Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2010: Committee and Remaining Stages

Before going through the sections I welcome the Minister and wish the Cathaoirleach, Members and staff of the Houses a very happy and safe Christmas. I thank everybody for their co-operation during 2010 and we look forward to 2011.

We thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Question, "That section 1 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 2 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 3 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 4

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, line 19, after "amended" to insert the following:

", for a period of 2 years from the passing of this Act, and in respect only of such sample or pilot cases as are prescribed by the Minister".

Does the Senator have the permission of those who tabled the amendment?

We are providing for the technical feasibility to use electronic means for signing on. There are many technologies that could be used but a simple proposal we are likely to use is an electronic signing pad, where a person would physically come into the social welfare office to sign on a pad. If the machine is satisfied with the signature it will register that the person has signed. This cannot be done without the person being present. I understand it is very difficult to forge a person's signature with such accuracy that an electronic signing pad would not know the difference. There would be more chance of a person falsely signing in front of a human being and getting away with it than with the electronic signing pad.

Another proposal is a very innovative mobile technology that will be used on a very small basis until it is proven. All the law will give us is the right to use electronic means. To say that we can use electronic means to fly aeroplanes and deal with banks but not deal with signing people on would be to return to the past.

We have no problem at all in using electronic means. We are wondering why the electronic means were not used already for fingerprinting machines to be used in the Garda immigration bureau. That was meant to happen four years ago. We are all in favour of using electronic means in order to combat fraud in particular in the social welfare system. We support such efforts but perhaps the Minister will comment on the fingerprinting machines.

That is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Law Reform.

The matter is relevant to the amendment as we are speaking about electronic means. The Minister mentioned it himself in discussing signature pads.

I understand where Senator Cummins is coming from and any means to combat fraud must be welcomed. We are concerned about how effective is the technology and the impact it will have on fraud. The Labour amendment asks if there will be a pilot scheme, and Fine Gael is also wondering about that. How will the scheme be effected and where will it be rolled out? What will be the period of operation?

The Minister previously responsible for social welfare, Deputy Hanafin, indicated in 2008 that face to face contact with social welfare recipients is a good thing. I have grave concerns about how effective the signing pad and other technological aids to recognition will be.

The trial is to commence in 2011 with between 150 and 200 people; with approximately 300,000 people signing on in one form or another, the number is very small. We will select clients considered low risk. If we are to combat fraud we should consider people who are low and high risk, and we know from experience that perennially putting effort into low-risk people disperses efforts against high-risk people.

We will make a dramatic change in personal contact. The rules were changed by Deputy Hanafin and people must personally attend at a local post office to get payment. People cannot get it by electronic transfer any more. The only flaw is that in the bigger urban post offices and even in rural Ireland, people do not know everybody. With the introduction of the public services card it will be much easier for the post office personnel to be absolutely sure the right person is present. That relates to weekly attendance, which is even more important than the monthly signing on. I am absolutely happy that we must have this legal facility to use electronic means.

Whatever technology is adopted or brought to the system, it will not be rolled out on a wide basis until we are sure the technology gives more benefit than risks. The idea is to free up staff, reduce risk and target resources better. If anybody ever goes into a local social welfare office, much time is taken just signing, and that is totally disproportionate to the benefit.

There is talk that a number of people have various PPS numbers, with people of the same identity having two, three or four numbers. If they get a card and sign on for one number, what is preventing such people from using the same signature for several PPS numbers? As the signatures will match the numbers, how will people with various numbers be found out?

The card will come into use.

I have one of the old cards in my pocket.

I saw one of the new cards yesterday and they are of the same standard as a passport. To believe that one can get duplicate cards with the same face and signature registered electronically is like saying three or four passports can be obtained by one person at the Passport Office. Significant controls have been introduced with electronic issuing of passports to ensure that is not possible. This is one of the attractions of the new card.

