Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Mar 2002

Vol. 169 No. 15

Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2002: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implementation of the review of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy ‘Building an Inclusive Society'.".

I apologise I could not be present for the previous Stages of the Bill due to my – what would one say—

That was very well said by the Leader of the House.

At this stage I could almost say it is mutual.

I mean it in the best sense.

I know the Minister does. I am sure I was most adequately represented. This is real end of term stuff.

I am aware, as I am sure the Minister is, of the latest report showing the gap between rich and poor in Ireland to be the largest in Europe. "Inclusion" is a word now often bandied about. I do not know who is being included, but I certainly know who has been excluded as most of them are my constituents.

This morning we were talking about access to third level institutions and the lack of educational attainment. Clondalkin and Ballymun are the two places with the least number of young people going on to further education. During discussion of the amendments today we can refer to the reason that may be the case. With regard to the people I represent, it would be unfair not to admit that there has been an increase, but as recently as six years ago the number of people in my area in third level education out of a large estate of 3,600 houses was three. Happily the position has improved, but there is a visible lack of inclusion that hits one on entering secondary schools in the area. Although there is a new feeling of hope, many, unfortunately, have dropped out along the way. We should be wary about using the word "inclusion" because it has not seemed to work in my area. For that reason I want to press my amendment.

While I thank the Senator for her amendment, I do not accept the figures she has given regarding Ireland's place in relation to—

It heard it on radio.

I would not believe everything I hear on radio.

I always believe everything the Minister says on radio.

We have come from a position where we were below the EU average in regard to income adequacy to one where we are now ahead of it. In regard to relative income or poverty generally, I have often quoted the figure that 400,000 people who were on social welfare are now working. There has, therefore, been a dramatic change in the circumstances of these people and their families.

If one looks at the agreed figures, one will see that consistent poverty has fallen dramatically over the last number of years, from 10% in 1997 to 6% in 2000, and is dropping further by all accounts. Similarly, consistent poverty among children fell from 17% in 1997 to somewhere in the region of 8% in 2000 and is falling even further. In the ambitious commitments made by the Government regarding the revised national anti-poverty strategy, we say we will achieve a rate of €150 per week, in 2002 terms, in the lowest social welfare rates, to be met by 2007. We have made dramatic commitments in relation to the equivalent level of basic child income.

Our record over the lifetime of the Government is there for all to see. The dramatic increases in social welfare have been the greatest in the history of the State in each year that I have been Minister and that is acknowledged by everybody. In all the propaganda put out by Senator Ridge's party in recent weeks, the issue of social welfare is not mentioned and that is a very telling point. Even the Senator will admit that the level of increases in social welfare over the past five years has taken the Opposition's breath away. It has a very difficult job in criticising the record of the Government in this respect.

The Minister is not leaving me breathless.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, subsection (2), line 8, after "into", to insert "effective".

The amendment is a simple one to provide that the section will come into effective operation in June 2002. I am sure that everybody can agree to it. It could almost be described as a harmless amendment.

Senator Ridge will be aware that the increases in child benefit are threefold, from £30 to €117.60 in the lower rate and from £39 to €147.30 in the higher rate. She will also be aware that the increases have been brought forward by a further two months this year to April, which will cost the Exchequer €70 million extra. As the Minister indicated, the first pay day in May is the earliest day on which it is possible for the Department to pay the increased rates. The extra cost, in 2002 terms, of making the increases effective from the same dates as the social welfare increases would be €103.5 million and the proposal would also cause serious administrative difficulties for the Department.

The book-based payments system is the chosen payment option for the majority of pensioners and other long-term beneficiaries and also for the majority of families receiving child benefit. Almost 1 million recipients are paid by this method. It is less flexible than other payment methods and it requires longer lead times to implement the increases as changes cannot be made to order books while they are in the hands of recipients. The Minister is anxious to point out the renewal schedule for production of the different order books. The family income supplement – 11,500 books to be printed from 3 December to 14 December – was payable on 3 January. There were 280,000 books to be printed from 14 December to 15 January for lone parents and widows payments, payable on 14 February. There were 260,000 old-age pensions books to be printed from 25 January to 15 March and those benefits will be payable from 3 April. Child benefit books were to be printed between 15 March and 13 May and those payments will be made on 14 June, except this year.

This is the fully crowded schedule into which the production of the single vouchers for the arrears in budget increases had to be squeezed and that was only possible, with significant overtime by departmental staff, on the following basis: pensions arrears from early January to 23 February, payable in mid-February – 260,000 single vouchers; and child benefit arrears from early March to 26 April, payable on 7 May – 380,000 single vouchers. Arrears for lone parents and widows were included in their new books from mid-February.

An examination of how best to meet the shorter timeframes for all customers is being undertaken. This will involve working closely with the payment suppliers and security printers and examining how we can move forward quickly with regard to electronic payments. A number of issues need to be addressed in that regard.

I should have pointed out that amendment No. 17 is related to amendment No. 2. Does Senator Ridge wish to discuss amendment No. 17? The Minister dealt with both amendments in her reply.

Amendment No. 2 is brief, but the word it seeks to insert, "effective", is strong. The Minister has given all sorts of reasons for payments not being effective from that date. I will press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the need to extend the free telephone allowance to elderly persons living in nursing homes, either for a fixed line or a mobile phone, particularly in cases where the allowance was previously obtained.".

I feel strongly about this amendment. Elderly people and others who are obliged to live in nursing homes receive physical comfort and care but, to an extent, lose their identity as the people they were before they entered the nursing home. The person is now one of many rather than being their own boss in their own home. There can also be a lack of communication, especially for people from rural areas who are moved some distance from their families. Many of the elderly are not visited regularly even when they have family nearby. The amendment proposes a sensible and inexpensive way for these people to maintain contact with others. It is also a way of having the person's uniqueness confirmed rather than simply being one of a large group of residents.

We all face this prospect. Although we would prefer to stay in our homes, some of us will probably have to go to nursing homes and I would like to think that the concept of cherishing all the children of the nation equally will still apply when we are at an advanced age. This is a humane, sensible and simple proposal which should be taken on board.

