Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages.

SECTION 8.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

I thank the Minister for attending once again. I seek clarification on the section which relates to the payment of PRSI in error by an employer or a self-employed person. A four-year time limit is introduced for the claiming of refunds, which will have a detrimental effect on a claimant. What percentage of people per annum make such an error? How much does the Department expect to save in making this change? Does the Minister consider it fair that if someone pays PRSI in error, a four-year time limit is imposed on claiming back the money? I do not consider it fair. What does the Minister hope to achieve by the introduction of this amendment?

The explanatory memorandum outlines the introduction of a four-year time limit. Why is the Minister imposing a time limit? People make a contribution to their State pension. I have received telephone inquiries about this section in the context of the return of contributions as outlined in section 8(3). Is the Minister in some way creating a back-door system to deprive people of their entitlements? We are changing the goalposts as set out under existing provisions. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation on self-employment contributions.

As someone who has been involved in part-time employment, who was made temporary whole-time and then permanent, before changing to the Oireachtas, I am aware that the issue of pension contributions is a difficult one. I do not claim to be well versed in economics, but I know from dealing with officials in the Department of Social and Family Affairs that if one misses a deadline, one gets caught up in loopholes. It is a conundrum. I would like the Minister to respond on the issue of retrospective payment. I am concerned that the insertion in the Bill of a time limit on the return of contributions will create a knock-on effect and penalise people in the context of this budget being a computer printout to balance the books. I would like the Minister to outline her rationale for this change.

I also have a few questions for the Minister. Will the time limit operate both ways? It will apply to contributions that have been inaccurately taken from a contributor such that the State will be in the debt of the person. If it is the other way around and there has been underpayment as a result of the State's inefficiency due to an oversight on the part of the payer, will this be subject to the four-year time limit? It seems that what is sauce for the Government should be sauce for the individual citizen also.

Section 8(4) states, "Regulations may provide for the method of calculation in the amount of any contribution due to be repaid". I would not have thought many calculations would be required. I would have thought also that if an overpayment became clear, the overpayment would be self-evident. What may be concealed behind section 8(4), which would concern me, is that a method of calculation may be arrived at which would not be to the advantage of the citizen in claiming a refund. I would have thought people who made these contributions did so on the basis they were very often deducted automatically from their income and they simply assumed the authorities had it right. I am not convinced of the need for a limitation of this kind. Is this kind of four year limit in operation in any other financial institutions, such as banks? Can the Minister give any precedent for this? I know there is a statute of limitations in criminal cases, for example. There have been a number of situations where the banks have been very cavalier with investors' or savers' money. Do similar rules in apply in ordinary financial life?

The idea behind the reclaiming of PRSI contributions for four years is to bring it in line with the tax system. Senator Norris asked if it applied elsewhere; it applies in the tax system. It does not cut both ways.

It should do so.

This is the same as in the tax system. If one owes money to Revenue, it can take it from one no matter how long one owes it. However, if it owes one money, one only has four years within which to get it back. It will be the same with PRSI and it brings it into line with the tax system.

As regards how much money is involved, in 2008, refunds were paid to 14,500 people costing €21.3 million. That was a huge increase on previous years. That includes those people who had made a contribution and were getting a rebate within the four year period about which we are talking but also those who go back much further. One can go back to 1953 but, in effect, people generally only go back to 1988 when insurance for the self-employed was introduced.

There is a disadvantage for the customer in so far as he or she will only have four years to reclaim the money. From a Department point of view, there are savings to be made on the money that will be repaid. There are huge administrative savings because every year an individual assessment must be done when different rates of PRSI applied. If that can be done more speedily not only will we save on administration, it also means the payments can be made more quickly.

This is grossly unfair because it is money owed to people who made a mistake. It is their money. I believe this is illegal. This is not acceptable. The Minister said €21.3 million had been recouped. That money belongs to the people. To put a four-year limit on it is outrageous. I have met people who are trying to put stamps and contributions together to make up their pensions, as I am sure the Minister has in her clinics. It is only when they plan to retire that they try to accumulate their stamps. It is grossly unfair to put a four-year limit on something that is an entitlement. The money belongs to the person who has paid the stamp.

The Minister raised more questions. Can she give me an explanation as to why in these circumstances there was such a considerable increase? I cannot think why. It is not as if people who were hard pressed were trying to defraud. It is coming the other way, unless the State was trying to get more money, as the banks did. What was the reason for this statistical spike?

I understand the Minister's difficulty in terms of the calculations because it changes every year for the tax rate. I appreciate that in terms of personnel, time occupied and so on. Computers can usually do these things fairly quickly if they are programmed correctly.

I am absolutely shocked to discover that this does not work both ways. This seriously disadvantages the citizen and is definitely not fair. I will definitely vote against this section on that basis alone. It is wrong because what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

When I challenged the Minister to produce precedent, she produced the tax system where similarly the citizen may be held in a difficult situation because of the limitation. The citizen is again disadvantaged by the State. The same agency is doing it, so it is not really a terribly convincing precedent. I would be much more convinced if the Minister had cited a bank or a building society and perhaps she can, although I rather doubt it.

The Minister is a fair-minded and decent person and I am sure she must at least sub rosa agree with me that there is unfairness if the citizen, who is after all a vulnerable individual, is treated in a less fair manner than the State treats itself.

Much of what I want to say has been said by Senator Norris. This is a bit like Big Brother.

I never said that.

This a bit like Big Brother. To paraphrase Senator Norris, the State is out to get the citizen. It is putting an unfair burden on the contributor, the taxpayer. I understand from where the Minister is coming but it should work both ways. The malaise in social welfare will further confuse people. Is the Minister open to holding a series of information meetings around the country with citizens who do not understand the issues of PRSI, stamps and entitlements? Despite the Department's publications, there is complete confusion.

People should not be at a disadvantage. If they are due a rebate or a contribution, they should receive it. As Senator McFadden said, people attend the Minister's clinics who are short stamps, who have broken service or who are in the wrong PRSI class. They should be given the benefit by the State as well as some latitude. This section is placing an unfair burden on the contributor.

This closes the door on the citizen because it comes into effect on 1 January next. We are dealing with employment contributions, self-employment contributions, voluntary contributions and optional contributions. It will be done and dusted on 1 January next. As Senator Buttimer said, there are people who have made mistakes, who are in the wrong category and who may not have taken the right option. They may find themselves in better financial circumstances now than previously but this will cut off all avenues.

There should be some type of amnesty for two or three months to allow people to regularise their social welfare contributions and to bring this to the attention of citizens because there are people who may not be fully aware of what is happening. I appreciate that in some cases there is a cost — the Minister indicated it was €21 million last year and could well be the same next year — and there is an effort to plug every possible hole but this is a bit of a hammer blow. It closes the door from 1 January so there should be some form of amnesty. As Senator Buttimer noted, what is going to happen should be brought to the attention of the citizen.

Many points have been made but I want to speak on an issue I raised earlier, when the Minister was not here and a Minister of State was in attendance. We all deal with constituents and people who feel vulnerable and in trouble. The main complaint I get in my constituency in Donaghmede is that people try to contact the local social welfare office in Kilbarrack but the phone rings out for half an hour. That may be an exaggeration but the point is the people cannot get an answer from social welfare staff.

I end up sending clients to the office because the service is inadequate. They feel nobody wants to know about them and nobody bothers with them so when I send them to the office, there is a queue. These people are treated like dirt. One might not think I am on the Government side saying this but these are the complaints I get.

The only difficulty is it is unrelated to the section.

As he is into it, we will hear his little Christmas message.

These people are entitled to be looked after and treated with respect. Staff should be deployed from other Departments to deal with the clients. I could go on all night about——

The Senator will not, unless it deals with the section.

——representations. It may be nothing to do with the section but as I do not speak very often, I am entitled to make the point.

The Senator is entitled to do so on Second Stage.

I know that. I may be out of order but I have said my piece and it is on the record.

He is speaking sense.

Since 1994 people have been able to get refunds without any time limit, so it is not as if people have not had an opportunity to do so up to now. It is now appropriate to bring the process in line with the tax system for the reasons I have outlined. It does not affect some of the people Senators were talking about, such as people who underpaid or were trying to build up their entitlements. That has nothing to do with the issue at all. People who have not yet retired may have discovered they do not have the right entitlements and depending on the scheme, they may be able to purchase them, and that process is unaffected.

This only concerns people who have overpaid PRSI and are trying to claim it back. It is about getting it back for the four years. It is hard to tell why there are so many more claims now, although there are much more insured people because more people are working. The contribution to the social insurance fund has grown as a result. I am not sure of the extent of it but once a person qualifies in some schemes, a lower rate of PRSI is paid. For example, if a person qualifies for widow's pension, it is deemed that the person is getting as much social welfare benefit as is likely so a lower rate of PRSI is paid. In that case, a person is entitled to claim some of it back. There are similar schemes where money can be refunded.

With regard to whether the process is legal, the date has been challenged a number of times, even this year, with the Revenue Commissioners and it has stood up. It has been proven to be legal.

I asked the Minister if there were other precedents in financial life.

To pick up on my colleagues' idea of an awareness campaign and compensation, these are two important points. If a process is stopping, people need to know so they can make a claim before January. Will there be an amnesty?

The amnesty has been there since 1994.

People do not know it is stopping.

People could have claimed money back in that time. The reality is people do not know they have overpaid unless an accountant examines the matter or a claim has been made for a new scheme etc. I do not know if there are other examples in the financial sector but even if there were, it would not affect what the State is doing. We can only work from a departmental perspective.

Awareness and information are critical. I appreciate social welfare offices are very stretched but we have taken in approximately 350 additional staff from other Departments, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in particular, to try to relieve the pressure. Citizens Information offices around the country are providing a significant service, backed up by full-time workers and a team of volunteers who give out great information. The website and leaflets are very informative and easy to read, and I know Senators have such documentation in offices and clinics all over the country. That is the best approach for people.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 20.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 9.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with self-employed people who reach the age of 66 and declare additional income that changes the number of contributions on their record. This may result in a higher rate of a State pension contribution. Previously, lump sum payments were backdated to the age of 66. I understand this section eliminates that back payment, which is grossly unfair. How many people will this affect? How much does the Department expect to save? Does the Minister think it is fair? Self-employed people are discriminated against in the social welfare system. They do not receive the same benefits as people in the other sector who receive dole and social welfare payments. This seems grossly unfair and I will oppose the section.

Self-employed people or those paying PAYE who go into State employment are not aware that they can make voluntary contributions. Is there a mechanism whereby they can back pay their voluntary contributions to qualify for a State pension as they approach retirement age? There may be people who were not aware that they could pay voluntary contributions on arriving in this House or going into State employment. They may not discover it until a year or two later. Does this provision shut the door by stating they cannot pay voluntary contributions if they have not done so in the first year? If that is the situation it is grossly unfair. Will the Minister explain the position to us?

I welcome Senator Kieran Phelan to the Chair; it is the first time that I have been subjected to his benevolent rule.

Just the way he likes it.

As one would expect from a gentleman from his part of the country.

I hope you will not give me any trouble.

He is definitely from Queen's County as were my ancestors. Enough of this nonsense.

I am not unusually gifted in mathematics or in the computation of tax figures. All I remember is what affects me. I am not sure whether this means I should be ruled out of order for having a vested interest but I can make a point to the Minister. I was employed for quite a number of years by the College of the Sacred and Undivided Trinity near Dublin, normally known as Trinity College or Dublin University. At a particular period a number of years ago the pension system was changed from one where we were on PRSI and paid the stamp. We had eight or ten years under our belt. I asked whether it was possible to make voluntary contributions and I was told firmly "No". I am not sure whether that was correct and I will not reopen it. I discovered one of my colleagues who retired approximately two years ago successfully made a claim. I pursued this matter with a social welfare office and it emerged that on the strength of my contributions I was entitled to €104 per month. I am not worried about whether I was misinformed on whether I could make a voluntary contribution. However, I wonder whether people such as me are in a position, should they wish, to make this type of claim or is it completely closed off? It was rather an odd situation where the system was changed mid-stream. I am not that bothered about the €104 per month but it is an interesting principle.

