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Monday, 28 Jun 2010

Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010: Committee Stage (Resumed)

I welcome the Minister and his officials. Apologies have been received from the Chairman, Deputy Healy-Rae. It is proposed that we complete the Bill today so we will work until it is finished, without taking a break.

Question, "That section 17 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 14, to delete line 36 and substitute the following:

"section 197.

196A.—The Minister will take all practicable steps to ensure that courses of training provided in accordance with section 195A shall be appropriate given the person's existing qualifications and experience.".".

I addressed this point in some detail the other day so will not labour it. My concern over the amendments relating to jobseekers' payments and one-parent families is the lack of clarity on the type of training to be offered. I support facilitating people into education and training but suitable training for people across all the different fields is not available. People who have qualifications are losing their jobs at the moment and there is no plan to give them an education that is suitable. The new unemployed person has a lot of qualifications and lone parents have a varied set of requirements as regards training.

Amendment No. 27 is a similar amendment but has been disallowed because, for some reason, it was deemed more suited to a recent amendment against a Second Reading of the Bill. I do not understand that because it was quite similar.

There are 63 facilitators to deal with all the categories of people within the social welfare system. I do not see how that can work. I am aware that much of FÁS is to come under the Minister's responsibility but I am not convinced FÁS can deliver for every sector if the facilitators to whom I referred are to be the only people dealing with jobseekers.

Section 18 covers the point the Deputy is making. It states that when a person:

(a) has, when requested to do so by an officer of the Minister, without good cause refused to participate, or to agree to participate, in a course of training which is considered appropriate by the officer having regard to the training needs of the person and his or her personal circumstances,

(b) has, without good cause, refused or failed to avail himself or herself of any reasonable offer of training provided or approved of by An Foras Áiseanna Saothair, or

(c) has, without good cause, refused or failed to avail himself or herself of an opportunity of participating in a programme administered by An Foras Áiseanna Saothair and the Minister pursuant to the plan commonly known as the National Employment Action Plan,

Everything can be appealed. If an official acts unreasonably, one can appeal it. I am very keen on separating those who are genuinely seeking work from those who are always too busy if they are called for training or for work courses and so on. I feel there must be a sanction to deal with the perennial refuser. One has to wonder what is going on.

We now have a national employment action plan, NEAP. Normally, it is activated after three months of unemployment, because 60% of people who become unemployed get new employment within three months, after that period it decreases. My second threshold in this process will be when the jobseeker's benefit runs out. Again, we will have the FÁS employment officers and the facilitators from my own Department on the same pitch trying to activate people who reach that point into employment, training schemes and away from long-term unemployment, doing nothing. I have serious concerns about people who are given reasonable offers of work or training and will not avail of it. We must have some system of sanction. My intention is that if this is one of the possible fraud areas where people are working and drawing dole, of course savings can be made. I hope I can use those savings to activate all the people that Deputy Byrne referred to who are chomping at the bit to get involved in work or schemes suitable to their requirements.

There is not much difference between the wording of the section and the proposed amendment.

Please God, the Deputy might not say "Please God", but I will say please God we will have another two years. I wish the Deputy all the best.

I definitely would not say that.

If the Deputy or a member of her party is in charge of the Department, then it is her call.

If this works out very unfairly, I would be the first to put up my hands and say we must do something about this, but the intention is to be fair.

In employment action plans and so on, I would like to give everybody an opportunity to get activated, no matter how long they were on jobseeker's allowance. It would be great to get people who have been on jobseeker's allowance for long periods onto the scheme. In terms of the NEAP approach to those who are on jobseeker's allowance for between ten and 15 years and have reached a stage of unemployability, I would be much more sympathetic to taking them off that payment. We all know of circumstances where people might not be entitled to a disability allowance but one would be advised by those who are trying to activate them to leave well enough alone. I am very conscious of that.

On the other hand, if somebody who is unemployed for a period of ten years is very keen to be activated, we will facilitate him or her. I would see the national employment action plan as a systematic approach to work, education and training as being much more relevant to the people who until recently had jobs and are capable of being employed rather than going out and taking those who have not had employment for 15 years. We do not know if they are capable of sustaining employment in any way, even though they might not have a disability in terms of what is set out in the Disability Act. I take a pragmatic view and I hope my colleagues would share that pragmatic view.

It is important to be pragmatic in this, but I have a real concern that the general populace of the unemployed is being penalised on the basis that there is a percentage who do not want to work and who want to remain on the dole for the whole of their lives. Are we looking at policy on the basis that people are delighted to be on the dole? I spend far more time with people who have come to my office who are trying to get on schemes, but who for one reason or another cannot get a place on the FÁS scheme that they want. In particular, there are a growing number of women who are now ineligible for payments because of changes in social welfare benefits based on their husbands' contributions, who are trying to get on schemes but they cannot. They want to get back into the workforce.

In general the vast majority of people on the live register do not want to be there and I am concerned that we need to re-examine the operation of FÁS. We also need to re-examine the effect of bringing in the proposed new changes to ensure the system is more responsive to people. I am meeting more and more people who are newly unemployed who feel that once they sign on and get the payment, there is no assistance for them. It is not that staff are not being polite when they go into social welfare offices, but there is nobody guiding them. They never expected to be in this position. When courses are suggested, they are utterly meaningless for them as they are nowhere near their skill sets.

The Minister is correct when he states that there is not much distance between his proposal and my amendment. I will withdraw the amendment, but the point needs to be made that we must be serious in ensuring the correct type of courses to suit people. That is a tall order, and it will demand a significant change across how the system operates. We need to see that the system is meaningful. Most people, the figure is higher than 90%, want to get back into the workforce.

I agree with the Deputy that the vast majority of those who are unemployed would take any kind of employment rather than be unemployed. That is exactly what I am trying to facilitate. People call to the offices of Members and tell us they would take any job. I would like people to be able to realise their aspirations. For the minority who are not playing straight, I would like to have the power of sanction, but I want to use the savings realised for the benefit of the majority to give them the opportunity to which the Deputy refers. That is the purpose of the total package I am trying to put together. It is important to try to match people up with something that will be of long-term benefit to them. However, it is also true that with a bit of goodwill on both sides, there is a wide range of things a person could do to his or her betterment, whether it is training or work activation. It is never any harm for any of us to widen our experience beyond our qualifications. A person with very high qualifications in certain skills does not necessarily have every skill set one could dream of. For example, a person could have a very good science background but might not have business skills, which could be of great advantage to him or her. Alternatively, a person might not have marketing skills.

There are so many different skill sets out there. None of us would say we were fully educated. I assure members that this is part of a much wider picture, which fits in very much with the comments made by Deputies, namely, how do we give as many people as possible meaningful things to do, rather than telling them they are unemployed and so they should stay at home and do nothing? All I want is to have legitimate instruments for the small minority who are getting payments they should not be getting. I have to have some instruments in this regard.

I believe the figure we get from the national employment action plan is exaggerated. It gives a figure of 40% for those who sign off, do not turn up for interviews and so on. I think that figure is very high. It might be just that this process takes place after three months on jobseeker's benefit and many of the people involved have found jobs by then. Whether or not they participated in the NEAP, they might not be available for work at that time anyway. The system might not have picked up on the fact that they have found jobs. However, it would be interesting to see the results if the process was carried out after people had signed on for a year. How many people, when the NEAP process is carried out at that stage, would not turn up? How many would sign off of their own volition? When are the inquiries made about what the situation really is? The only way to obtain that data is by practical experiment.

Another thing mentioned by the Deputy was the issue of jobseeker's allowance with regard to spouses' incomes and eligibility for schemes. I am conscious of this issue for two reasons. There are many people in that situation who have very large mortgages. They have predicated their outgoings on two incomes and often the larger income may not be the steady one. There are many cases in which one spouse was earning big money in the construction industry while the other was in State employment at the lower end. Suddenly the larger, more volatile part of their joint income is gone, even though it was required to pay their mortgage.

Under the community services programme, a certain number of places are kept for people who are not in receipt of a social welfare payment. In any expansion of that scheme I will be considering these people in particular. There is a group of people out there who do need assistance. They are finding it strange to be out of work and have few skills. I am trying to work out a process for dealing with that issue, and I will take it into account.

I thank the Minister.

Does Deputy Ó Snodaigh wish to comment?

I wish to comment on the section in general rather than the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."

Many of my concerns about section 17 apply also to section 18. The whole purpose of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is to provide a basic income — a safety net, as it were. This payment is provided to people who do not necessarily fit into a particular welfare category, and it is usually paid on a temporary basis. Payment of this allowance is not contingent on a person's being a jobseeker. It operates as a safety net in the event that a person has no other source of income, for example, while he or she is waiting for the result of an appeal.

What the Minister is suggesting here is a whole new departure. The basic payment that enables people to survive may now be cut or withdrawn altogether. It is impossible to understand where the Minister is coming from. The wording of the proposed amendment to the principal Act is completely ambiguous and confers a major discretionary power on decision makers. I suggest that such discretion will lead to inconsistent and arbitrary decisions and will undoubtedly cause difficulties and unreasonable hardship for many jobseekers and their families.

It seems extraordinary that in order to qualify for this basic allowance, a person must be engaged in training or seeking employment. I have serious concerns about the hardship this section will cause. There is a category of people out there who will simply not be able to satisfy some of the people who will be making these decisions. Major discretion is being given to decision makers without clear instructions on the basis on which they take decisions. What exactly does the phrase "without good cause" mean? One would hope that anybody working in this area would be reasonable, but that is not necessarily the case. A system under which any officer in the Department or any community welfare officer has the discretion to decide on whether a person will receive a basic payment is wide open to abuse.

I do not think it is adequate for the Minister to leave things hanging on that basis. The welfare and survival of too many people is dependent on it. Somebody somewhere might decide that a person is refusing to take up employment or training without good cause. What is good cause? The Minister should be clear in the definition. There are all kinds of difficult real-life family situations in which people find themselves, such as psychiatric illness, addiction, abuse or neglect. There are all kinds of difficulties faced by people which render them unable to hold down a job. The Minister knows that as well as those on this side of the room.

There are many reasons people may not be in a position to participate in training schemes or employment. It would be grand if everybody was able to be independent and self-sufficient, but we know that, unfortunately, for various reasons, many people are not. I am thinking in particular of people who do not have the confidence to take up employment or training because of some kind of psychiatric difficulty that makes them unable to leave the house or participate in normal activities. Other people may have family members who are very dependent on them and need them around. There are all sorts of reasons people cannot participate in training.

It is dangerous and unfair to use a definition as broad and loose as "without good cause". Who decides what good cause is without a clear definition? I am very concerned about the potential for hardship being caused to vulnerable people by the amendment contained in this section. I am strongly against it.

At the outset, I mentioned that I had major problems with the thrust of the Bill, in that I believe it puts the cart before the horse. Activation measures should be in place before we consider this type of measure. Both today and the last day we discussed the matter, the Minister said that he would like to see courses, jobs or training available for those who are languishing on the dole, which is laudable. We would all agree that courses, etc., should be available. I find it difficult to understand why the Bill is being presented at this stage when all of the activation measures are not in place. If the Bill were to be enacted in the morning, people on the different payments could not be penalised because they would not be able to be referred to specific jobs, training courses or any of the measures that would help people come off the dole because they are not available. The existing courses such as PLCs are greatly oversubscribed. In my area, I believe Ballyfermot College was five times oversubscribed last year. We are spending considerable time on a Bill whereas if there was a proposal before us on a range of courses and the detail of the appropriate measures and training to be offered, it would be a much more useful way for us to spend our time.

There is a way to deal with people who are getting payments they should not get, which is through the investigation branch of the Department of Social Protection. I do not believe anybody here would be shy about encouraging that Department to ensure that people who are not entitled to payments do not receive them. It is not necessary to introduce legislation as the powers already exist. Existing Social Welfare Acts give the powers to cut off people's payments if they are not willing to genuinely seek employment and also to avail of reasonable opportunities for training and to be advised by departmental officials. I intend to table an amendment that will prevent the Bill coming into effect unless the activation measures are in place on an annual basis because the primary job of social protection is to ensure that rather than the penalty we give those on jobseeker's allowance or benefit the encouragement to get out of the circumstances in which they find themselves. I have yet to meet anybody who wants to languish on or be dependent on social welfare. Everyone I have met would like to have a job and would like to be working and pay their way in society. Obviously some people like to shy away from the taxation aspect of paying their way, but most people would like to bring home some type of income.

