This section is agreed.
I am entitled to tell the House what the section is about.
Not if it is agreed.
I would like to know what the section contains.
The Deputy's support for her Democratic Left constituency colleague is admirable.
Is the Minister or the chairman chairing the committee?
Is the Deputy trying to gag the Minister?
The Minister should be allowed to proceed with his contribution on section 10.
Section 10(1) increases from £520 to £1,040 the amount of annual income in respect of which optional contributions are not payable by share fishermen under the scheme of optional social insurance. This changes consequential on the increase in the corresponding disregard for the self-employed provided for in section 9. Section 10 (2) provides that this improvement will come into effect on 6 April 1996.
Share fishermen may opt to pay optional contributions at the rate of 5 per cent of reckonable income in the preceding contribution year under the optional scheme of social insurance. These contributions are payable in addition to self-employment contributions. Optional contributions entitle share fishermen to treatment benefit, unemployment benefit for 13 weeks in any calendar year and a maximum of 52 weeks' disability benefit in any continuous period of incapacity. The scheme of optional insurance has been in operation for contribution year ended 5 April 1994. Some 119 share fishermen opted to pay contributions under the scheme for the 1993-94 contribution year and 87 for the 1994-95 contribution year. The insurability of share fishermen generally is currently being examined within the Department and consultations will take place shortly with all interested groups on the proposals arising from this examination.
As the Deputies opposite will be aware, there has been an ongoing dispute about social insurance cover for fishermen. There have been court cases, campaigns and disputes about whether a share fisherman is an employee or an employer. Since the various schemes that have been put in place up to now have not resolved those issues I am again attempting to resolve them. I hope to resolve this problem following a meeting with representatives of share fishermen.
Can the Minister understand the reason Fianna Fáil is not interested in this major reform for the benefit of share fishermen and the very important issues they have been raising over the past few years?
Deputy Joe Walsh welcomed it and agreed when the Chair put the question. The Minister knows quite well that this provision does not go far enough. Bearing in mind the growth and all the money available, about which he boasted earlier, the Minister knows that share fishermen are among the most worthy beneficiaries of any such improvement. They encounter continuous hardship and dangerous weather conditions in their endeavours to bring fish ashore leading to the creation of additional jobs and indigenous industrial development. Since there are not many involved, experience of the operations of the scheme to date suggests it would be preferable to put in place a more comprehensive one, incurring a relatively low fee in their case. Deputy Joe Walsh has already said he welcomes this provision and, when the Chair put the question to him, he approved it.
The committee will recall that over the past year I have pressed continuously the cause of share fishermen but was turned down point blank by the Minister. I am glad to note he has had a change of heart in relation to them. Representing the south east where many of them eke out a living I fully appreciate their many difficulties. It appears the Minister has finally realised that share fishermen are entitled to a better deal and I am glad he proposes to resolve their problem, not before time.
I am sure Deputy Woods speaks with tongue in cheek when he refers to all the money being available, time to solve the problem and so on.
The Minister said there is a lot of money available.
Deputy Woods knows quite well it is not merely a question of money, that the numbers involved would not result in huge expenditure and that the problem arose through serious conflicts between the fishermen themselves on how they should be treated. Indeed many former Ministers, including Deputy Woods, thought they had resolved their problem but, when court challenges arose from legislation enacted, their efforts were set at naught.
Indeed the fact that the number of fishermen who opted to pay contributions to the scheme fell from 119 in 1994 to 87 in 1995 highlights the need for its re-examination. I listened to Deputies opposite say it is time this problem was solved; of course, I agree but one would think, from listening to them, I had been in this Department over the past 15 years rather than months. I am endeavouring to remedy many of the failures of previous Administrations in relation to this and other issues and I am hopeful of reaching a realistic solution that will meet the needs of most of the fishermen involved. I do not expect we will find a solution that will satisfy everybody, which has proven impossible to date despite the best efforts of everybody, but I am confident that following consultation with the fishermen concerned — with the involvement of the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, my party colleague, Deputy Gilmore, who has taken a deep interest in this issue — we will finally be able to resolve this long intractable problem for the vast majority of fishermen.