The Senator asked a question about fingerprinting equipment. I understand there were some IR issues to be resolved and the Minister has asked that the matters be expedited and resolved. That does not relate to my Department. The staff in my Department have been amenable to change and a substantial amount of new technology has been introduced. As part of the Croke Park agreement, new technology is developed, in many cases, in consultation with front-line staff who know best what the challenges are. Having staff involved in the process from the beginning means they buy into the introduction of new technology. This would not be the case if was imposed from the top down.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Nicky McFadden; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 18.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.
Question, "That section 5 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 6 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
SECTION 7

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 10, line 37, after "number" to insert "and a tax clearance certificate".

Conscious that these amendments were discussed and put by my colleague Deputy Shortall in the Dáil, I am only moving them formally in this House.

As I explained in the Dáil, we are making provision to ensure every landlord will have to provide a PPS number. I have been very anxious to achieve this since I entered the Department. Other issues would arise if we were to take the step of requiring the presentation of a tax clearance certificate. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and I are examining the rent supplement scheme as a whole in this regard and I am not ruling out the proposal as part of a next phase. However, it was not possible to go as far as proposed as fast as desired. I have no objection to the suggestion in principle.

What occurs is that we give the details of all tenancies to the Revenue Commissioners. We will require the provision of a PPS number for every tenancy. I understand that, while we do not have all PPS numbers in the data matching exercises undertaken, there is a high level of compliance. We will obviously be able to secure a much greater level of compliance and this will involve much less work as we will have all of the numbers.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings about tax clearance. If a tax clearance certificate was required before the tenancy, it would never prove tax was paid. It would not prove tax clearance had any relevance to the payment of tax in respect of the tenancy and would not resolve the issue. However, I am open to considering the Senator's suggestion in the future. I am about to reform the supplementary welfare scheme in full and will certainly take the Senator's suggestion into account. It was not possible to accept it in this instance. I took the view that perfection was the enemy of doing anything and that requiring the provision of a PPS number would be a huge step in the right direction. However, I regard it as just one step.

I will be very brief because I know the matter was debated in the Dáil. I am glad to hear the Minister say he is not ruling this proposal out in principle. The purpose of the amendments is to strengthen the pressure for compliance. I accept the Minister's point that a tax clearance certificate would not prove anything in respect of the payment of tax on the tenancy because it would be retrospective. It is still, however, part of an overall movement towards encouraging compliance in tax affairs among landlords. I am glad to hear the Minister say he is not ruling out my suggestion in principle and hope we will see it introduced in future legislation.

I welcome what Minister said about a further review of the rent supplement scheme. Will he outline the most up-to-date figures for the cost to the Exchequer of the scheme? It is critical that we obtain as much value for money as possible. The scheme is necessary for many, but there is certainly scope within it for reform. What we are discussing is part of that reform. There ought to be as much accountability as possible built into the system with regard to the allowance. In many ways, distortions are caused by it in the housing market. I am sure the Minister will agree with me in that regard. Questions arise as to entitlements. Clearly, major problems arise over access to housing, to which we must be very sensitive. At the same time, however, we must have a system that delivers value for money, gets the money to the right people and is fully accountable. Will the Minister tell the House the cost of the system to the Exchequer? He has announced that he intends to engage in further reform of the system. What else is he considering doing in respect of the allowance? What other areas will he be examining?

I will be very brief because we discussed this issue on Second Stage. It is important that we tackle the issue of landlords who are not doing their duties. I cannot comprehend why we do not have PPS numbers for landlords. The PRTB which does a very good job has a waiting list when one tries to meet it.

Senator Fitzgerald referred to access to housing. It is important that those who avail of the scheme are living in conditions that are fit for human habitation and that the landlord is accountable. We must remember that many landlords are very good, comply with all of the regulations, maintain their properties and look after their tenants. Some, however, are at the bottom of the barrel regarding the fulfilment of obligations. They are flying away scot-free, pay no tax, get their money, do not maintain their properties, increase the rent and change the conditions of the tenancies.

Directly behind my office on Glasheen Road in Cork is the premises of an absentee landlord who has no respect for the law, Departments or the enforcement powers of Cork City Council, yet he was able to obtain a tenant through the HSE. This is crazy. I accept the Minister's bona fides regarding this matter, but the time for reviews is over. Senator Fitzgerald is correct; we are spending vast sums of money and require not only a review but also root and branch reform.

