Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015

Vol. 891 No. 1

Priority Questions

Social Welfare Benefits

Willie O'Dea


1. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to expand social welfare entitlements for self-employed persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33329/15]

I raise this question again to ascertain if there have been any developments in this matter since it was last raised with the Minister in May. As the House will be aware, we are trying to develop the indigenous sector and the extension of benefits to the self-employed is central to that project.

The self-employed pay PRSI at the class S rate of 4%. These contributions provide cover for long-term social insurance benefits including the State pension (contributory) and the widow’s, widower’s or surviving civil partner’s contributory pension. In contrast, a combined employer and employee PRSI rate of 14.75% is paid in respect of most employees, who can then access the full range of social insurance benefits.

The most recent actuarial review of the social insurance fund published in 2012 found that, in the case of the self-employed with earnings equivalent to national average earnings, a 15% contribution rate would be needed to provide the core full-rate State pension (contributory) to the self-employed. This compares very favourably with the 4% rate currently paid by the self-employed. The review also showed that the self-employed at all income levels got better value for money for their contributions in regard to the State pension than employees generally.

In its 2013 report, the advisory group on tax and social welfare found that almost nine out of every ten self-employed people who claimed the means tested jobseeker’s allowance during the three-year period from 2009 to 2011 received payment. Therefore, it was not convinced that there was a need for the extension of social insurance for the self-employed to provide cover for jobseeker’s benefit.

However, the group found that extending social insurance for the self-employed was warranted in cases related to long term sickness or injuries, through the invalidity pension and the partial capacity benefit schemes. In this regard the group recommended that the rate of contribution for class S should be increased by at least 1.5 percentage points, payable on a compulsory basis only.

While I am anxious to expand the level of social insurance entitlement for people who are self-employed - there are many such people and the number is growing - any such change would have to be funded by an appropriate level of contribution.

I do not detect from the Minister's response any developments since this matter was raised five months ago. It seems that the Minister is using the report to avoid making any decision that would assist the self-employed while, at the same time, the Taoiseach said it is central to Government policy to develop the indigenous sector. Reports report, Ministers decide. The Minister will be aware that the report recommended that the right to illness benefit, invalidity pension and so on, should be extended to the self-employed. I admit the report stated that should be done on a compulsory basis but there is no rationale to that because countries such as Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France, Lithuania, even Romania, are doing this, either for unemployment benefits or sickness benefits on a voluntary basis, such as we have proposed. Will the Minister indicate if she has given thought to extending this on a voluntary basis? If people are prepared to pay, surely they should be accommodated.

I recall when I came into the office of Minister for Social Protection the deficit on the social insurance fund was €2 billion, which was a cause of great concern. Through very careful management we have actually reduced that deficit or, as some people in the media used to call it, the hole in the social insurance fund, to about €180 million, compared to the €2 billion plus left to us by the previous Government. If the Deputy is talking about expanding social insurance then he should be aware that first, it has to be funded and second, it has to be funded in a way that is appropriate for the people who are interested. The Deputy's first point was whether it could be made voluntary. I do not think there is any example anywhere of a voluntary social insurance scheme because the people more at risk would pay and the people who appear not to be at risk, much younger people, might choose not to pay at all. It would cause an enormous problem, even for contributory old age pensions that self-employed people receive for a 4% contribution. Let me be clear about this, I am all in favour of extending it but it will have to be contributed to. I do not know what is Fianna Fáil's attitude on this issue. Having almost crashed and wrecked the social insurance fund it now wants to do that again.

The people will cast their judgment shortly on the Minister's management of the system. I look forward to it eagerly. The Minister made a statement which is patently false. She said there was no example anywhere of a voluntary contribution providing for extra benefits. I have named six OECD countries which operate just such a system on either the jobseeker's benefit side or the illness benefit side so I ask the Minister to retract that statement. It is perverse that the Government should announce, as it has done about 142 times, that it will encourage the self-employed sector by extending a tax credit to people who are already in business, while at the same time it is doing nothing to extend illness benefit, at a minimum, for people who want to become self-employed or those who lose their businesses because of illness.

Is that not perverse? Is the Minister also aware that the leader of her sister party in the United Kingdom, the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn, has now put this issue at the very centre of Labour Party policy in the United Kingdom?

We are facing an election. Many people are contacting me about this issue to find out if anything is happening about it. Can I now report back to those people that the Government intends to do nothing about this issue?