The telephone allowance is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare payment or who meet the conditions of a means test. It is available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare payments. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 years whose late spouses had been in receipt of a telephone allowance retain that entitlement to ensure their households do not suffer. In May 2001, the free schemes, including the telephone allowance, were extended to all persons over 70 years regardless of their income and household composition. There are currently 240,000 people in receipt of the telephone allowance.

The original objective of the allowance was to provide an element of protection and security for older people and people with disabilities who were either living alone or with people who would be unable to summon help in an emergency. The secondary objective was to encourage social contact and to assist in the prevention of social isolation. While people in nursing homes and other residential institutions may meet the age requirement, they are not isolated to the same extent. They have daily support and contact with other residents and nursing staff. A number of them may also get other State support through the public health system or a nursing home subvention.

In this context, the proposal to extend the telephone allowance to pensioners resident in a nursing home does not fit easily within the objectives of the scheme, which are to provide an element of personal security and to assist in the prevention of isolation for those living alone.

I accept that the original objective was personal security. However, the amendment is not based on that consideration. We are talking about contact and not feeling excluded. For that reason I am pressing the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report in relation to increasing the weekly allowance to those seeking asylum in this country.".

I am most interested in the Minister of State's response.

The income maintenance needs of asylum seekers are met for the most part by the health boards through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the main objective of which is to make up the difference between a person's means, whether in cash or in kind, and his or her needs. Where a person has access to some resources in kind or in cash through the social welfare system or otherwise, the relevant legislation requires that this be taken into account in determining entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance. This occurs in the case of asylum seekers who arrived since 10 April 2000. They are provided with full board accommodation, including all their meals and other services, under the system of direct provision operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In such cases the recommended weekly allowance is €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child to provide personal requisites. Furthermore, where there are other reasonable expenses, exceptional needs payments are made by the health boards.

A small number of asylum seekers are in receipt of other social welfare payments such as one parent family payments, pensions and disability allowance. In addition, any asylum seeker with children is entitled to child benefit. The current monthly rates are €85.71 for each of the first two children and €109.20 for the third and subsequent children, which, as we have just discussed, will be increasing to €117.60 and €147.30 respectively.

The allowances and payments to asylum seekers in direct provision have not increased since the direct provision system was introduced in April 2000. The maximum personal rate of supplementary welfare allowance in April 2000 was £72 per week –€91.42 – while the current maximum personal rate is €118.80, a 30% increase.

The Minister established a working group in April 2000 to examine the issues relating to assessment of need for supplementary welfare allowance purposes. Among the issues examined by the group are the existing arrangements for the payment of basic weekly supplementary welfare allowance to those who have means other than cash to partly meet their basic needs and the payment rate appropriate to asylum seekers in direct provision. To give a broad spread of expertise, the group comprises representatives from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Departments of Finance, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Environment and Local Government as well as a representative appointed by the chief executive officers of the health boards.

I understand the working group will finalise its report very shortly, following which the Minister will be in a position to consider its findings and recommendations and decide if it is appropriate to make changes in either the rates of payment to asylum seekers in direct provision or the manner in which these payments are made.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the need to provide–

(a) a pension supplement to those pensioners who are solely dependent on either a contributory or non-contributory pension, and

(b) increased support for pensioners under the living alone allowance.”.

This is an annual request. Despite the fact that the Minister has described the increases in social welfare payments in glowing terms and they are to be praised, one can never be entirely satisfied with them. There is always somebody somewhere losing out. It is from that point of view we are asking for a specific report.

There are a large number of senior citizens who are entitled to more than one payment. We are particularly asking that consideration be given to those solely dependent on contributory or non-contributory pension and that there be increased support for pensioners under the living alone allowance. I hope these are very supportable requests. I am looking forward to a positive response in the matter.

Before the last general election Fianna Fáil gave a commitment that it would increase the old age pension to £100 per week. We surpassed even our own expectations in achieving that goal, as well as the expectations of the public and old age pensioners. If any report is needed, the reaction of the old age pensioners will bring itself to bear on it.

It is not even necessary to compare what was done prior to 1997 to what has been done since then because we are surpassing our own expectations. In general, old age pensioners very much appreciate what has been done. As I said, the payments and increases have more than matched inflation in recent years.

As Senator Leonard said, we have surpassed our own targets. The target rate was €126.97, which was reached a year ahead of schedule. The contributory old age pension is now €147.30 per week and the old age non-contributory pension is €134 per week. These represent increases of 37% and 49%. Senator Ridge will know, like any Dáil candidate, that pensioners appreciate this and are getting what they deserve. Many other improvements have been made also.

The Minister is of the view that increasing the pension rates rather than the allowances is the most effective way of improving the position of all pensioners. Apart from increasing the rates, the Government's approach has been to increase the numbers qualifying for the contributory payments and to reduce the need for means testing. The introduction of a pension supplement along the lines being suggested by Senator Ridge would involve additional means testing, which is not in keeping with the Government's approach.

I applaud my most esteemed colleague, Senator Leonard, for eulogising the Fianna Fáil Party and the Minister.

I was giving the facts.

We are forgetting that the gap is widening all the time. I ask for a very simple promise in respect of the report requested in my amendment. We are not asking that the family silver be raided – it is a very simple matter. Ideally, one should never be able to do enough for the aged. However, there are people in the over-65 age group who have very different levels of income. I am trying to establish a level playing field.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the need to provide a report on increasing the contributory widow's pension to the same rate as the contributory old age pension.".

I know the Minister will give me a detailed and complex response to this amendment. The problem with all the allowances is that, somewhere along the line, we all lost the plot. I am not blaming any Minister but, over the years, we have developed a system of individual and different payments for different sections of the community. When I look at the very good information issued by the Minister's Department, I realise it is complex. It is so complex that I am in genuine awe of people in the Department who can work out these things. Other amazing people I know, who are totally capable of driving a coach and four through all the different levels, have never worked but still know every aspect of the social welfare system. We are talking particularly about the child dependant allowance, the purpose of which is to assist low income families. I do not know who could be against that so I will press the amendment.