With 53 schemes in the Department I will not even pretend to know all the intricacies of each of them. I will be happy to speak to somebody about the individual cases raised here. All the section does is align a situation. At present, a self-employed person can make a claim and years later pay up the contributions, but the pension is paid from the date of the claim. What this states is that if one makes a claim and pays, one will be paid from then. It does not affect anybody making a claim in future. All it does is stop back payment for somebody trying to get around the system by making a claim now but not making payments for a number of years. It is aligning the date of the claim with the date of the payments and the pension is paid from the date of the payment not the date of the claim.

What if a person overpays? Is there a limit, similar to the provision of the Bill we discussed previously, if a self-employed person overpays?

It is generally the other way around. Approximately 20% of State pension cases are where claims are made retrospectively. In the case raised by Senator McFadden, it would be governed by the four year rule.

Regarding the case described by Senator Norris, in some instances one can draw a reduced State pension and what is being closed here might prevent people from receiving a reduced pension. I understand one needs ten years for a reduced pension. Does this provision close the door where any back pay is owed or where people could go back a number of years to make the required number of contributions to obtain the State pension?

No, it does not. All it involves is that people have paid the contributions for the pension for which they are eligible. Whether it is a part pension or a full pension it is a matter of ensuring all the contributions are paid at the time the State pays them.

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 10.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

This section provides that where unpaid contributions are paid subsequent to the date of the claim, the pension will be payable only from the date on which the contributions are paid. In essence, this is similar to the previous situation we discussed. Another door is being closed. The Minister is aligning all of the schemes, and there is no problem with that if people know their rights and they need to check this matter. There needs to be an awareness campaign. This should be advertised. It is not good enough to state the Citizens Advice Bureau will inform people if the closing date is January. Will the Minister allow more time for it to be highlighted to people? That would be fair.

Once again, there is confusion and a lack of clarity. The Minister speaks about aligning it with taxation, which is fair enough, but my fundamental difficulty is that this comes into operation on 1 January 2010. Today is 16 December. If the Bill is passed and signed into law when will it come into effect? My point is that between 22 or 23 December to 4 January everything is shut administratively and people switch off. Then we get to the first week of January when it is too late and, as the Minister is aware, there may or may not be a flood of people coming into social welfare and community welfare offices and all they will be told is that the legislation specified 1 January 2010.

I am not a mathematician and I get confused about social welfare. I appeal to the Minister to allow for an awareness campaign on the changes that will occur when this Bill comes into effect. With the best will in the world, people will not understand it and there will be absolute chaos after 1 January. Can we extend the deadline to give people a transition period? People will be lost in the holidays during the next two weeks. I ask the Minister to allow people a period of grace.

This is one of those sections where 1 January has no good, bad or indifferent impact. There is no impact on when a person makes a claim, but when he or she makes the claim for the pension as a person who has previously been self-employed, then he or she pays up the money at that time. From that time, the money will be paid. As soon as such people bring in their claim, they will be told about their money. If they say they will bring the money back next month or next year or in five years, they will be told their pension will only be paid from the time they pay their contributions. The starting date of this legislation has no bearing at all on this section.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 11.
Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill".

I oppose this section. It deals with many of the issues we have discussed already, such as medical, optical and dental benefits, as well as the medical appliance scheme. This will cost us dearly in terms of dental hygiene and so on. I have spoken to people who will be directly affected by this. I hope people will get their applications in before the end of the year and before this measure is enacted, but I hope the Minister will look at the provision at this late stage. The requirement to keep it is not there. How much does the Minister estimate that limiting these schemes will save the State?

This is a retrograde step. People pay PRSI and this was a benefit to that payment. My aunt went around schools with mouthwash before water was fluoridated. We suffered from tooth decay in this country many years ago. This is a backward step that will backfire on us in years to come, because we will have to pay more as a result.

I welcome the fact the Minister has not got rid of one annual check up. However, what is the point in having one annual check up when one cannot have a free scale and polish, filling, extraction and so on? Some 91,000 dentures were paid for last year, but that scheme is now being abolished. Many people will be discommoded because of this. We have had a very good service and our dentists have provided good value for money with this scheme. Oral health is a vital part of our well being. All sorts of serious diseases can transpire due to bad oral health. This is a draconian move.

I wonder how people will be able to pay to visit their dentist. If they are being cut at every other angle, they will not have the money to pay for dental treatment. That will be far down the pecking order when it comes to heat and food.

I have been approached by the dental profession from two angles. There has been a very considerable diminution of their income, and they feel that dentists who rely largely on the operation of this scheme will be put out of business. I am a little bit less sympathetic to them on that issue. However, I have had subsequent communication from them which indicates the benefit to society of the dental scheme. It is used very extensively, and it shows there is a clear need for it.

Out of 2 million insured persons in 2008, up to 400,000 availed of the free check up and the total cost to the State was €13.5 million. This is an oral examination and it is a pre-emptive method of assessing whether there will be further problems down the road, which will save on further costs and further pain. A total of 446,000 took advantage of the free scale and polish, but this will also be abolished. Some 500,000 fillings were paid for and the scheme provides for the State to pay the dentist €33.50 per filling and contributes a further 15% discount on patient fees for those earning less than €65,000. The ESRI has established that there is a markedly lower likelihood of people attending dental clinics if they come from lower income groups. This means the abolition of this particular scheme will disadvantage the most vulnerable. That is a pity.

There were 93,000 extractions paid for under the scheme, at cost of €3.3 million, which is not enormous. The scheme provides for the State to pay the dentist €26 and for those patients earning less than €65,000, the amount is capped at €14.15. This is now to be abolished. This will really cut people where it hurts. The provision of 91,000 dentures has largely but not exclusively been for elderly people. These are not cosmetic things, but are appliances which allow elderly people to masticate their food and assist in their digestion, their diet and general well being. Oral disease has a significant impact in terms of pain, suffering, impairment of function and reduced quality of life.

The dental association commissioned Dr. Brenda Gannon from NUIG to conduct a cost benefit analysis of the scheme. She is a reasonably independent minded person, even though the group commissioning the report had a vested interest. Her study shows that the return on the investment is very positive and that the benefits outweigh the cost of the scheme by a multiple of between 2 and 2.6. She presents evidence of improved dental health afforded by this scheme and she establishes the fact that there will be a considerable loss of tax revenue following any decision to abolish the scheme. The inevitable redundancy and ongoing welfare costs which would arise show significant extra costs. I am making, supported by factual data, three related points. A considerable number of citizens find this scheme to be of advantage. As the figures show, approximately 1.5 million people, an enormous number, availed of the various elements of the scheme in the past year. The proposal will result in 1.5 million people being substantially disadvantaged. The three legs of my argument are the large number of people involved, the human toll of the proposal in terms of pain, the prevention of dental decay and more serious conditions, extractions and so forth and the analysis done by a respected academic which shows that far from saving the State money, the measure may cost money. I respectfully ask the Minister to reply to them.

I do not speak for the Irish Dental Association and, as with Senator Norris, I am not particularly concerned about the diminution of dentists' income. The important point is the effect of the measure on patients and dental and oral hygiene. The Minister is of a generation when dentists visited schools, although in Cork we went to City Hall. As Senator McFadden pointed out, by restricting treatment this measure is regressive and retrograde.

I seek clarity on one matter. Subsection 2 states: "The amendment effected by subsection (1) shall not apply to any treatment or benefit approved on or before 31 December 2009 pursuant to and in accordance with section 138 and regulations made under it”. Must a patient obtain approval from the Department or from the dentist providing the treatment before treatment can commence? As the Minister is aware, some dental treatments are completed over a protracted period. If a person commences a course of treatment on or before 31 December 2009 and it extends into 2010, will the new regulations apply? This question may appear basic but I have received several telephone inquiries about the issue.

I am concerned that the regulations governing dental treatment are being changed. The briefing note provided by the Irish Dental Association includes a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the number of people who have availed of various treatments. I will not repeat the figures cited by Senator Norris. Given the change in diet, including the increase in sugar consumption, of which I am as guilty as anyone else, people must be allowed to avail of dental services. What is the purpose of PRSI if we cannot avail of these benefits?

Many fine dentists who receive money under the scheme will be affected by the measure. Has the Minister considered what will be the knock on effects of restricting the scheme in terms of waiting lists for dental services?

I was asked the reason people pay PRSI and contribute to the social insurance fund. People largely do so to secure protection by way of the State pension and unemployment assistance, even if most of us do not envisage becoming unemployed. The attitude of most people is that they pay into the social insurance fund to obtain a pension when they retire. One of the side benefits of these contributions is the treatments to which people have had access.

The social insurance fund will be in deficit by the middle of 2010 and the scheme will require subvention to the tune of €1.2 billion. For this reason, we must try to find savings. We announced we would curtail rather than close this scheme for one year and the decision will be reviewed next year.

I accept the advances that have been made in oral hygiene and sight. When I met representatives of dentists and opticians they told me the item they wanted to maintain most was the examination because it indicates if there is a problem or disease. We heard a wonderful story on radio this morning about a lady who had a brain tumour identified during an eye test. This protection will continue to be afforded.

Some of the figures Senator Norris cited were duplicated because a person who had a filling may also have had an extraction. We envisage that approximately 400,000 people will claim for a dental examination and 200,000 will claim for an optical examination in 2010.

As most people are aware, competition in the optical industry has been intense in recent years. One can now have an examination done for as little as €15 and glasses are available at low prices. We have not seen this type of competition in the dental area where there has not been a reduction in prices. Perhaps these measures will prompt moves in the right direction and result in increased competition, which would not be any harm.

The Department envisages achieving savings of approximately €54 million from the scheme next year. By retaining the examinations, people will continue to undergo eye tests and oral examinations which can identify ongoing problems.

On Senator Buttimer's question, if a treatment commences before the end of the year, the full treatment will be covered. Prior approval for any treatment must be obtained by the dentist from the Department. Once approval has been secured, the dentist may commence the treatment. As such, the measures will not impact on those in the position set out by Senator Buttimer.

Senator Norris referred to preventable diseases. The Department accepts the progress made in this area and as a result of fluoridation. All these measures have had a major impact. However, the social insurance fund is in deficit and we need to make savings, while seeking to protect the basic scheme. These measures protect the examinations and provision of hearing aids. In addition, those on low incomes may obtain optical and dental treatment on the medical card. The measures relate to those who avail of treatment on the basis of their PRSI payments.

These measures are a retrograde step. Good oral health is vital from the point of view of pain and suffering. Some people will no longer be able to afford to have a tooth extracted or filling done. While I accept that the examinations have been retained, this is a paltry measure given that people will no longer be able to avail of treatments, even in emergencies. This is a cruel, cold and callous measure which hits the most vulnerable again. The budget is outrageous.

I oppose the measure. The threatened abolition of the scheme affects two groups of people. Those who support the measure tend to paint dentists as some sort of fat cats, which is not necessarily true, and do not consider the problems it will present for patients. I do not know what the figures are but from listening I gather that some 2 million people can take advantage of this. This will lead to serious dental problems for those who cannot afford dental treatment. Dentists are very expensive and many people will not go to dentists as a result. The dental health of the nation will suffer as a result. Some of the figures have already been quoted. Of the 2 million insured, 400,000 availed of a free check-up. That is a lethal measure to lose. Some 466,000 people availed of the free scale and polish at a total cost to the State of €16 million. It is not a major sum. This is now to be abolished. In 2008 some 500,000 fillings were paid for under this scheme which is to be abolished. The cost to the State was €18 million. Some 93,000 extractions were paid for in 2008 at a total cost to the State of €3.3 million. These are small savings and people will suffer as a result. The extraction element is to be abolished as well. Some 90,000 people had dentures treatment under this scheme and the total cost to the State was €2.5 million. We are considering abolishing a benefit and a cost benefit analysis is not certain to show it will pay.