I am opposed to sections 17 and 18 in particular. I would much prefer to see a full package. The Minister talks about the full package but we do not have one before us. It is difficult to give support to the part of the package before us without even a timetable of when the additional school completion places and training places will be available. We are talking about almost 500,000 people at this stage. When will the additional CE places and courses be available? When will the jobs come for all these people? That is the full package.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh has put his finger on it by saying that these powers have basically existed and all we are doing is clarifying them and making them more specific. Where a person is offered either training or a job that is suitable and is not available for either, there needs to be a penalty for that because that would facilitate the investigation of what is going on.

I wish to address the issues Deputy Shortall raised. If, for argument's sake, someone with a psychiatric difficulty — a condition for which I have great sympathy — came to my clinic and outlined that he or she had been on jobseeker's allowance because he or she was not psychiatrically suitable to go working and was in some way penalised, I would immediately sign him or her on for disability allowance and get the SWA while his or her application was being processed and would be absolutely confident he or she would get disability allowance. Why would that not be the case? Similarly if it was a question of a family member requiring care, the reality in that situation is again that the person is on the wrong payment and I would immediately transfer him or her to the right payment, which would be carer's allowance. One of the conditions of jobseeker's allowance is to be available for and actively seeking work. Each of those cases are ones in which the people are on the wrong payment.

In response to what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, this is very much linked to the NEAP. The purpose of the NEAP is to concentrate facilitation into training and work on targeted groups. We normally do it after three months. Having been appointed to the Department, I am also keen to do it again after a year. The positive part of that process is the most important part — to try to facilitate somebody getting into a job, education, training or scheme work. If somebody is not willing to do any of those things, it is not satisfactory that he or she can walk out of the office and say "Well, that's tough. I'll get my full payment anyway." The people involved will all have been working and therefore have the capacity to work. If they have developed some illness, they should then go on disability allowance. We are looking at our partial capacity to deal with that issue.

The figures on the NEAP are interesting. Last year 86,000 people were referred to the national employment action programme. Some 53,000 left the register, which means that 33,000 are still on the register. These processes show up a large number of people who leave. Some 19,000 people were non-attendees at interviews with the non-attendees now off the live register 14,000 and 5,000 still on the register.

How many of those are people who emigrated or returned to their original countries?

Not that many. The social welfare numbers would not indicate that. I want to develop the NEAP further because one could argue that we are doing it at a time of a relatively high rate of people getting jobs any way. That is the reason I believe that after a year we will see we are helping to stop people crossing the threshold into long-term unemployment. However, it always seems that for every 100 people called up, a certain percentage just disappears or signs off. This happens despite the sanctions we have currently. After a while, if people think there is no sanction, the effect of the sanction wears off.

What I am saying is that every euro paid to somebody wrongly is a euro taken away from someone who genuinely wants activation. We only have and only ever will have a finite amount of resources. What I would like to do is to reduce fraud. I understand this issue has been mentioned at some of this committee's meetings. The committee has considered time and again how to reduce the fraud element of social welfare so that we can give the benefits of saving on fraud to those in receipt of basic allowances. I do not accept the figures that have been bandied around in the media of possible savings of €2 billion on fraud. Those figures are not accurate. However, there is a certain amount of fraud and I would like to get that money and use it for those who genuinely need a social welfare payment of one type or another. If we could use the savings from eliminating fraud for the jobseeker's allowance to create activation, we would serve society well.

Is the Minister saying that any moneys saved would be ring-fenced for programmes within his Department or would a different Department be in charge of job activation?

I am not saying it will be legally ring-fenced, but that was behind the idea of bringing job activation into the area of unemployment payments. I argued for a long time and the Taoiseach has accepted that the idea behind job activation is that savings made would be used to activate, that activation would be used to make savings and that each would reinforce the other. In other words, by activating in a systematic way and targeting the group about to cross the threshold from jobseeker's benefit to jobseeker's allowance, one reduces the risk of fraud and uses the savings to put people to work on various types of schemes. It is unfair that people have always associated schemes with low-skilled poor quality work. The range of work to be done in communities could use virtually every skill that is available. I expect communities to look at the range of skills available and to use them to the maximum potential. Why would one only use part of the potential of highly-skilled people in community work rather than their full potential? Therefore, I do not see one work without the other.

The Deputy said that I am bringing in the cart and putting it before the horse. There is no question but that I am setting the cart out in front of me. However, I will not commence the Bill until I have the rest of it, namely, the transfer of powers, and can start creating the schemes. Then, when I am ready to go ahead with the national employment action plan, I will commence it. When I am ready to activate people and have an alternative to offer them, I will commence this section. This must be done in a focused manner and not by scatter gun. We cannot just call everybody in. First, we do not have enough courses and, second, we do not have enough work. Therefore, we must have a systematic way of working this and when we call people in, we must have a realistic and useful alternative to offer them. If that is the case, the sanction is legitimate. If not, it is not legitimate.

Is the Minister considering changing the criteria in place for taking people on to do community work? For example, will he reduce the time required for being on a certain payment? Currently, that is the major barrier to getting on these schemes. Not only are there not enough placements, but people will not be accepted on a scheme unless they have been on a certain payment for a year. Would the Minister consider reducing that qualifying period to six or three months? These people have no work and just want to make a contribution, but the current system does not respond to their needs. It needs to change. I am encouraged by what the Minister has said, but he needs to change the current system because it is not working. If he changes the eligibility criteria, this will be more beneficial, not only for participants but for the communities throughout the country that will benefit from their work.

Perhaps I could come back sometime and go into all the different schemes and rules. I am examining them and there will be changes in the rules for some schemes. I am considering, for example, how to match community employment schemes with training schemes and schemes like the community services programme and the rural social scheme which are work schemes. The jobs initiative is also a work scheme. I am considering whether people should go onto a training scheme first and then progress to a work scheme if they do not move into commercial employment.

There are two arguments against shortening the qualification term for acceptance, even allowing that we have more applicants than we have places. I am working on the basis that even if I created 50,000 scheme places tomorrow, I could fill 100,000. That being true, and allowing that a high percentage of these people get back into employment in the first three or four months, the argument can be made that the problem occurs after a year when the number of people returning to work drops down to a trickle. We should pick them up at that stage, because that is where we really hit trouble. Obviously, if I had enough schemes, I would begin to move back from that point, but my first challenge is where they cross that threshold. Unfortunately, we have a large number of people crossing that threshold. The eligibility criteria are not uniform and if one is lucky enough to be on farm assist, one can go straight onto the scheme, because farm assist is a social insurance system payment.

The position is that if I have a limited number of places to roll out, my focus will be on people who are about to go onto the means-tested payment. However, that position is open to debate. The reason I would focus on those is that they are potentially looking at long-term unemployment. We know that in the first three months of being on unemployment, a high number of people get jobs. That tails off afterwards, significantly towards the end of the first year. The Deputy and I have the same aim. We want to try to provide an opportunity of work to as many people as possible, as soon as possible. The question is where to start. We must start creating places.

I have done sums on this and worked out the costs. There are two issues that are crucial to creating scheme places or work scheme places. One is the cost of the place over and above the jobseeker's allowance, in terms of insurance, materials, supervision and so on. I have to find that money. The other is the saving that might be made through people leaving the live register, who should not have been there in the first place. The more these equate, the more schemes I can create until we get to the point, if they equate, where everybody can be offered a scheme. However, I do not believe they will equate and we will have to make savings somewhere else.

The Minister put a figure of €8,000 on it.

That is what I can do it on. Farm assist works out at approximately €7,000 or €8,000. We might be able to pare it back to €6,500, but cannot go below that.

Trainee and community employment schemes are more expensive. I am getting the figures from FÁS on how much they cost. Again, the debate is open on this. If it was required that one's supervisor came from the live register, that would make it cheaper. On the other hand, we must also accept the argument put by Deputy Enright, which I support, that we must reserve places for people not entitled to any payment and put them on in credit, because they are in difficult family situations. In that instance, the cost is much higher because one is not making any savings on the payment. Obviously the higher the attrition rate, the more people can go on schemes. If the gap is €5,000, one gets 20,000 places for €100 million. If the gap is €10,000, one gets only 10,000 for €100 million. That is the challenge.

The Minister is throwing out a great many figures and the other day he mentioned that 60% leave the live register for employment within three months. Will he provide those figures to the committee, as I made such a request on Thursday last?

That was quoted at me.

It is very hard to accept that 60% of those on the jobseeker's payment go into jobs within three months.

That is jobseeker's benefit.

I would like the figures supporting that, if the Minister could make those available to us as soon as possible. All of this is predicated on training places being available. We know that all of the courses are completely over-subscribed as well as places on community employment and on other schemes. The Minister admitted the other day that he has no money for additional places whatsoever.

It is very much a case of the cart before the horse. Why has the Minister not put his Department in order? Why are places on training courses and other schemes not available? It would be reasonable to expect people to go on courses, if they were available, but the places are not there and that is the difficulty. The Minister should be focusing on making these places available.

The Minister stated earlier when speaking on section 18 that if a person is not in a position to go on a training course, he or she should be on this payment or that payment. Not everybody fits neatly into different payments, as he well knows. There are many people who are performing caring duties but they do not qualify for carer's allowances. Equally there are many people who have health problems, particularly psychiatric health problems, who do not qualify for disability allowance. Nobody is arguing with the Minister that people who are fit and able should not be out on a training course trying to improve their employment prospects, but in the case of people who will be dependent on supplementary welfare allowance, there are categories of people who for various reasons are not in a position to participate in those courses. Most of the officers in the Department are excellent but my argument is that they should not be given the responsibility and level of discretion to decide on the meaning of " without good cause" as the reason for somebody not participating on a training course. One must be much clearer about the definition of "without good cause". If one leaves the wording as loose and as open as that, there undoubtedly will be many cases where people are being refused the very basic income they require in order to survive, when they may not be in a position to participate in a course. My problem is that the definition is far too wide and loose. The Minister must be much clearer about what constitutes "good cause".

When he replied the Minister said that he would not commence parts of the Bill until activation measures were in place. If that is true why are we here? This Bill was rushed through last week and is being rushed through today to facilitate its passage, yet the Bill will not be activated because the activation parts will not be in place. There are no commencement paragraphs in the Bill. In some Bills, there is a commencement section which states that the Bill will come into effect on a given date. That is the effect of what I would propose.

There is a commencement section in section 1(3) which states:

Sections 3, 6, 13, 17, 18 and 24 shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Social Protection may appoint by order or orders either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision, and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or different provisions.

The Bill is urgent because we want to transfer the powers in relation to the community services programme, the FÁS schemes and so on to my Department. It is my intention of activating those very quickly. I was asked if I had the money as of now. The straight answer to that is "No.". If I was asked if I intend getting the money, the answer is "Yes" from the Vote of the Department, but I still have to negotiate that. Do I intend to have activation? Yes, I do. The whole point of setting up the Department was to put the €4.2 billion unemployment payments side by side with the €0.5 billion for activation to see if we could put more into activation and less into paying people and requiring them to be available for work but not actually doing anything.

In response to the question of whether there are enough courses for everybody, the answer is "No". However, I intend to operate the activation on the basis of the availability of places between training and there has been a significant increase in the number of places on training, but does it cover the 475,000 people on the live register? Approximately 275,000 people are on the live register full time and as of now it does not cover all of those, but as I have said this will be done in a systematic and targeted way rather than the scatter gun effect. These sections will apply in an organised fashion where we have courses and activation available.

I have some figures that might answer the question posed by Deputy Shortall. From January to December 2009, the numbers referred to the AP — that normally happens after a period of three months so it is fairly systematic — were 86,782 and the number that left the live register was 53,000. That is about 60% ——

The Minister stated that 60% of people got jobs.

——leave the live register within three months.

To repeat, the Minister said that 60% of people got jobs.

My understanding is that the vast majority ——

There is a big difference between leaving the live register and getting a job. Where did the Minister get the figure of 60% getting a job?

That is a figure that is quoted in the Department.

Where does it come from?

Some 60,000 emigrated from Ireland last year. Quite a number of people returned home to Poland and other countries.

