoted me from a few years ago about the lack of a resolution process and the disaster that was the guarantee. I stand over every word I said and I am glad the Deputy reminded me of that and of my earlier comments from Danny Blanchflower about the corrosive effect of young people not having a job. I stand over all those comments.

Since 2008, the mortgage interest supplement has paid out €319 million. That money has gone directly to the banks and it has done absolutely nothing for the person's long-term resolution of their mortgage difficulty. I appreciate the sentiments of the Deputies and their desire to help people to get to a resolution process.

However, this is not a resolution process; this is a cash handout to the banks of the interest on a mortgage for an indefinite number of years without the bank having to engage in any way with the couple, both of whom have lost their jobs, or where the mortgage is clearly unsustainable. On this the banks are laughing all the way to the bank. Why would they not?

I have many examples of cases which might help Deputies to understand this. A couple took out a mortgage of €195,000 and have been on the MIS for approximately seven years. We have paid their bank - not to the couple involved because it is nothing to do with them - €66,000. After all those payments, the couple still owe €183,000 and are not a step closer to resolution. In another case we have paid out €46,000. That mortgage started out at €180,000 and there was an extra home loan, meaning that the mortgage is now €241,000.

While it has taken some time to do it, the Government has introduced a resolution process. The critical thing there is to actually put the resources into the resolution process and to see that people get assistance in the resolution process, as MABS is doing. We are spending €47 million on MABS and citizens' information. I agree with the Deputy that they are doing considerable work along with other organisations to help people get to a resolution. What is the point in having a resolution process and still continuing to pay very large sums of money? The average sum of money is €26,000 over a four or five-year period and the person has no further resolution. Now that we have introduced the resolution process we are transferring people to that process.

It has been said that some people are hopelessly-----

It is only people who can afford to go into the resolution process who are going into it.

We had a Government that drove up property prices through tax breaks. As Deputy Joan Collins and others have said, many people are in very expensive houses and what they owe is not reflected in the current value of the house. As a country we need to create resolutions for those people so that they can live with a sustainable payment. In recent years we have paid more than €300 million to the banks in mortgage interest supplement. We are paying large amounts annually for people's interest without the banks giving anything like a discount or a resolution to help the structure of their debt to be reorganised so we can keep them in their houses. We are phasing this out over four years because some people have been on it for seven or eight years. The other downside of the mortgage interest supplement is that as with the rent supplement people can get caught in an employment trap. For people who are hopelessly indebted, we are developing new resolution processes such as the mortgage to rent scheme.

It will not be there for a couple of years.

Over a period of time the money that has been going into the mortgage interest supplement should be going into the resolution process. I am sure the Deputy does not mean to say what in effect she is suggesting, which is to hand a blank cheque to a bank to take the interest and offer the poor couple involved no resolution at all.

The Minister is not offering them resolution.

I do not believe any Deputy in this House intends that. Nor do they intend that somebody in the building trade whose company might have fallen apart in 2008 and ended up on MIS might now be blocked from going back to work with the pickup in construction. It has become an unemployment trap. I invite Deputy Joan Collins to read up on how it has worked. Deputy Donnelly is right in saying that organisations such as MABS, CIB and the accountants who are providing free advice are offering a resolution. Ultimately, the actual insolvency services will help people who are over their heads in terms of the level of debt they took on, perhaps in 2006 or 2007, spurred on by what the then Government was doing. We need to resolve it for them and not leave them parked with just handing out money to the bank and no resolution for them.

I understand the sentiment behind what Deputies are suggesting, which hopes to help people. However, it does not help people to leave them parked and locked out of work, as this is doing, when the resolution needs to be offered by the bank so that they can get their debt down to reasonable levels.

A couple still owes €183,000 in the Minister's example.

The Minister is saying that people will be locked into a situation. I have demonstrated that the new system is not working. The Government's solutions have not worked to date. If in a year's time the Minister can show that they are working, then perhaps one could consider it. As with the unemployment trap the Minister mentioned, will she come in here next year and propose getting rid of the rent supplement because the same logic applies? It is the wrong approach completely. I do not advocate that the money be given to the banks or the landlords, but the Government is not putting the money saved from this and other measures aside to build social housing, which is required in both cases.

I have agreed with the Deputy on that

I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Let us see if the new resolution process is working.

That is why it is phased over the next four years.

