Social Welfare Bill 2019: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 10, line 38, to delete "prescribed" and substitute "agreed".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7.

In page 10, line 43, to delete “an” and substitute “any reasonable”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 8.

In page 11, line 12, to delete “or submit to”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 9.

In page 11, line 16, to delete “an” and substitute “any reasonable”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost

I move amendment No. 10.

In page 11, lines 19 and 20, to delete “which is prescribed for the purposes of this section and”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 11, line 20, to delete “prescribed” and substitute “agreed”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 11, line 30, to delete “an” and substitute “any reasonable”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 12, line 6, to delete “an” and substitute “any reasonable”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 12, line 15, to delete “an” and substitute “any reasonable”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are logical alternatives to amendment No. 15, so amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 13, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 263 of Principal Act

6. Section 263 of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

“(3) A specified body which accepts a personal public service number as an appropriate means of identification for the purposes of a transaction must also set out and offer alternative methods by which a person can prove their identity for the purposes of that transaction.”.

I second the amendment.

I wish to withdraw amendment No. 15 but I want to move amendment No. 16. I do not know the procedure when the amendments are grouped.

We have already agreed that amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, will be discussed together.

In speaking to this section I have put forward three material alternatives, three different ways through which I have tried to address the same issue. Amendment No. 15 refers to the personal public service number, PPSN, but my main concern is not with the PPSN as it exists. Many people have it as an identity card for different purposes.

Amendment No. 16 proposes the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3): "(3) A specified body which accepts a Public Services Card, MyGovID or entry in the Single Customer View Dataset as an appropriate means of identification for the purposes of a transaction must also set out and offer alternative methods by which a person can prove their identity for the purposes of that transaction.” I tried to word it in a way that reflects the fact that the Data Protection Commission has told us that a specified body cannot make possession of a public services card, MyGovID or entry in the single customer view dataset a mandatory requirement in respect of access to a service. We know that from the Data Protection Commission report. That is the legal position. I had a previous amendment which replicated that but I do not want to put into law what has already been identified as being in law. I proposed this new subsection simply to underscore for the Government when it seemed at one point it may have been proceeding, for example, with the national childcare scheme, in requiring persons to engage with the public services card system, a deeply flawed system, and the MyGovID system, which is linked.

I was cautious in putting forward an amendment to the principal Act because the law already prohibits what I am seeking to avoid. Given the Government has now made it clear that there will be a paper alternative, although I believe it is still inadequate, that allows persons to access the national childcare scheme via alternative means, and then MyGovID and the online interface connected with that, I can withdraw amendment No. 16. I am torn because I would like to copperfasten it but I believe the legal interpretation of the existing law will fulfil the function that I seek to bring forward. That interpretation differs from the one the Minister has offered.

I will withdraw amendment No. 15 but I would like to hear the Minister's response to amendment No. 16.

We are discussing amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive together. Senator Higgins has concluded. I note Senator Devine wants to come in.

We support amendment No. 16. No person should be forced into getting a public services card to make a transaction. We note, as Senator Higgins said, that the Data Protection Commission has ruled that an obligation for anybody other than the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is illegal and cannot happen, but that this seems to have been ignored by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, although my colleague has informed me that there is talk of having a paper alternative that will allow persons access the national childcare scheme. Imposing such an obligation is unlawful. I do not know why the alternative has not occurred but there are moves to do that.

The first point I would make is that there was always a plan in the national childcare scheme to have a paper alternative. It is not new. It is there since the scheme was conceived more than a year ago. It is not a reaction to anything. It is a matter for each public service body that is identified in section 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to determine its own approach, whatever approach it wishes to take, with regard to authenticating the identity of a person engaging in a transaction with that body and, in that context, whether it requires the production of a public services card. There is nobody who makes anybody do anything. On that basis, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Does Senator Higgins wish to reply to the Minister?

I will withdraw the amendment in light of the arguments I put forward. It is a discussion that will happen Department by Department. I understand the Minister will be discussing these issues with us in committee shortly. In that context, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 13, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 263 of Principal Act

6. Section 263 of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

“(3) A specified body which accepts a Public Services Card, MyGovID or entry in the Single Customer View Dataset as an appropriate means of identification for the purposes of a transaction must also set out and offer alternative methods by which a person can prove their identity for the purposes of that transaction.”.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 13, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 263 of Principal Act

6. Section 263 of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

“(3) Any specified body which accepts a Public Service Card as a form of identification for the purposes of a transaction must also offer the option of at least one alternative method of identification for the purposes of that transaction.”.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 18