The social welfare figures do not seem to indicate that.

Is the Minister getting the figures that Deputy Shortall requested?

Question put and declared carried.
Section 19 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 16, before section 20, to insert the following new section:

"20.--The Minister may provide for the recruitment of retired social welfare appeals officers to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.".

This amendment relates to the appointment of additional staff for the appeals office. We all know that the situation is intolerable. The delays in the appeals office are ridiculous. There is no doubt there is significant wastage as a result of the high percentage of appeals that are upheld. If the decision making was better, there would not be a backlog building up in the appeals office. There are insufficient staff in the appeals office to deal with the number of appeals. I wish to comment on the Minister's stated intention to employ retired appeals officers. Where opportunities to work are limited, we should not be giving work to people who are already retired and on good pensions. That should apply across the board in the public service. Whatever work is available should be given to those of working age. It is bad practice to bring back retired people and give them the available work. There is an urgent need to deal with the backlog. It takes six months to train an appeals officer, so there is no time to do that. The Minister needs to relieve the situation now and for that reason he is considering employing retired appeals officers. I have no major difficulty with that, provided that new people are also being trained in to take on the jobs. There is a requirement to do both. If the Minister is doing both, training new appeals officers and employing retired staff, in order to clear the backlog that is okay.

I have a serious problem, however, with the extent of the powers being conferred on the Minister to not only appoint retired appeals officers but to appoint any person the Minister believes is proper. I thought we had gone beyond the days when the Minister could decide who would get a job in the public service and he or she could bring in his or her cronies or people with connections to their political party, or connections to lobby groups with vested interests and so on. It is absolutely outrageous that the Minister should suggest that we should go back to those bad old days, where the Minister controlled who worked in the public service. There is no justification whatsoever for the Minister seeking these wide powers. It can be done through my amendment that the Minister may provide for the recruitment of retired social welfare appeals officers. The idea that the Minister can bring in whomsoever he likes is completely unacceptable and for that reason, I suggest we amend the section by allowing for the recruitment of retired officers but that the section as it stands, which gives the Minister wide ranging powers, is deleted.

The Minister will recall on Second Stage he had suggested that he would bring forward an amendment similar to the one Deputy Shortall has brought forward. He did not table such an amendment. I had a concern and I still have a concern about the employment of retired social welfare appeals officers against the background of the number of unemployed people at 439,000. Obviously we have a considerable number of retired public servants. As a matter of principle it is wrong that they should be able to come back and get a salary while they are also getting their pension. I appreciate the depth of urgency in dealing with the backlog of appeals because of the number of people who are very disadvantaged as a result of the delay in their appeal being heard. If the Minister makes the changes in the supplementary welfare allowance he is proposing that could make the problem even more difficult for individuals. Some appeals officers could be brought back to train other staff in the Department. There is an embargo on recruitment in the public service, but the Minister isproposing to appoint people as he thinks proper. I do not know how he will do that in the first place, even with the help of this Bill.

There is a significant number of experienced staff at different grades in his Department who could deal with this. For some it may mean promotion, for others it may be a sideways move should they be given the opportunity to do so. When I read the Bill, my first thought was what type of people the Minister would suggest for appointment. The Minister is proposing to give himself wide ranging powers and I would have a great deal of concern about that.

I have concerns also about bringing back retired people. If the Minister was able to tell me that it was for a fixed period and the staff would have a function for that period, I could accept it, but I have a real worry that once one starts bringing staff back, this will become a precedent and they will be brought back every time. The idea of upskilling people in the job will be sidelined because it is easier to bring these people back. We have seen it in the teaching profession. We have seen the frustration among young teachers who have recently qualified and cannot get jobs. I do not know how many presentations I have been at for people who are retiring and suddenly one goes back to the school the following year and they are still there. It is a real problem and it is very unfair to people who are trying to get employment. This is a cause of concern.

Let me assure Deputy Shortall that there is no question of me appointing anybody and I do not appoint political cronies.

Why should the Minister have the power to do it?

My understanding is that I appoint deciding officers in the Department, but what happens in practice is that a warrant comes up, and allowing that one did not have some knowledge over and above what one's officials had, one signs it. If one did know something that one's officials did not know, one would bring it to their attention as a matter of course. I cannot imagine such a situation would happen. As Minister, one does not have a function in the selection. The wording being used is used for the appointment of branch officers and so on. The problem would arise if it was stated that they had to be retired officers, as somebody might be able to take a case against the Minister on the basis that he or she was equally qualified to do the job and was not getting an opportunity to apply for this job just because he or she was not a retired officer of the Department. Again it is hard to see where that situation might arise, but there will always be one person who will claim to have all the knowledge of the law and will challenge the decision as to why he or she would not be entitled to be appointed.

This is a standard wording that has been used again and again in similar circumstances. I accept everything the Deputies have said about the unacceptability of the backlog, but the number of appeals has grown dramatically and we expect to have 30,000 appeals this year. For many years, at the end of each year, the number of appeals on hand would have been 5,000 and last year it increased to 16,000. We expect 30,000 claims this year and that means to clear the backlog and to deal with the current claims, one would have to deal with 46,000 cases. Even allowing 6,000 cases to remain on hand, that is a tall order.

In 2009, 18,000 cases were finalised. If we did that number of cases this year, there would be a backlog of 28,000. There is a need for urgent action. A number of measures have been taken. I would not like anybody to think that this is the beginning and end of how we are trying to deal with it. This was one of the first issues I raised when I went to the Department. Two additional appeals officers have been assigned and there has been increased productivity by the administrative officer grade. Organisation of the work is better streamlined to increase turnover and as I said there are different types of appeals, some are fairly black and while. Contribution cases tend to be much simpler than either means or illness cases. I believe all the simpler ones can be streamlined to get them out of the system. Otherwise people ring up with queries on the progress of the appeal and that takes up time and staff. We need to make more decisions on a summary basis. Often, people come in with further information on appeal which would have changed the outcome of the original decision had it been available previously. We must consider how we can encourage people to give us such information.

The way in which business is processed has been improved, as have the IT systems. Many things are being done. Bringing back retired people is a way of clearing the backlog in the short term, but there is a clear downside, which has been well articulated by members. I do not like to bring people back; if one is retired, one is retired. I do not like the situation to which Deputy Enright referred in which retired teachers are all working and so receiving both their pensions and their salaries. I do not think this is satisfactory. Just to give members an idea of what we are talking about, I am referring to eight retired people working two days per week — about three full-time equivalents — until the end of the year. I would certainly like to see a time limit on this. I had hoped to include a repealing section in the Bill because the situation is not acceptable in the long term. It should be an option of last resort.

I have two options, I do something extra to reduce appeals, or I can allow the appeals to mount up and say that the inconvenience to the appellants——

If the Minister wants to bring back eight retired people for two days a week until the end of the year, that is fine, but why does he not just say that in the amendment? He could provide for the power to recruit retired officers.

I am not sure I could do it that way.

As I said, there might be legal impediments to restricting it to that one class of people. I could restrict it by qualification, knowledge or something similar.

Will these positions still have to be advertised?

I do not know how they will be advertised.

Has the Minister read the wording he is suggesting? It states: "The Minister may appoint such and so many persons as he or she thinks proper to be appeals officers for the purposes of any provision or provisions of this Act, and every person so appointed shall be an appeals officer during the pleasure of the Minister." That is absolutely ridiculous. The job of appeals officer is a statutory position.

Why on earth should a Minister be able to decide who is appointed to that statutory position?

I am not sure whether I appoint appeals officers at the moment, but I certainly appoint deciding officers. The wording in the principal Act — that is, the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 — with regard to deciding officers is as follows: "The Minister may appoint such and so many of his or her officers as the Minister thinks proper to be deciding officers for the purposes of this Act, and every person so appointed shall hold office as a deciding officer during the pleasure of the Minister."

The difference is that the social welfare appeals office is supposed to be an independent office, that is, independent of the Department of Social Protection. That is the important thing. It is a statutorily independent office, and it is absolutely wrong that the Minister has the power to appoint whomever he or she feels like appointing. The person need not know the first thing about social welfare or have any experience in a relevant area. All that is required is that the Minister thinks the person is proper. That is an absolute carte blanche for the Minister. It is not acceptable to do business in that way.

No, that is an extension of ministerial powers beyond the bounds of possibility.

That is the extent of the power the Minister is conferring upon himself.

Is the Deputy telling me that under all the guidelines the scenario she is suggesting would be possible?

Under the Minister's amendment of the principal Act, it would be possible. It states that the Minister may appoint whomsoever he wishes.

No, there would have to be a process. No matter what is in the law, one must follow the process, as the Deputy knows.

There is no reference to a process in the Bill.

By the way, the principal Act states, with regard to the appointment of appeals officers: "The Minister may appoint such and so many of his or her officers as he or she thinks proper to be appeals officers for the purposes of this Act, and every person so appointed shall hold office as an appeals officer during the pleasure of the Minister." That is how it is for all appeals officers. We are not changing it in any way. As the Deputy knows, the process is that an appointment comes up from one's officials, and unless one has good cause not to appoint the person, one appoints him or her. In that circumstance I can assure the Deputy that I would call in the Secretary General and tell him or her the reason I thought the person should not be made an appeals officer, and it would need to be a just and good reason.

Is the Minister saying that it is his intention to appoint only retired appeals officers?

He is saying that absolutely?

Why does he not then specify that in the Bill?

Because I am not sure that theoretically, someone with an equal qualification could not claim discrimination on the basis that he or she had not worked for the Department.

Who else could be an appeals officer?

It could be somebody from a university who was a specialist on social welfare appeals law.

I would like to see the provision restricted to some extent, because what the Minister is doing at the moment is giving himself a blank cheque.

As I said, it is no different from the existing provisions. The only reason this amendment was required was that there is a provision in the law that an ordinary appeals officer must be an officer of the Minister, but retired appeals officers are not officers of the Minister because they are retired. Thus, the amendment is aimed at overcoming a tiny glitch in the law. The Deputy is reading too much into it. The reality is a lot more mundane. My experience as a Minister tells me that if a Minister tried to do the type of thing the Deputy is alleging I would do, the Secretary General of the Department would telephone the Secretary General to the Government and the Taoiseach would call in the Minister fairly fast and tell him or her where to go. That is putting it simply.

Stranger things have happened in the past.

It will not happen——

I am not alleging anything about the Minister personally. I am saying it is bad practice to give such wide-ranging powers to any Minister. Anyway, I have made my point.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 16, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) The Minister shall, within one month of the commencement of this section, report to the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the progress made in reducing the social welfare appeals office waiting list.".

As I understand it, on average 50% of appeals are successful and, of all claims, only 2% are appealed. I would like to know what the Minister is trying to do to reduce the waiting time for appeals. What provisions in this Bill will reduce the waiting times that people must go through?

As I explained, there are many steps——

For the appeal itself, how many steps does one have to go through?

That is what we are trying to simplify. Let us consider an appeal in a case in which a person requires 260 contributions to receive a benefit but only has 250 contributions. The person might feel hard done by, but the appeals officer has a simple answer in that case because it is a black-and-white issue. That should go by the short cut. If the appeal is on the basis that a person cannot live on the amount of money he or she receives, and the requirement is 260 contributions, the appeals officer, having considered the case, should be able to make a summary reaffirmation of the decision. However, there are cases in which a person, in making an appeal, provides much more information than he or she had provided originally. Those cases go back to the original deciding officer for a decision on the basis of the extra information. A reasonable number of such appeals are granted. However, the deciding officer may say that it does not change his or her view, and provide reasons for this. The case then goes back to the appeals process.

I have discussed with the officials the question of work organisation. We could all organise our work a little better. I would like to see a process similar to a conveyor belt system in a factory. Some items would go through a short cut for decision but if the decision brought up further questions they would be placed back on the long route, which would lead ultimately to an oral hearing. Cases in which there is a question of means nearly always take the long route. For example, a farmer might say that the wrong information had been applied concerning his or her tractor or something else. Some are better than others at keeping receipts. Such cases are much more likely to require an oral hearing. Then there are cases in which illness is a factor. In such cases there are grey areas and cases can be less definitive.