The Minister started dismantling the mortgage interest supplement before we know if a new insolvency system works. The Government is taking away a quarter next year and a quarter in the following year. It will take a year or 18 months to see if the new resolution process is working. Why not delay the start of the phasing out until we see if the new process works? That is all we are asking and I do not believe it is unreasonable.

I accept what both Opposition spokespeople have said that we need to see the roll-out. The roll-out is under way as we speak. The phase out period of this is four years. We have considerable leeway. It is generally couples who are on mortgage interest supplement. However, simply handing the banks a blank cheque which does nothing for the individual or couple for interest-only payments indefinitely is not appropriate. I have many examples here where people have been seven or eight years on it. It is doing nothing for anyone except the banks.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 45.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • 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.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 12

Amendment No. 18 is in the names of Deputies Denis Naughten, Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and me.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 12, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“12. The Minister shall, as soon as practicable, and prior to the coming into operation of sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11, lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report on mitigating actions to be taken, to ensure that these measures will not act as a disincentive to employment.”.

I look forward to hearing the Acting Chairman's contribution from the Chair. I have tabled this amendment because I am greatly concerned by this legislation, in that while all Members desire welfare reform and would welcome radical welfare reform that would assist people in the transition from welfare to work, this Bill does the precise opposite. It is removing the limited safety net the State provides to people who have worked or who are currently in employment. The subliminal message being sent out by this legislation is while one should take up work, one does so at one's own risk. This particular message has significant economic consequences as it tells entrepreneurs they are better off playing it safe. It tells people not to start their own businesses, try to better themselves, take up employment or increase their hours of employment. Instead, people should be encouraged to do the precise opposite, that is, to take risks, to take the punt and the gamble and, hopefully, to create jobs.

If one considers the various sections of the Bill, section 4 deals with illness benefit, which is a contributory payment. Section 5 concerns maternity benefit, which is also a contributory payment. Sections 6 and 7 deal respectively with adoptive benefit and injury benefit, which are also contributory payments. The allowances for jobseekers also affect those who make contributions because of the dramatic restriction in jobseeker's benefit. If one takes the example of a young person who had been successful in gaining employment, who probably had a decent job and who secured a mortgage only to suddenly lose that job, the minute that person's benefit lapses he or she is down to €144 per week. The supplementary welfare allowance limits are also cut for such people and the mortgage interest supplement will now be abolished. As a result, there is a need to review immediately and urgently the implications of these decisions on people in employment.

In fairness to it, the Department is coming up with some novel initiatives. For example, the new computer package it has developed to show people how they are better off in employment is a welcome development. However, it is pointless unless it is made available via the Internet to enable people to access it independently. However, the single most detrimental blow to getting people off the live register and into employment is one of those hidden, dirty decisions made in the budget, namely, the withdrawal of the medical card for people who leave welfare and return to work. That is a monumental mistake that will force more people to remain on the live register. I have encountered numerous instances of people who are in employment but who, because the three-year threshold has now finished, are in the process of losing their medical cards. Consequently, such people are considering either a reduction in their hours or giving up their jobs in order to secure their medical cards because there happen to be medical illnesses in their households. It is an extremely retrograde step to take this decision.

My final point also pertains to the under-25s. The argument is being made by the Government that such people can access the back-to-education allowance and that will be at a higher rate. What about a 24 or 25 year old who is a graduate? Many people of that age are graduates, some have masters degrees and a few may even have a PhD. However, if their degrees are not in a field in which employment is available at present, they must go back to reskill but as matters stand, they are not eligible for the back-to-education allowance because of the progression rule that is in place. It makes far more sense for progression to be about progressing from the live register and into employment rather than progression in respect of a person's educational qualifications. Something must be done urgently in this regard because every single day, 200 people are flying out of the country. It has cost €180,000 of taxpayers' money to educate each such person before he or she leaves, which is a very significant loss to the potential economic development of this country.

When speaking on this legislation last night, I made two points. The first was that the welfare budget should protect the vulnerable but should also encourage people to return to employment. Many of the measures outlined by Deputy Naughten assisted people who employed people. Consequently, these measures helped to maintain and create jobs. One difficulty being experienced in Ireland at present is the reluctance of employers to take on new workers or any workers, due to the amount of regulation and the charges being imposed upon them.