What we had in this country, and we were able to maintain it during the worst crisis in the country's history, was a contributory old age pension, which extends to all-----

I am not asking the Minister about that.

-----self-employed people.

Will she answer the question?

What I am saying is that when we make decisions about the Social Insurance Fund we have to be prudent so that we do not take away or undermine what is a very valuable item in people's lives, namely, the contributory old age pension, the widow's and widower's pension and the maternity benefit, which self-employed people get.

That has nothing to do with the question I asked.

The Deputy is throwing out suggestions that it is possible for us, as we should-----

-----to extend, in particular, cover for illness-related issues-----

In the same way that six other countries have done.

-----to self-employed people. I strongly support that but, to be honest, that has to be paid for. The well-regarded expert group said it could not be sustained if it was voluntary-----

Even though other countries can do it.

-----and that for policy in Ireland it was not the best idea. We are talking about 1.5 additional contributions.

Thank you, Minister. We are over time.

I have given the Minister six precedents for doing it on a voluntary basis.

Disability Activation Projects

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the reason her Department failed to extend or replace the Disability Activation Project, at least until such time as the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities was published, and its recommendations rolled out, despite the vital services it provided. [33186/15]

I ask the Minister the reason she failed to protect the young people, in particular, but also others who were availing of the disability activation projects that came to an end earlier this year, rather than extending it, which would have protected them and allowed for the long overdue publication of the comprehensive employment strategy that would outline the future of such projects, whereas now we have a gap in their delivery.

I am very pleased that I will be launching the comprehensive employment strategy this Friday. I welcomed and supported the Disability Activation Project, which was jointly funded by the European Social Fund and the Department of Social Protection and ran from 2012 to April 2015 in the BMW regions. The objective of the project was to explore ways in which people with disabilities are enabled to avail of progression, education and development opportunities within the world of work.

The Department commissioned an independent evaluation to identify the learning from the projects, focusing on what works to increase the capacity and potential of people who have a disability to participate in the labour market. It also examined which aspects of the project are capable, where appropriate, of being mainstreamed in the delivery of supports to people with disabilities in the future.

We have a stream of funding for a follow-on programme, based on the learning from the projects. The new ESF operational programme, Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning, 2014-2020, will provide €10 million in funding for future disability activation activities.

The Disability Activation Project evaluation report will be examined by an inter-departmental group, which will be chaired by my Department and will include the National Disability Authority and representatives of Departments which have commitments under the comprehensive employment strategy.

This group will provide, in the context of the actions outlined in the comprehensive employment strategy, a practical mechanism for advancing the positive aspects of the work identified in the evaluation and will determine the next steps in the context of future disability activation activities being provided for under the new ESF programme where the funding will be expanded.

I welcome the news that the comprehensive employment strategy is to be launched this Friday. I got word that it may be this week, but that does not address the question as to the reason the Disability Activation Project funding was not extended to cover those projects, which were up and running and evaluated, until such time as there was an alternative programme in place. The Minister said the Disability Activation Project evaluation will now go to the Departments. I know she has had sight of it for a while but rather than-----

I have not had sight of it for a while. I published reports but-----

No, we cannot-----

I was not being overly critical of the Minister. My problem is that there is now a lacuna. For instance, 119 young people took part in one of the projects I am aware of, the WALK PEER programme, and some of those ended up back on the live register. The problem is the gap. If the project had been extended until such time as a replacement model was ready to be triggered, it would not have affected those people who are most vulnerable in our society, namely, the young people and others with disabilities who benefited from the Disability Activation Project.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the funding was EU funding. As Minister, I managed to identify and set up the programmes, which related in particular to young adults with disabilities, to help them access work, both in the open market and in terms of work amounting to more than eight hours a week because not everybody doing the programmes would have wanted to be involved in a very lengthy number of hours in a working week. The EU funding was conditional on all of these being pilot programmes. We will review the INDECON report, which will not take long to do. I have been with the peer group on several occasions, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Humphreys, and we are very familiar with it.

As a society we have a broader issue relating to young adults who have gone through education but who, when they come to be of working age, are finding it extremely difficult to get work that is attractive to them and for the hours they would be interested in and suit their particular circumstances.

Thank you, Tánaiste.

It has been a very positive programme. What we hope to do with the next programme is learn from the first one and have a stronger programme.

I will let the Minister back in again.

I welcome the news that it will not be a long review. It still does not address the fact-----

No. It will be very fast.