To cut a long story short, the problem arose in the first place because of the huge increase in appeals. It was not because someone was inefficient. The tsunami of appeals increased because the business of the Department increased. We are looking at the administrative issues and considering appointing two extra appeals officers and bringing in temporary appeals officers. We are also considering better work organisation and better IT to cut down waiting times.

Some 2% of decisions are appealed and 40% of those appeals are either partially or fully allowed. We could break that 40% down further and see how many of them are partially or fully allowed because the person has provided extra information that was not available to the original decision maker.

It could be streamlined again with a check list.

Deputy Enright has put down an amendment on this issue. I do not intend to accept the wording she has put forward, but I am more than willing to ask the appeals office to report on this in three or four months time. As members know, the appeals office makes an annual report which includes significant detail. I am keen to keep this section under review and intend at the first opportunity, to repeal the section, because I do not like making it permanent that retirees can come back and that this becomes a fact of life. This is not meant to reflect badly on the retirees, but it is not good practice to provide a facility for them to return to work. If I was not in such a difficult situation as regards delays, I would not dream of making this provision. When this was suggested to me as a solution to the issue when I raised it in the Department, I expressed my reluctance to solve the problem this way. However, it is justified in the extreme circumstances in which we find ourselves. I see it, however, as only being justified on a time limited basis, not on an ongoing basis.

The Minister's final point is interesting. If that is the intention, why does he not consider putting forward an amendment that will put a time limit on the provision or make it renewable on a six-monthly or yearly basis, which would mean it would lapse if not required?

I do not like renewables. I like renewable energy, but not renewable sections in Bills. The problem is that those sections are often looked at from the point of view of finding justification to renew them. It is better and more likely that they will be abolished if they are not renewable. In that way, when the Department is satisfied the backlog has been cut, it can get rid of the section. I am not sure that renewable sections do anything but add to bureaucracy. One will always find someone who can write a great essay on why something should be renewed.

They could also write essays on why they should be repealed or lapse.

I can understand that the number of appeals has grown because the number of claims has grown. However, I still cannot understand why the success rate of appeals is set between 40% and 50%. We need to examine what can be done at an earlier stage. Deputy Carey suggested a check list. This issue brings me back to some of the concerns I raised the last day, such as signing on over the phone. The more face-to-face interaction there is, the more opportunity there is for people to ask questions and learn what type of information they need to provide.

One of the queries we all come across relates to people appealing decisions made on disability or carer's allowance. The problem in this regard is often the medical evidence required. People should be told beforehand they should submit their consultant's letter with their application. Their applications may include a letter from their GP, but they are told to get a letter from their consultant and may be more successful. People should be made aware they need to provide all the information in order to help cut back on appeals. Obviously, there will always be a number of appeals, because it is only natural that people refused will appeal. The success rate for appeals seems very high.

When I first entered the Department, I commented on the fact that 40% of appeals were successful or partly successful. I agree that is a high percentage, particularly when only 2% of refusals are appealed. When we look at the statistics on appeals we see that a significant number of appeals relate to means or to medical issues. These are detailed in the annual report of the appeals office. I notice from clear cut refusals reported, such as those relating to the number of contributions, that there are far fewer appeals.

We need to look at better ways of gathering information when claims are submitted. I know the chief medical officer has been looking at providing better guidelines on illness benefits and at providing a better system to deal with them. In many cases of illness, a good description of the condition is provided, but if a requirement of making a payment means account should be given of how a person is so incapacitated that he or she cannot work, taking into account his or her qualifications, etc., that information is not found in the letter from the GP or doctor. Therefore, the person in the office must make a call on the application as to whether it should be granted because he or she cannot medically inspect every case to discover whether the ailment is such that the person is not available for work, taking qualifications into account. It is similar with regard to carers. I have come across many cases regarding carers' certification where they provide the caree's medical symptoms but do not say clearly enough whether the person needs constant care and attention, which is a requirement of the Act.

We could do more to ensure people provide a more specialised medical report, rather than a general note, which would give us a better check list. Perhaps work could be done in this regard with medical practitioners in an effort to provide a common understanding of what is required. I would be keen to explore ways of ensuring clarity in applications and reducing the number of appeals as a result.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That section 20 stand part of the Bill" put and declared carried.
Section 21 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 16, subsection (2), lines 31 to 33, to delete all words from and including "definition:" in line 31 down to and including "2007;"." in line 33 and substitute the following:


" ‘governing contribution year' means the second last complete contribution year before the beginning of the benefit year which includes the day for which the benefit is claimed;

‘registered medical practitioner' has the meaning assigned to it by the Medical Practitioners Act 2007;".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 26.

In page 16, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) Section 148 (as amended by section 4 of and Schedule 1 to the Act of 2006) of the Principal Act is amended in subsection (2), in the definition of "a course of study"—

(a) by deleting “, subject to subsection (3),”, and

(b) by inserting “which may take place over more than one academic year” after “study, instruction or training”.”.

Amendment No. 26 was discussed with amendment No. 18. Is it agreed?

No, it is not agreed. I am concerned about the issue of people retaining a benefit payment when they are on a course. The Minister told us earlier in the year with regard to college places for jobless workers, that those people would be entitled to retain their social welfare payment while on their course. Now the Minister is telling us otherwise. He says now that he intends that people who are on a jobseeker's benefit payment will not be able to retain their payment. We have discussed the issue already and I am aware we cannot discuss it again, but I am opposed to the amendment.

Does the Minister wish to comment on the amendment?

No, we have discussed it already with No. 18.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 22, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

It is difficult for people to lose their jobs, but it is particularly confusing for them to have to navigate their way around what might be available to them in terms of courses and so on. We have spoken before about the need for a one-stop-shop approach. However, it is especially confusing for people when one Minister is saying one thing and another a different thing. Perhaps the Minister should check the statement made by his colleague about people being able to retain their welfare payments.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 23 be deleted."

Why is the Minister proposing to delete this section? It provides for the naming and shaming of people who are engaged in welfare fraud. Why would he delete that?

I will tell the Deputy why. This section proposes to publish the names of those who are brought to open court. That is public information anyway. It is different from other cases in which people who are not taken to court are named.

Having investigated the issue, I have found there is quite a bit of reporting about people who are charged with social welfare fraud. I am told that in most cases the fraud is not organised but is carried out on an individual basis. In addition, in many cases we are talking about fairly small sums of money, €10,000 to €20,000. On reflection, my view is that since these cases can be and are reported by any journalist who goes to a court, which is a public place, and taking proportionality into account, this section should not be implemented.

Nobody would suggest that where there is an overpayment of a couple of thousand euro, the person's name should appear in the newspaper. What about situations in which people are defrauding the system on a widespread basis? For example, what about employers who do not make PRSI returns or are fiddling the State by allowing people to sign on and be working for them at the same time?

The Deputy would have been the first to oppose this section, and rightly so. The problem is that it does not discriminate between the different types of fraud. An employer may be brought to a public court and prosecuted. The Deputy may remember a case that was highly reported recently in which somebody was claiming the pension of a dead person. Such cases are reported in the media because they take place in public court — unlike, for example, that of a tax defaulter who arrives at a settlement with the State, which would not otherwise be heard of. The present system gives us a better way of discriminating between large and small fraud than was proposed in this section. That is why I do not propose to implement the section.

It depends on whether the court in question is covered by the media.

There are ways of dealing with that. In the beginning I was very much in favour of this proposal, but then I realised that all of these cases go to court. A certain amount of proportionality is required. Funnily enough, the Data Protection Commissioner contacted my Department to express a view that this proposal was disproportionate, and I took this view into account. On reflection, I do not intend to proceed with it.

The principle is surely a good one. Nobody is suggesting that the small stuff should be reported. Why can the Minister not just provide for a limit to the provision? In addition, why should it apply only to cases that appear in open court? What about cases in which a settlement is reached with employers or individuals? Why not publish their names also?

The vast majority of cases pertain to individuals; the number of cases taken against employers is very small. We have all heard about cases of over and underpayment for different reasons. Over the years, people have told us about overpayments that have been repaid by a deduction of €5 or €10 per week. I would consider a person in such a situation differently from a well-off person who is defrauding the State of tax.

Exactly, but I am talking about people who are conducting fraud on a large scale.

I concur with the Data Protection Commissioner on the question of proportionality. As I said, in the cases here——

All the Minister needs to do is to provide for a limit, say, for cases in which more than €50,000 has been defrauded.

What kind of limit would one provide for?

It could be whatever limit the Minister likes. He can do that by amending the section.

I ask the Deputy to suggest a limit.

If the limit was €50,000 there would be quite a few people involved, which is the sad aspect of this.

What about a limit of €20,000? All I am saying is that nobody wants the rigmarole of publishing names in cases of small-time fraud. One of the problems in this regard is that there is a real difficulty in the Department in distinguishing between overpayment and fraud. Most of the time the Department cannot actually distinguish between the two. The figures published annually and the targets it has set refer to overpayment and fraud.

It is hard to distinguish between the two. I hear from people on a constant basis, usually constituents, who may not have declared a bank account, for example. The Deputy would probably call that fraud, and it probably is, but they say they forgot, or whatever. Who am I to make a judgment? They must go to court. I hear from people who did not realise there was some means they had to disclose. Not being greatly into moral judgments, I usually believe them unless there is evidence to the contrary.

The problem is that there are clear errors from the Department's point of view, and there are cases in which there are grey areas, in which a person may not have understood the requirements. I used to hear of great cases, and it was an interesting issue. There might have been 20 or 30 monoglots in Irish who knew no English, but the official came out and spoke to them in English. I remember winning cases on this basis, saying the situation was not explained to these people in a language they could understand. We would understand in the case of a Pole or Czech person that the official would have to speak in Polish or Czech. I have won cases in which the case was substantiated that the person knew no English and therefore it was impossible for them to provide information in English.

How many cases did the Minister say there were in which the person knew no English?

I said I had 30 monoglots. In such a case, would it be fraud?

Did the Minister say there were 20 or 30 cases in which people knew no English?

No; I said there were 20 or 30 people.

Twenty or 30 people who knew no English?

Where are they? In the Minister's constituency?

That is very surprising.

I do not think I have ever come across an Irish person who could speak no English.

I will bring the people to the Deputy.

It is because of where they are. I know it sounds funny.

No provision, of course, is ever made for those people, but they are there.

That brings us back to the point about face-to-face contact.

What are we going to do about that?

In those cases there was face-to-face contact but it was with someone who did not speak their language. We have dealt with——

That is a flaw in how the Department operates. That person should not be penalised because that is pure negligence on the part of the Department.

That does not happen any more.

That is what is happening across the board. They are going out and sitting down with people but the people do not feel comfortable in disclosing because they feel they are undergoing a test. This goes back to the information that is given to people in the first place. Many of the appeals and swings and roundabouts we go through here could be avoided if people were given enough information and advice in the first instance of their options.

In 2009 a total of 214 individuals, including two cases who had received prison sentences, six cases who had received a suspended prison sentence and four cases who had also received community service orders, were fined in court. These fines ranged in individual cases from €10 to €6,000. The total fines for the 214 cases amounted to €218,429 — €216,679 for the scheme, and €1,750 for employers, giving an average fine of €910. The vast majority, compared with other things happening in society, are not exactly the big fry. Taking on board the points made by the Data Commissioner my view was that I should not go ahead with the section and I do not intend going ahead with it.

Does the Minister propose to delete the section?

It is good to know that in one case I am accused of being too soft while in plenty of other cases of being too hard.

Question put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 20, subsection (4), line 10, before "if" to insert "of the Principal Act".

This is a technical amendment to include a reference to the principal Act which was inadvertently omitted from the Bill when published.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 24, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with the amendments to the one-parent family payment. I spoke at length on this issue on Second Stage and speaking on the amendments to the jobseeker's allowance I raised my concerns about availability of places and so on, so I will not dwell on it now. During the middle of Committee Stage last week we received a submission from the National Women's Council. Luckily we are continuing on Committee Stage today, otherwise I would not read it. The submission made an interesting point that one-parent families are being singled out in the sense that it is a requirement that is applied to them as a particular group and not to any other set of parents. The fact that there is only one of them means that the right of the parent to be the primary carer in the home is being taken away from them. I support strongly the principle of activation but the reason Fine Gael is opposing the section is that we do not believe the ground work is done. I realise there is a transition phase but the Minister should have outlined exactly how he proposes to carry out this activation. As it is, one-parent families have a much higher poverty rate than any other household type in Ireland. The last survey conducted in 2008 showed that more than a third were at risk of poverty.