I want to add to the points Deputies Naughten and Timmins have made. It would not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if one continues to increase taxes and burdens for the employer on the unit cost of labour, it will act as a disincentive for new employment and will create a major risk of loss of employment at a time when we cannot afford to lose jobs or to disincentivise employment. This is a simple amendment. It puts an onus on the Minister to effectively job-proof the measures contained in the legislation and their implementation in so far as is possible. It would be very reasonable and mature of the Minister responsible to accept the amendment.

Deputy Naughten has pointed out the realities, which we have already discussed at length, in terms of maternity benefit, illness benefit and other burdens on employers. It is important to note it is not only Members of the Oireachtas who are pointing out these realities. The US Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, which represents businesses that employ approximately 115,000 people, along with the Irish Exporters Association, have expressed their concerns as to what the impact measures, for example, the PRSI measure we have learned about in recent weeks since the budget was announced and other measures contained in this legislation, will have on our competitiveness. At a time when we have worked extremely hard to improve our competitiveness, we have to be conscious of the fact that exports are declining. They declined by 3% last year. We have to take the calls of these organisations seriously. These are the people who are doing their utmost to create employment in our economy, to grow businesses and to encourage entrepreneurship. It would be remiss of this House to ignore the very valid points that are being made.

There are Deputies who are opposing section 12. I propose that they make their contributions now before the Minister responds. I will take them in reverse order, beginning with Deputy O'Dea.

I take it I can speak on the amendment and on the section, as both are being taken together.

This amendment makes a great deal of sense. The social welfare system is bedevilled by traps and we seem to be creating more traps as we go along. Take the position of lone parents and the fact that part-time employment is now a significant phenomenon in this country. Lone parents, because of their family responsibilities and so on, generally take up part-time employment. A large percentage of lone parents who are employed are in part-time employment. Measures were introduced to allow a lone parent to earn a certain amount per week before the lone parent allowance would start to reduce. That level is being gradually reduced. I think it is down to €90 per week now and it will be down to €60 per week next year. With every measure the Government is taking in this regard, it makes it less and less attractive for lone parents to go out to work. A poverty trap means that a person is better off on social welfare or, alternatively, the difference between what one gets on social welfare and what one gets by going out to work is so marginal and small that it is not worth one's while to go out to work. With these changes in the lone parent allowance, the Government is creating a poverty trap. It is narrowing the difference between what the person can get by staying at home and by going out to work.

There are several other examples in the social welfare area that I could quote. For example, I know of several cases of people who are working three days per week. If one works more than three days per week, one does not qualify for jobseeker's allowance; one is automatically disqualified regardless of how small one's earning are for the four days or whatever. I know several people in that category who would love to work an extra day or more but they are debarred from doing so by the three-day week rule.

There are elements of the family income supplement which constitute a poverty trap. The Government's philosophy is to encourage people to go out to work. It is saying that if one reduces people's social welfare and allows them get €60 a week more on training and education, that gives them the incentive. Why not spread that philosophy throughout the system instead of creating disincentives? I would be broadly supportive of the amendment because it keeps the focus on that aspect.

On the section, what is proposed is inexplicable to me. Currently, if a person is in receipt of invalidity pension and they reach age of 65 years, their payment automatically increases to the old pension rate of €230 per week. This section provides that for the person's 65th year until they reach the age of 66 they will stay on the €193 rate. In other words, they will get almost €37 per week less. A person aged 65 in obviously not young and a person in receipt of an invalidity pension is very ill because the medical test to qualify for it is very stringent. I do not understand this provision to provide a person in that category with €37 per week less.

It amuses me the frequency with which certain elements in government keep going on about our welfare system and about the need to remove disincentives to work when we know that the vast majority of people on welfare would be better off if they could get a job, even on minimum wages, and all of the evidence supports that. Those elements in government who keep going on about this issue either do not understand how the system works, refuse to accept the evidence or else are pursuing a particular agenda which is about targeting people on very low incomes. Certainly, what is being proposed in regard to those under the age of 26 would bear that out, namely, that there is a deliberate policy of making life so difficult and impoverishing people on welfare so much that they will just give up and leave the country. Those in government should examine the evidence that is there. There is not an issue about welfare being too high except in the case of rent supplement. That has been a glaring problem for a number of years and, thankfully, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is in the process of addressing that, and not before time.