-----that there is a shortfall. Since the Minister is aware of the WALK PEER programme, I presume she is aware of the huge savings that can be made, as well as the benefits to the young people. Some people who were previously in day services were able to move to projects such as the peer programme, and there is a saving from that. Not everybody is suitable for those programmes. Can the Minister give an indication of the number of months that will pass before we see an equivalent to what the INDECON report had stated was one of the better ones and should be replicated? How long will that take? Reports can be published and it can take months, and sometimes years, before action is taken arising from them.

I have a strong commitment to young adults with a disability. I am in the position of knowing a number of such young people personally throughout their lives. For friends and relations of mine who would have children in that situation, it is very important. We have mainstreamed many young people into primary and secondary school, and now into preschool, and as the Deputy is aware, there is a number of programmes relating to third level education, all of which I have been a strong supporter of, both privately and publicly.

I personally know some of the people who have been on various programmes connected to the organisation involved in WALK. The approach taken has been very positive for many of the people I know who participated in the programmes. The EU funding came in the context of activation for work. The question that really arises is what is the best mix. We know there are social benefits and the types of benefits mentioned by the Deputy regarding families and individuals, with which I agree wholeheartedly, but this does not necessarily constitute work-type activation. The issue we really have is with the changes that have happened in institutions, where there were often sheltered workshops. We are moving more towards a wider employment area and the question is how best to do this while meeting the needs of people. As the Deputy probably knows-----

Sorry, Tánaiste, we over time.

-----the Department has been opening all of its access programmes relating to activation on a voluntary basis at a number of offices throughout the country to see whether people come forward and whether the new employment officers can help them. I will come back to the Deputy on this point. We started it earlier this year.

Anti-Poverty Strategy

Joan Collins


3. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her Department's strategy to combat food poverty; her views on the current level of food poverty in the population; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33012/15]

The most recent figures we received on food poverty were in 2013, when they showed that one in ten people suffered food poverty. This figure was one in nine in Donegal, the county with the lowest income levels. I have not been able to find updated figures to see whether the position has got better or worse. We know from the CEO of Crosscare, Michael McDonagh, that there is a growing demand for food banks throughout the country. Obviously, there has been an increase in the figures and I would like to know whether the Tánaiste will provide them.

I will give the Deputy some of the figures. The official indicator of poverty is consistent poverty, which is the overlap of two measures, namely, at risk of poverty and basic deprivation. The basic deprivation indicator includes two items relating to the consumption of food. According to the CSO survey of income and living conditions of 2013, which contains the most recent statistics we have on this, 4% of the population were unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day and 8% were unable to afford a roast in addition once a week. Food-related items are, therefore, a very small component of the basic deprivation index. These statistics are available in full and listed in the survey of income and living conditions.

The Department of Social Protection provides income support to sustain an adequate standard of living and to prevent poverty. In 2013 social transfers, excluding pensions, lifted almost one quarter of the population out of being at risk of poverty. Ireland is among the best performing states. We come in slightly behind countries such as Denmark and Sweden. The OECD report of 15 September shows Ireland just after the Scandinavian countries in terms of performance. Our recovery is noted for the level of protection we have had for people on social welfare incomes and this can be seen in the OECD report.

The Department has a number of programmes to improve access to food for vulnerable people. The school meals programme will spend €39 million this year, which is an increase of €2 million on the last budget. It provides breakfasts and lunches to 1,700 schools and organisations in respect of approximately 220,000 children.

The Department administers the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, FEAD, which provides food and basic consumer products to people most at risk. Almost €27 million will be available over the period to 2020, of which 65% is for food. The Department advertised this programme in July and the applications process is ongoing. It is progressing very well and is being used by many organisations which provide meals to people.

The response is just not good enough. The Tánaiste stated 220,000 children receive breakfasts and lunches. This is a welcome development for these children, but why is it happening? It is because people do not have enough money. They do not earn enough in their wages. It also affects pensioners. The minimum wage should be increased. People who lost their jobs are still unemployed. The only way to deal with this is to increase people's incomes in order that they might to be able to buy food or else the Government should subsidise food for people on certain incomes, such as a 10% or 20% discount on certain foods which are necessary. This could be pinpointed by organisations dealing with food poverty.

It was ironic that the Tánaiste spoke about a recovery several weeks ago and then went with a big smile on her face to cut a ribbon to open a food bank in Glasnevin. Many people noticed this irony and they are very angry about it.