Dentists are often regarded as easy targets because people think it is not a problem if one hits dentists. Hitting dentists involves hitting patients and represents a double whammy. I do not understand the thinking behind the attack on oral health. This encourages the neglect of people's teeth because they cannot afford to pay for some of these measures that are free under this scheme. I beg the Minister to think of this as a false saving. In the long term I am not sure there will be savings. The thinking behind these cuts is that it will look right in the budget figures now but it will not look right in five years' time.

I have been contacted by a number of dentists about this issue. The Minister referred to those on low incomes availing of this through the medical card system but not all dentists participate in the medical card scheme. There will be a huge waiting list in this area. I hope the Minister will address this.

A large number of people use the service. I think it is cost neutral because the industry is under pressure from Northern Ireland and eastern Europe, where many people go because expenses have become so high in the sector, like every other sector in our society.

The dental industry is under pressure from Northern Ireland and eastern Europe and this measure will exacerbate the problem. Those not availing of the insurance will go to the nearest area outside, which is Northern Ireland. I hope that will not be the case but it probably will be. We will see a significant number of job losses in this area so the measure is counter-productive. Senator Norris referred to 93,000 extractions out of 2 million eligible people at a cost of €13.5 million. The amount of money is quite small when one takes the industry into account, the service it provides and the health of the nation's teeth in the long run. The Minister should re-examine this section.

I missed some of the Minister's contribution concerning dentists who start work on patients before 31 December.

They will continue.

I take it the work will continue, they can claim retrospectively and approval is granted by the dentist. The Minister referred to competition and Senator Burke made a good point about how people are travelling abroad to other jurisdictions. The Irish Dental Association made a submission commenting that a new economic study shows that with removal of subsidised and free treatment the Government and patients will end up paying €3 for every €1 currently spent on the PRSI scheme. It continues by pointing out that the lost revenue and income, redundancy costs and increased hospital care for dental treatment and incidence of oral cancer will add to the long-term bill for this mistake. I would like to hear the Minister's rationale for this. As Senator Burke said, this could become cost neutral and I appeal to the Minister to reconsider this section of the Bill.

I agree with the general sentiment that it is time we moved on. We have spoken at length about the dental situation but the optical situation is also significant. Three or four years ago I visited an optician seeking a change of prescription. The optician told me to see a specialist, which I did, and I was told that I had macular degeneration of the retina. In my case this is irreversible. When people from Fighting Blindness were briefing me I mentioned that I had the disease. They asked me if they could use me. I agreed and did a few advertisements and interviews for them. This led to much unjustified sentimentality. One of my neighbours said to me that I would do anything for a vote. This was not the case; I was rather embarrassed. I received an enormous number of cures, ranging from the perfectly sensible to the absolutely insane. The type of disease I have may take a long time to develop but it is irreversible at the present state of knowledge. There is a wet and dry version and I cannot remember which I have. The people from Fighting Blindness contacted me because the other type can be reversed but people need to check their eyes every year. If this is done as a result of our campaign, the eyesight of a significant number of people will be saved. We also ought to underline the significance of the eye check in terms of people's well-being.

In my initial comments I asked about the cost to the State this section of the Bill will save. The Minister did not outline this or perhaps I missed it.

I think the Minister said it was €54 million.

We must make decisions and bridge the deficit, as Sinn Féin has acknowledged and has shown how it can be done. Sinn Féin acknowledges that PRSI contributions will be in deficit next year. That is one of the reasons we proposed the removal of the ceiling on PRSI contributions, bringing in €119 million. I know the Minister was uncomfortable listening to my earlier contribution but this is about the decisions we take. Whether they availed of it last year, 2 million people can avail of the scheme but the Government has decided to hurt them a wee bit more. In some cases the pain will be real because people cannot avail of treatment due to the poverty trap. This cut can be put in the context of many other cuts and some people will feel they cannot pay for dental treatment. The Minister refers to this reducing the cost of dentists. If costs could come down, we would all welcome it because they are quite high. Dentists operate businesses and must remain in business but it would be welcome if they could become more competitive. Let us not cloud the issue. There is no way on this wild earth that by introducing this scheme, 2 million people will somehow have cheaper dental care. There is no doubt that as a result of this section of the Bill, 2 million people will have an increased contribution to pay in regard to dental treatment and optical treatment. Let us be clear that it is not the purpose of the Bill to create competition; it is to save the State money because the Government has decided not to take other decisions and to let the impact fall on those who need this type of treatment. That is the reason I oppose the Bill.

Senators Ross and Norris highlighted the importance of the examination. In Senator Norris's case, if he had not had that examination, the unfortunate finding of macular degeneration would not have been discovered. We have kept the examination so that such issues can be identified, including oral cancers which other speakers have mentioned. I have no doubt that if people think something is free, they will benefit from it. The examination for both eyes and teeth will still be free and we anticipate that some hundreds of thousands will benefit from it.

To make it clear to Senator Buttimer, the dentist gets approval from the Department. It is not that the dentist gives approval. If the treatment has started or he has approval, obviously that continues into next year, can be finished and will be paid for.

The issue of people travelling abroad for dental treatment is quite true. We do not see people going abroad for eye treatment because of competition and because prices have come down so much here. It was interesting that when the McCarthy report considered the social insurance fund and the treatment benefit scheme, not only did it recommend that it should no longer be there at all and suggest we cannot afford the scheme, it also indicated the treatment benefit scheme may have contributed to higher prices for dental treatment in this country. The competition authority has made a number of recommendations in trying to promote competition in the dental services so consumers can get better value for money but dentists have not taken it up.

There is a view that perhaps we are contributing to this lack of competition because there was a steady and regular payment coming from the State. I hope the revision to the payments and to the scheme will encourage competition among dentists. It is very interesting that none of us have received much by way of representations from opticians — it is nearly all from dentists. Opticians were firmly of the view that what they really wanted to hold onto was the eye test because that was what could identify all of the problems.

We have made the saving of €54 million, which is a not insignificant sum for a fund that will be in deficit by the middle of next year. We are keeping the basics open, and the hearing aids and so on are being kept as well. It is not as if that scheme was curtailed go deo arís but we will return to it next year.

The saving is €54 million, which I do not dispute because that is an acceptable figure. I have just been contacted by some dentists in the last few minutes. I was asked to ask the Minister the following. While the savings are being made, what is the estimate of the Department of Health and Children or the Department of Social and Family Affairs of the long-term cost to the health of the nation of abolishing these schemes? What damage will be done to health, which will cost the nation a lot of money in the long term? Has any analysis been done on this whatsoever or is it simply a case of "€54 million, bang, we have saved that"? Do we have any idea or are we just taking a purely short-term, knee-jerk reaction to this?

How long will it take for the dentist to get approval from the Department? If somebody tomorrow morning goes to the dentist and makes an appointment to start work on dentures, root canal work or bridging, how long will it take? The Minister stated the dentist has to get approval from the Department. Will that process take weeks or days? Will the fact the dentist made contact with the Department on 17 December be taken into account? Is that too late? There is ambiguity in the Minister's reply which requires further clarification.

Senator Ross makes a very good point. Some €13.5 million is being taken through this section. We want to maintain the health of the nation's teeth but jobs will be lost through this. How does the Minister intend to keep the health of people's teeth at the current level? While some people will qualify under the medical card, many will not and they will not go to the dentist because they will not have the money to do so. Given this, there will be job losses, fewer dentists and a worsening of the level of treatment.

With regard to provision for dentistry within the HSE, the service is practically non-existent and is constantly being cut. In the past three years there has been very little service, even for emergency work. With the embargo, staff are not being employed.

First, the scheme has not been abolished. The scheme is still in existence and, while it is more limited, it does offer the examination. People always had to pay towards their fillings and extractions. It was only a grant that was paid. The only treatment they got free was the examination and two scales and two polishes per annum. If people wanted an extraction or filling, they always had to pay something and they will still have to pay. The challenge is for the dentist not to be ripping them off completely. Hopefully, that will happen.

With regard to Senator Buttimer's point, again, the dentist gets approval from the Department in advance. Normally, it is given immediately on the telephone.

On the Minister's last comment, although we have already dealt with competition, the Minister is now saying the State pays a subsidy for extractions, fillings and the other treatment to which people had to contribute, and she said it is up to dentists not to be ripping them off. I take it she claims they are ripping off the client at present through the contribution from the State, and are ripping off the State as well. Her comment in regard to dental practitioners is very serious and I ask her to clarify it.

I questioned the Minister earlier in the context of the Irish Dental Association study. She speaks about competition. My concern is that, from talking to those involved in dental practices, I am genuinely concerned that this will lead to a loss of people providing the service. I appreciate that the Minister claims it is not gone, which I understand. However, the nature of the changes in the Bill will act as a deterrent. Even for my simple request, I was confused until minutes ago when the Minister told me the request could be made by telephone.

The Government and patients will end up paying €3 for every €1 spent on the PRSI scheme. It will lead to a loss of revenue, redundancies and to hospital care for dental treatment. As other speakers have said, it will contribute to a decline in oral hygiene. While I am not flying a flag for dentists, this scheme should not be touched. We need to allow people to go to their dentists, to make their contribution and get the rebate. The Minister has made the changes in the Bill. It is an attack on a vital service, which is a thread running through the budget, which is unfair. That is the fundamental point.

There is much evidence for a lack of competition in the dental industry. The first is the fact so many people are travelling abroad, the second is the McCarthy report, which indicated that the Government scheme may actually be contributing to higher prices, and the third is in regard to the recommendations made by the Competition Authority, which have not yet been implemented. These identify that prices could come down. We saw this in the optical industry, with good value now available. People no longer go abroad and eye tests are available for €20 and spectacles for €40. There is nothing like that level of competition or keen pricing within the dental industry.

This is solely about saving money for one year. We do not believe in any way that it will have a long-term impact on oral hygiene. The only thing that was free in the past was the examination and scaling and polishing. People can still get a free examination and we encourage them to continue to benefit from that; the State will pay for that. The contribution towards the rest will not be paid by the State for this year.

I do not want to drag this out because we have spent some time on it and I take the point about competition. We would all welcome reduced prices in dental practices.

The Minister mentioned this is just for a year and there will be no impact on oral hygiene for the 2 million people who can avail of the service. Why then is the subsidy being reinstated next year? The Minister has arguments for the reinstatement of the scheme so why cut it in the first place? I do not understand the logic of this. It is as if the Minister does not believe this should be cut in the first place because she is saying it will be put back in place in a couple of months.

I have had to repeat every single answer I have given Senator Doherty. I said cutting it for one year would have no long-term impact. Indeed, the international trend is for governments not to get involved at all in funding dental care except for those who cannot provide it for themselves, who will be covered by the medical card. I accept there are not many benefits for a worker under the PRSI system while he is still working. It is a valuable scheme but it is purely for financial reasons in making the saving for this year that we are doing this. We have worked to maintain the key elements of it.

The Minister should acknowledge she has not repeated the answer to every question I have asked. It is disingenuous for her to say that.

The Minister acknowledged the mid-term PRSI deficit next year will be astronomical and it is likely to increase with the increasing number of people on the live register, as forecast by the Government in the budget. The Government has already said there is a €4 billion deficit that must be bridged next year. The country will still be borrowing to pay the running costs of the State. We will not be in a completely different environment in 12 months. Can I get a clear indication of why we are to reinstate this scheme?

I am arguing we should not get rid of the scheme in the first place. If we are doing it now because we do not have the money, we will not have the money next year either. The PRSI deficit has already been outlined. It will not be any better next year with so many people unemployed. Will the Minister acknowledge that and give a clear answer to that point?