I would like to pick up on the indications from this budget that the left hand has not a clue what the right hand is doing. Ministers, especially those like the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, are very fond of saying that we need to incentivise people to go back to work. One of the incentives that was in the system was that the people who were on low incomes, especially families who had a medical card, were allowed to retain that medical card for three years after returning to work. This applied if they were long-term unemployed. I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, realises that this measure has been removed from this budget.

Does the Minister of State realise that is the case? If he had the manners to listen to the debate, Deputies could perhaps elicit a response from him.

I am listening. Manners are a two-way street.

The Minister of State has no idea what Deputy Shortall is saying.

Does he realise his Government has removed one of the measures that incentivised people on very low incomes, especially those with children, to return to the workforce? Notwithstanding the rhetoric in which it engages, the Government is disincentivising people from returning to work by withdrawing their medical card.

I was astonished to read the response to a parliamentary question I submitted on this issue earlier in the week. Not only is the Government in the process of removing one of the few incentives for people in long-term unemployment to return to work, but the reply stated that the Department will not seek a refund of the costs of the medical card provided to those who returned and retained access to essential medical services. This is an outrageous statement. People who returned to work on the understanding that they would retain their medical card will no longer qualify for the medical card and will be means tested from now on. I cannot imagine anything more mean-spirited that this measure. As I indicated, the left hand does not have a clue what the right hand is doing in terms of providing for a sustainable strategy that will ensure people can move out of long-term unemployment and into work.

On the substantive issue, the decision to cut the invalidity pension does not make any sense. It is another example of the Government hammering people on very low incomes. This time, those affected are at a late stage in their lives, namely, in their mid-60s. In certain circumstances, couples in which one spouse is in receipt of an invalidity pension and the other is a dependant, will lose in excess of €100 per week. There is no defence of this measure. I appeal to this, in many ways heartless Government to rethink this awful measure.

I am keeping an eye on the clock. I suggest the two remaining Deputies who oppose the section, Deputies Boyd Barrett and Ó Snodaigh, speak for six minutes between them, leaving the Minister of State with five minutes to reply.

To try to answer the question Deputy Shortall has raised, there is, among the Fine Gael Party and a certain element of society, a certain contempt directed towards people who are in receipt of social welfare benefits.

Their contempt is total.

There is a belief among people who are generally better off and have never found it necessary to depend on the social welfare system that those who depend on that system are somehow being dishonest and lazy and leeching off the system. In their minds, what we need to do is toughen up such people by giving them a hard time and they will then return to work. While this view is not stated explicitly, I believe it is held by certain members of the Fine Gael Party. However, a cursory examination of the past 25 years will show that it is utter nonsense.

In the 1980s, the head of the Central Bank made a disgraceful statement about spongers on the dole. I recall that his remarks caused outrage and led to protests and so forth. At that time, he could try to make that argument because, as Deputies will recall, the 1980s were characterised by mass, long-term unemployment. This lie should have been completely nailed, however, when the economy took off and employment became available because people took jobs and unemployment declined to negligible levels. There is always some unemployment as people need to move between jobs and graduates emerge from college seeking employment. There is also a tiny number of people, usually consisting of families with deep problems who have been damaged by one or other circumstance, who may be long-term dependants on the social welfare system. The idea that a majority of people would want to live on the miserable amount of money paid under the social welfare system, with the lack of dignity and so on that this entails, is nonsense. Nevertheless, a significant section of the Fine Gael Party believes this nonsense. They should ask why, if that is the case, everybody took jobs when they were available.

A friend of mine, a skilled tradesman who lost his business in the recession, has been applying for five or six jobs virtually every week. He informed me that when we went for a job in a warehouse in Sandyford recently, he found that 2,500 others had also applied for it. It is not the case that people are not seeking work. The Government is failing to provide employment and is punishing people for losing their jobs and being unable to find another one.

Having picked on everyone else, why should the Government not pick on 65 year olds? It attacked the transition pension and will no doubt tell us the purpose of the measure is to rectify an anomaly. It is notable, however, that all such rectification involves measures with downward rather than upward realignment.

This is another retrograde step. I opposed the change to the State transition pension at the time because it was not logical and forced pensioners of 65 years to apply for the jobseeker's allowance and all that entails. While the Minister announced that some of the requirements attaching to the jobseeker's allowance will no longer apply to those aged over 62 years, which is a welcome step, she is also proposing to penalise people on the invalidity pension to the tune of €36.80 per week. Over the year that this supposed anomaly applies, €1,914 will be taken from the pockets of pensioners.