We should be dealing with this and using the opportunity to put money back into people's pockets and reverse the social welfare cuts. If core social welfare payments were to be brought back up to 2009 levels it would mean €40 extra a week for a couple and €27 extra a week for a single person. This is what needs to be put back into people's pockets.

The Deputy is wrong to attack the people who volunteer at the food bank and she should apologise to them.

No, I am attacking you for going there with a big smile on your face and cutting those ribbons.

I was with people who work and volunteer with Crosscare. It is grand for the Deputy to make snide remarks about them. For her information, people have been involved in this work for generations. What is happening at present is that major supermarkets and other businesses are giving absolutely first-class food, which they would not otherwise be selling, in an organised way to Crosscare, which, in turn, gives it to various organisations which support the distribution and giving of meals to people. This means food and other goods - because it is not just food - which would otherwise go into a dump are utilised by, for example, a local community centre which may provide lunches and snacks for elderly people.

Not every child who goes to school without breakfast does so because the family does not have money. In a small number of cases, but it is very significant, the parents may have issues which mean that, unlike most parents in the State, they are not perhaps in a position to prepare food at breakfast time. The children feed themselves. When they go to school, they get a breakfast and a social space, which is hugely beneficial for them. It is not for the Deputy to knock all of this.

It is amazing how the Tánaiste can turn things around. I was not attacking the food banks. They are necessary.

You were making snide remarks.

What I am attacking is the policy of this Government and that which preceded it to implement the austerity measures which force people into situations whereby they must use food banks and must get breakfasts and lunches at school because the family income does not provide for children to be supported in this way. It is an attack on the Tánaiste's policies and the fact that people must depend on food banks. There has been an increase. Michael McDonagh, the CEO of Crosscare, stated has been an increase in the number of people needing food banks. If it was one in ten in 2013, it could be two in ten.

Not at all. The figures-----

The Deputy should put a question.

I do not think that is the case. Will the Tánaiste deal with the core issue of putting money into people's pockets so they can proudly go out and buy goods rather than having to depend on food banks?

The Deputy has been one of the cheerleaders for the unfortunate things that happened to the unfortunate people in Greece this year. She suggests to us we would go down the same road.

Cheerleader for what?

How did you bring Greece into it? This is about food poverty in Ireland.

The actual food bank movement in Ireland is a partnership between a range of companies.

The Deputy probably would not approve of that anyway.

A range of companies have surplus top quality food or goods and the different charitable and community organisations are used as a mechanism to redistribute that to people who want that. That is instead of having it put into landfill. That is a perfectly sensible use of social resources in this country. It is a combination of people involved with charity and community organisations, businesses and the Department of Social Protection and other public organisations. It means we can utilise food that would otherwise go to waste. It is not a measure of additional poverty at all in Ireland; it is a sensible use of food and other materials that would otherwise just be dumped. What is the problem?

Poverty Data

Willie O'Dea


4. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her plans to reduce relative and absolute poverty rates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33330/15]

I raise this question to ascertain what progress the Government has made in reducing the levels of poverty after social transfers.

Taking the measure of income inequality used internationally by economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, the Gini coefficient, Ireland does extremely well. Ireland has a level of inequality that is below the average in the European Union and the 28 OECD countries, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom. In other words, we have less inequality in Ireland, notwithstanding the biggest economic crash in our history, than the average of European Union and OECD countries. It is far below that of the United States. According to EUROSTAT, the Gini coefficient was 30 in Ireland in 2013, compared with a European average of 30.5. This is a reflection of both our highly progressive tax system and the strength and depth of Ireland’s social protection system.

Relative poverty is measured through the at risk of poverty indicator. EUROSTAT data indicates that Ireland’s at risk of poverty rate in 2013, the last figures we have from the survey on income and living conditions, SILC, and which was based on data from the height of the crisis in 2012, was 14.1%. That is better than the EU average, where the proportion at risk of poverty is 16.6%. Ireland has the seventh lowest at risk of poverty rate of the 28 EU member states. A key reason for Ireland’s low at risk of poverty rate is social transfers. In 2013, social transfers, excluding pensions, lifted almost a quarter of the population out of relative income poverty. Ireland is the best-performing EU member state in reducing poverty through social transfers, and this reflects the Government decision not to reduce core welfare rates as part of the troika programme.

Looking forward, I believe that growing employment and supporting people back to work will have the greatest impact on poverty. The Government’s twin employment strategies of the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work are reaping rewards as Ireland’s recovery continues to strengthen, with more than 110,000 additional people returning to work and unemployment falling by a third. We have much to do in this area but we are just behind the likes of Austria, Sweden and Denmark. That we have the seventh lowest level of inequality in the EU is a very important achievement.