If I did not think it might be taken up as a slur, I would say that some of my best friends are dentists. I am not inimical to their making a living. I have also received some very good dental treatment in this country.

In general, I accept the Minister's point that the tests are still available to the disadvantaged but we then move into a situation where they are disadvantaged if they seek treatment. That is cruel. They are being made aware of an existing problem and then being penalised or even prevented from getting treatment. They will know there is a problem that cannot be resolved without treatment. That is an unfair, perhaps unintended, consequence of this measure.

Would the Minister like to reply to any of those points?

I am sure the Seanad would prefer to deal with this year's budget instead of trying to predict next year's.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 21.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.

On a point of order, can the Cathaoirleach confirm that all Stages are being taken and, if so, whether there will be a break between the end of Committee Stage and Report Stage to provide for the eventuality that some Members may wish to bring forward Report Stage amendments?

The business as ordered was for all Stages.

Without a break.

If Members wish to table amendments, there will need to be a break, as they will need to be processed.

I ask Members to be quiet to allow the business of the House to continue.

SECTION 12.

Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with mortgage interest relief. The Minister might explain what the section proposes in respect of mortgage interest relief and the supplementary welfare allowance.

This section provides that when entitlement to mortgage interest supplement is being determined on the supplementary welfare scheme, if that person has already received a mortgage interest relief or any subsidy paid by the local authority, that would be taken into account.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 13.
Question proposed: "That section 13 stand part of the Bill."

This section provides for the introduction of the cut in jobseeker's allowance and to bring the supplementary welfare allowance in line with the cutbacks in that area. We have spoken at length about the cutbacks in benefits for young people. The cuts in benefits envisaged for young people is a recipe for emigration. They are not being given any hope of employment. The schemes advocated are little more than a token effort by the Government to create some training places. This cut is an attack on young people. We are not giving them any confidence in the political system or any hope of jobs in the future. We have opposed the cut in benefits down to €100 and €150 and we will be opposing this section.

I agree with Senator Cummins. The Minister said that if a person is offered a job, he or she would have to accept the pay and conditions attached to it and that if the person did not accept them, they would no longer be entitled to social welfare benefit. The Minister might elaborate on that. She did not indicate whether the pay involved would be above the minimum wage. I understand the onus will be on a person to make an offer of employment and the terms of employment will be that the pay will be above the minimum wage at the very least, and that if the person refuses the terms of employment, he or she would not be considered again as being eligible for social welfare benefit.

I spoke on this issue earlier and during Second Stage. The attack on those under the age of 25 is the worst aspect of this legislation. When we dealt with the previous section I did not get to ask the Minister if she had obtained legal advice on this provision. I apologise in advance if she has given this information to the House. I understand that such a provision has been introduced for those under the age of 20 in a previous budget. I am not a legal expert, but this provision is fundamentally unfair. It IS an attack on young people who are unemployed. There could be a good case for legal action on this issue. What is proposed is ageism. How can young people be singled out and told to take a reduction in their payments and that not apply to a person who is 26 or 27 years of age? Their circumstances are the same. I heard contributions from Members on the other side of the House yesterday to the effect that when young people turn a certain age all they want to do was go on the dole. Those comments were disgraceful and they should be refuted by the Minister, as they were made by colleagues of her party. What they said was ridiculous.

Some 32% of young males are unemployed through no fault of their own. Some of them have come out of college. Some of them are trained teachers but because of cutbacks and increases in class sizes there are no jobs for them. They have no option but to depend on social welfare.

I note the Minister said a young person with no education has the option of staying here and taking up training and they will get their social welfare payment or the option of going abroad and they will get sterling £50. She mentioned that amount of pounds. I am sure she is aware that of the EU 15 we have the third worst social welfare payment for a single person. The member states with a payment that is lower than ours are the UK and Greece. That suits the argument the Government has put forward of making a comparison in terms of the rate of payment with our neighbours across the Border. The Minister did not mention all the other benefits people living in those jurisdictions receive. We should talk about the payments people receive in other members states that are ranked much higher than Ireland in terms of provision for single people. This myth that we have the most generous social welfare system in Europe is nonsense. We should deal with the facts.

My primary question is in terms of legal advice. Are we on a solid legal footing on this issue? I cannot understand why on 1 January a 26 year who has become unemployed should be treated any differently from a 25 year old who has become unemployed. The 26 year old and the 25 year old could be qualified teachers. Why should those two people be treated differently? Both of them could be married. Therefore why should we treat them differently? A total of 14,000 people under the age of 25 are married. They are not all living in their mothers' houses or sponging off their parents as people would like us to believe. Many others are in relationships and many others have dependants. What has been done is unfair and it is a trend the Minister has continued from a previous budget when she took on those aged under 20, but it has been extended to those under the age of 25. It is an incredibly unfair measure. I understand that people in that age group have different issues on their minds. They probably will not congregate and march on Leinster House, although I wish they would because what the Minister has done is horrible. Is it the intention of this Government, as the Minister said previously, that this measure would be in place for only one year? Is this a permanent fixture that we will treat those under the age of 25 differently?

I understand the Minister's argument to a point in that we must get people back into training but that misses the point that we have highly qualified people under the age of 25 who are already trained. The problem is that jobs do not exist, and the Government has acknowledged that more jobs will be lost this year. If the Minister subscribes to the idea that there is a danger that a person under the age of 25 who becomes unemployed will remain long-term unemployed and if we subscribe to the idea that a person under the age of 25 who becomes unemployed needs to get back into education, retrain and reskill to get back into the workforce, and to do that we must limit their payments to encourage them to take up those opportunities, why do we not believe that a 26 or 27 year old should be incentivised to do the same? Have we written off the entire age group from 26 upwards in that we are telling them that if they are unemployed the Government believes it does not have to introduce the same incentives it is offering to those under the age of 25 — which are not incentives but that is the language the Government is using to make its argument — and that age group is up a creek without a paddle, so to speak? Is that the argument we would make?

My final comment is that the way the scheme will be introduced is fundamentally unfair. I am not arguing that the scheme should be for everyone under the age of 25. The difference in income from the State is more than €100 in the case of two brothers, both under the age of 22, where one is made unemployed before Christmas, and the other is made unemployed the week after Christmas. The difference in the way the State will treat them is that one will get more than double what the other will get. The fundamental issue is how the Government treats young people under 25 in the legislation. I completely oppose the section.

One third of men under the age of 25 are signing on, which is an increase of 158% in the past two years. In Cork alone, approximately 7,700 young people are signing on. Despite what the Minister said, an element of discrimination against young people is being introduced in the section.

I do not agree that we have provided sufficient training and education places. The Minister referred previously to work and the need for work. No job stimulus or work programme is included in the Bill. Unfortunately, emigration was rampant in the 1960s and 1980s. From talking to people in Bishopstown and Cork city I am aware that young people are considering emigrating to Australia and Canada, destinations that appear to be recession proof. I do not have the exact figure but the number of people who have been forced to emigrate this year has increased by approximately one third. Perhaps the Minister will provide a more accurate figure.

This cut is, in effect, saying to young people who had no role whatsoever in the economic collapse of this country, who in many cases were in school or higher education, that they must pay for the Government's incompetence. My concern is that no job stimulus plan, back to education scheme or reinforcement of education is contained in the Bill. The Minister for Education and Science is constantly rowing back on what is on offer. The Minister is aware of the schemes to which I refer. I am genuinely concerned about that, in addition to the cuts. It does not make sense that an extra €56 million was allocated to FÁS. Young people are looking for hope and they do not find any in the Bill.

First, no one is pushing young people out of the country, nor is there any evidence that large numbers of them are emigrating. What emerged today in the quarterly national household survey is that two thirds of young workers who came here from eastern Europe, who have lost their jobs, are returning home. That is why there is an increase in the number of people leaving the country. There is no evidence to show that young Irish people are leaving.

That is not the case.

That is not true.

The Minister should be allowed to speak, without interruption.

Most other European countries are experiencing the very same——

The Senators have had their opportunity to speak.

The Minister is not correct.

Senator Buttimer has had his opportunity to speak. He should allow the Minister to speak, without interruption.

Most other European countries are experiencing the very same difficulties with unemployment as we are. Places such as Australia and Canada really only want people who are well trained and who fit into specific categories. They specify what they want. We are not talking about young people who have worked and we are not talking about people who were on jobseeker's benefit.

Let us take the example of twins, as outlined by Senator Doherty, who will lose their jobs, one at the end of this month and the other at the beginning of next month whom he alleges will be treated differently. They will not be treated differently. We are talking about people who have never worked, who do not have sufficient PRSI contributions to be able to get jobseeker's benefit. Senator Doherty also inquired about how we will treat 25 year olds and 26 year olds differently.

On a point of information, if someone works for a week, would he or she not be treated differently? The Minister referred to sufficient PRSI contributions.

The Minister should be allowed to speak, without interruption. The Senator will have an opportunity to ask a question after the Minister has replied.

Will such an individual be treated differently?

Where a person qualifies for jobseeker's benefit, where he or she has a work record then he or she will get the full amount.

Therefore, my point is correct.

If I might finish, where people move——

The Minister should acknowledge that my point is correct.

If a person moves from jobseeker's benefit to jobseeker's allowance, he or she holds on to the full rate because it is a recognition that he or she has worked.

The Senator also inquired about how we can treat a 25 year old and a 26 year old differently. Of course we will not, because the measure applies to those aged up to 24 years of age. Two different age groups are involved.

It is important to consider the categories of person who will not be affected. Existing claimants will not be affected. Young people with dependent children will not be affected. Those aged 18 years and 19 years who qualify for jobseeker's benefit, once they move on, will continue to get the higher rate. People who qualify for jobseeker's benefit who are moving on to jobseeker's allowance will not be affected. In other words, people who have a work contribution and a proven record who qualify for jobseeker's benefit will be able to continue on the higher rate. Where an existing jobseeker's assistance claimant under the age of 25 gets a job, leaves the social welfare system and then comes back to claim jobseeker's assistance, we do not wish to disincentivise such a person from taking a job so he or she will go back onto the higher rate. A significant number of protections have been built into the system. Special consideration has been made for 18 year olds and 19 year olds who have come out of care because they have to be protected as well.

Other countries have completely different schemes. If one looks carefully, one will find that income related payments for unemployment are made for a specified length of time. Very few systems allow a person to remain on jobseeker's allowance for many years in the way we do. We have evidence that what we are seeking to do with 18 year olds and 19 year olds works. We also sought legal advice on the matter. What we are trying to do with young people is to encourage them into education and training. If one has never worked and one is applying for jobseeker's assistance, the chances are that one has no formal education or skills certification that would help one to get a job. That is a real incentive to support young people to achieve that end.

I recognise that the older group, 22 year olds to 25 year olds, might be well qualified graduates, which is why we have included participation by them in the work placement scheme and the graduate placement scheme as sufficient qualification to allow them to get the higher rate. We have not included that parameter for the younger group because we want them to get training. However, if one is a graduate of law or a teacher — as approximately 600 posts will be available in primary teaching this year because of demographics, there should be no difficulty for them in getting jobs ——

What about secondary school teachers?

The demographic is starting to move through. We have seen an increase in the number of pupils in primary schools in recent years and last year was the first year when the large demographic numbers began to move through into second level, which creates jobs at that level as well. If one is a graduate and one participates in the graduate placement scheme one can get the higher rate for that.

Senators inquired whether that means we are washing our hands of everyone else such as those aged 27, 28 or 29. Of course, we are not. Those people will be called by the national employment action plan after some months on the live register and they will be interviewed and directed towards suitable places for them. The difference is that there is not an incentive to take up such places, which we discovered on pilot projects that young people need. Young people need a financial incentive to be able to participate on courses whereas older people and those who have been in the workforce are much more anxious to get back into it.