As Deputy Naughten stated, people paid PRSI on the basis that they would receive a return in the event that they became unemployed or ill. The invalidity pension is one of a list of benefits. The State, in changing the invalidity pension and creating a new level of payment, will cut payments to 65 year old disabled pensioners by nearly €2,000 per annum.

Invalidity pension is paid to people with the requisite contribution record who cannot work due to long-term illness. The contribution criteria have also changed in recent years. The current rate of invalidity pension is €193.50 for those aged under 65 years and €230 for those who are 65 years. This is where the difference lies. Those who are now aged 64 years will have calculated that they would receive an invalidity pension of €230 per week on reaching 65 years. The higher rate, which is not, in any case, something to shout about as it will not make anybody rich, is to be discontinued. As a result, people aged 65 years will no longer enjoy a pension of €230 and will be penalised by receiving a reduced payment. This measure will apply next year. The Government also plans to increase the pension age to 67 years in, I believe, 2021.

At that stage, people will have been in limbo for two years. An anomaly will have been created not only for one year - next year - but in the future the gap will be for two and three years. Why not address the fact people are in contracts which will finish at 60 or 65 years of age or, in the future, at 66 years of age? If they have an entitlement, it should be for the full State pension at that stage.

I have been told my time is running out, which shows how ridiculous this is. We cannot get to grips with the legislation in any detail on Committee Stage because a guillotine is being imposed by the Government, despite its promise only last week not to impose guillotines.

I said previously as a former social protection spokesperson in this House that the schemes we run through the Department are all funded through the Social Insurance Fund, which was established in 1954 and which is predicated on the view that people who make contributions rightly expect, when they are in difficulty, the benefits of those schemes. If one looks at the current expenditure in this area, we are talking about roughly €20 billion, as budgeted for next year. The total package of adjustments in this area is €290 million, which is approximately 1.5% of the total reduction. Given the scale of the adjustment made by the previous Government and by this one since 2008, I accept this is a very difficult issue, especially at a time when this country has been hit by an economic tsunami. Many people depend on these benefits but there is now such a liability on the Social Insurance Fund. The only way we will see that fund return to surplus in the time ahead is to ensure we get people back to work, which is exactly what we are doing in the measures set out in this Bill and in the other one, and also to ensure the contributions are such to allow us to fulfil those obligations.

In regard to the proposal colleagues have put forward in terms of a report on this, there is nothing new about that amendment. Such a proposal has been made before. To help colleagues who may not have dealt with social welfare legislation in the past, this Bill is basically consolidation legislation. Effectively, it is an administrative scheme year in, year out built on the changes made and what we can afford in the budget. It is important to understand that an allocation must be made in terms of how much we can afford, given the circumstances and the economic crisis we face, and how much has to come out of this. It is consolidation legislation. The measures we have introduced are broadly based and fair. We have also got the balance right.

I do not buy this nonsensical argument, which some purport to make on my behalf and that of others, that people opt for social welfare over work. I do not believe that is the case at all. The majority of people want to work and the measures we have brought forward in this Bill and elsewhere in this budget will do that.

In case there is any disagreement between myself and Deputy Shortall, who seems to be unaware of the measures in this and the other Bill about the opportunities for people, in particular those up to 25 and 26 years of age, the key issue is to say to people that proper training and proper courses, where there are real jobs at the end of them, need to be put in place. That is why the JobBridge scheme has been successful and why we want to extend that.

I am sorry for interrupting the Minister of State, but the time has expired.

Apologies. I apologise for the manners on both sides.

Only a fraction of the places required have been put in place.

I am sorry; I did not have a chance to reply.

Only a fraction. That is the whole point.

I was talked out of it.

Question put: "That section 12 is hereby agreed to in Committee."
The Committee divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 47.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 13

We are taking amendments Nos. 19 and 21 in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh and amendment No. 20 in the name of Deputy Naughten, together. Amendment No. 22 has been ruled out of order because it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer. We have seven minutes in total to discuss these amendments.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 14, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

“(c) the value of any credited contributions assigned to an injured person as a result of the personal injury up to the date of the issuing of a statement of the recoverable benefits.”.

I will try to be brief but I have tabled several amendments and I want to raise some of my concerns about this section.