I did not ask the Minister about inequality or whether we were 0.5% percent above the OECD average. I am asking the Minister about levels of poverty in this country. I accept the latest figures are 18 months to two years out of date but they were produced by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. They indicate that 376,000 people in this country, or 8.2%, were living in consistent poverty, and although the poverty line had fallen by 16%, nearly one in seven people was at risk of poverty. The data also demonstrate that over 30% of the population was experiencing deprivation, meaning they were deprived of the basic essentials of life, such as a warm winter coat or adequate heating. I realise the CSO figures are somewhat out of date but has the Minister any measurement on progress made since the period relating to those published figures?

We can be clear about the figures. The OECD report of 15 September is in the Dáil library and contains Ireland's ratings. It indicates that we rate really well, particularly given the incredibly destroyed economy that Fianna Fáil left us, together with the figure when we entered office of 330,000 people without work. The biggest element in poverty is people, particularly of working age, not having access to a paid job at a reasonable rate of pay for a reasonable number of hours. That causes more poverty than anything else. I am happy to say we now have 130,000 extra jobs since the Government came to office.

The at risk of poverty rate fell from 16.5% in 2012 to 15.2% in 2013. Using EUROSTAT data, Ireland's at risk of poverty rate of 14.1% was well below the EU average of 16.6% in 2013. I do not have later data than that with respect to national statistics. That is done by the CSO, based on a very wide range of interviews of significant numbers of people.

From my interaction with constituents, which I maintain on a pretty regular basis, it does not seem that people are very much interested in history. They want to know what the Tánaiste, as leader of the so-called socialist party in Government, has done to combat poverty levels in this country. The latest CSO figures indicate that in rural Ireland - forgotten Ireland - 350,000 people were at risk of poverty. That means the last time poverty risk was measured in rural Ireland, 350,000 people were living on incomes of less than €10,500 per annum. The study also demonstrated that in rural Ireland, 560,000 people were without facilities that would be considered reasonable and normal in a decent society, such as the ability to go out for a night, heat their houses adequately and replace worn-out furniture, etc.

On 25 September 2012, exactly four years ago - the Government has been in office for that period - the Minister told me that the poverty targets were revised as one of the first actions of the Government. One revised target was to reduce consistent poverty to 4% by 2016. The latest figures for this indicate it is at 8.2%, although they are a bit out of date. Does the Minister believe it is a realistic ambition to achieve that target of a 4% level of consistent poverty by 2016, which is just a few months away?

I suppose the worst attack made on people at risk of poverty was by Fianna Fáil when it cut social welfare weekly rates.

No, we want to know what the Government is doing.

Fianna Fáil cut weekly social welfare rates.

This Government has been cutting since it came in.

It made the decision. It could have made other decisions.

The Government has taken more from social welfare than it has put back in.

The previous Government cut weekly social welfare rates by a total of €16.40.

This Government has cut consistently in a sneaky, underhand way, and everybody now sees through it.

Deputy, please.

That Government cut the social welfare rate for carers-----

Answer the question.

Listen to the answer.

-----and people on the blind pension by €16.40.

A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order. Is there not-----

I am not here to answer questions. I am here to see to it that the Deputy can ask a question of the Tánaiste.

Yes, and I have said that the most-----

I understand and I agree with the Ceann Comhairle.

There are other Deputies-----

It is the Minister's job to answer questions.

We are now over time by-----

I have asked a direct question so could I get a direct answer without the gobbledegook?

I am saying-----

On this question alone, so far, we are over-----

This is what I am saying.

Deputy O'Dea asked about poverty-----

Deputy O'Dea should resume his seat.

-----and I said the worst thing that happened-----

I am asking the Tánaiste about poverty today and what the Government is doing.

I apologise to the Tánaiste. The Deputy is not listening.

-----in terms of people becoming poor in Ireland-----

We do not need the history. We want to know what the Government is doing.

-----was, first of all, that 300,000 people lost their jobs by the time Fianna Fáil left office.

Is it going to reach the target?

Deputy O'Dea should stay quiet.

Allow the Tánaiste to answer.

Second, it cut things such as carers' allowance and the blind pension by €16.40 a week. That is its legacy-----

Has this Government increased it?

I have to move on to question No. 5.