Senator Ridge mentioned child dependants. Are we not talking about widow's and widower's pension?

Am I referring to the wrong amendment?

Amendment No. 6.

We are on amendment No. 6, pertaining to widow's pension. Is that what the Senator is talking about?

I do apologise, I am on the wrong page. I wondered why the Cathaoirleach was smiling benignly at me, I thought he was approving everything I said. What I said still stands, except to substitute the word "widows".

I will not repeat what I said because the rates are quite different. The Minister did recognise that special increases were needed for contributory widow's pension. That is the reason special increases, over and above general social welfare increases, were awarded in the last two budgets. As a result, widows and deserted wives aged 66 years and over in receipt of contributory pension have seen their weekly payment increase from €90.28 to €144.80, an increase of 60%. This is unprecedented and well ahead of price inflation, as I am sure the Senator will recognise.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the effects of price inflation which social welfare recipients have endured since the introduction of the euro.".

I have had concerns expressed to me about price inflation, particularly by elderly people. I ask the Minister to provide for a report on the effects of price inflation. This is not a great deal to ask and something we should have because the rate of inflation will rise. With great respect – we have a very able Minister of State present – nobody has all the answers. The dismissal of amendments which would benefit the wider community is disappointing. I await the Minister of State's reply with great interest.

The consumer price index is published on a monthly basis by the Central Statistics Office. It sets out the rate of inflation for the month in question in a clear and concise fashion. As this high quality publication is available to the public at large, the Minister sees no reason for a separate statement on the matter. It is important to emphasise that all the increases awarded are well ahead of average inflation for the year and represent real increases. There is no need for a separate report.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on improving the income limit for the back to work allowance scheme to account for family size of applicants so that secondary benefits would remain intact for the three years duration of the scheme.".

We are into the classic situation that has pertained for so long, whereby we take two steps forward and sometimes four back. While nobody would complain about the ethos of the back-to-work allowance scheme, it does seem to impede many families. I am not suggesting we forever support families by way of allowances and so on. Happily, most of those who participate in back-to-work schemes go on to find full employment. However, there are some families who find that they are penalised by the system.

I am aware of one case where a cohabiting couple with two children lost their supplementary allowances as soon as they got married. The man in question was participating in a back-to-work scheme and the couple were paying rent in the private sector. Because they got married, the health board would no longer pay them rent allowance. As a consequence, they are now homeless. In a society where we all claim to support the family it is ironic that a couple such as this should find themselves homeless and in debt because they have stabilised their union by getting married. They were discriminated against because the husband was participating in the back-to-work allowance scheme, which is related to the supplementary rent allowance scheme.

I appreciate that this whole area is something of a minefield, but something has to be done to improve the lot of people such as these. There is no agency which can help this couple. If they can get onto the housing list, they will eventually be able to find somewhere to live, but the fact remains that their destitution is a consequence of the back-to-work allowance scheme. Unfortunately, this case is not an anomaly. Somebody who is trying to provide a stable home life for his or her children should be recognised for his or her efforts. We must make allowances for situations that cannot be foreseen when legislation is being drafted.

The Senator has talked about an individual case, something all politicians can do. There are many issues that need to be addressed in this legislation.

Long-term unemployed persons who avail of the back-to-work allowance scheme may retain their secondary benefits provided their income does not go above €317 per week. Those who participate in the scheme also retain their medical card. In budget 2000 the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs provided for two key improvements in this area. Provision was made to disregard back-to-work allowance payments and FIS when calculating the weekly gross household income limit. In addition, the monthly maximum rent supplement limit was abolished in favour of a tapered withdrawal of support over a four year period. These measures ensured families with children, such as the one described by the Senator, were in receipt of increased supports during the critical early years of transition from unemployment to employment. The income limit does not vary according to size of family, but at least the existence of dependants is taken into account. The question of further enhancing the income limit is, therefore, a matter for consideration in a budgetary context, in the light of available resources, competing priorities and co-ordination between different groups and agencies.

The Minister of State has agreed that co-ordination difficulties between the various groups involved are a significant part of the problem.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on improving the co-ordination of policy between his Department and FÁS so that spouses who are not entitled to unemployment benefit in their own right could be entitled to participate in existing FÁS schemes.".

I speak as a spouse who, happily, is not in the same situation as those to whom my amendment applies. They are the forgotten women of Ireland who were never included in the live register or entitled to benefits. Many of them feel completely excluded. As FÁS schemes have opened doors for many, I would like to see these forgotten women included in them. I hope the Minister of State can give me a very good reason she cannot support my amendment.

This issue was addressed by the Partnership 2000 working group on women's access to labour market opportunities which is chaired by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and reported on 13 April 2000. One of its key recommendations was that access to labour market programmes should be extended to the qualified adult dependants of persons eligible to participate in labour market programmes. This recommendation has been implemented.

Since July 1999, eligibility for community employment has been extended to additional categories of disadvantaged persons, including qualified spouses of long-term unemployed persons. The back-to-work and back-to-education allowances also fall into this category. The Minister also made provision to implement further recommendations of the working group to benefit qualified spouses of social welfare recipients. Access to the back-to-education allowance will also be extended to adult dependants of social welfare recipients who have an existing entitlement to the allowance, on the same basis as the social welfare claimant. Implicit in this is the payment of the full personal rate of the qualifying payment to the qualified adult. In practice, both the social welfare claimant and his or her qualified adult could receive the full personal rate of the allowance. The review of progress in implementing the recommendations is being conducted.

I am sure the Senator will be interested to note that, as part of the consultation process for the Government's new national plan for women, the role of women on the live register is receiving much consideration.

I am happy to hear the Minister of State agrees with me on the issue of the forgotten women of Ireland.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the need to revise the existing method of assessing pension provision for persons who emigrated, in respect of averaging their contributions.".

To qualify for old age contributory pension a person must satisfy several basic conditions, one of which is that he or she must have a yearly average of ten contributions paid or credited from 1953 up to the date of entry to social insurance. The qualifying conditions have eased considerably in recent years, enabling those with reduced or interrupted records to receive pensions. A person may receive a payment with a yearly average of as few as ten contributions. Persons insured in other EU countries, or in countries with which Ireland has reciprocal arrangements, may also receive pro rata pensions which reflect the proportion of insured employment in this country. Such persons will combine their Irish pension with one based on insurance paid in another country.