The net child care costs faced by lone parents in Ireland are the highest in the OECD. While the Minister said one-parent families will not lose the payment until the child reaches the age of 13, he failed to provide for the fact that it depends on the type of activation. If the activation chosen by a lone parent happens to be a degree, that is a minimum of a three-year course. If they are going to lose the payment when the child reaches the age of 13, they would have to commence that course when the child is aged ten. I do not think age ten is a suitable age for a child to be left in the home alone. I appreciate the Minister is making a concession for one-parent families in receipt of a domiciliary care payment. However, there are children aged 13 who are not suitable to be left at home alone whose parents are not in receipt of domiciliary care payment and there is nothing in this section to allow for a situation where there may be behavioural, mental health or physical difficulties. These parents are open to prosecution by the National Educational Welfare Board if they fail in their duty to ensure their children are at school and so on. This section could have a double effect. If that parent is not around to see that the child is where he or she is supposed to be legally, there are consequences for the parent as well. We read of court cases where parents are held accountable for the behaviour of their children.

There is a concern in terms of the one-parent families who are working and trying to get family income supplement. To qualify for family income supplement one must work at least 19 hours per week. If one does not have a qualification, jobs in low-paid service positions do not give enough hours at present because all those industries are struggling. If these families were to take up employment they could suffer a significant loss of funding and, according to the statistics, they are already finding it difficult. Can the Minister outline a clear plan as to how the one-parent family payment will operate and how he will facilitate it? I have a vision that they will lose their money.

I could speak forever about the fact that there are 63 facilitators who will have to sit down with all these people. While the number may be small for the first few years, it will grow. This will cause huge difficulties if measures are not in place. Perhaps the Minister will outline the steps to be taken. I appreciate that a letter will be sent to all those involved. I questioned this on Second Stage. In regard to the changes in the jobseeker's allowance and benefit, the Minister gave the option of refusing a course, training or employment, without good cause. The one-parent family does not get any option. It is gone.

They get the same option.

Where is that in the section?

They will go on to jobseeker's allowance for the option.

Yes but the one-parent family payment is gone. They do not get the option.

No, but the jobseeker's allowance is the same payment except there is a requirement for work with the inbuilt safeguards.

There may be reasons they will not get the jobseeker's allowance and they will only get it for the specified time——

——or they will have to do a course in education or training. They are going to lose the one-parent family payment, no matter what they go on to, when the child reaches age 13, without the options given to other sectors. Overall there is no plan. I tabled amendment No. 27 to address this issue, but it was disallowed, to ascertain the appropriate education and training places that would be available because I am not convinced they exist.

There is a huge number of one-parent families. One of the groups said that approximately 80% of them are participating in education, work or training. However, there is a small section that is not participating. The skill set of that sector generally speaking will be lower because they have not had the same opportunities, some of whom may have left school as a result of pregnancy and may not have completed the leaving certificate. The question is how we can meaningfully help them through the system rather than cushioning it. As 15% are on the payment for more than ten years, I question whether that work and support will be available for them.

This is another cutback under the guise of activation because it appears the Minister has not thought out what he is doing. The Labour Party strongly supports any measure aimed at breaking the culture of welfare dependency among this particular group or within any social group. In principle, we do not oppose lowering the qualifying age of the youngest child to 13 years in circumstances where more lone parents are facilitated in moving from welfare to work and where the best interests of the children are safeguarded. However, I do not believe that is what the Minister is doing here.

This issue was debated at length in previous years by a number of the Minister's predecessors, most notably the late Séamus Brennan, who came up with a range of proposals for supporting lone parents. The key element of those proposals was the plan for a parental payment which would be payable to parents of poor children, irrespective of whether there was one or two parents in the family home or of whether they were working. That is the kind of targeted approach to child poverty that is required. All talk of a parental payment seems to be gone now. There was also much more detail on activation measures. I am concerned that what the Minister is doing is just cutting the budget for lone parents and not thinking out the negative implications for both lone parents and their children. I stress that it is not on that 13 year olds should be responsible for looking after themselves. It is not on for 13, 14 or 15 year olds to be coming home from school to an empty house and being left to their own devices if their parents are on a training course or in employment. It is unacceptable also that young people or teenagers would not have a parent or some other adult present to supervise them during the three months of the summer holidays. The Minister is putting the cart before the horse. He should have thought out the details with regard to providing after school and summer holiday child care.

It makes no sense to go ahead with these proposals without enhanced training and education for lone parents or without addressing the many poverty traps that exist within the welfare system. One of the main reasons lone parents remain on welfare and do not take up jobs relates to whether they are on rent supplement. It makes no sense for people in those circumstances to go out to work. The responsibility and hassle involved in them going out to work makes it not worth their while financially. The Minister would have more credibility if he went about tackling the poverty traps that exist in the system as it operates.

It is inevitable in our weak jobs market that people forced to go off the lone-parent family payment onto jobseeker's payment will have to compete with the 430,000 or 440,000 people plus who are looking for work. This will result in a situation where many lone parents will become more dependent on welfare. Currently, lone parents on a one-parent family payment benefit from a disregard which provides them with an incentive to take up work, up to a certain level. This enhances their financial situation and improves the family's situation. These people will not be able to do this if they are on jobseeker's allowance, because there is no significant disregard available. This proposal could result in many lone parents becoming even more detached from the jobs market. It also creates a further poverty trap.

Children in families headed by a lone parent are at greatest risk of poverty and the proposed changes could mean that these children will find themselves in a situation where the family income is less than it is currently. The changes will exacerbate the levels of poverty among children in lone parent households. In my view, this is not progress. I do not know what the Minister's view is or whether he is just intent on saving money. However, if he is serious about social protection and about encouraging people to move from welfare to work and about protecting children against severe poverty, this is not the route to take. This is an issue of discrimination against children of lone parents. The Minister is, essentially, creating different categories of children of lone parents. We are supposed to treat all children equally, irrespective of their circumstances, and we have all signed up to that. However, these proposals discriminate between different categories of lone parents.

There are various reasons people become lone parents, yet the Minister proposes to discriminate against their children. It took a long time to get rid of the stigma of illegitimacy and lone parenthood, but the Minister seems to be reversing this and is returning to a situation where distinctions will be made about the status of children, based on the status of their parents within the lone parent category. For example, a lone parent claimant who is bereaved, but who was married and has sufficient PRSI contributions can claim widow's or widower's contributory pension indefinitely, unless she or he cohabits or remarries. The child dependent portion of the payment is payable until the child reaches 22 years of age if he or she remains in full-time education. Additionally, the claimant will receive the widowed parent grant and can earn as much as he or she wants should he or she choose to work. This is good provision for one category of child in a lone parent household.

Another category refers to a parent or guardian who is part of a couple, either married or cohabiting, who is bereaved and does not have the necessary PRSI contributions. In these circumstances, the claimant can receive the one-parent family payment for two years after their youngest child turns 13 years of age. This claimant does not get the widowed parent grant and once the two years are up, will have to apply for some other source of income. The situation of one-parent claimants who are separated or divorced from their partners, or who do not have partners, is different from both of these categories. For these claimants, once their children reach 13 years of age, they will go off the one-parent family payment and there is no special recognition for changed circumstances in the case of desertion. In terms of the welfare of a child, I cannot understand why there should be such a difference for these categories of 13 year old children where the mother or father dies. They all face a similar trauma and reduced income and the State should step in to provide social protection in these circumstances.

In circumstances where the couple is not married or where the mother is abandoned and deserted by the partner, the claimant is left in the same circumstances. She is left to parent on her own. She does not have the assistance of another adult in the family. She is trying to look after her children to the best of her ability and in those circumstances, because the parents were not married, there is no bereavement, her partner abandoned the family, but the effect on the children is fairly similar. The child is in similar circumstances to the child who has lost his or her father. The treatment of those two children is entirely different. FLAC has looked at this issue in considerable detail. I know it has been in touch with the Department and the party spokespersons as well. It is very strongly of the view that this section is potentially open to challenge because it creates discrimination under the Equal Status Acts on the basis of marital status.

Furthermore, the proposed changes to the one-parent family payment may be open to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 8 and Protocol No. 1 of the convention, read in conjunction with Article 14. It does not seem to make any sense whatsoever on grounds of equality or social protection that there should be such a wide variation in the treatment of children who are essentially trying to cope with similar, difficult family circumstances. It would seem the Minister is choosing to discriminate against children whose parents fall into different categories, but the children are living in very similar circumstances and trying to cope with similar difficulties.

Serious concern has been expressed about this amendment by a number of groups. It is one of the sections of the Bill which does not come into force automatically but will commence when the Minister decides that it should take effect. In view of all the genuine concerns that have been expressed, and bearing in mind that most people want to have a welfare system which encourages people to move from welfare to work, although that is not so simple, it is absolutely abhorrent to most people that in proposing changes to facilitate that, he would discriminate against children on the basis of the marital status of their parents. I ask the Minister to reconsider this section. I know the Minister is under severe pressure to make savings in the Department.

As I pointed out, we will spend €100 billion in five years. The saving from this allocation next year is €1 million. If one divides €1 million by 20.9 that gives the percentage figure. I can assure the Deputy there are many simpler ways of doing it. It is total margin of error stuff. There is no question of a saving involved.

The Minister is aiming to save €26 million in the next five years. In five years' time, the Minister will save €26 million.

Even that is margin of error.

I appreciate the Minister is under severe pressure to save money in his Department, given the scale of the problem.

This has no connection with saving money.

But this is ill thought out.

That is Labour Party clap trap.

It will lead to significant difficulties, not least of which is discrimination against children based on the marital status of their parents. I ask the Minister to step back from this and give it more thought, consult with more groups and bring forward new proposals.

The Minister must consider that he is talking about a very vulnerable group. I was inundated with calls, Facebook contact and so on from people who were really concerned. When these changes were announced they caused absolute consternation in this vulnerable group in society. There are approximately 90,000 to 100,000 lone parents in receipt of the payment. These people depend on these payments to keep the family. It was outrageous that the Minister for Social Protection made this announcement in public. This payment exists to protect the interests of children and to give families the support they deserve. This measure smacks of saving money. I ask the Minister to reconsider the section as the message to lone parents is that supports will be taken from them once the child reaches 13 years of age. There are no jobs and no training places at present. That is not good enough. It is ill thought out and I appeal to the Minister to withdraw it.

I will try not to go over the ground covered by my colleagues. I am concerned about the age limit of 13 years. I know a group considered this question for a number of years and if one were to go by its findings, the payment would be cut when a child reaches seven years of age. One of the findings of the group which looked at this was that the average age that most people who claimed the payment no longer relied on it was 7.5 years. That is an indication that people do not wish to be dependent on the payment and that they would rather be in employment or in full-time education if they had access to proper child care and could avail of opportunities.

The problem with this and other payments that are being changed is that it is putting the cart before the horse. The training opportunities, courses and jobs are not there. In this instance the proposal could in fact rule out a number of people being eligible for jobseeker's allowance when their child reaches 13 years of age because many single parents take up work that is low paid with restricted daily hours. They work for two or three hours a day over a period. If one works three days, whether for one hour or eight hours, one will not be entitled to the jobseeker's allowance whereas one can work a number of hours up to 20 hours and still retain the one-parent family payment.

Many single parents will end up having no income because they would not qualify for the jobseeker's allowance once the child is 13 years. That is an anomaly in the system but to address it one would need to base the jobseeker's allowance on the number of hours worked rather than the number of days worked. I have not seen any indication that such a change is being considered. I urge the Minister to consider, in particular, the submission made by the National Women's Council of Ireland, but also the one pertaining to one-parent families. Nobody, in any of the submissions I have seen, is objecting to activation measures. In fact, as I said, the evidence proves that where such activation proposals exist, people will take up those opportunities. One-parent families are ten times more likely to be living in consistent poverty than any other household type.

I asked earlier where the figure of 13 years came from. During the teenage years parents spend more money on food, clothes, education and clubs. They spend more money on children over 13 than on younger children. Thus, if there is instability in their incomes, they will end up refusing or leaving employment so they can retain some type of payment when their children reach 13. I urge the Minister to remove this section and think again about possible methods which will not achieve the exact opposite of his stated intention.