Although we are considering amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together, the Minister's response seemed to refer only to amendment No. 2. Dealing directly with the landlord and cutting out the tenant-landlord relationship removes the potential for landlord-tenant contact which sometimes results in pressure to pay additional moneys over and above the value of the rent supplement payable for various properties. Will the Minister address this issue?

On Senator Fitzgerald's point, I was speaking to a city council official this morning about social housing. One of the complaints of the city council is that offers of housing are refused. In the case in question, three offers of housing were made to an individual on three occasions and refused because the houses in question were not in the location desired by the individual. He or she wanted to be beside his or her relations. That is not acceptable anymore because there are thousands of houses unoccupied in Dublin city, in respect of which the owners would be prepared to charge but one quarter of what is being paid in rent supplement. This is a disgraceful set of circumstances. In the case in question, three good houses were offered within a period of approximately seven or eight months.

The Senator is straying a little from amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

I just want to clarify the matter.

Let me address the points raised by Senator Buttimer. There are landlords, particularly in Dublin's city centre, who are acting the blackguard with tenants. During the flooding, we came across a house with approximately 30 people living in it. It was a dangerous place in which to be living. This problem has not been rectified and still arises in the city centre in places such as Mountjoy Square. Senator Buttimer is correct in this regard.

Many issues were raised which I will try to address. The responsibility for setting and enforcing household standards rests with local authorities. If, however, a property is occupied by rent supplement tenants, it must meet the minimum standards. Regulations were introduced that allowed the HSE to refuse rent supplement for a property that does not reach the required standard.

There is, however, a weakness in the system. The tenancy is taken up and then registered with the PRTB. That is akin to a hotel taking guests then registering with Fáilte Ireland. The Minister of State and I are examining a situation where the property is registered as being to let first and if it is not registered as being to let, the landlord would not be able to get a rent supplement tenant.

The local authority does the inspections. I would like those inspections to be extended to cover energy ratings, because those in rented accommodation make up the greatest percentage of those suffering from fuel poverty. People think about money for fuel poverty but when the figures are analysed, it is not a function of money but of the poor thermal properties of the properties in question, where no matter how much heat is generated, it just goes out through the windows and doors. I am committed to resolving this issue and we need to approach it differently.

Another idea that has been floated is that before a property had to be registered with the PRTB, allowing that local authorities do not have the resources to check all properties, a certificate of compliance to building and energy standards would be needed. We must do a lot of work but it is incremental. The big mistake in the past was that we tried to do everything in one go or did nothing at all. My view is that if every six months we know what we want to do, we can change direction and that is a better way to institute long-term change than waiting for the entire package. Perfection can stymie progress when we could probably achieve 90% quickly and any issues that require extra time could then be approached.

There are both bad landlords and bad tenants. The issue was raised with me of a tenant purposely starting a dispute with a landlord, referring it to the PRTB and then not paying the rent while the PRTB is adjudicating, which could take nine months. When the issue is resolved, the tenant simply leaves taking the rent supplement money. We are looking at this but my view is that if the tenant is not paying the landlord because of a dispute, we should withhold payment until the dispute is resolved. The temptation exists for the tenant to leave with the money. Similarly, if landlords are blackguarding, there should be measures in place to ensure payment is withheld.

There are three types of people: those who pay by the book, those landlords who do not bother to collect the tenant's contribution of €24 per week and who settle for what we pay, and the totally illegal situation of the further top-up. The only way I can stamp that out is by establishing equitable market rents all over the country. If someone can prove an area is out of kilter, we will look at it, but there are unscrupulous people out there. Unless people are willing to give us information, however, we are powerless to prove it. That is always a problem.

With the surplus properties on the market, however, we should be able to secure enough honest providers of property that we should not be in this situation. Because of the €24 charge, however, whether there are two people or 20 people in the house, it is possible that not just landlords are crowding the houses, it is possible tenants are getting a house on rent supplement and are bringing people in. That is a weakness in the system. If there was a differential rent, the tenant would legally be obliged to pay some contribution for every adult in the House.

I agree about refusals of local authority housing where a reasonable offer is made. We must clampdown on that; people must take what is available within reason after a certain number of refusals. It is important, however, that local authorities keep their accommodation in good order and do not place people in the tenancies from hell. I agree with the Senator in principle but we must be careful; I have seen offers being made where the houses were not habitable.