I made the point about the two brothers who were working and the Minister said they would not be treated any differently because the change affects only those who have never worked. One has to have a number of contributions. I am not sure how many weeks are required. How many is it?

In the case of two brothers who have worked for a number of months, one who is made unemployed before Christmas and one after Christmas, will the Minister acknowledge that we have treated them differently? Perhaps I am reading the legislation incorrectly. The Minister said the change only affects those who have never worked. Will she clarify that it affects people who have worked, who have paid PRSI and tax, and that she has decided to cut their social welfare by more than 50%? Unfortunately, they have not made enough contributions to enable them to claim the benefit which would exempt them. Will the Minister clarify this because she has led the Seanad to believe this affects only people who have never worked?

I did not get to contribute before the Minister spoke, as I had to leave, nor did I get to speak on the section which deals specifically with the reduction in jobseeker's allowance. This section deals with supplementary welfare allowance. I spoke about this issue on Second Stage and, in many respects, this is the most objectionable part of the Bill. Senator Doherty is correct. People who have worked for a certain amount of time, but who do not have the requisite number of stamps will be treated differently from those who are slightly older and in the same boat. Perhaps the Minister might clarify that point.

We come from a country that does not have a very happy tradition of emigration. I see this initiative by the Government as, effectively, an invitation to a generation of young people to leave and many will do so. Senator Doherty is correct that not every person under the age of 24 years lives at home with his or her parents. People's circumstances are different. Recently I was made aware of a PE class in the University of Limerick which had graduated last summer. There were almost 70 students in the class, 11 of whom are now in Dubai and five in London. A number of others are also not in the country. Therefore, one is talking about one third of the class who have left the country already. From an economic point of view, it is not sustainable to export young people, as we did in previous generations, nor is it morally justifiable. This measure seems to suggest the stated of policy of the Government is that it will educate people but that there will be no jobs when they leave school or college and that they can get on the nearest boat or flight and leave the country. That is highly objectionable. Perhaps the Minister might be able to put my mind at ease but this is an open invitation from the Government to this generation of Irish people to leave the country, which is absolutely disgraceful.

The Official Report will show that, when I spoke about young people with a work record, I indicated it was those with sufficient contributions who would be able to qualify for jobseeker's benefit.

On Senator John Paul Phelan's point about supplementary welfare allowance and emigration, we all know the number of graduates who take off to travel, in particular, in the year after they graduate.

There are no jobs for them.

That is not the same as emigration.

Some are secondary school teachers.

The Senator has highlighted the fact that five people have gone to Dubai but its economy has collapsed. It is not fair to say these people——

They did not go on a holiday if that is what the Minister believes.

They have not gone to get a sun tan.

Those graduates would qualify under the graduate placement scheme in the short time we hope they would be unemployed. This is not about keeping young people on the live register but about creating jobs. That is why, as part of the budget, we have the largest capital programme of any country in Europe, the retrofit programme, the employment stabilisation fund, investment in tourism and the food industry——

(Interruptions).

I ask Members to show the Minister the same respect she has shown to those who have spoken.

We have the PRSI exemption for employers which we hope will encourage them to take on new graduates and young people who have been on the live register for a few months. That is a real stimulus and incentive for them. The live register is a huge churn in that not all of those on it were on it six months ago. There are opportunities, but, obviously, the better educated one is, the better the opportunities.

I note that in its proposal Fine Gael suggests a disincentive factor for young people who did not participate in courses because it recognises, as does the Government, that these are the people destined to be long-term unemployed. We had various pilot projects to try to encourage young people on the dole into education and training, but because they had probably dropped out of school early, they did not have the skills necessary or a commitment to education and training and because there was no incentive for them to participate in courses, they did not bother. Once one gives a financial incentive, there is a real prospect that they will participate and acquire the skills necessary to help them.

This is not a financial incentive but a financial disincentive.

This section deals with supplementary welfare allowance and ensuring it is paid at the same rate. We do not want a situation where somebody will be on a lower rate from the Department and goes to the community welfare officer and ends up on a higher rate.

The Minister was irked earlier when I said she was repeating answers. The reason I am asking the same questions again is that she is not answering them. She spoke about providing incentives to go to college.

I never mentioned college.

It is much broader.

The reality is that the Minister has removed the incentive for those who want to go on to third level. Those in receipt of the back to education allowance will no longer be eligible to receive maintenance grants. The maintenance grant for those who are eligible has been cut by 5%. We need to be clear about this.

I asked the Minister a question to try to cut through all the spin about us having the most generous social welfare system in Europe. She is able to use the comparison argument when she talks about the Government's capital spend in comparison with that elsewhere in Europe. I acknowledge her answer that some benefits are time limited, income related and so on. However, the reality is that the rates for somebody who is 24 years of age or older or younger in any of the EU15, bar two, are higher than the current rates in Ireland. I am not even talking about the cut of more than 50%. The Minister should acknowledge that we have third lowest social welfare rate for single individuals in the EU15. She should then argue with conviction why we should reduce it even further.

The Minister referred to the Official Report. I asked her a specific question about brothers. She said we would not discriminate between them because this did not affect anybody who was working.

Who had built up their entitlement.

That is not what the Minister said. She said this only affected those who had never worked. That is okay because all of us make mistakes. I made one when I spoke about the circumstances of the 25 year old. People need to have made contributions for two years. They may have worked for a year and a half but will still be treated in this way. There will still be that anomaly between brothers and the person who loses his or her job pre-Christmas and the person who will lose his or her job post-Christmas. There will be a 50% reduction for the person who will lose his or her job after 1 January. How do we deal with this? I pose that question again, as the answer the Minister gave me was that this would not affect them because it only affected those who did not work. She has acknowledged that is a mistake and that it will affect them. These provisions will impact on people who have made contributions, paid their taxes and contributed to the State and the economy. They will see reductions of more than 50%.

I asked the Minister a question about the circumstances of a 25 year old and a 26 year old. I acknowledged that I had made a mistake and the Minister dismissed it as such. How can we differentiate between a 24 year old and a 25 year old? It is the same principle. Why should a 24 year old take a cut of more than €50, while a 25 year old will not have to take any cut?

I want to ask the Minister another question because I want to understand her logic. If the Government feels it needs to — in its own language — create an incentive for people to go into training, upskilling and education, why is this measure only being introduced for new applicants? The Minister has said she has research which deals with those who are 18 and 19 and which indicates they need that incentive. If this works, is good policy and will get people working in the economy, why are we leaving out all the 7,000 under-25s in Cork, the 6,000 under-25s in Donegal and the others on the live register currently in those age groups? Why is the incentive not extended to them and what is this all about?

I do not understand this action and completely disagree with it. I want to tease out the details to help me understand it a bit better. Why are we creating these anomalies within this legislation and treating the person who has lost his or her job before Christmas differently to a person who loses it after Christmas? Why are we treating those who are 24 and 25 differently? Why are we treating those who are currently unemployed under 25 differently from those who will become unemployed in January?

The way to equalise those who are 24 and 25 is for one of them to do the education and training; they will both be on the same payment if that happens. The way to equalise the two brothers in the Senator's example is for the second brother to do the education and training in order that both of them will be on the same payment. It is very easy for them to be equalised.

The group of people currently on the live register would have had an expectation and got used to a certain amount of money. They can be equalised downwards if they refuse to participate in education and training, having been reasonably asked to participate in it. Similarly, they can be equalised downwards if they refuse to take up a job having been asked to do so. They would all be equal in that case as they would all be on the lower payment.

I asked a question on the legal evidence, as the Minister referred to legal advice on the scheme introduced for those aged 18 and 19. Have we got legal advice on this? In my view we are discriminating against those under 25 so have we advice that this is completely constitutional? This is an example of ageism.

The Minister's answer is technically correct but it still does not bring about equality. In my example, the brother losing his job before Christmas does not have to go into training. A difference is being created in this legislation for people in a younger age group and the way the State treats them, despite being in the same position as those in an older age group. Has the Minister sought legal advice on this and if so, what was the advice?

I indicated that we were satisfied that the legal provisions are being met. As I indicated, the brother in the Senator's example who loses his job before Christmas will be treated the very same as the brother who loses his job after Christmas if he does not participate in education or training.

This is a clear question.

It is repetitive.

I will keep asking the question until I get a simple answer. It is a "Yes" or "No" answer. Was legal advice sought on this issue of treating those under 25 differently from those 25 and over?

It is not relevant as to whether she sought——

Of course, it is relevant. If this legislation is tested——

The Minister has answered in detail the questions put to her.

It is not relevant whether she sought legal advice.

Of course, it is relevant. If the legislation we are attempting to pass could be found unconstitutional, it would——

That is a matter for whoever wishes to take that case.

We are the legislators and we should be informed as to whether legal advice on this issue was sought. It is a simple "Yes" or "No" answer.

My understanding has always been that legislation is approved legally before the Minister brings it to the House.

With all the——

The Attorney General checks all legislation.

In all fairness, I am asking a question of the Minister on the issue of the different treatment of those under 25. Was legal advice sought on this? It is a "Yes" or "No" answer.

Does the Minister wish to reply on anything else?

I have answered all the Senator's questions at least twice.

The Minister has not said "Yes" or "No" to the question.

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 14.
Question proposed: "That section 14 stand part of the Bill."

This section applies to rent allowance. It is another one of the slash-and-burn cuts being made by the Government, which proposes to save €2 million in this area. It has not indicated how it is proposed to save the money. The personal contribution has been increased by 85% in the past two budgets. Some 91,000 tenants benefit from rent supplement, which is an increase of 52% since the end of 2007.

It was always intended to be a short-term allowance but because local authorities are not building as many houses as before, it has become the only way for some people around the country to afford to live independently and comfortably. It was also intended for the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, to be extended but the take-up of the scheme has been dismally slow. The idea that somebody has to be 18 months on rent allowance before becoming eligible for RAS is a disincentive. How does the Minister propose to achieve this saving?

What is a bona fide tenant with regard to the language in the Bill? That is an objectionable term. The explanatory memorandum states "In order to qualify for rent supplement, a person must have been a tenant or living in homeless accommodation for a period of at least six months". There is also the stipulation that a person must be able "to demonstrate that s/he could reasonably have afforded the rent at the commencement of the tenancy". If the person was able to afford the rent at the commencement of the tenancy, he or she would not need rent allowance. It is a bit disingenuous and misleading so will the Minister clarify the matter?

The Department of Social and Family Affairs is practically acting like a housing authority. Much community welfare officer time is taken up with trying to sort out rent allowance, rent supplement and everything else. It was announced a number of years ago that we would have this area transferred to local authorities. It is partially transferred in the form of RAS and this should be extended. As Senator McFadden mentioned, some 91,000 people are on rent allowance and surely there should be a move to bring more people under RAS, which seems to be working quite well under the local authority system. I am sure savings would occur if that happened.

Has the intention been abandoned by the Department? Community welfare officers are not meant to deal with this area and it should, correctly, be dealt with by the local authority. If the intention has been abandoned, why so?

I wish to raise a point of order. I was in my office listening to the debate but I have never heard anything like the way in which the Cathaoirleach intervened to tell a Member of this House it was not appropriate for him to ask a specific and clear question germane to the debate. I understand the advice given was that the Attorney General apparently has said we are not entitled in this House to information on whether legal advice has been sought. Whatever about the content, the Attorney General has no right to rule in this House. This is a sovereign House of Parliament. We make the rules and I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to refer this ruling and the advice given to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because this is a further example of the way in which this House is treated with absolute contempt. It was a reasonable question, it was germane and relevant to the debate and it was ruled out of order by a series of interventions from the Chair. I rarely criticise the Chair but I am most definitely criticising what was done here tonight.

I was not in the Chair at the time.