The special pension introduced by the Minister in May 2000, based on pre-1953 insurance, is also one of note. Payment is at 50% of the maximum personal rate, with additions paid for spouses and dependent children. To date, in excess in 18,000 have benefited from it, including 8,500 persons who were already in receipt of pro rata pensions at less than 50% of the maximum rate. Many of those in receipt of pensions are emigrants who left this country in the early 1950s.

In general, eligibility for a pension is based on a standard set of qualifying conditions which apply to all applicants. Many of those receiving pensions are emigrants who left the country in the early 1950s. In general, eligibility for pension is based on a standard set of qualifying conditions which apply to all applicants. However, the Government is committed to extending contributory pensions to as many people as possible. In pursuit of this objective, it has made significant changes which make it easier for people to qualify. People who spent time abroad and who may not have a complete insurance record in this country are benefiting from these measures.

Is the amendment being pressed?

I am happy to note the Minister of State's comments. As she stated, there is a need to take on board the anomalies that have arisen in this regard. However, I will press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the effects of different stamp contributions, in respect of obtaining treatment benefits, for those under 25 years of age and for those over 25 years of age.".

This relates to the different stamp contributions in respect of obtaining treatment benefits for those under 25 years age and those over 25 years of age. We have had a bad history in regard to different payment levels for what was referred to as "the stamp" or employee contribution. I appreciate there may have been a need for different approaches for people on different levels of payment. However, we are seeking a report in respect of obtaining treatment benefit for those under 25 years of age and those over 25 years age because these anomalies are apparent and should be addressed. I await the Minister of State's response on the matter.

The treatment benefit scheme provides a range of benefits in the areas of dental, optical and aural treatment for qualified PRSI contributors and their dependent spouses. The PRSI contributions which are reckonable for treatment benefit are classes A, E, H and P. The contribution conditions relating to entitlement to these benefits vary depending on the age of the insured person.

Persons aged under 21 years must have at least 39 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work in order to qualify, while persons aged 21 to 24 years must have at least 39 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work and 39 weeks PRSI paid or credited in the relevant tax year. In the case of persons aged from 25 to 65 years, the requirement is that they have at least 260 weeks PRSI paid since first starting work and 39 weeks paid or credited in the relevant tax year.

Of the total of 724,000 claims for both dental and optical benefits received in 2000, 89% qualified for benefit. Some 11% did not qualify because of an insufficient insurance record or some other reason. There are times when people do not have the minimum number of contributions required. In 1999, some 5,000 people aged 25 to 30 years failed to qualify because of the 260 paid contributions rule. It was partly in recognition of this problem that the age limit was extended from 23 to 25 years.

The Minister has no specific proposals at present for changing the qualifying conditions under the scheme. However, the operation is subject to ongoing monitoring by the Department and the question of further improvements will be a matter for consideration within the constraints of budgetary policy.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 3 and 4 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report setting out the reasons for increasing the earnings disregard for one-parent families.".

I await the Minister of State's response in this regard.

Under the means test associated with the one-parent family payment, a recipient is entitled to earn up to €146.50 without affecting his or her payment. Earnings between €146.50 and €293 per week are assessed at 50% and the rate of one-parent family payment is reduced accordingly. Payment ceases when earnings exceed €293 per week. However, there are conditional arrangements in place where a recipient of the one-parent family payment who exceeds the upper income limit may retain 50% of his or her entitlement for a further 12 months.

The review of the one-parent family payment published in 2000 found that 60% of one-parent family payment recipients had some level of earnings. Of these approximately 75% had earnings below the €146.50 per week threshold. The review did not recommend any adjustment in the level of the disregards as it was felt that, as they stood, they were adequate to support the level and nature of employment, much of which appears to be part-time, being undertaken by lone parents. The Department will continue to monitor the operation of the disregards and earnings of these recipients.

Overall, the numbers and earnings has continued to show improvement with increases in numbers across all the income range covered by the disregards. The number who use the entitlement because of increases in earnings remains relatively low. It appears there is no need to increase the level of disregards at this point, but obviously it will continue to be monitored.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of bringing together the widowed parent grant and the bereavement grant for the purposes of the one application for widows/widowers.".

This relates to the widowed parent grant and the bereavement grant for the purposes of one application for widows and widowers. I appreciate the widower's grant payment is relatively new. The amendment seeks co-ordination and cohesion and a report on the implications of bringing them together. Perhaps the Minister of State will give me ten very good reasons that she cannot agree to this proposal. As I believe it would be a fairly straightforward action to take, I am interested in her response.

I will give the Senator one good reason. Once any death is notified to the Department, the bereavement grant is payable subject to satisfying insurance-based conditions. The widowed parent grant, on the other hand, is payable only to a defined subset of these cases, specifically widows and widowers with dependent children. Less than 7% of all bereavement grants awarded annually are to widows and widowers with dependent children.

If the bereavement grant and the widowed parent grant were to be amalgamated, it would mean that before a bereavement grant could issue all applications would have to be checked to establish whether the person claiming the bereavement grant is a widow or widower and, further, whether he or she has dependent children. This would delay the whole issue of the grants and would be unnecessary duplication. Therefore, it is more practical to issue the widowed parent grant automatically in cases where the widow or widower has qualified children without the need to make a formal application.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the increases granted to social welfare recipients having regard to the failure on the part of health boards to increase income thresholds for the purposes of obtaining a medical card by the same amount and the need for improved co-ordination of policy between all relevant departments where social welfare improvements occur.".

This is familiar territory to me because it is a case of two steps forward and four steps back. It is not that anyone wishes that to happen, but the fact that one Department does not know what another Department is doing is causing difficulty. I cannot see the sense in receiving an increase from one Department while the value of health care is taken away by the loss of the medical card because one has exceeded the income threshold. If people are entitled to social welfare benefit, it is acknowledged that they need the payments to assist them to live. I do not think it entitles the State to decide they should not have what is probably a life saver for these people and one of the most important aspects in their lives, that is, access to free medical care.