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

“10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, for a period of at least six months following the enactment of this Act, ensure that a personal public service number is not treated as mandatory or as the only acceptable means by which the Minister can be satisfied as to the identity of an individual seeking access to social welfare payments or services.”.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 propose alternative approaches to deal with the same issue. This is a last effort to implore the Minister to ensure that for a period of at least six months following the enactment of the Act she does not make the public services card, MyGovID or inclusion in the single customer view dataset mandatory or as the only acceptable means by which she can be satisfied as to the identity of an individual seeking access to social welfare payments or services. Given that very serious concerns have been raised about the process by which people are signed up, the level of appropriate information provided to persons and the use of the single customer view dataset by other specified bodies, I ask the Minister to press the pause button for a brief period and ensure that while people may still have the option to seek a public services card, we do not require anybody to do so while there are still serious concerns and many question marks over this.

Are we on amendment No. 18 or amendment No. 19?

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are being discussed together.

I would rather amendment No. 19.

One relates to the PPS number, which-----

I had indicated amendment No. 19 as the one I am interested in a response on.

For everybody's benefit, amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. That was agreed so we are discussing the two. The Senator is mainly interested in amendment No. 19.

I indicated that amendment No. 18 was worded incorrectly from my office, so amendment No. 19 is the amendment I am speaking to.

The amendments will change the requirement for persons presenting for a social welfare payment in respect of themselves or another person, to have their identity authenticated and, consequently, to have been issued with a public services card, PSC. The Senator has read the findings of the Data Protection Commission and at this stage she has probably even read the report. Therefore, she knows that the Department has a legal basis for requiring the production of a public services card in the circumstances. In one of the few findings we agree with, although not in its totality, the Data Protection Commissioner confirmed that the legal basis we operate under is completely sound. The finding states: "The Data Protection Commission finds that arising from the combination of Sections 241(1)(B), 242(4) and 263(1) of the SWCA 2005, there is a legal basis under section 2A(1)(c)(ii), (iii) and (iv) of the Acts for DEASP [my Department] to process certain personal data [...] by way of SAFE2 registration and the issuing of a PSC". Therefore, to do what the Senator has just asked us to do would effectively be unlawful so I am sorry I cannot accept that amendment.

As the Minister will also be aware, while there is a legal basis for the requirement for the card, there were concerns and findings on the process whereby persons were being issued with or accessing the card. That was regarding improvements in the internal process. I had hoped that some pause and consideration might be given. That said, given we will get to engage on these issues in the committee, I will not press amendment No. 19 at this time.

Excuse me, I will press amendment No. 19 because I strongly believe there should be a pause.

Let us deal with amendment No. 18 first.

I withdraw amendment No. 18.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

“10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, for a period of at least six months following the enactment of this Act, ensure that a Public Services Card, MyGovID or inclusion in the Single Customer View Dataset are not treated as

mandatory or as the only acceptable means by which the Minister can be satisfied as to the identity of an individual seeking access to social welfare payments or services. ”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

“10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, within one month of the enactment of this Act, consult with the Joint Committee for Employment Affairs and Social Protection with the intention of attending a meeting of that committee and providing a briefing in relation to the Public Services Card and any actions his or her department is undertaking in response to the Data Protection Commission’s investigation report into the Public Services Card.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 20 is on the Minister's engagement with the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I understand from the clerk to the committee that the Minister is scheduled to appear at the committee on 26 October. If the Minister is able to confirm that, I do not need to press the amendment.

In the context of having confirmation that the Minister will attend the committee on 26 October I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

“10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, within six months of the enactment of this Act, prepare and lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas outlining potential actions in relation to social welfare supports and services in the context of the Climate Action Plan and “just transition” to include a consideration of—

(a) fuel allowance,

(b) policy and practice around Housing Assistance Payment and Rent Supplement,

and

(c) training for caseworkers and preparation of targeted social welfare education, training and employment services for those currently in sectors likely to experience downsizing as part of a just transition.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 21 is on the wider issue of a just transition. We have had a lengthy debate on this. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on this elsewhere. We have not had a satisfactory engagement on this issue but it intersects with a number of other processes so in that context I will withdraw it at this point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

“10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, within eight months of the enactment of this Act, prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on policy options to strengthen social protection supports for one parent families with a youngest child between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, inclusive. The report will include a consideration of—

(a) the current qualification thresholds for jobseeker’s transitional payment, and

(b) the potential to raise income disregard for families in this cohort to the same amount as the income disregard for one parent families whose youngest child is under the age of fourteen.”.

Amendment No. 22 deals with the issue of one-parent families where the youngest child is over the age of 14. I pointed out to the Minister that there are real concerns on this issue. I know we have a disagreement on policy in that regard. The increase we saw for a qualified child in the budget again recognises that teenagers have an additional cost. However, that €3 per week increase is very little for a lone parent with a child over the age of 14 who will possibly lose €100, given the changes in the budget, and even more in income disregard as soon as the child turns 14. A one-parent family with a 15 year old child is still a one-parent family and should still be given appropriate recognition and support from the State.