Will the Leas-Chathaoirleach look at the record and refer it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because if the Attorney General has given such advice, he must be confronted?

Does the Senator propose to refer the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges?

Yes, as a matter of urgency.

During her deliberations on the budget, did the Minister seek advice from CWOs around the country and from strategic policy committees, SPCs, on housing and social policy? What else informs her decisions when she goes to cut a budget or make changes? How does she do this with the best intention?

With regard to Senator McFadden's questions, we are trying to put the regulations in this area into legislation. Under the regulations, an applicant must have been a tenant for a set period and at the time he or she took out the tenancy, he or she must have been able to pay the rent. It is not true to say they would not look for rent supplement because one might have taken out one's tenancy a year ago but only lost one's job now. We are trying to avoid people moving into expensive accommodation they cannot afford and then applying for rent supplement when they could never have afforded the accommodation in the first place. This is covered by regulation and the section provides that it is put into legislation.

With regard to the bona fides of tenants, the section provides that a tenant must have been in rented accommodation or an institution for six months. If one has been discharged from care, for example, or a psychiatric institution, one would be covered rather than having to make sure one was in rented accommodation up until then.

Local authorities are responsible for housing. They maintain housing policy but this is an unusual scheme, which was designed to be a short-term measure for those who needed support. However, it has changed considerably over the past while. The RAS is still maintained by local authorities. Housing managers have made recommendations but they are answerable to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The CWOs who pay out social welfare funds are employed by the HSE. The sooner the CWOs come under the aegis of the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the industrial relations issues are resolved, the better for streamlining all the processes for everybody.

The section puts into legislation what we have in regulation. I was asked how money would be saved. Rents have fallen significantly over the past number of months. All the evidence shows that, but they have not fallen by the same amount everywhere or for different types of accommodation. For example, rent for a bedsit has not reduced as much as that for a house. Since we last set the limits, rents have continued to reduce. I aim to save money by setting revised rent limits for new tenants and for lease renewals. We do not expect recipients to renegotiate midway through a lease. We introduced that provision in the supplementary budget last April with some success because landlords with multiple properties were happy to have a rent supplement tenant. However, there is no way the State should dictate what are the high rents. That is how we intend to save money without placing an additional burden on tenants to renegotiate midway through leases.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply and while I accept most of what she said, during my constituency work, all the people on rent supplement I meet are seeking help to go straight into rented accommodation and to apply for the rent allowance because they do not have an alternative. They try to obtain a deposit from the local authority and then apply to the CWO immediately before contacting the landlord and spending perhaps one or two weeks in the new property. I assure the Minister the people concerned are put to the pin of their collar to find somewhere to live and pay rent. I wonder whether another door is being closed and more people are being pushed out. I would like the Minister to clarify this. The section states, "The applicant must be in a position to demonstrate that he or she reasonably could have afforded the rent at the commencement of the tenancy". Rent supplement means a great deal to social welfare recipients, who could not manage to pay their rent without it and that is the bottom line.

Will the CWO still have authority to help applicants? When I was chair of the SPC on housing and social policy on South Tipperary County Council, I was appalled that accommodation given to tenants for which they were paid rent supplement was inappropriate to their needs and in a dangerous condition. I was worried by accommodation provided under the scheme, which was not suitable, for example, for single women with young babies or people with disabilities. They had difficulty with access having to climb two flights of stairs in some cases or having to climb external stairways. The buildings were inappropriate and poorly maintained. I stated at the SPC and at the homeless forum that if the State was helping people on housing lists, the accommodation used for RAS or the rent supplement scheme should be of the highest standard. There is no excuse for not insisting on such a standard nowadays because a glut of housing is available. Separately, if houses remain unoccupied for a while, they scream out that they are unoccupied and they are sometimes subject to vandalism, which is also an issue.

The CWOs will still have flexibility at local level.

If they were all like what I witnessed in Clonmel, they would deserve such flexibility. The CWO structure there is the model for how flood relief payments should be handled everywhere.

On a point of order, the CWOs in Athlone were fantastic.

That is not a point of order.

That is a good point of order. I only mentioned Clonmel because I visited the area and they have a model for dealing with flooding because, unfortunately, they had previous experience. They knew how to handle it. The CWOs in Athlone had not experienced this previously and they responded. Where flooding occurred around the country, the CWOs are expediting humanitarian aid and so on.

I strongly believe people should be in rented accommodation for six months before they seek State aid, otherwise everybody will look for the best accommodation and only have to pay €24 a week in rent.

There is no local authority housing.

If they cannot afford it, they should not be in it and they should not expect the State to pay the rent for them. We are not a rental agency. The rent supplement is in place to support people who when they entered rented accommodation could afford it because they were in employment, but who have since lost their jobs and cannot pay the rent. It is designed as a short-term support. Unfortunately, some people have been in receipt of the support for too long and that also needs to be examined. We have to have that built-in criterion that one should be in rented accommodation for some time before one receives rent supplement; otherwise the State will end up paying hundreds of thousands of euro. We will spend €500 million on rent supplement this year while the individual pays €24. That is acceptable if someone has fallen on hard times and was genuinely in rented accommodation prior to this. However, it certainly would not be if every young person decided to seek rented accommodation and have it paid for by the State. That is why we are including conditions for the payment of rent supplement in regulations and legislation.

The reason so many avail of rent supplement is 400,000 people are on the live register, all of whom are entitled to rent allowance. The Minister is quite removed and disconnected in stating that. Where will they live if the local authorities do not build houses? They need support. I cannot stand over this provision; it is cold, removed and callous.

I am not sure the Senator understands the position. We will give the money to those who have been in rented accommodation. We will not turn down people who were previously in rented accommodation.

Other criteria will be added, whereby to qualify for rent supplement, a person must reasonably have afforded the rent at the commencement of the tenancy or have been residing in homeless accommodation. However, some have not and this is their first port of call.

Where were they?

They were living at home or in college or they had emigrated. We are exporting many of our people and they are returning to no jobs. Where do they live?

If somebody living at home wants to seek rented accommodation but cannot afford it, he or she cannot afford it. The same is true of somebody not working or working. I am sorry, but the State is not in the business of helping anybody who wants to leave home to find rented accommodation. We are in the business of supporting people who previously were in rented accommodation and are finding it difficult; otherwise we would end up paying rent for everybody in the country.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 20.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 15.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

This section amends section 246 of the principal Act and under this section, social welfare claimants must meet a habitual residence condition in order to qualify for benefits. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has argued that these criteria ruled out all asylum seekers, but in a series of cases taken by FLAC over the last two years, the chief social welfare appeals officer held that where asylum seekers had been to the country for a significant period of time, had established connections here, had children born here and attending school, or had other family members here and clearly intended that they would stay here if they could, then they could qualify under the habitual residence condition. The cases especially involved child benefit, but also the carer's allowance, disability allowance and the State pension.

Five decisions were made on 3 and 4 December. As a result of these decisions, the Minister has introduced this section. It states that persons who have applied for asylum or protection under the EU protection directive and who are still in that process cannot meet the habitual residence condition, thus effectively overturning the chief social welfare appeals officer's decision that such cases had to be assessed on their individual merits and excluding a whole class of people, regardless of their individual circumstances. Does the Minister agree that this is discrimination? Will she make a statement on it?

I strongly support Senator Prendergast and I am very much of the same opinion. Furthermore, the whole democratic process has been undermined by the Government's behaviour in the other House. This amendment was put on Thursday evening last and was not reached or even discussed in the other House because the Bill was guillotined.

We are discussing the section.

I am aware of that. I am speaking on the section.

The Senator referred to an amendment.

I am speaking about the effect of the amendment on the section. It would be ridiculous if Senators could not do so as one would then be required to repeatedly say the words "section 14". One must be allowed to discuss the——

A Senator

We are discussing section 15.

I was giving a hypothetical example. This is a serious issue. As far as I am aware, virtually the entire section is an amendment. Is that not correct? If, as I believe, the section is an amendment to the Bill, I am entitled to refer to it as an amendment.

This is by no means the first time the Department of Social and Family Affairs has acted in this manner. It is disgraceful and undermines completely the democratic process of the State. One of the Minister's predecessors, the current Tánaiste, Deputy Mary Coughlan, had a decision from the Equality Tribunal which indicated a clear case of discrimination. Instead of acting to amend the legislation to address the discrimination, the former Minister amended the legislation by redefining the word "spouse" to swindle people out of the rights which an agency of the Government determined citizens were entitled to.

This is exactly what has happened in this case and it is spectacularly mean minded. What it means is that people who have applied for asylum or protection and are still in the process cannot meet the habitual residence condition. They will, therefore, be disbarred from access to even fairly minimal provision of social welfare payments. This measure will penalise children, people of pensionable age and people caring for sick children as well as causing divisions. For example, people who have been here with their families for a number of years and are still stuck in the asylum process — it is a disgrace to this country that these decisions should take so long and justice should be so delayed — will find that they will not be able to afford to allow their children to take part in school trips, outings and so forth. As a person who was involved in education and was a very good Minister for Education and Science, the Minister will not wish this to be the case.

As Senator Prendergast stated, a number of cases were taken. Asylum seekers and their representatives in the free legal aid centres, FLAC, were successful in every single case. The Minister is now reversing the decision of a properly established organ of the State.

The Department claimed that a decision by the Supreme Court in 2003 in the case of Goncescu & Others v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, [2003] IEHC, meant that no one in the asylum, protection or leave to remain process could be regarded as resident in the State. As a result, such persons could not satisfy the habitual residence condition. The Department’s argument was not accepted by the court because it represented a hardening of attitude.

Previously, the Department's deciding officers had relied upon the five factors or criteria set out in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007 and drawn from a decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of Robin Swaddling v. Adjudication Officer, C-90/97. The five criteria are the length and continuity of residence in the State or in any other particular country, the length and purpose of any absence from the State, the nature and pattern of the person’s employment, the person’s main centre of interest and the future intentions of the person concerned as they appear from all the circumstances.

It is clear that the decisions arrived at as a result of the process by FLAC make the Minister's position undemocratic and unsustainable. I ask her to reverse her decision in this matter on the grounds that it undermines the democratic process, flies in the face of a series of decisions, defies the European Convention on Human Rights, undermines the asylum process, discriminates against children and is a reproach to all those on the Government side. I will conclude on those words while reserving the right to return to the matter.

This issue has been discussed. On the habitual residence clause, a social welfare appeals officer found that under five criteria certain individuals were entitled to receive child benefit on the basis that they were in the asylum trap for an excessively long time. To be fair to the Minister, this problem is not part of her portfolio but comes within the remit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is inhumane that some people must wait for such long periods to have their asylum applications processed.

The Fine Gael Party wants the backlog of asylum applications dealt with because it is contributing to the current economic climate. People who apply for leave to remain in the State face long delays. The system is cruel, unfair and inhumane. I regularly meet unfortunate individuals in this position in my constituency office.

The Minister responded to a question I asked yesterday on whether the legislation would be retrospective. I also asked what was the potential of the ruling on schemes other than child benefit. I ask the Minister to clarify this issue.

As Senator McFadden stated, the backlog in processing asylum seekers is inhumane. I am pleased the Leader is present because last week on the Order of Business Government Senators gave us a lecture on human rights. Opposition Members were subjected to a litany of abuse from some so-called human rights experts. What does this section say about the Government's commitment and attitude to human rights? Perhaps the Leader and Minister will reply.

In 2008, it was estimated that there were approximately 15,000 asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers in the State. While they are resident here, such persons have a right to access public health services and free primary and second level education. Their basic needs as regards their rights to access health and education services are also met and they are provided with accommodation and a small amount of pocket money.

It is €19 per week.

It is €19.10 per week.