The Senator will be aware that to allay such concerns the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, confirmed on 20 February last that the recent increases in social welfare payments would not lead to medical card holders losing their medical cards. The Department of Health and Children has advised the chief executive officers of the health boards that medical card holders will not lose their cards on account of the record increases in social welfare rates announced in the budget.

The Minister for Health and Children has already reiterated the Government's commitment to extending medical card coverage under the health strategy. There are also new initiatives to clarify and expand the arrangements for eligibility for health services. These include providing more up to date information and health boards have been asked to ensure that medical card holders and applicants are made aware that recent increases in social welfare payments will not disadvantage them when applying to hold or retain a medical card.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of paying interest to social welfare recipients where his Department is unable to deliver within a reasonable period of time either planned increases or benefits to recipients who have applied for the first time to his Department.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of introducing a new infancy payment to cover the considerable capital and other costs associated with the birth of a child.".

As I said before, social welfare covers from the cradle to the grave and from the womb to the tomb. We move rapidly through all these stages. This amendment deals with babies and the implications of introducing a new infancy payment to cover the considerable capital and other costs associated with the birth of a child.

Sometimes I am glad that I am entering a more mature phase of life because of the costs involved in having a child and rearing him or her to independence, which, in Ireland, happens to be at an ever increasing age because so many are in third level education. Although the age of marriage is now in the early 30s, fertility rates are higher than in the rest of Europe. We know the cost of hospital care and the cost of preparing for a new baby, particularly a first child. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is unsurpassed in taking care of people's needs. I hope he will now acknowledge the need for extra help on the birth of a child.

Amendment No. 19 is concerned with the implications of rationalising the existing different rates of child dependant allowance as a means of assisting low income families. There is ongoing debate about who should or should not get child benefit. The theme and ethos of the Department is inclusion which concerns assisting low income families so I hope the Minister will agree with me on this matter.

Amendment No. 21 concerns the implications of extending the child dependant allowance to children up to 22 years of age who are in full-time education. That may sound extravagant but I know from experience that when the children's allowance was withdrawn at 16, or 18 years of age if proof was provided that the child was in full-time education, it was missed. The withdrawal of benefit came at a time when expenditure on education and a child's future was at its highest. We welcome the increases in child benefit allowance. The rates have gone up considerably but for the benefit to be cut off suddenly when a child is in full-time education is a huge loss. Many of our young people will be in full-time education until they are aged 23 or older. That is a burden on families with low incomes who want to help their child to a better future.

A number of issues were raised by Senator Ridge. The grant of €635 is paid to parents of multiple births at birth and when the children reach four and 12 years of age. Senator Ridge proposes such a payment for all parents to offset costs which arise at birth. The Minister feels that provision of a one-off payment at birth would not represent the best use of resources for child income support. The best approach is to enhance child benefit rates so that support for child-rearing costs is provided on an ongoing basis rather than just at the time of birth. That is why he has invested in child benefit and tripled the rates. The introduction of a separate infancy payment would be costly.

The Senator also spoke about rationalising the child dependant allowance. At present there are three different rates of €16.80, €19.30 and €21.60. To bring them all to the higher level would involve a cost of €62.22 million. At one time there were 36 different rates which were rationalised in light of a recommendation made by the commission on social welfare. Substantial investment has been made in the scheme since then and by 2003 Government investment in it will have increased threefold.

On the issue of child dependant allowance up to the age of 22 years, in the case of long-term payments where a dependent child remains in full-time education, the payment continues to age 22 or up to the end of the academic year after the 22nd birthday. These arrangements do not apply to short-term payments such as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, short-term unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowance. In the case of short-term payments, the child dependant allowance is lost when the young person reaches 18 years. The Bill provides for the extension until the end of the academic year in which the young person becomes 18. This measure is a first step towards increasing the age limit to 22 as promised in the PPF. The estimated cost of implementing that commitment will be €1.4 million in a full year.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of rationalising the existing different rates of child dependant allowance as a means of assisting low income families.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 6, before section 5, to insert the following new section:

"5.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of introducing paternity benefit.".

Over the past number of years, the role of the father has been acknowledged and, far from being a distant authoritarian figure, he is a "new man". I suspect there always was a number of "new men" in existence. The term is a description of the involvement of men at a more domestic level within the family. There is greater involvement of men with their wives or partners when children are expected in addition to the practice of fathers being present at the birth. This represents a total involvement as opposed to the distinctive and separate roles played by mother and father.

We already referred to the cost of having a child and it is acknowledged by way of maternity benefits and grants. In an inclusive society, the role of the father should not be diminished. It is a "family thing", as they say in America, and we should allow for the payment of paternity benefit. I am interested in Senator Leonard's comments on this matter.

Where will we stop if we start paying men to be fathers? We are veering towards the ridiculous. Rather than spending money on reports on whether paternity support should be considered, we would spend it more wisely by continuing along the path we have chosen and increasing child benefit. Child benefit is paid to the primary carer. Whether that is the mother or the father, the resources are wisely distributed to the primary carer. To start on another track and begin paying men to be fathers is ridiculous.

The question of paternity leave is being considered. A working group was established under the PPF to review the Parental Leave Act, 1998. That working group has completed its deliberations and has forwarded its recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who will publish them shortly. The question of payment for such leave, whether by employers or through social welfare payments, is being looked at as part of that review. That addresses one part of the point Senator Ridge made. The report, when it is published, will be laid before the Oireachtas and may be grounds for further debate at that stage.

Acting Chairman

Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes, I have to go along with equality issues.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 7, before section 7, to insert the following new section:

"7.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of extending the child dependant allowance to children up to 22 years of age who are in full-time education.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 7 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

"10.–The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of increasing maternity benefit for mothers on the basis of current yearly income as against the assessment of income two years prior to the birth of a child.".

This amendment is intended to bring an air of reality to the payment of maternity benefit in that the benefit should be assessed on current income as opposed to two years prior to the birth of a child.