That is its legacy, its testament. In terms of how we-----

This Government left it as it stood.

Please, Deputy O'Dea.

-----change things for people for the better, the first and the most important thing-----

Will the Government reach the target?

-----is that we get as many people of working age as possible back to work.

Into yellow-pack, low-paid jobs.

The second thing is that we protect people who are vulnerable-----

Zero-hour contracts.

-----particularly pensioners on fixed incomes, from any reductions in their core weekly payments. That is what we have done since we came into government.

We are over time.

We made different choices to Fianna Fáil.

This Government made the choice to leave 2% in consistent poverty. Those are the choices this Government has made.

We made different choices to Fianna Fáil but, as a consequence-----

The Tánaiste should finish up.

-----we have got so many people back to work and we have protected people's pensions.

And the Tánaiste's party calls itself the Labour Party.

Please respect the Chair, who is trying to see that it is fair to everybody. I call Deputy Joan Collins.

Has Deputy O'Dea forgotten his party reduced the minimum wage?

The Tánaiste never answered the question. Does she think the Government will reach the 4% target?

Hold on a second, there are other Deputies waiting for their questions. We are already over time on priority questions. Please adhere to the Chair's rulings.

Employment Rights

Joan Collins


5. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the position regarding pledges made by the Government in 2014 to remove an anomaly in the insolvency payments scheme, whereby employees of a limited company which does not go into either liquidation or receivership are not covered by this scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33029/15]

I raised this issue last year in respect of a case of which the Tánaiste would be well aware. It concerned a language centre that folded up, leaving the workers with nothing when they went to the insolvency payments scheme. We recently had another case where a sole trader ceased trading. The people who sought payment under the scheme were told the company had no insurance so, therefore, they could not-----

The Deputy is over time.

-----be paid. What has the Tánaiste done in the past year to try to resolve this anomaly?

I am not familiar with the case to which the Deputy just referred. If she would care to give me the details - the name of the employer, company number and so on - I will get her a report on the case. I cannot reply to her on the spot about that particular question because I was not made aware of it. The Deputy did not reference it in her question.

Under the provisions of the Protection of Employees (Employers’ Insolvency) Act 1984, an employer company shall be regarded as being insolvent if the company is placed into receivership, if a winding-up order has been made or if a resolution for the voluntary liquidation of the company has been passed. The Department is continuing to review the position to establish what, if anything, can be done to progress payments to individuals in situations where employers cease trading without engaging in a formal winding-up process and owe moneys to their employees. The Department is consulting a range of interested parties, including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Revenue Commissioners, in respect of these issues. Officials from the Department will continue to engage with all relevant parties to try to progress the matter. Given the very difficult legal issues that need to be addressed, I am not in a position to indicate at this stage when the review will be completed. We do not yet have a legal solution to it because there are all sorts of consequences that might flow from taking a legal position that was not carefully worked out. It could damage other people as well as addressing the problems faced by some people. It would be helpful if the Deputy sent us the detail of the case to which she refers.

I am glad to hear there has been movement and that the Tánaiste and her Department are working on resolving the issue because workers find themselves in a very serious situation when a company folds in that way. In the recent case to which I refer, we were told the sole trader should have taken out insurance for insolvency purposes. If that is the position, why are sole traders not obliged to do so when they set up companies, rather than it being a case of finding out after the fact that a sole trader does not have insurance and of workers being left high and dry? Workers must deal with the insolvency payments scheme, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, etc., and they are getting nowhere. Their PRSI payments were not made and right across the board they are not entitled to medical care. It is a very serious issue that should be dealt with in a manner that will resolve the situation for the affected workers.

It is a very difficult legal area. I will outline some of the difficulties. We have reformed the insolvency payments scheme. People are now paid their entitlements very rapidly. It has been transformed since the payments were taken over by the Department of Social Protection. However, the law is, in general, not in the remit of my Department but in that of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. A more appropriate approach might be to widen the remit of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement so that proceedings can be taken. However, in the case of a very small firm - and I do not know what is involved in the cases to which the Deputy refers - the sums of money involved may be very small. They might be €50, €100 or a few hundred euro. Both the principle and the sum are very important to the people who are owed money but to go to the High Court for a hearing would cost something of the order of €20,000 or €25,000. In addressing this, we must find a sensible and proportionate approach which does not have negative knock-on consequences for workers' other rights.

Does Deputy Collins wish to respond?

Is the Deputy happy?

I am not happy but I am not going to get much more out of it.

No further questions.