As I stated, it is a small amount. These people cost €250 million in one year alone. When the habitual residency legislation was introduced it was assumed that anyone who did not have a right to remain in the State did not have a right to habitual residency. All we are asking in this section is that it should be a precondition of entitlement to access many social welfare benefits that one is entitled to be in the State. The people who have joined us in recent years come from 188 different countries. It would be wrong if people who are not entitled to be in this country were able to build up entitlements to social welfare.

The Minister is completely wrong. The people in question have a perfect entitlement to be in the country. While they may not have an entitlement to citizenship or asylum, they have every entitlement to be here. I ask the Minister to acknowledge that is the case.

The Minister has the floor. Senator Norris can make a further contribution afterwards.

If someone does not have the right to reside in the State, he or she should not have the right to build up social welfare entitlements. They have access to accommodation, basic health and basic education at substantial cost. We must recognise their human rights and that is why people go through an intensive legal process. It is important this legislation sets down the precondition that must be satisfied before other circumstances are taken into consideration.

This undermines the independence of the social welfare appeals office. When the office makes a decision the Department does not like, the Government changes the law. This enshrines discrimination on the basis of nationality in Ireland. It is deeply divisive and only saves a small amount of money. The need to meet the criteria of the HRC means very few people who are not in need of benefits receive them. It undermines the process one goes through in the social welfare appeals office if the Government can make another law because it does not like the decision.

It is instructive that in all five cases cited, the chief appeals officer rejected arguments by the Department of Social and Family Affairs that the people in the asylum process could not meet the habitual residence condition, a test introduced in 2004 to prevent a feared influx of so-called welfare tourists. So-called welfare tourism has been dealt with by the habitual residence condition. The chief appeals officer found that this cannot be brushed aside completely. The Minister is trying to redefine matters.

This is all about money, as the Minister has more or less accepted. I challenge the Minister on her assertion that these people had no right to be in the country. They may not have had a permanent right but they have every right to be in the country while they are appealing. I note that the Minister is acknowledging this to be correct. It may be that we have been here a long time and the phraseology is inexact even though that is uncharacteristic of this Minister. I do not accuse her of any malice in this matter. The House should know the attitude of the Department. I do not take great pleasure in attacking the Department in a blanket sense but on this issue I feel a responsibility to do so. One can see the attitude in the fact that there was a stay put on payments during this period. The Department refused to pay, which is questionable behaviour. In the four successful appeals, where the Department of Social and Family Affairs asked for a review by the chief appeals officer, it refused to make payments that had been approved by the appeals officer until the reviews were completed. FLAC challenged this on the basis that reviews were not formal appeals and, unlike an appeal court, the chief appeals officer had no power to put a stay on the payments pending his decision and he had not been asked to do so. It was the Department, the unsuccessful party to the appeals, that had unilaterally decided not to pay and the applicants were left with no way of appealing against that decision. FLAC issued judicial review proceedings in one case to try to compel the Department to pay. However, the chief appeals officer gave his decision in favour of the applicant a few days before the hearing date and it was then settled. The attitude of the Department is to do people out of their entitlements. How much will that save? It is bad faith and this is a squalid decision. I warned the Government against the process, which appears to be particularly concentrated in the Department, of establishing public bodies, giving them a statutory remit to make decisions on matters of fairness, justice and equality and then when clear and binding decisions are made, the Government overturns them by further legislation instead of addressing them. That is appalling behaviour whatever the economic circumstances of the case.

This is not welfare tourism. What about the people who have been stuck in the process for four or five years because of our inefficiency?

They are on €19 a week. I apologise, I forgot the 10 cent, it is €19.10.

I agree with Senator Norris's point that this is about money but we must reflect on the fact that this is taxpayers' money and it is not printed automatically by a money printing machine. Where stands the Irish Republic on this policy in respect of our colleagues across the European Union? Is the situation envisaged by this section the norm, extraordinary, more favourable or less favourable than the norm across the European Union? This is a policy area in which I am not an expert. The Minister can advise me whether this section and her proposals are common policy across the EU and whether they are more or less restrictive. We can sometimes get emotional and get carried away on these matters. I would like to know where we stand by international standards and particularly by EU guidelines. Constituents raise this matter quite frequently. It can cause a degree of difficulty from that great perspective of political correctness but sometimes we have a duty to reflect what constituents speak of. Where do we stand vis-à-vis our European partners?

Technically, I agree with the Minister that unless foreign nationals have a right to be here they should not have the right to build up entitlements. I agree with the Minister in theory but in practice it is a little bit different. We are putting these cases into a backlog by not dealing with them for four or five years and in this way we are denying people their human rights. There is another series of knock-on effects arising from this. Trafficking is one example. I have become involved with the Galway Rape Crisis Centre of late and I have learned that 20% of their clients come from direct provision centres. Some 1% of Galway's population are foreign nationals yet 20% of them seek help and counselling as a result of rape and violence. Some of these people are underage minors housed in direct provision centres. This is a serious issue.

Asylum is a gift. If the Minister or I needed asylum in another country we would see it as a gift. It should not take that number of years. While I agree with the Minister on a technical point, I do not agree once this process goes beyond six months. Why is there such a backlog? Why are staff not assigned to clear the backlog in order that we do not have a living history developing of asylum seekers and refugees in direct provision centres throughout our country?

In response to Senator Bradford's question about equivalents around Europe, the equivalent legislation in the UK is the only example I have to hand. This requires that claimants for social welfare must have a right to reside and habitual residence. Both criteria must be met.

Some of the questions on the asylum process are more relevant to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Throughout Europe it has been found that where there is a cash-based system, one is more likely to find asylum shopping. It is a terrible phrase but that is what it is known as. The more cash available, the more likely people are to come. If we were to initiate a situation whereby people could build up entitlements by virtue of them being in the country, as opposed to having a right to reside in the country, there would be a great attraction for people to come and to try to circumvent and delay all the processes. As the Senator knows, our legal system allows people to keep going back to the courts and to have judicial reviews and so on. We have seen very public examples of how people can drag it out for a very long time. With regard to some of the cases that were mentioned, the Supreme Court had previously decided that a person in the asylum process did not have residency status. The chief appeals officer took the FLAC argument, stating that the judgment in that case preceded the habitual residence condition and, therefore, did not apply to social welfare, which I accept as his finding, but it was an unusual finding to try to second guess the Supreme Court.

He was not trying to second guess the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court indicated that it felt a person in the asylum process did not have residency status. I accept what Senator Norris has said. Such a person has a right to be in the country but not a right to reside in the country. This is the argument we are trying to protect here.

On the question of the Government making legislation, that is what Governments do. The chief appeals officer indicated in his judgment that it was open to the Legislature to bring about change if the Oireachtas wanted to exclude asylum seekers as a category. What we are trying to do here is not in any way to contravene anybody's human rights. We are not trying to interfere in any way with the asylum seeker process. All we are trying to suggest is that people who are in that process and who have not established a right to reside in the country cannot use that time to build up their right to social welfare.

I was perfectly correct. I was rebuked by the Leas-Chathaoirleach for referring to the amendment when we were on the section. The section is an amendment.

It is an amendment of the principal Act but it is section 15 of this Bill.

It is an amendment to that Bill put in the Dáil.

It is an amendment of the principal Act.

Therefore, it is an amendment and a section. The terms are coterminous.

We are dealing with the Bill in front of us.

It is an amendment of that Bill as initiated in the Dáil. The two terms are coterminous. I know what I am talking about in terms of language.

I want to address the Minister's point because there are a number of technical flaws in it. The case she referred to was the case to which I referred, namely, the Goncescu case. The chief appeals officer stated in all four cases that since the Goncescu case was decided a year before the habitual residence condition was introduced, it was unlikely that the Supreme Court was aware of any intention to introduce legislation to restrict access to social welfare payments on the basis of a habitual residence test. He said: "The facts of the matter are that the Goncescu case did not have a social welfare relevance and that the judgment predated the introduction of the habitual residence legislation." Whatever qualities the Supreme Court has, it does not possess the divine afflatus, prophetic powers, it is not the oracle of Delphi and it cannot make a decision based on something that happens one year later. That is rudimentary logic, I would have thought.

The chief appeals officer doubted the judgment's relevance to these cases and went on to say:

I do not believe there was any intention in framing the [HRC] legislation to exclude a particular category (such as asylum/protection seekers) from access to social welfare benefits. If there was any such intention the relevant legislative provisions would have reflected that intention and removed any doubt on the issue [ which they patently did not].

The advice from the Attorney General's office which was quoted by the Department said that time spent by applicants in the asylum process could not be considered as "residence" and could not count towards satisfying the habitual residence condition. However, the chief appeals officer noted that the Department had not quoted another portion of the advice which said that time spent in the State was only one of five factors. From what the Minister has said, one would almost assume that the only factor was time spent in the State but it is one of five. It is quite possible that, despite the subsequent Supreme Court decision, some at least of the other four might still be in play.

At no stage did I try to indicate that the right to reside was the only element. The right to reside does not at all mean that one would automatically qualify for habitual residence. It is a precondition that should be satisfied before the other circumstances are taken into account. The fact is the chief appeals officer indicated it was open to introduce legislation, which is exactly what we are doing here, and his findings do not set a precedent.

The Minister raised the matter of precedent. The Department rather bizarrely objected to the appeals officer referring to earlier decisions by other appeals officers and the chief appeals officer. Such decisions, as the Minister said, could not set precedents. The chief appeals officer said it was not appropriate for appeals officers to refer to "details" of previous cases in their decisions or reports. However, he agreed with the argument made by FLAC that while previous decisions were not binding in detail — this is the telling phrase — it was important to identify the underlying general principles so decisions would not be arbitrary and applicants could know the case they would have to make.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 20.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators David Norris and Joe O’Toole.
Question declared carried.
Sections 16 to 21, inclusive, agreed to.
SCHEDULE 1.
Question proposed: "That Schedule 1 be Schedule 1 to the Bill."

I oppose Schedule 1.

On the new rates, I appeal to the Members on the Government side who are about to vote the Bill into law. The Minister, her Fianna Fail colleagues and particularly Green Party Members who came here with such reforming zeal two and a half years ago took office with a programme for Government that promised all things to all people.

The Senator should address the Chair.

I do not need lessons in etiquette from the Leader of the House.

The Senator does.

I am entitled to speak in the House and do not need lectures from the Leader.

I understand the embarrassment on the other side of the House because of what they are about to do.

I know what they are going to do.

(Interruptions).

Senator Buttimer should speak on Schedule 1.

I will, but the Leader is embarrassed. The Bill is an attack on the decent people of Ireland. Schedule 1 reduces the money going into the homes of those who have not contributed to the economic decline of the country, yet the friends of the Leader and Fianna Fáil are masquerading and have the guise of someone who is getting away with it. They have perpetrated a crime on the people and have not been held to account. The Bill holds the ordinary Irish person to account. I am asking the Green Party, in particular and specifically, whether it plans to abandon the principles about which it spoke when it went into government. Senator Boyle was the very guy on the steps of Government Buildings who was nearly in tears when it had not been agreed, yet tonight he and his colleagues will be voting against the people.

Give them the money to count frogs.

I have a message for those opposite. The people will not forget them. They are going to wait for them and will pass judgment on a Government——

(Interruptions).

No interruptions, please.

I have not invited any.

A Senator

The Senator has heard nothing yet.

On the Schedule, please.

The Government is reducing the rates of payment to the disabled, those who cannot see and the mothers who depend on child benefit, as well as the income of parents struggling to repay mortgages and in some cases facing repossession. Is this the legacy that the Members opposite want? If it is, they should walk through the "Tá" lobby. If not, they should have the moral courage to vote "Níl".

Ballymagash No. 1.

No interruptions, please.