The weekly social insurance benefits are in general paid on a flat rate basis and comprise a personal allowance together with additions for qualified adults and children. The maternity benefit scheme differs from other weekly social welfare payments in that it is an earnings related payment subject to minimum and maximum levels of payment. The purpose of the payment is to provide women with an adequate income during their maternity leave period. The level of maternity benefit is set at 70% of the woman's earnings in the relevant income tax year, subject to a payment of €135.60 per week and a maximum payment of €232.40 per week. For claims made during 2002, the relevant income tax year is April 2000 to April 2001. It should be noted that, unlike other social welfare payments, maternity benefit is not taxable. In addition, if the employer does not pay any wages for the maternity leave period, the woman generally will be entitled to an income tax refund for that period. When these factors are taken together, the rate of maternity benefit in many cases equates to approximately 100% of the woman's net earnings subject to an upper ceiling.

Where a woman is entitled to be paid by her employer during maternity leave, the combination of maternity benefit and reduced wages will generally bring her weekly income up to the level of her pre-maternity leave net earnings. If social insurance payments such as maternity benefit were to be made fully earnings related, it would involve a substantial increase in expenditure on these schemes. This would require a significant increase in the current levels of PRSI to fund the benefits and it is not proposed to do that.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 10 and 11 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 11, to delete lines 19 to 22.

Section 12 of the Bill defines the elements of the identity which will include, inter alia, the person's name, date of birth, sex, nationality and his or her PPS number. It also provides that this list can be expanded by way of regulation. As Senators will be aware, the Minister introduced an amendment on Committee Stage in the other House which provides that any such regulation would require a positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas before becoming law. The amendment tabled by Senator Ridge seeks the removal of this regulatory power to add to the list of data items. It is prudent when including lists of information in primary legislation to allow for those lists to be extended by regulation as the necessity for change could arise at a time when it would not be feasible to bring a Bill before the House.

In 1998 similar regulatory power was taken in relation to the lists of specified bodies for the purposes of which data may be shared. Senators will be aware that far from abusing the power, to date, no such regulations have been made. While the list of specified bodies has been added to, the Minister brought those changes forward in the context of subsequent Social Welfare Bills, notwithstanding the fact that regulations could have been made. On Committee Stage in the Dáil, Deputies asked for an example of the type of data that could be added to the list in the future. For the information of Senator Ridge, an example in the context of accessing services electronically is biometric data such as voice, eye-pattern, signatures and fingerprints. Developments in this area have provided for technology which can simply read biometric data and validate identities with regard to those characteristics. It is not envisaged that biometric options will be employed as part of services provided by the public services broker for at least another 12 months and the most likely option will be voice-based.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 12 agreed to.
Sections 13 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

I understand there is a drafting error in section 16, page 13 of the Bill as passed by the Dáil. I seek leave of the House to amend the error. The words "the Registration of Marriages (Ireland) Act, 1863, the Vital Statistics and Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1952, and the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976," should be substituted for the words "and the Registration of Marriages (Ireland) Act, 1863,". The omission of a reference to the two enactments involved was a drafting oversight.

Acting Chairman

The Chair will direct the Clerk to make that correction.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 17 agreed to.

Acting Chairman

As amendment No. 25 is consequential on amendment No. 24, both may be discussed together.

With the permission of the House I propose to move amendment No. 24 on behalf of Senator Henry.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 19, to delete line 32.

These amendments arise from contacts and consultations that both Senator Henry and I have had with the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations. I am aware that the council has also been in contact with the Minister and us concerning previous legislation. In dealing with issues such as national records the advice of the council has been very helpful. We have also been contacted by the secretary to the Law Reform Commission. In the consultation process we should take into consideration advice given by such august bodies with good track records on practical matters. We are not discussing a matter of principle, but one of practice. As amendments Nos. 24 to 28, inclusive, all deal with the same issue, I propose to speak to them as a group.

The net effect of the proposed amendments would be to require that, as well as the information referred to in the Schedule, death certificates should include additional information. Amendment No. 25 reads:

to search any legible or non-legible register book of births, deaths or marriages, as the case may be, that, by statutory instrument the Minister for Health and Children has declared any legible open to public searching. In this section, non-legible includes reproduction of the certified copies of the entries in the registers by means of microfilm, microfiche, magnetic tape, diskette, compact disc or any other legible form (by electronic means or otherwise) which is capable of reproducing the registers in a permanent form.

What would be provided for by the amendments is the possibility of including in death certificates the date and place of birth, rather than just the age and maiden name of a married, widowed or divorced woman.

In its representations to us the Irish Genealogical Research Society has shown us a copy of a Northern Ireland death certificate in order to compare it with one from the Republic. I know the Minister has also seen this material. The sample death certificate in Northern Ireland refers to the death of a woman on 12 January 1999, giving her married name as Ina Gibson. It goes on to state her maiden name was Coleman and that she was born in Monaghan. That is useful information, as anyone who has had to conduct searches in dusty archives will know. I contrast this with the information contained in a death certificate issued in the Republic, with which many of us will be familiar. It simply provides the person's name, their marital status, age and cause of death, but does not give a woman's maiden name. That makes research very difficult.

There are two issues at stake. The first is that in dealing with such matters information may be found in other places. Second, pension regulations and other matters require the production of original death certificates. The format of death certificates is creating a variety of problems. For example, it is creating difficulties for those trying to trace their ancestors or who need to produce certification for private or personal purposes.

The Law Reform Commission has indicated that this matter has a particular relevance in family law. The Minister should examine the issue. Certificates of birth, death and marriage can be essential documents in establishing title to property and succession rights. Difficulties are arising because the form of the death certificate does not always contain enough detail to identify the deceased as the same person mentioned on the birth certificate which may clearly state, for example, that a Mary Murphy was born in Cork in 1910. It is clear because her address and the names of her parents are included. However, it could be a major problem to establish that she was the Mary O'Reilly who died in Dundalk in 2002. This means that ordinary people must pay huge amounts of money to solicitors and researchers to collect all the necessary documentation in order to prove that the person called Mary Murphy born in Cork in 1910 was the Mrs. Mary O'Reilly who died in Dundalk in 2002. A practical approach should be taken to the matter.

