Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

13.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare is she is aware that Irish taxpayers who are employed on British owned cross-channel boats experience delays when they apply for disability benefit to the British Department of Health and Social Security; and, if so, if she will make arrangements for such benefits to be paid by her Department in the first instance subject to recoupment by her Department of the money from the British authorities.

In accordance with EEC regulations persons employed on British-owned cross-Channel vessels are insured under the British National Insurance Acts and the British Department of Health and Social Security are liable for the payment of disability benefit to such persons. This arrangement appears to have been working satisfactorily, apart from a few months recently when, on account of industrial action by certain members of the staff of the British Ministry, some delay in payment may have occurred.

Arrangements of the kind envisaged by the Deputy would not be helpful and would delay rather than expedite payments. It would be necessary in the first instance to communicate with the British authorities so that they could decide whether the claimant on the basis of his British insurance record would be qualified for benefit. Difficulties of a practical nature would be such that the effect as compared with existing arrangements would be to the disadvantage rather than to the advantage of claimants.

Is the Minister aware that between 50 and 60 employees of Sealink who operate the ferry service from Rosslare to Fishguard are experiencing delays of up to four months in the payment of disability benefit? Would the Minister be prepared to ask her officials to reconsider the matter, especially since these people are not likely to seek supplementary welfare payments, with a view to providing the same system as for other Irish contributors to social insurance so as to allow for immediate payments and bearing in mind that in similar circumstances in Britain people are paid within a week of sending in their certificates?

The Department have considered this matter closely and they believe that the kind of delays being experienced by the workers concerned are temporary and arise out of the dispute. My Department are satisfied that to bring about the changes suggested here would only cause further delays because the insurance records would be available only to the British authorities.

14.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of people in receipt of the prescribed relative's allowance for old age pensioners.

There are at present 3,093 pensioners of my Department in receipt of a prescribed relative allowance.

Would the Minister consider revising the regulations so as to provide payment of this allowance in cases other than where there is no person in the house apart from the aged person, the person looking after him or an invalid or children? Also, would the Minister consider increasing the amount of this allowance so that old people who wish to die at home can be kept at home? This is something that I have been advocating for a number of years.

This does not really arise out of the question so perhaps to answer off the cuff might not be the best way of dealing with it. At the outset the allowance was payable only in respect of a daughter or a step-daughter but it may be paid now also in respect of the following relatives of a pensioner: brother, half-brother, son, step-son, grandson, son-in-law, nephew, sister, half-sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law and niece. If the Deputy would like to make the matter the subject of another question I could have it looked into more attentively.

My question was totally relevant. The position is that if there is a second fit person in the house the allowance is not payable. The allowance may be payable even if a person is not related to the old person concerned and my point is that this is discrimination against relatives.

The scheme which was introduced in January 1969 provided for an increase in the pension of a person who was incapacitated and who was in receipt of an old age pension or in the case of a widow's contributory scheme, a person who had reached pensionable age. The scheme has been extended since to include a number of others. The group mentioned by the Deputy is worthy of examination and I will look into the matter and contact the Deputy again in regard to it.