The whole purpose of the change is that it is believed it is not in people's long-term interest to remain distant from the workforce in the long term. People have quite rightly mentioned the poverty levels of lone parents, but if the lone-parent allowance in its present form was to deal with poverty, there would be a zero poverty level. That is the minimum payment received. The reason poverty is so high among lone parents is that the payment is not in itself a guarantee against poverty. Of course it is important, but it is not a guarantee. All the studies indicate that people who are engaged in the workforce do not have the same levels of consistent poverty. It is interesting that the OECD said:

The long periods [...] that lone parents can spend on benefit result in some children growing up in poor, workless and even socially excluded conditions. [...] There is a need for earlier and more active interventions...

On the issue of poverty levels, we have made progress. The EU SILC survey of 2008 found that lone-parent households continue to experience the highest rate of consistent poverty in the country, although 17.8% of such households — down from 20.1% in 2007 — remained in consistent poverty, compared with 3% of two-parent households and 4.2% for the population as a whole. What this indicates is that it is distance from the workforce that causes part of the problem. When we consider the statistics we see that of the 89,468 recipients in 2009, 74,000 had a child or children aged 12 or less, while about 15,000 only had children aged 13 or more. Thus, the vast majority of lone parents move into circumstances other than receipt of one-parent family payment as the years go on. It is clear from the yearly numbers that this is so. That is not a bad thing. I am concerned about how few children of parents in receipt of one-parent family payment go on to third level — between 2,100 and 2,800.

Mention has been made of a single working-age payment, and that is being considered. The challenge is that we do not want to move anybody backwards. Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned means-testing of couples in terms of employment and so on. There is a large disincentive for one member of a couple receiving jobseeker's allowance to take on casual labour of two or three hours a day. I am actively considering this issue and I hope to deal with it. It is well recognised that the way we count days is anomalous; we do not count Sundays, for some reason, for jobseeker's allowance. If one is unlucky enough to get a job from Monday to Saturday, this works against one. There are many anomalies there and I am considering these actively. I hope to deal with these during my term as Minister. Having worked for a long time with people in such circumstances, I agree there are serious crinkles in the system. However, these apply to jobseeker's allowance as is and need to be dealt with as is. I do not think they constitute a reason not to do what we are proposing to do. There is a reason for doing something with jobseeker's allowance and its effect on casual labour because of the severe means test.

This raises another issue, namely, the fact that the disregard for recipients of the one-parent family payment is much greater than for couples on jobseeker's allowance. This is highlighted in the submission from the National Women's Council. There is a wider issue here. It is justifiable when there are significant child care costs, but there is an argument as to why a family of three has less income than a family of two when there are no costs for child care outside the home. We are talking about straight cash poverty. Children cost the same whether they are the children of two parents or one parent, once one gets over the issue of child care costs. I do not think anybody believes such issues arise for an 18-year-old or 20-year-old child. That is the reason for the attractiveness of the single working-age payment. It would get rid of some of these crinkles in the system.

Well in advance of making the announcement about the proposed changes, I had stated in replies to parliamentary questions from five Deputies the change in age and the fact that the new provisions would be introduced on a tapered basis. I thought, prior to the publication of the Bill, that this was common knowledge. I had discussed it with two of the three one-parent family groups in detail and I had provided some detail in a number of replies to parliamentary questions in May. The only reason I held the press release about the publication of the Bill until the Friday was that I was waiting for the Bill to be put up on the Oireachtas website. What I should actually have done was to pre-empt this and publish the press release mid-week. However, I felt if I put out a press release before the Bill was on the website, people would complain that the Bill was not available. As members know, I have no control over when the Bill is put on the website. The minute we heard it was up on the website we published the press release. It was a chicken-and-egg situation. The next time we will issue the press release first and refer to "a Bill to be published this week".

The Bill was circulated in the post the night before.

We were told by the Bills Office only on the Friday.

We all got it in the post on the Friday morning. It was sent out on Thursday.

Maybe the Deputy did, but——

It was not on the website.

It was out; it was published.

Deputies might have had it, but they knew about this provision anyway because they had been told in reply to parliamentary questions. There was nothing new about this provision that was not well signalled in parliamentary questions in May. Those Deputies who received those parliamentary questions know that. I can provide copies of them.

That is not quite accurate. The issue is not when we knew about it. The issue is the effect it will have on the people involved. I am not too bothered about when I knew about it. That is neither here nor there.

That is the reason and I will know again. For the public, it was the publication on the website that made it available. We waited until then but we should not have done so. I have learned my lesson. I should have put it out on the Wednesday and said it would be on the website.

Does the Minister favour a fancy press conference as he does for other things when he thinks it is a news story? That is the difference.

No. I would have done it but as it happened I was not in Dublin on that particular Friday as I had another engagement down the country. The next time that is exactly what I will do. It is a major change from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs where people actually attend press conferences. A major announcement would have to be made in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs before anybody would attend. However, that shows the difference between the Departments.

The issue was raised of the different treatment of bereaved, separated and divorced persons in the proposed reform. There were three ways of doing this: to make no provision for bereaved people; to do as we did; and to make provision for separated and divorced people. Having considered the issue we decided to make a special provision for bereaved persons but no difference between partners or married persons. There is no discrimination in what I am doing between a person who has a long-term partner and a married person. We believe it will be administratively possible to ascertain whether a person was a long-term partner through utility bills, insurance and so on and it is easy to establish a bereavement. If the payment was to be extended to separated people one could be challenged on equality grounds unless it applied to married and unmarried people who become separated. In framing a provision it must be possible to implement it in practice. That is where that particular challenge lies. The third option was to omit any provision for bereavement but the loss, through death, of a loved one does deserve special provision and we do make special provision for widows in our laws. The only difference is that one does not have to marry a partner as the provision applies equally in this case.

A revised community child care subvention scheme is due to be introduced in September 2010. The new scheme will have a labour force activation focus and will strengthen the child care supports that are available to lone parents. Of particular importance to lone parents is that after-school services and homework clubs will be included in the service provided.

There is no joined-up thinking. In my constituency there are three different homework clubs for which funding has been cut in recent months. That is the reality of what is happening at local level in communities.

Who cut the funding?

The Department of Education and Skills——

——cut it in areas where there are high rates of lone parenthood.

If the Deputy wishes I will check the reason it did so if Deputy Shortall supplies the details afterwards. In regard to training supports in place for lone parents, currently all lone parents who present to FÁS employment services are already provided with a one-to-one guidance interview with an employment services officer. As part of this process lone parents are advised on suitable labour market opportunities, such as current job vacancies, suitable training and employment programme places and may be referred to other FÁS supports. A new support model to help people overcome barriers and increase their opportunity to access training and employment programmes and ultimately the open labour market is currently being tested by FÁS with lone parents. The steps to employment programme is aimed at individuals who are parenting alone and who want to get a job or improve their job prospects, and who need to learn new skills through training or to return to education in order to achieve this. The programme duration is eight weeks, delivered 9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will mirror calendar school holidays. An inter-agency steering group, comprising FÁS, the Department of Social Protection, the Irish Vocational Education Association, Treoir, One Family and Open has been established and is guiding the process.

Facilitators from my Department and employment support officers from FÁS were engaged in selecting participants for courses held in Tallaght and Finglas in November 2009 and further courses which commenced in January 2010. That issue requires work.

I have read with interest the One Family submission which has much merit. It has suggested a ten-point plan, most of which I would accept without question. However, there are one or two issues I would like to debate further with it but in general what it has laid out is a good plan. It is a good starting document and mirrors very much what is already planned. Most of its thinking is perfectly in line with our thinking so we would have no difficulties there.

Will I get an opportunity to make a small contribution?

I am trying to answer a lot of questions.

I will allow the Deputy contribute a sentence or two.

I thank the Vice Chairman. They are two long sentences.

The reality is that what we are proposing is very much in line with international trends. The United Kingdom will reduce the minimum age to seven from 2010, Canada to six, New Zealand——

They have breakfast clubs and homework clubs.

I will come to those in a moment. New Zealand, the Netherlands and Australia have reduced the age to five, Finland to four, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Italy to three, and the US to three months, but I would not take the US as a model.

But it is state-funded child care.

What we are talking about is work clubs, homework clubs, summer camps and so on for children of 13 and older, not child care. What people presume——

Okay, but it is not what reminds people in Belgium of child care.

Parents understand child care.

Yes. What we are talking about is child care for children of 13 years and over. I hold the view that the way to ensure child care is put in place is to proceed with this. What happens is that the status quo remains and we get bad outcomes for one-parent families. All Deputies have made the case of bad outcomes and all agree with this in principle. I have arranged meetings with all the groups involved at monthly or six weekly intervals to move all these agendas forward. There is a long lead-in time for the vast majority of what is proposed. In that context, this will be the stimulus to ensure that the child care, in other words, the supports for children of 13 years and over, will be provided. I am surprised, if child care was the only issue, that somebody did not put forward an amendment to suggest it should be paid until 17 years of age.

We would not be allowed because it would incur a cost on the Exchequer.

In recognition of the point made about 13 year olds, I will bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to change the provision relating to 13 years of age to 14 years of age. There are two reasons for that. First, I accept that some 13 year old children are still in primary school. Also, on reflection I note there is some untidiness in the provision, which allow it reduce two years from 15 years to 13 years in the last year. That would create crinkles and questions in the system. Therefore, rather than reduce it by two years, from 15 years to 13 years , between the years 2015 and 2016, when every other year there was only a one-year jump, I will introduce an amendment on Report Stage to replace 13 years of age with 14 years of age.

The Minister does not seem to get the point. People do not object to this, but want to ensure there are safeguards in place.

I have put the safeguards in place.

The problems people face around the issue of child care need to be addressed, so that people will not be worse off.

They will be addressed. People will not be worse off, because I will address the issues. The Deputy may believe what she wants, but I will address the issues.

There is no evidence of the Minister doing that.

The Deputy can make a judgment on that in good time, as the provisions of the Bill are implemented.

A major part of the problem is that the Department does not have responsibility for addressing the problems that exist. There is no joined-up thinking in Government on this. The Departments of Justice and Law Reform, Education and Skills, Health and Children and the Minister's former Department also have a role in this. The Minister may be able to address part of the problem with whatever initiative he brings forward in September for child care, but he will not be able to address the summer time problem.

This is a Government decision.

Both the Minister and I are aware that many people fall through the cracks because there is no joined-up thinking. We have a Minister with responsibility for children, but yet ——

I will make it my business to ensure there is joined-up thinking.

The Minister may not be Minister in a year's time. It will be somebody else's business.

I believe this will galvanise the system in a way that it has not, as the Deputy rightly points out, been galvanised to deal with the issue up to now. The net outcome of this proposal should deliver the kind of package that is outlined in the submissions I received from the one-parent groups, which accept that I am serious about this. I met two of the groups, but could not get an appointment with the third group. However, we plan to meet in the near future. I attended a number of meetings with the other two groups. I intend to work intensely with the one-parent family groups to ensure this happens and that when it is fully implemented people will agree I was to be trusted and did what I said I would do and that the situation for one-parent families has improved from the old status quo which kept people out of the workplace for an inordinate length of time.

Is the Minister saying that he will be able to persuade the Ministers for Justice and Law Reform, Education and Skills, Health and Children and Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, and possibly the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, all of whose budgets are being cut and all of whom are currently negotiating with the Minister for Finance, to do things that will cost them more money in order to ensure he can bring in this provision?

I will put it this way. Even though there has been a reduction in poverty levels, when I see the cohort of people in receipt of money from my Department, I realise that one-parent families are a very high poverty level group. Therefore, I believe the Government should focus resources on this group. With regard to the particular challenge of child care, it will really only apply for children from the age of 14 years to whatever age we mutually agree that children do not need child care.

What about transport?

By child care I mean getting children there and back and whatever else is involved. Therefore, we are not talking about huge numbers in that cohort of people between 14 and 16 or 17 who need child care.

The Minister is missing the point that it depends on the need of the child. We could be talking about a child with serious behavioural problems whose parents were hauled before the courts for not taking care of him.

Let me make two points in that regard. Unfortunately, in that scenario the parents are not likely to be activated and, therefore, the payment would not change.