I agreed with the point made in the last amendment that the Minister should have the authority to make regulations for public service numbers. I understand, however, that while the PPS number will be included in all death registrations in future – that may go some way towards solving the problem – it will not solve all the difficulties. For instance, it will not be necessary in dealings with the State but will be necessary in dealing with other groups for other purposes. In addition, it will not be available to those born before the date of application of the new public service number.

The date and place of birth of the deceased should also be included in the death certificate, as well as his or her original surname if different, for whatever reason, to that used at the time of death. This information is even more important in cases where people establish themselves in different relationships. People could very well use a number of different names during the course of their lives.

I hope the Minister of State will accept that my argument does not create an issue of principle; it is a practical problem in the courts, including the family law courts, to establish issues such as succession and family rights. It is also crucially important to the work being undertaken by the Irish Genealogical Research Society, much of which is commercial and focused at tourists and others whose ancestors may have emigrated many years ago. The Minister of State should consider seriously the proposals I have outlined and accept the amendments.

I am happy to support the proposed amendments because I have always believed women's identities can be lost in national records. I agree with Senator O'Toole about the multi-faceted arrangements that people now have, and how difficult it can be if one cannot discover a person's date and place of birth, as well as his or her original name. It seems ridiculous not to include such information in a death certificate. Perhaps the Minister of State will respond to the claim by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations that heritage centres, which we have supported with State money, might be in breach of the law if it is not changed. Nowadays, when we have access to information at every level, I cannot see the reason a person's maiden name, or one changed by deed poll, should be completely wiped out. It makes it unnecessarily difficult for those who, for legitimate reasons, want to have the correct information.

The legislation would also cause difficulties for genealogical groups, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has vast records, and heritage centres in that it would place them in a dubious legal position because it would be unclear whether they would contravene statute by continuing to allow access to their records. Why create a problem where there is none?

The amendments request that a person's name at the time of his or her birth and his or her place of birth should be acknowledged on his or her death certificate. For this reason I heartily endorse them.

I was contacted this morning by a member of the public who is concerned about this issue, especially the apparent removal of birth, marriage and death registration from public records. It would make it very difficult to gain access to this material. She also made the reasonable request that the name of the doctor certifying the death ought to appear on the certificate. I will not rehearse all the arguments in this area because we have been briefed by similar groups. I asked my colleague, Senator O'Toole, if he had raised certain cases and gather that he has. I will not put them in detail because the argument has been made by him.

Even though the personal public service number will be included in a death certificate, it does not take into account the fact that such certificates must be produced regularly by citizens making applications for State services. Ease of access is important. The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations has made a clear case which parallels that referred to by Senator O'Toole. The cardinal point is the comparative ease of access for a citizen in the North of Ireland to this type of information as against that for someone living in the South. We ought to bring this type of legislation up to the standards of the other part of the island rather than creating a disparity in terms of ease of access.

Regarding the issue of direct public access to civil registers, the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations strongly believes the Government is mistaken in apparently ending this facility, even though the material that is to be electronically scanned to provide the computerised record is the quarterly returns pertaining to Dublin, not the actual civil registers held by the 32 superintendent registrars of births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages and the 29 registrars of non-Catholic marriages. These transcriptions prepared by registrars each quarter of the year and which are sent to Dublin are the events recorded by them. It does not take much imagination to realise that these copies are full of unfortunate errors and omissions which do not appear in the original, locally held registers. Locally held registers are the ones to which people want access for genealogical purposes. There is a considerable financial benefit to the State in encouraging people to come here to research their ancestry. We should do everything we can to make this as easy and customer friendly as possible.

There is the question of the legal status of the Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which maintains extensive genealogical records, in making its information available to members of the public on a quest to discover details of their ancestors. This is a harmless and even valuable pursuit for the church in question in that it provides a service for the public which may even be better than that provided by the State. It is concerned about the legal status of this type of operation. The same is also true for county based heritage centres which maintain such registers for information purposes. They would be interested in finding out their legal status. For these reasons, I am happy to support the amendments.

The Senators have grouped amendments Nos. 24 to 28, inclusive, together for ease of discussion.

On amendments Nos. 24 and 25, in the case of searches of the registers held in each superintendent registrar's office, the indices are an integral part of the register into which they are bound. They give access to the register, but because they are primary records of events, they must be protected. Searches are only allowed under the supervision of the superintendent or his or her staff and the need to provide privacy for persons registering events means that, in practical terms, access to the registers has to be limited. Only one national index is printed on paper which means only one person at any one time may access specific years for an event.

The ongoing computerisation of the national index dating back to 1845 for marriages and 1864 for births and deaths will provide simultaneous access to a number of parties, including genealogists, and will also ensure an accurate and up-to-date index of events is available. It will still be essential to protect the primary paper records after the electronic capture has been completed and to have them available for the investigation of any query relating to the electronic record. They must obviously be stored in a suitable environment.

While the same issues do not arise in the case of electronic records, others arise such as system capacity and volume of network traffic for unrestricted searches. A genealogical search facility has been developed to allow electronic searches of the indices and identification of records required. This will mean copies of the records held electronically will be more accessible and easier to produce than at present. If 100 entries were identified which someone wanted to read, they could be electronically identified and produced by a member of staff. The electronic database of vital events will, therefore, provide a much improved level of service which would not be possible under a paper based system. The Minister is obviously conscious of what the genealogical organisations have stated and will ensure their requirements are kept under review.

Of greater interest to Senators are the other three amendments which call for the capture of the date and place of birth of a deceased person and the surname at birth of a married, widowed or divorced woman. The primary purpose of the registration of a death is to record accurately the facts pertaining to a death and provide evidence by means of certified copies of entries in the register of deaths that a death has occurred. The format of a death entry includes the information to identify the deceased and cause of death. Death certificates are used for accessing State services and also for commercial and legal services. There is no evidence of difficulty in the acceptance of certificates for these purposes. It is important to note that, in Northern Ireland, the reason the maiden name is on the death certificate is because it is needed for social welfare purposes there because they do not have a PPS number equivalent. It is not necessary for our purposes here.