There is no doubt we would not be introducing these cuts in social welfare were it not for the economic situation in which we find ourselves and were it not for the need to bring stability to the finances of the country. Everybody recognises the huge increases introduced in social welfare payments in recent years, including in the last budget. These increases were well ahead of inflation. Prices have now come down with the result that purchasing power is much stronger. I know this is of little solace to somebody who is taking a cut in his or her social welfare payment. We would not be doing this were it not for the fact that we genuinely have to. If we do not make cuts in social welfare, we will end up with a greater imbalance in the other two sectors on which the State is spending money — public pay and services.

There is a better way.

It would do a greater disservice——

——to carers and people with a disability to take money from services. In fact, additional moneys are going into items such as home care packages——

The Government made the wrong choice again.

Please have some respect for the Minister who is replying. She did not interrupt any Member of the House. I want the House to show her respect. Members will have an opportunity to contribute again.

We made very deliberate choices to protect pensioners, older people who have made their contribution to the State. We made a very deliberate choice to ensure children in families dependent on social welfare or those families in receipt of family income supplement would not suffer the loss of child benefit. We have supported and protected pensioners and such children. We have also incentivised young people to participate in education and training to ensure they will not join the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

This legislation should be seen as part of the overall package introduced as part of the budget, with employment opportunities in the construction industry, tourism and food production, employment stabilisation measures and a PRSI exemption for employers taking on new staff. These are all part of the overall picture. I appreciate the fact that a debate has taken place in the House and the genuinely held views on all sides. However, we should also look at some of the policies of other parties which recommended cutting social welfare. Fine Gael came forward with a proposal which I acknowledge and recognise.

Different choices.

It stated it would cut payments to widows and lone parents, the farm assist payment, unemployment payments with a view to incentivising young people——

Not to touch children.

No interruptions, please.

We should recognise there were proposals to cut social welfare from various sides of the House. We made our decisions to protect older people, the children of vulnerable families on social welfare, those in receipt of farm assist payments and to incentivise young people——

Older people are receiving less than last year.

I accept that when a cut is made in one area and money is taken back, this will be difficult for those affected. It is not a situation we like to be in, but if we do not get the finances of the country right now, unfortunately, others will pay for it for a very long time. We do not want to find we are in that situation in a few years' time. In making the tough decisions now we are putting the country back on the road.

This social welfare Bill will go down in history as the harshest and cruellest of them all. I ask the Minister how, in God's name, she can consider she is incentivising young people in taking 50% of their payment from them. Why does she think pensioners have not been affected? She has said they have been protected. What a very nice word to use when, in fact, they have lost their Christmas bonus which amounted to a figure of 2%. As a result of the carbon tax, they will pay an extra €2.40 on a bag of coal and an extra 50 cent on a bale of briquettes, not to mention the fact that they face a 50 cent charge on prescriptions, plus all of the other cuts in optical and dental benefits.

I ask the Minister to be honest. She is glossing over the Bill and using sanctimonious sentiments when, in fact, she is being extraordinarily harsh and callous. How can she take €8.80 from carers and say it must be done for the greater good? It would have been preferable to take money from all of us here than from them, the people who are saving the Exchequer money by keeping people out of hospital and institutions. In return, we have cut their allowance by €8.80 per week. It is an outrage. If I were the Minister, I would not be saying I had done a good job.

Funding for Youthreach and VTOS programmes is being cut, yet the Minister says she is incentivising young people. This is an emigration budget which will drive young people out of the country.

We have spent a long time debating the cut in dental benefits. People do not know yet what is ahead of them. However, when they do, the Government will be criticised for the rest of its time in office for being so heartless and cruel. I rest my case. I ask the Minister not to use rhetoric that is patronising and disrespectful to the people.

If every penny of the social welfare budget was saved six times over, we would just about cover the level of debt of this country. The adjustment being applied in the Bill is 0.4% of the total debt of the country.

No interruptions, please.

When people talk about who pays the price, they must remember——

(Interruptions).

——that the social welfare budget is being adjusted by 0.4% of the total national debt.

No interruptions, please.

We find ourselves in a deflationary climate——

(Interruptions).

The one group of individuals who will find themselves better off in terms of their living standards when we next go to the polls——

Is the Senator happy with the changes?

——and no matter what Government is returned subsequently, are those dependent on social welfare payments who will find that their living standards have been protected.

The Senator has sold his soul.

Question put and declared carried.
SCHEDULE 2.
Question proposed: "That Schedule 2 be Schedule 2 to the Bill."

I have one question for the Minister that deserves to be answered. The Minister said yesterday and tonight that the Government, in the context of a very tough budgetary environment, has done its utmost to protect the most vulnerable people in society. Can she explain the reason we have protected the most vulnerable by imposing cuts on them?

As I indicated, we have protected pensioners; there has been no change in respect of them. We have protected children in families dependent on social welfare who are in receipt of family income supplement. Those families will not experience any drop in income as a result of the cut in child benefit. We have also tried to ensure, despite the difficult decisions that were made, that we kept the cuts at a minimum for all other groups, bearing in mind the increases that have been given in previous years, particularly the increase given this year. That increase was given in anticipation of an inflation of 2.5%. As we know, however, we did not get inflation; we got deflation and whereas undoubtedly there are people who benefited more from the drop in prices than others, for example, people with mortgages benefited hugely but the price of food, clothing and energy has come down as well. People on social welfare payments and people who are unemployed——

Energy prices have increased.

Energy prices have gone through the roof.

The Senator will have an opportunity to speak later if he wishes.

People will have to switch off the lights.

——have also benefited from the decline in prices. Real purchasing power has also been protected for those people.

Nobody is saying this is easy but it is interesting that the very people who recommended cutting jobseeker's allowance, widow's pension and lone parents allowance, which is the Fine Gael Party, are now the ones who are objecting to that policy being introduced.

We are objecting to the cuts being imposed on carers and on blind people. The Minister should not misinterpret our policy.

No interruptions, please. Members should have respect for the Minister who is speaking.

The Minister is not telling the truth about this.

The Senator should have respect for the Minister. He will have an opportunity to speak later if he wishes.

To get the same savings, it would have meant putting an increased burden on some of those other sectors.

What about the cap on PRSI?

If we were to take the groups that the Fine Gael Party identified as the ones who should be cut——

That will happen next year.

That is not funny.

——to get €730 million, we would have had to take far more from those. It was very much an effort in trying to prioritise within a social welfare budget where savings had to be made. It was not enough to try to bring in extra revenue from other areas. As anyone knows, we had to bring about structural changes in our expenditure that would last through next year and that can show we have taken the tough decisions. I accept they are tough on people who will experience a cut of €8, €8.30 or €8.50 per week——

People will have a cut of €8.80 per week.

——but it should be seen in the context of the increases that were given, the decreases in prices and the fact that when it comes to the most vulnerable, the very young and the very old, we have protected those as well.

I agree with the Minister to some extent and as we approach the finality of this Bill I have no doubt that if the Fine Gael Party was in government I would be sitting on this side of the House opposing the measures it would introduce in a social welfare Bill because our party has shown clearly that social welfare should not be touched. The Minister said that if we did not touch social welfare we would have to cut public sector workers or services harder. That is not true. As I said, €50 billion of US debt has been bought up by Irish individuals and investors in recent months. There is wealth in this country. The Minister had many other opportunities to increase the tax take to offset the cuts she has to introduce. It is not just a case that there are three areas — social welfare, the public sector or services. There is an area where we could have found the money to offset the decisions the Minister is taking and the Government is implementing. We should be honest about that. I have tried to be as honest as possible, and the Minister may have had a difficulty with what I have said, in terms of this debate. There are difficult decisions that the Government has to take but there are people who are earning huge amounts of money. There are people in the public sector earning €500,000. That does not make sense. We could have hit those people harder. It is not about punishing people who have wealth, who have taken risks and done well for themselves. It is about the ability to pay.

In his contribution Senator Boyle——

We are on Schedule 2.

These details relate to that.

The Senator should note what the Schedule relates to.

I am talking about what it relates to.

No. The Senator is making a Second Stage speech on where money should be got.

I am talking in regard to——

I ask the Senator to speak to Schedule 2, which is what we are debating.

In regard to Schedule 2, let us put it in perspective.

The Senator should get down to it.

I am getting down to it. Schedule 2 itemises the cuts to which young people will have to adhere, the benefits that will be drastically cut. We should put those in perspective and not muddle it up in a spin of 0.4% of 1% of national debt. We should be clear on this. A young person who has worked building the economy for the past year and a half and who has paid taxes and PRSI will see the benefits to which he or she should be entitled reduced by more than €104 as a result of the decisions that will be taken here in a few minutes. It is not 0.4% of 1%; that is the real effects of the cuts that will be implemented today with the passing of this Bill.

These are difficult decisions. The Government has decided to support them but we should be honest and admit that these measures are drastic. What is being introduced in this Bill is utterly disgusting. I do not want to name individuals in the Green Party. It is in government and it supports the Bill. It is a minority party. This is not about the Green Party or its members. What is being done here is ridiculous. The cuts the Government is implementing are not minor adjustments that will bring people back to levels they were at a few years ago. It was a long time since young people, many of whom are married as I mentioned earlier, were only supported by the payment of €100 in this State. That is the third worst social welfare payment for an individual in the EU 15. It is ridiculous. If members of the Green Party have decided to vote for this, they should be honest about what they are doing. This legislation is disgusting. I mentioned earlier that this legislation is usually one of the worst items of legislation to come before the House. It should be the worst but, unfortunately, it is not because we have had worse this year. This is what is sickening about it.

In terms of the 0.4% of the 1% of debt, in a few months we will come to the House and pump billions of euro into the banks. It will be the billions of euro we have taken off the 20 year olds, blind people and child benefit recipients that will go into the banks. That is absolutely terrible. That is only one part of the jigsaw. The Minister should be honest about what the Government is doing. Choices were made although other choices were presented to the Government. We presented choices, costed by the Department of Finance, on where revenue could be created. I refer, for example, to wealth tax, standardising tax relief and the introduction of PRSI ceilings. All those options were available to the Minister. Our proposals were not about the public sector, services or attacking social welfare recipients. That is absolutely disgusting and it should not be happening. I do not agree with the Fine Gael proposal but the Minister should acknowledge that other options were available. The Minister decided to ignore them. There are other ways out of the problem but the Minister decided to ignore them for a reason I will never understand.

Does the Minister wish to comment further?

Not particularly, because I always seem to have to repeat everything I say to the Senator and then repeat it again. What the Government was faced with was taking money out of expenditure and the three areas of expenditure are social welfare, public pay and services. It was not enough just to try to increase revenue. That is part of it, and that is what we did in the previous budget. The income levies, which people viewed in a progressive manner, have had that effect. The more one tries to hit at the income of people, the more one gets into diminishing returns. A total of 4% of people will pay approximately 50% of income tax next year. We doubled the health levy to find that €105 million less has been realised. There is no way one can achieve €4 billion of savings by heading after a small group of people because it would not give the required results. That is why we were faced with trying to take money out of expenditure. As in any small or large budget, if one does not have money coming in, one cannot have it going out. One has to bridge that gap. That is precisely what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to reduce the €400 million per week that we are borrowing. That is in the best interests of the entire country. It is in the best interests of young people that we try to return to a situation where employment is available and there are incentives for people to invest in this country and to ensure we can hold on to the 1.9 million jobs we have. It would be very easy for us just to focus on those people who have lost their jobs. They have to be the focus of this Department in particular and they have to be supported but there are still 1.9 million people working and they need to be supported as well. That is the type of balancing we had to do in the budget. It is difficult. This is not a situation we want to be in but it is for the greater good of the country.

Question put and declared carried.
Title agreed to.

The question is: "That the Bill be reported without amendment."

Senators

Vótáil.

A vote was called when I was about to ask the Leader when Report Stage would be taken, which should not have been called at that point.

Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

This is a very bad way to handle business to go straight into the next Stage.

Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 20.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Nicky McFadden and Joe O’Toole.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 19.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Nicky McFadden and Liam Twomey.
Question declared carried.