They would lose their payments.

The Deputy spoke about people who would be hauled before the courts. Those people are not likely to get commercial employment.

They would lose their payment, regardless of whether they were activated or not.

They do not lose their payment. They get exactly the same payment.

They go onto jobseeker's payment.

Yes, but it is exactly the same payment.

Different limits apply to how they can work. A recipient of a one-parent family payment can earn up to €425 per week and still retain entitlement to some payment, whereas a jobseeker's payment recipient must be unemployed at least three days out of six. That does not suit many parents. Most of these one-parent family parents who move onto jobseeker's payments would prefer to work a few hours every day while the child is at school, but that will not be allowed.

As I said to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, whether one is part of a couple or single, that remains a huge problem with the jobseeker's payment.

The Minister has not solved that problem.

I am working on solving it.

We are being asked to take a lot on good faith, but I cannot do that. Therefore, I will oppose the section.

The Deputy will find that I act in good faith.

I hope that is right, but I cannot take the Minister's word on that at this stage.

The issue of child care does not, in the main, apply to children who are 18 years or older. The number over 18 is fewer than 2,000. Nationally, we are talking about approximately 10,000 children who will require this child care cover. This figure is made up of approximately 2,500 at 14 years, 2,300 at 15 years, 2,200 at 16 years and 2,100 at 17 years. With regard to children who are 18, they must be in full-time education. Therefore, it is not very likely that the 1,000 at 18 years who are in full-time education are the ones with significant behavioural problems who need somebody all day and every day to care for them.

I just gave that as an example. There could be children with other special needs. The Minister is being facetious. Some individual families have difficulties

I am not being facetious, I am being deadly serious.

Deputy Durkan wishes to make a brief contribution.

I am always delighted to make a submission before any committee chaired by Deputy O'Connor.

I am in disbelief at what I have heard the Minister say. He proposes to take a simple, graduated system which has proven to work effectively over the years and introduce obstacles, barriers and trip wires by introducing a series of qualifications. The issue is not whether a child needs child care, but the family costs and expenses as the child grows from ten to 20 years or from when the child starts second or third level education. Children of single parents in this situation are more vulnerable than children with two parents. The single parent will scrimp and save to ensure the child can get the best possible advantage. Single parents state regularly that they do not want their children to have to go through the same difficulties through which they themselves went. They try to encourage their children to move a step up the ladder.

I have never met a single parent who was not prepared to go to the ends of the earth to ensure they worked as much as they could and were not a burden on society or that their children were not to be a burden on society. The one thing that is important for them is to get a council house and they do everything in their power to achieve that. This provides them with opportunities and means they can work and are not caught by the supplementary welfare allowance provision whereby recipients are penalised for going to work. Again and again, mothers of children have said to me that they will work at anything. They say they will do any job — cleaning, extra hours, anything at all — to make up the few extra euro required to see their kids through school and make sure they get a reasonable education, so that they will become self-sufficient and not be a burden on the State.

Simplicity is the answer — the simple system that has been tried and tested and shown to work down through the years. When we move away from that we are in dangerous territory. I believe the Minister is himself a genuine, concerned and humane person. That is from my experience of watching him in the House over the years. If he proceeds along this route, he will be interfering with something that has been managed, challenged and adjusted over the years. For example, a few minutes ago he mentioned bereaved families, and whether a husband, wife or partner would be treated in the same way as the mothers or fathers who are lone parents. That is a legal minefield. Under the existing equality legislation, they cannot be segregated. That was done in the Department of Social Welfare many years ago, and it was done for a reason. All such people were brought in under the same heading so that there would be no discrimination.

I am sorry, but I was in that Department at the time.

Yes, but under what I am proposing, there is not——

Has the Deputy finished?

No, but I will finish very soon.

The reason a unified system was introduced was to ensure there were no pitfalls, poverty traps or discrimination against either side. That is the reason it was put there in the first place. It was during my term as Minister of State — although not because of anything special I did — that this was actually done. The then Minister, Proinsias De Rossa, and myself were both responsible in that area at that time.

There is another thing about which we need to be careful. As I said at the beginning, it is not a child care issue, but any impact on the availability of resources to the family will affect not only today's children but also their children and subsequent generations. Once an attack is made on the system which will negatively affect children's ability to have a full education and be able to compete in the workplace and in society, we are creating a serious problem. All people who deal with social issues will readily admit that. It is well recognised at every level in our society — it is not just my view.

My last point is a simple one. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has been renamed the Department of Social Protection. I am afraid it will become the Department of social deprivation if this type of legislation goes through. It will have a serious impact on many families in this country, will cause much concern and worry, and will negatively and unnecessarily affect a whole new generation of kids and their parents. History has shown that whenever such an attack is made, for whatever reason, it may satisfy some people who begrudge anybody anything in certain circumstances, but it has an overall effect. We should remember that the people of this country lived through the 1980s, when there were serious social difficulties, simply because it was possible to rely on certain fundamental entitlements that were there for them. They saw us through the 1980s. Any departure from this will have serious consequences.

Does the Minister have anything to add?

Yes. I met two of the three groups that represent one-parent families. From these meetings and from the written submissions, I believe most people recognise that change needs to take place. One of the groups is strongly in favour, but they all agree — as I do — that unless the back-up services are provided, it could lead to deterioration rather than improvement. We must provide the back-up services, and that I intend to do.

With regard to the point made by the Deputy from Kildare, I agree that most lone parents would take jobs. Therefore, this provision does not create any difference for them, because the only difference between one-parent family payment and jobseeker's allowance is the criterion of availability for work. We are saying that when the youngest child reaches the age of 14 — with appropriate backups — the lack of requirement to be available for work does not serve the parent's best interests. This seems to be the view not only here but internationally.

The family income supplement was mentioned; this is for people who have part-time work. The issue must be considered in the longer term.

There will not be agreement on this. I oppose the section.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 4.

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.


  • Carey, Joe.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
Question declared carried.
Section 25 agreed to.

Why did the bell not ring?

I do not know if that is a point of order. I am advised it is a technical problem that is being worked on.

Did it ring at all?

It showed on the screen.

Is it a valid vote?

I am advised that it is.

I am taking the advice I have been given.

I do not want to be obstructive——

I am sure the Deputy would not.

——but if it is a silent bell how does one alert the members who might expect to be alerted in the ordinary course of events?

The Chair is merely taking advice from the clerk who is saying that the vote is valid.

He has informed me there is an onus on members to keep an eye on the business and it was shown on the screen very clearly.

I will take up the matter again. That could cause a serious problem in the event of there being a very sensitive issue such as a money issue.

The Deputy will understand that the Chair is acting in good faith.

I accept that.


Amendments Nos. 29 to 32, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:


Functions of Minister Relating to An Foras Áiseanna Saothair

26.-In this Part—

"Act of 1987" means the Labour Services Act 1987;

"An Foras" means An Foras Áiseanna Saothair.".

The cumulative effect of these amendments is to transfer policy responsibility for the employment services and community services of FÁS from the Minister for Education and Skills to the Minister for Social Protection. FÁS will continue to provide these services but will do so under the auspices of my Department. Following enactment of these legislative proposals it is intended to conclude a service level agreement with FÁS. This agreement will spell out the terms and conditions under which it will conduct its employment and community services.

Looking specifically at the individual sections now being inserted, section 29 provides for the insertion of a new Part in the Bill, Part 3, and defines certain terms used in that Part. Section 30 provides that the employment and community services of FÁS will be provided from the Vote of the Department of Social Protection rather than the Vote of the Department of Education and Skills. Section 31 makes FÁS answerable to me rather than the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to its employment and community services. Section 32 provides that I may give directions to FÁS in relation to its employment and community services. The effect of the amendment will be to bring together more closely income support and principal mechanism for employment support at national and local level. This is not full integration. However, it will be a necessary first step to enhancing the quality and effectiveness of the services being provided to unemployed people by my Department. The legislative proposal will facilitate the improved co-ordination of the services, more targeted and effective use of existing mechanisms and the development of a coherent strategy to assist those who are employed or at risk of poverty. As mentioned in our debate already, in order to fully complete the job, further legislation will be required. However, where we already facilitate and give employment, this is the first important step to co-locating employment activation and the schemes that are important to people. We can now look at the total funding in an holistic way and if, for example, we find savings in the area of jobseeker's payments, we can use them to provide further activation places. This would be very much in line with what people say we should be doing.

Do amendments Nos. 29 to 32 bring about any change in the powers or in what FÁS does, or do they simply transfer the powers that existed to the Minister's Department? Give or take a few million euro, FÁS has a budget of €1 billion. What percentage or proportion of that budget is involved?

I understand that the legislation basically stays the same. Only the power of direction changes. Obviously, the operation of the schemes and how we do things will change over time, and co-location, etc., will become the order of the day. I foresee that we will need further legislation to bring this about on a step-by-step basis. With regard to the budget, about half of it is involved. The big slice of the budget will be for the community employment scheme, at 25,000 people. A significant amount of money is involved for that. I do not have the exact figure, but can get it for the Deputy. Off the top of my head, I think it is approximately €400 million which will come over to the Department. Those on the community employment scheme and the 26,000 or 27,000 people involved in the jobs initiative make up the big slice of the action.

Can we have some more detail on the timescale for these proposals?

The timescale is that once we enact the Bill, the transfer will take place and the Bill will be commenced. I am informed commencement will be in October, but I have already started discussions with FÁS about what we will do.

What does the Minister see happening when it commences in October, apart from the FÁS people being answerable to the Minister in terms of the service level agreement? Will they move into working in social welfare offices? Many people feel there should be a one-stop-shop approach. Is this area covered in the Bill and does the Minister see FÁS staff being redeployed?

I do not see that happening in the immediate future. The co-location and industrial relations issues will take time to resolve. I expect that what we will find is much closer liaison and co-operation in terms of referring people and the working of the national employment action plan. However, I do not see us getting to where I want to get immediately.

Is it the Minister's intention that we would get to the stage of a one-stop-shop?

Absolutely. At the end of the process it will be seen as a one-stop-shop.

What needs to happen for that to be achieved? Is it a question of negotiation on an industrial relations basis?

First, on Deputy Enright's question on the money, I was not too far off. The 2005 Estimate provided a total of €417 million for FÁS employment services. There may be some tidying up to be done there.

In response to Deputy Shortall, the first necessity is for the Bill to be passed. I have had some discussions with FÁS about how we will operate schemes in the future and on how we will operate the employment services. There is active work going on between FÁS and the Department at official level and we are constantly engaging on how we will mesh. The meshing of the delivery of the service, rather than the location, will happen first. Then, over time as premises become available, we will mesh the staff. This is also tied into the Croke Park agreement, because we are talking about both semi-State and Government employment. In the short term, it will be a service level agreement, but the endgame is exactly as outlined by the Deputy. How long it will take to get there depends on industrial relations and structural issues.

The Minister mentioned the need for further legislation. For what will that be required?

I understand I may need to introduce further legislation to deal with integration. For the moment, the Department will run the community services programme and the rural social scheme and FÁS will deal with them on a service level agreement. The need for further legislation depends on how far we go with integration, but FÁS will still be a stand alone agency. However, if we were bringing its employment services into the Department, we could not have a service level agreement with the agency.

What exactly is coming in then? The Minister said the budget for this was €417 million. Can he give us a breakdown of how this applies to the schemes? I thought that within FÁS the budget for schemes was higher than that.

Other than community employment and jobs initiative schemes, the rest of the schemes are moving to the Department of Education and Skills. Therefore, all the short training courses will attach to that Department. My budget then only applies to community employment and the jobs initiative and the facilitators or employment officers in FÁS who are moving over.

What about the rural social scheme?

The rural social scheme comes under a different heading because it is coming from the former Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and is a straight Department to Department transfer.

How much of the €417 million is accounted for by community employment and the jobs initiative?

The vast majority of it. I do not want to give the Deputy a figure, but we are probably talking about €400 million or more. I will get a breakdown on it for the Deputy.

What will be left for employment services and activation? There will not be much left for that.

We are taking over everything attached to them. All the money and the human resources involved are coming over to our Department. However, I imagine a breakdown of the figures will show that the major part of the €417 million goes on the jobs initiative and community employment schemes.