The amendments are practical ones. I do not have a problem with the proposal to recover benefit from those who have gained compensation. I have also suggested recovering benefits from the Employment Appeals Tribunal from the companies which lose there. I hope that in future the Minister will consider that suggestion. We estimate that a substantial sum of money is lost to the Exchequer in those instances. I want to ensure that the injured person receives the benefit of the value of any credited contributions assigned to an injured person and that it is not ignored.

Amendment No. 21 covers circumstances where the compensator has already made a reduced award. There are times when the Department makes mistakes such as a miscalculation of the size of the benefits claimed or received in that period. The section allows for this but suggests that the State would then return the value of that to the compensator, in this case, the business, rather than to the person who is at a loss, in the hope that the business would transfer it back to that person. That is the intention of amendment No. 21. There is not enough time to deal with the technicalities. If we were sitting in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection I would probably be able to explain this in greater detail, with examples. Other people want to speak on these matters.

The Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, raised concerns about this in their submission. I thank it for submitting it despite the short time between the publication of the Bill and this discussion. When a statement of recoverable benefits is issued, a copy but not the original is sent to the person receiving the benefit and the original goes to the compensator. Does the compensator have the first right of appeal? Somebody in possession of the original document has first right of appeal. That is a practical question. Does the first right of appeal belong to the social welfare recipient? The denial of a right of appeal until the Minister has been fully paid is also in breach of fair procedure and needs to be considered. Cases may arise where there has been a mistake made in the statement, for example, if the Department states that a person was on benefit for four years and was in fact only on benefit for two years. A certificate arising from such a mistake cannot be appealed, which is also a mistake. All such decisions should be appealable and those rights are not granted in this instance. I regret the lack of time to discuss these questions.

The Minister knows the background to my amendment No. 20, that compensation payments made by the Health Service Executive, HSE, on foot of its abject failure to protect individual children and families should also be excluded from this scheme. I have discussed this issue with the Minister directly and I have written to her about it. I do not believe that, where the HSE has acted in a grossly ineffective manner which has led to a compensation payment being made to an individual child who has now come of age, the child should be penalised. I raise this specifically because in many cases these incidents have happened in rural Ireland. If a declaration along the lines proposed in the Bill has to be made it might as well be published in the newspaper. The big difficulty for the recipients of these moneys is that the HSE writes in very strict confidentiality clauses such that if the person discloses the information to the Department of Social Protection they could forfeit the compensation and the HSE could seek a refund. I hope that the Minister can address this anomaly in the legislation.

In respect of the recovery issue and fraud the Minister said in an interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk that the fraud inspections would be divided 50-50 between Irish residents and immigrants. Will the Minister clarify that because most welfare fraud in this State takes place among our own citizens?

On the last point, I was asked about the operation of social welfare inspectors at airports. The question applied only to that. Some people were under the impression that it applied only to people coming into the country but in several cases it applied to Irish people who had left the country but continued to claim and came back regularly to do so. My comment related only to that situation and not to anything else. I brought in legislation to allow social welfare inspectors to ask questions of people who appeared to come in regularly to the airports for the purpose of claiming social welfare. We have dealt with between 140 and 150 cases since the legislation was brought in. Some of those cases have appeared before the courts and have been covered fairly extensively in local and national newspapers.

On the amendments, the Department will claim from compensators who would normally be insurance companies that portion of the claim which relates to the Department's paying somebody various kinds of benefit such as illness or injury benefit. This is a standard practice among social security agencies in the rest of Europe. It should probably have been introduced in Ireland a long time ago. The principle is that nobody should be compensated twice. In other cases the compensator, the insurance company, might not reimburse the Department but might in some way or other be the beneficiary of an additional benefit.

The HSE cases to which the Deputy alluded are very specific and I will not comment on them except to say that at local social welfare offices the staff are very sensitive because there is often a great deal of local knowledge which particularly in the case of child abuse have been the subject of widespread local and national publicity. These are sensitive family issues and I will not go into them in detail but the Deputy may continue to liaise with me about those cases.

As the time for this part of the debate has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That in respect of sections 13 and 14 each section undisposed of is hereby agreed to in Committee."

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 15
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

I have a number of concerns in respect of section 15. There was a bit of disturbance in the Chamber so I did not hear.

Are sections 15 to 18 being taken together? Is it not possible to debate them together?