Sinn Féin supports this amendment. A child turns 14 and this is the most expensive time of a parent's life where he or she is crucified with costs for socialising, etc. Children learn to socialise and get out there at that age and they probably get up to stuff they should not be doing. It is a massive cost for the parent and for a lone parent to feel these cuts and not allow children to explore the world because of this miserly cut is not acceptable. I support the amendment and it should be extended until children come of age at 18.

There have been no cuts.

I have been Minister for three years. This is my third budget and I have done nothing but increase the disregard for lone parents every year for the last three years. For the last two years I have increased the qualified child allowance for the first time in 11 years so there certainly have not been any cuts on my watch. I understand why the Senator wants to do this. I am not trying to split hairs with her and I am sure we will have this conversation when we get to the social welfare Bill. When we commissioned the Indecon research a number of years ago, it cost in excess of €180,000. In the last week, I had to fight tooth and nail for the money I received in the budget and there are two commissioned pieces of research I had to get money for. One of them is on bereavement poverty, for which I only secured €60,000 by the skin of my teeth, and the other is on statutory maintenance guidelines. With respect, these reports cost money I do not have. Much and all as I know the Senator's intentions are incredibly good and grounded, I do not have €60,000 or €180,000 to give to Indecon or anybody else to do the kind of reports the Senator is asking for in the next number of amendments. It is for that reason alone I will have to reject the amendments. I am sorry.

While I appreciate the pressed nature of the Department's budget, and I have argued for a higher budget for the Minister for many policy areas that are of national concern, I am more concerned about the pressed budgets of lone parents with children over the age of 14 and in that sense I am pressing the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Under Standing Order 62(3)(b) I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.

Amendment again put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared carried.

The Minister has requested the floor.

When we spoke earlier, Senator Higgins suggested a date of 26 October for the committee meeting and I agreed. It turns out that is a Saturday so unless it is just the Senator and I-----

My apologies. Perhaps the-----

We would be on our own. The date issued to me is 7 November.

I thank the Minister for the clarification.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 14, after line 25, to insert the following:

"10. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall, within eighteen months of the enactment of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the role of social protection supports and services and the provision of educational opportunities for people in receipt of social welfare payments, including—

(a) an examination of the range of educational options presented to jobseekers, including those on jobseeker’s transitional payment,

(b) a consideration of access routes to further education for those in receipt of social welfare payments,

(c) a review of literacy supports offered or available to those in receipt of social welfare payments, and

(d) recommendations in relation to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).".

I second the amendment.

We discussed this amendment at length on Committee Stage. I do not believe it needs much more elaboration and I will press it.

Does the Minister wish to speak on it?

We spoke at length on this last week and I explained that while I tend to stick my nose into other Ministers' Departments, I do not have statutory responsibility for training, education courses or literary courses. I cannot do a report on something that is not under the remit of the Department. Even if I wanted to do so, I would not get the support of officials or Government money to do something that is not under the remit of the Department. I implore the Senator not to include in legislation something I physically cannot do, notwithstanding whether it is in the law. I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

With respect, the amendment was found to be in line with the topic of the Bill and, therefore, to be in line with social welfare. It is not apply to all of the issues. It refers specifically to the access route through social welfare payments to educational supports, further education and training and literacy support. I am not asking for a major piece of work. I am asking specifically about how access intersects with the social welfare support and systems. In this context, I will press the amendment.

As I said to the Senator last week, we do not own the policy in this regard. We are an agent which acts on behalf of the educational facilities, whether they be skills-based, Springboard, education and training boards, private institutions or educational institutions at second level, third level or thereafter. We are an income support for people who want to retrain through education. We are not the policy owners of our educational departments or institutions. The Senator thinks we do an awful lot more than we do. We pay income support to allow people to retrain so they can make themselves labour ready for the particular market in which they are interested. That is the sum total of what we do.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 19.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Frances Black; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank everybody for the speed with which the Bill has passed over the recent weeks. Everybody is aware that we want to commence this on 1 November in the interests of all of the entrepreneurial people whom we serve. It will go to the Dáil next week.

I acknowledge my colleague, Senator Ray Butler, who has put an awful lot of effort in this issue and who has been pushing for the self-employed since he entered the Dáil in 2011. The Government has reduced the length of time for which people can be bankrupt, which is important. This Bill allows the self-employed to get some social welfare when they are going through some hardship. I thank the Minister and I thank Members of the House for their co-operation today.

Question put and agreed to.