Amendments to death entries here are permitted under the Acts, but the number of requests for such amendments is quite small. The inclusion of the deceased person's PPS number will ultimately ensure that, from a prospective date, all life events can be linked. This will provide assistance in future for checking that people are free to marry and that a dead person's identity cannot be abused. It would not be practical at this stage to capture the date and place of birth and surname at birth of a married, widowed or divorced woman. However, it is important to note that, following the computerisation of the system, the records of life events relating to a person registered will be linked to each other and accessible without disclosing the PPS number.

The inclusion of a spouse's full name and occupation is not necessary from the point of view of registration and could cause difficulty, for example, in the case of a person married and separated or in a second relationship or where the information is not available. For these reasons, the Minister is not disposed to accept the amendments.

I am sorry the Minister does not see fit to accept the amendments. This is an important issue. It is a bureaucratic argument to state the primary purpose of a death certificate. It is like saying the purpose of a motor car is to get from A to B. It is used for many other purposes. There may be a primary purpose, but during the years it has been used for other purposes. We have been trying to develop an interest in this area. A line in the Bill would cause very little extra work or difficulties for anybody else but would make life a lot easier for people and save them money on going to the family law courts. It is our responsibility to do anything which saves people money in the courts and that is the approach we should take.

I have heard comments from people who have come to this country to find their roots, to trace their relatives and their ancestors but have been unable make the necessary links. The public service number is helpful in some cases but I believe this amendment should be accepted. I intend to push the later amendments in relation to names and date and place of birth.

I support Senator O'Toole's comments. The position outlined by the Minister of State is rather minimalist. She said it is not necessary to include this information. While it may not be essential, it would certainly be very helpful in the context to which Senator O'Toole referred, such as genealogical research, tourism and so on. It would also be useful if the doctor's name could be included. For example, in relation to writing biographies, this information is extremely important. Somebody researching a literary or historical figure might well want to query the cause of death, in the light of subsequent medical developments. To have somebody of the standing of a medical doctor would be extremely useful. In terms of literary biographies of people such as Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, these are very interesting matters. While they are not considered necessary from the point of view of Civil Service administration, they confer incidental advantages and I urge the Minister of State to take this matter on board.

My understanding is that, where there are links, the information will be provided to genealogists in the course of their searches. That will be made much easier in future as a result of computerisation, which will facilitate the relevant links. I share Senator Norris's view that it would be nice have more information on one's family history. Unfortunately, that information was very scanty previously but that situation will improve from now on.

Acting Chairman

Senator O'Toole has already spoken.

Without wishing to intervene again, I wish to put a few sentences on record in relation to facilitating people who come to Ireland seeking help in this regard. One comment in a petition to the Minister for Health and Children from the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations is as follows:

In general terms, I have been very frustrated in trying to research my Irish ancestry. Compared to genealogical research involving other countries, Irish research has proven to be the most difficult. A wider distribution of the records might help many of us reclaim our lost heritage.

Another comment is as follows:

The area in the GRO is too small for the number of people using it. One is unable to make good use of the available time. Other research sites are relaxing compared to the frantic frenzy of the GRO.

Those problems are well known. I will cite another of the comments:

During the summer of 1999, I used both the GRO – the General Register Office – and the National Library of Ireland. At the National Library, I found that I could sit comfortably at a microfilm reader.. The service was very swift and the surroundings pleasant, airy and clean. However, what an awful shock I got when I visited the GRO. There were too many people in such a small space. The research room was grubby and the furniture and other fittings were well beyond the point at which they should have been thrown out.

The petitioner goes on to say the staff were as helpful as possible but were restricted by the number of references which had to be checked. The comment continues:

I had intended to search for the birth of my great grandfather, James O'Neill, who was born about 1870. However, when I saw just how many possible references there were to be checked, I did not bother. The limit of eight photocopies and their cost, set at £1.50 each, made the whole idea a non-starter. I was very disappointed with the service I received, though the staff themselves were very helpful, just over-worked and under-resourced like many others in the public sector. A second copy of the GRO microfilms should definitely be made available in the National Library.

The Minister of State need not say those references are not precisely relevant to the issue before us. By not taking this on board, another layer of frustration is being added. We have received advice from the Law Reform Society, from which we sought advice in this regard, yet the Minister of State and her Department have chosen to ignore it. We have had advice from the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, an organisation of stature and that, too, is being ignored. When we consult, we should either listen or simply tell the people concerned their advice is not worthy of being heard. We have not been able to refute their advice, we have just chosen to ignore it.

As a legislator, I regret that such a mistake is being made and I ask the Minister of State to reconsider her position on these two amendments, even at the eleventh hour.

Senator O'Toole has amplified a comment I made earlier. I mentioned the tourism aspect, which adds a significant element to the debate. I wish to cite one short piece from the submission by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations. It relates to correspondence from Ms Patricia Keeney Geyh – a rather unusual name – who commented as follows:

As Director of the Irish emigration library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I often have occasion to explain to people that looking at vital records in Ireland involves sitting for hours waiting for service. As an American, I have always felt hesitant to criticise systems management in Ireland but I know that I would be much more comfortable recommending research trips to Ireland if this particular set of records were transferred to the archives of the National Library.

The points made by the Senators are the reasons the whole system is being computerised. The examples of people trying to trace their ancestry are perfectly valid as anybody who has gone through that experience can verify. Because it is all paper based, there is only one record and that is the issue we are trying to address. Computerisation will make for easier access, indeed multiple access, for people wishing to use the files. The electronic system will greatly facilitate making the links to which reference has been made by Senators and that is precisely what we are setting out to do in this Bill.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 25 not moved.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 20, to delete line 28 and substitute the following:

"(b) date and place of birth;”.

I formally second the amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 20, to delete line 33 and substitute the following:

"(g) full name and occupation of person's spouse;”.

I formally second the amendment.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."

Bohan, Eddie.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Nolan, M. J.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.

Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thére±se.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Norris and O'Toole.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.