I will clarify the standing orders for the House. Each section must be addressed. They can be debated collectively but they must be addressed separately in the form of a question. That is what I was doing.

Could I discuss the grouped sections?

That is fine. I will put each question separately at the end of the discussion.

An amendment of mine was ruled out of order. It concerned the report of the vaccine damage steering group. The report was published by the Department of Health but it recommended that the compensation scheme be administered by the Department of Social Protection. These families have been waiting since the 1960s and early 1970s for some recognition from the State. The parent of one child was not prepared to wait and went to the courts. That young man, whose name is Kenneth Best, received a substantial compensation payment a number of years ago. However, many more are still awaiting some recognition. Will the Minister use her good offices to engage with the Minister for Health on this issue and ensure the recommendations in the report of the vaccine damage steering group are implemented either through a mechanism in her Department or the Department of Health? These children are in their forties and are approaching their early fifties. Their parents are elderly and are very anxious. We need rapid movement on this issue.

Current legislation allows trustees of occupational pension schemes to lower the pension benefit payable to a person by taking into account State pension entitlements to which that person is entitled. Do the changes today permit the trustees of an occupational pension scheme to reduce the benefit payable to any person who reaches the age of 65 on or after 1 January 2014? Will this have a negative impact on these occupational pensions? I am not clear about this. This was the point I was trying to raise at the very beginning of the debate today. Regrettably, the pension age will increase over the next number of years. It was reduced from 70 between 1973 and 1977 but we are obviously in reverse gear. It is very important that there is no double disadvantage through a lowering of the occupational pension because there is a presumption of a State pension in the years between 65 and the year in which the person is entitled to the State pension. I would like to hear what the Minister's understanding of it is. I am not sure I understand it correctly.

This is one of the provisions in this Bill that is highly technical. Given the shortness of time, I have not managed to get my head around its implications in the two days since it was published. By the looks of it, other people have not managed to either. I received an e-mail from the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament which has concerns. It was advised that it was a technical measure. The e-mail stated that it would like a strong assurance that no adverse consequences for scheme members would arise as a result of this measure.

On my reading of it, it seems to suggest that trustees will be able to alter the benefit paid because we are talking about integrated pensions here and most people are not aware of how they work when there is the contributory pension and the private part of it. If people are not in receipt of the State pension transition, which is the one for the single year, the trustees will be able to reduce the award as if that person was receiving that. Quite a number of people retire early such as gardaí, teachers and soldiers. Is there an implication for them with regard to a pension if the trustees decide with the extra powers they now have to reduce the benefit by up to €230 if the person is not in receipt of the State pension transition? It seems to permit the reduction of the benefit payable to the person who reaches the age of 65 on or after 1 January 2014 as if the State pension transition commenced to be payable to the person from the age of 65. This is not the ideal way to address that confusion. Changes to pension provision in this country should be dealt with in a pensions Bill where we have the time to tease it out and the full understanding of what is being proposed rather than it being an afterthought stuck at the back of a social welfare Bill. I will let the Minister answer and, hopefully, she will be able to set my mind at rest and allay the concerns of the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament, which also seems to be concerned about this.

I agree that it looks a fairly complex measure. My interpretation of it is that the trustees of a pension scheme are required to take into account the fact that when somebody reaches the age of 65, they are getting a transition pension. What that means is that they continue paying the person the same pension but reduce it by the amount of the transition pension so in net terms, the person will finish up equal anyway. With the removal of the transition pension, this allows trustees to act as if the transition pension was still being paid and reduce the amount of the private pension accordingly even though the person is not getting the transition pension anymore.

Deputy O'Dea may recall that his own Government produced key documents in 2007 and 2010. In the context of changing population age structures in Ireland, the recommendation of those documents and the framework relating to pensions was that the population age be raised to 66. The Government at the time agreed to that and it became policy. It also set out the trajectory of the subsequent increases to the higher ages in 2021 and 2028. That was agreed by that Government. I think Deputy O'Dea was still a member of that Government so I am sure he will remember it. This was the context. When the troika came to Ireland, that was understandably given to it as part of the Fianna Fáil plan and accepted. The changes in the pension age in Ireland are based on the population age changes and people living longer and having a sustainable contributory retirement pension. The reforms have improved Ireland's credit rating significantly. To be clear, what we are talking about is ensuring that trustees can properly administer their schemes.