Therefore, there is nothing new coming on stream.

No, but the major factor is that when we put jobseeker's money side by side with activation money and these are combined — between what was FÁS and is now the Department, or FÁS on contract to our Department — with facilitators in my Department, in time we will, I hope, give more people an opportunity to be on an activation scheme and force fewer people to be on jobseeker's allowance. It is much easier, when it is in the one Department, to move the money sideways to activation.

On a technical point, will that €417 million become part of the Minister's budget?

It will. I will have to have a Supplementary Estimate and go through the normal channels, but it will be part of my budget. It will legally be part of it.

From the technical point of view — I am thinking of this from the point of view of the Committee of Public Accounts — will the Secretary General in the Department be the Accounting Officer for that money rather than the chief executive of FÁS?

That is my understanding.

That is quite a change.

There would be a service level agreement and that is why I think we will need to go another step in time. This is just the first step. Let us take Pobal as an example. I know it is not quite the same, but it is a State nominated body that is totally funded by the State. When I was in what was the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pobal, from an administrative purpose viewpoint, answered to my Department. It got its administrative money from the Department and got money for certain schemes. However, through a service level agreement it also handled rural transport for the Department of Transport, child care for the Department of Health and Children and so on. It also handled several schemes for the Department of Justice and Law Reform. Therefore, it is not unique to have an agency with a service level agreement with another Department where that Department had to account for the money and the good spend of the money. Similarly, we gave money to Coillte and Bord Fáilte, in my old Department, and we had to account for that money to the Committee of Public Accounts.

Will the people who are employed in the employment services area of FÁS be paid from the Minister's Department rather than through FÁS as an organisation? That would be a dramatic change in their circumstances.

No, they will be paid by FÁS in the short term. Under the Bill, at this phase of the change they will be paid by FÁS, but FÁS will have a service level agreement with us about the work they do and so on. Their payslips will still be from FÁS.

Their pay comes out of the €417 million?

Then the €417 million is not going to the Department as part of its budget?

It is going to my Department, but we route it back to FÁS. In other words, that €417 million for FÁS, instead of going from the Exchequer to the Department of Education and Skills and thence to FÁS, will go from the Exchequer to my Department and thence to FÁS. Therefore, we will be able to determine the types of service provided, the number of places on schemes, whether the money is increased and so on. I have long been a proponent of this because I believe in giving people an opportunity to work. I have had all the perennial arguments about paying people to do nothing and why it would be better to give them an opportunity to do something, because it would be in the service of society and they would be working.

One of the problems that arose was the fact that provision for unemployment was across two Departments. The Department of Social Protection wanted to try to hold on to what it had with regard to unemployment, so there was no joined-up thinking. The Taoiseach believes this and I totally agree. It is much easier to run the system when both of the headline spending areas are within one Department. Transferring money is easier within one Department than transferring it from one Department to another.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

27.—(1) The Minister may, from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, advance to An Foras, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, such sums as the Minister may determine for the purposes of expenditure by An Foras in the performance of its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987.

(2) Section 10 of the Act of 1987 is amended by inserting "other than the functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1)” after “in the performance of its functions”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

28.—(1) The Minister may, from time to time, request An Foras to make a report to him or her, within a specified period, in respect of—

(a) its activities insofar as such activities relate to the performance of its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987,

(b) the provision of services by it insofar as such services relate to its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987,

(c) financial information, including information relating to expenditure by An Foras on the activities referred to in paragraph (a) and the services referred to in paragraph (b), and

(d) any other matter relating to the performance by An Foras of its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister may request An Foras to provide additional information relating to the functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987 including additional financial information in such form as the Minister may direct.

(3) An Foras shall, following a request under subsection (1) or, as the case may be, subsection (2), comply with the request and make the report to the Minister in accordance with that request and submit the report to the Minister within the period specified by the Minister.

(4) Where a report under this section has been submitted to the Minister in accordance with this section, the Minister may request An Foras to provide additional information in respect of the matters referred to in the report submitted under this section.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

29.—(1) The Minister may give a direction in writing to An Foras requiring it—

(a) to provide specified services or to carry on specified activities insofar as such services or activities relate to its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987,

(b) to refrain from providing specified services or carrying on specified activities insofar as such services or activities relate to its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987,

(c) to incur expenditure of specified amounts, or to increase by specified amounts its expenditure, on specified services or specified activities insofar as such services or activities relate to its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987, or

(d) to refrain from incurring expenditure, or to reduce by specified amounts its expenditure, on specified services or activities insofar as such services or activities relate to its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987.

(2) References in subsection (1) to the provision of services and the carrying on of activities include references to the arrangement for such provision and carrying on.

(3) The Minister may give a direction in writing to An Foras in relation to—

(a) the performance of its functions under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1) of the Act of 1987, and

(b) any information furnished to the Minister in a report submitted to him or her under section 28*.

(4) An Foras shall comply with a direction of the Minister under this section.

(5) Section 17 of the Act of 1987 is amended—

(a) in subsection (1)(a) by inserting “, subject to subsection (4),” after “The Minister may”, and

(b) by inserting the following subsection after subsection (3):

"(4) A direction under this section shall not include a direction in respect of the functions of An Foras under paragraphs (b) to (g) of section 4(1).”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment 33 is related to Nos. 34 and 35. These amendments may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

"PART 4*


30.—In this Part "scheme" includes a programme or measure.".

The purpose of these amendments is to give effect to the Taoiseach's announcement that responsibility for the rural social scheme and the community services programme will transfer from the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs to the Department of Social Protection. Amendment No. 33 inserts a new Part 4 to the Bill and provides for the definition of a scheme for the purposes of this part. Amendment No. 34 provides that I may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, develop, implement and expand schemes with the objective of providing income support and generating employment or opportunities for employment. These powers are similar to those vested in the relevant Minister by the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007. It also provides explicitly for the transfer of the rural social scheme and the community services programme.

Amendment No. 35 inserts a consequential amendment to the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007. When taken together with the provisions of the new Part 3, these sections will ensure that policy responsibility for all national and local employment-related schemes will now be vested in the same Minister. Furthermore, as mentioned with regard to the previous amendment, income support and employment support will now be integrated in one Department.

This is the same concept we discussed earlier. The Department of Social Protection should not be just about passive payments; in fact, it should be about income support and activation together. I hope to be able to move faster on these two schemes than on the community employment scheme, for a number of reasons. I am very familiar with these schemes. In one case I set up the scheme, and in the other I was the responsible Minister for a considerable time. Therefore, the officials dealing with the Department are familiar with these programmes. I hope to activate these programmes quite quickly. There is a great desire around the country that this be done. I will consider the terms of the schemes because there were historic restrictions that no longer apply.

These are two very different schemes. The rural social scheme is about work. It involved health and safety training but it was a work scheme rather than a training scheme. It was very successful. The participants have a high regard for the scheme, as do the communities involved.

The community services programme has enormous possibilities. There is a section of the community sector that has the potential to generate income — I refer to halls, heritage centres, sports facilities and so on — but cannot survive without some State support. There is major potential, in combining locally-generated resources and State resources, to create a considerable amount of employment and provide a wide range of necessary community services. I will give one example. A few years ago a number of large community halls were built in Dublin and Cork, and the issue arose of how these halls would be managed. Through the community services programme we received money from VECs, city councils and so on, and the halls have made a great job of providing services, while raising a certain amount of money from them. I can see this being done on a much larger scale.

I have no difficulty with this. I support the schemes and the work they do, which can be invaluable. The one thing I would have liked to be done differently, as was the case in the last set of new sections, was for the Minister to have more control over training. This is a test of joined-up Government. For a certain number of people, these schemes will be the answer, but other people will have other requirements. There is no junior Minister for Social Protection, so the Minister will be in charge of everything. The test will be how the Department of Education and Skills will respond. As I pointed out last week, in my own county there are only 50 further education places. How can the Minister persuade the Department of Education and Skills that if we are to cater for people who are either not eligible for these schemes or for whom they are not suitable, we need more places such as these? This will be the test of how these provisions will work.

When the Minister moved amendment No. 34, he said the powers conferred by it were similar to those of the previous Minister. Are there differences in the powers that are being transferred?

I support the Minister in these amendments. I encourage him to keep the committee informed on progress with regard to the changes he intends to make to the different schemes.

The Minister is a big fan of the rural social scheme. Presumably he will be dropping the rural part——

I might have the urban——

——so that it will apply to urban areas also.

The acronym "SS" has its own connotations. Perhaps the rural-urban social scheme, RUSS, would be more suitable.

As long as it is in there we will be happy.

The scheme was confined to farmers and fishermen for a historical reason; that reason is now gone. We could have a useful debate on this scheme in the committee. One of the thought processes I have is as follows: people who avail of the community employment scheme are supposed to move on after a certain period of time; unfortunately, in many cases they move back onto jobseeker's allowance. That is not good. They are begging to stay on the scheme, and we have all written letters to FÁS on behalf of people explaining how they have benefited from the scheme. Perhaps they have underlying issues and the scheme has been a lifeline to them.

My view is that after a while people should move on to a job or job scheme as opposed to a training scheme. If there is a specific need for training, where people want to train to acquire extra skills, as in ordinary employment, that is fine. However, we found there were certain people who availed of the rural social scheme because it was not a training scheme. They felt they had adequate skills and all they wanted was jobs. It represented a useful job to them and fulfilled their needs. They were doing much work and making a major contribution.

I would like to have a debate on these issues and in the spirit of what the Deputy said about it being a rural-urban social scheme, the idea of having either the community service programme or the rural-urban social scheme as a graduation scheme from the training phase of activation for those who are not getting into something commercial is very much in my mind.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

31.—(1) The Minister may—

(a) with the consent of the Minister for Finance, develop and implement a scheme, including a scheme developed and implemented in conjunction with or with the co-operation of another Minister of the Government, a body established by or under statute or any other person, that facilitates and provides assistance for—

(i) the provision of income support,

(ii) generating or maintaining employment and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing such assistance includes—

(I) assistance for the purposes of supporting, managing, administering, planning and supervising such employment, and

(II) financial assistance as may be determined from time to time having regard to the purpose and requirements of the scheme concerned,


(iii) any service that provides employment or opportunities for creating employment either generally or in relation to communities or areas and includes any such service the purpose of which is to benefit communities or areas,

(b) maintain a scheme referred to in paragraph (a), and

(c) expand, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, a scheme referred to in paragraph (a),

(d) without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, maintain—

(i) the scheme commonly known as the rural social scheme, and

(ii) the programme commonly known as the community services programme,

and may maintain such scheme or programme in conjunction with or with the co-operation of any other Minister of the Government, a body established by or under statute or any other person, and may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, expand such scheme or programme.

(2) The Minister shall not be, or be deemed to be, an employer, within the meaning of the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2001 by virtue only of the provision of funding to a person or persons under a scheme provided under this Part or the scheme referred to in subsection (1)(d)(i) or the programme referred to in subsection (1)(d)(ii).

(3) A scheme developed, implemented, maintained or expanded by the Minister under this Part—

(a) may be operated, managed, delivered or sponsored by any other person, and may be so operated, managed, delivered or sponsored directly or indirectly, and

(b) may be operated, managed, delivered or sponsored by any other person in whole or in part.

(4) Nothing in this Part shall be construed as—

(a) preventing the Minister from terminating a scheme,

(b) without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (a), preventing the Minister from terminating the scheme referred to in subsection (1)(d)(i) or the programme referred to in subsection (1)(d)(ii), or

(c) affecting any function of another Minister of the Government or a body established by or under statute.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:

32.-The Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007 is amended by inserting the following section after section 3:

"(3A) The Minister for Social Protection shall, under and in accordance with Part 4 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2010, maintain—

(a) the scheme commonly known as the rural social scheme, and

(b) the programme commonly known as the community services programme.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 22, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:



33.-The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of Parts 3 and 4 shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and the expenses incurred by the Minister for Finance in the administration of this Act shall be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.”.

This is the usual technical provision that the functions of schemes covered by Parts 3 and 4 may be funded from moneys provided by the Oireachtas subject to the normal provision. Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked a question. To my knowledge there is no difference in the powers from those that were in the previous Department but, obviously, we will change the schemes over time.

Amendment agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 3, to delete line 8, and substitute the following:


Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.