Being a trustee is a complex and onerous job. This is a technical amendment designed to address a particular situation where scheme rules state a specific age of 65 years rather the normal pensionable age, which will be 66 years from 1 January 2014. One can argue that it was always that age under the State pension transition but, following those recommendations, we moved to that policy. These provisions do not affect the rate of occupational pension promised, which was Deputy Ó Snodaigh's concern. Previously schemes operated off the State pension being payable from the age of 65 years. The amendment is simply intended to ensure this continues to be the case and that members continue to receive the benefits they have been promised. It ensures that the scheme continues to operate in the manner intended and as understood by and communicated to scheme members. Both provisions relate to the date of cessation of the bridging pension where the reference to a specific age would provide a bridging pension from ceasing. In the case of an integrated pension, it will ensure that occupational pensions can continue to reference the State pension in their calculations.

Pension scheme trustees have a fiduciary responsibility under the Pension Act 1990 to administer these schemes properly. That is a big issue for many trustees. In the past, trustees tended to be lay volunteers who built up expertise in pensions because they undertook to take on their role on behalf of their co-workers. Section 59 of the 1990 Act is an overarching provision that sets out the broad duties of trustees and it cannot impede the rules of the scheme from being correctly administered. The provisions are discretionary and they state clearly that trustees can amend their schemes' rules as appropriate, provided they do so in accordance with the law. Many schemes set out differing retirement ages, as is their entitlement. Prior to the crash, a number of banks offered early retirement ages through their schemes. In the context of an examination of the population numbers and ages in Ireland, the Government of which Deputy O'Dea was a member moved decisively to adjust the State retirement age to 66 years in 2014, 67 years in 2021 and 68 years in 2028. This change reflects the potential implications for certain trustees. Rather than stating the State retirement age, they may indicate the age of 65. The trustees have to be assured they are properly administering their duties on behalf of pensioners.

I thank the Minister for her response. I think I have got to grips with the issue. She is addressing the anomaly between the ages of 65 years and 66 years. I expect that in several years' time she will have to address the next gaps when the State pension age changes to 67 years and 68 years. Is this not an opportune time to address those gaps in the Bill before us?

It would have been useful if her comments had been circulated to Deputies in advance so that we would have a better understanding of the issue. I thank the Minister's officials for providing a briefing to Opposition Members from which some of our questions emerged. My parliamentary assistant was not sure about certain details. The briefing was a useful opportunity but it did not answer all our questions. I hope the assurance she has given addresses the concerns of those with whom I have been in contact and that the pension funds will be secure.

In regard to the fiduciary responsibilities of those who administer occupational schemes, the Minister has put in place a regime to ensure the schemes are properly funded. Part of the funding will be based on calculations trustees have made in order to provide pensions from the age of 65. Has any consideration been given to the additional obligations they may incur to fill the gap that is left? Might this foster a situation whereby they amend schemes negatively in order to comply with the new legal provisions?

I think the answer is "not negatively" but if, for example, the employer wishes to contribute to the scheme in order to provide for additionally, that would be completely possible. Due to the fall in stock market values which lasted until recently - this year and last year stock market values have begun to increase significantly - pension funds across the western world experienced significant deficits. This was because of the fall in the stock market but also the turbulence in markets arising from the financial crisis. Many schemes were built up decades ago based on assumptions about longevity and the profile of members at retirement age. People in Ireland are living much longer and there is a general move to review pensionable ages. There was a view of people retiring earlier. Ten or 15 years ago it was not unusual for people in places like banks to retire at the age of 50 or 55. That is becoming rare as people move towards longer working lifetimes. It is up to each scheme to review its position. In some cases the employer may agree to fund the additional portion. If it does, it will incur additional liabilities under the scheme. It is hard to be specific in this regard because each scheme is particular to itself and there are a large number of relatively small schemes in Ireland, as well as a small number of large schemes.

It is not a question of anybody being reduced. This amendment relates to schemes and the State pension age. They may be different in some cases or parallel in others.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 16 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.
Question put: "That the Title be the Title to the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 45.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • 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.
Question declared carried.

The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of 24 October 2013: "That the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed, and the Bill is hereby passed." Is that agreed?

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Given there are cuts to core social welfare payments in this Bill, contrary to the programme for Government, we should have a manual vote.

Question again put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 46.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • 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.
Question declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 4.34 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 November 2013.