We need a huge degree of change. The rental scheme makes up half of the housing market, with €510 million spent on the rental scheme in 2009, €512 million this year and €465 million next year. I am making the necessary changes, such as the marrying of rent allowance with differential rent schemes. At the moment, rent allowance acts as a disincentive to work. We want this to become more short-term in nature and get local authorities to assume control without discommoding tenants.

We are spending €500 million on the scheme, a huge amount of taxpayers' money. Clearly, people need housing but the point about housing standards is critical, particularly when fuel poverty is increasingly an issue. If we give money to people to stay in substandard houses, they must then spend more money on fuel, thus becoming more reliant on the State. It is a vicious circle.

The Senator is moving away from the amendment.

It is relevant to the amendment. It is about standards.

It may well be, but it is irrelevant to the amendment.

The amendment is about standards.

The amendment is about holding a tax clearance certificate and the method of payment.

It is about holding the landlords to account.

It is about holding them to account and the Minister must move as quickly as possible on this area to change the situation. I welcome the Minister's comments on the need for change but the whole area is in need of reform.

I remember introducing a scheme in the Gaeltacht to include central heating in houses for older people. I would go into a house where there was a roaring fire but there was no thermal quality to the house and it would be perishing cold. There would be plenty of turf, probably enough to heat a much bigger house, but the heat all escaped. It is all about energy regulations.

Our relationship is with the tenant, therefore, there are two reasons it might not be a good idea to pay the landlord directly. First, we do not have a tenant relationship with the landlord, and to do so would create implications beyond payment of money. Second, the tenant has the right to privacy in his financial affairs. Some people are on variable incomes and rent supplement varies depending on income. We reference rent supplement to social welfare payments plus any other payment above €75 per week, deducting that amount from the rent supplement. If that was paid directly to the landlord, he would know the tenant's income and that would be unfair on that tenant. We operate the scheme in favour of the tenant, whereby he can assign the payment directly to the landlord and we have instructed CWOs to ensure that is a convenient option. Where a tenant asks that the money be given to him or her, we pay the money to the tenant who then adds it to his or her personal contribution and gives the full rent to his or her landlord and in that way the landlord would not know the tenant's business. It would be only right to preserve the right of the tenant to make that call rather than to remove from him or her that option of a fairly personal nature.

I thank the Minister in that regard. On amendment No. 2, I accept his commitment to examine these various matters and incremental change in the future. Does the Minister have the power to implement this incremental change by way of statutory instrument or ministerial order rather than having to introduce new legislation every six months?

A good deal of what I want to address relates to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Some of these changes will require legislative change. For example, the change to pay a landlord directly if that is the tenant's choice was made by writing an instruction to that effect to the community welfare officer. That option depends on each individual's circumstances. What I intend to do, as I am doing in the case of the mortgage interest supplement, is to make a list of all the changes proposed and to decide those that can be made by the issuing of a circular, those that can be made by way of a statutory instrument and those that will require legislation. I hope that when Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and I are ready with our work in January we can put forward a headline list of things to do and specify what is required in respect of each matter. If such a change requires legislation, we should not make a big issue, as many people do, of introducing necessary legislation.

All that legislation involves is writing rules through the Houses for the good of the people. If legislation is required, we should introduce it and if that has to be done on an incremental basis, so be it.

Is it the Minister's intention to publish that list?

Yes, absolutely.

Is amendment No. 2 being pressed?

No. I will not press it based on commitments given by the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 13, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) A payment of rent supplement under the Principal Act shall be suspended where the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the tenant has engaged in anti-social activity.".

The issue of anti-social behaviour will have to be examined and it is part of what we will discuss. I will not accept the Deputy's amendment today but I would like to return to this matter as an issue that must be dealt with.

I would be interested to hear the outcome of the Minister's deliberations on this amendment following his meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran. People have moved into settled housing estates where some of the residents are elderly and they have found that anti-social behaviour is a major issue. Those engaged in this behaviour have caused havoc. Landlords have no regard for the tenants affected and those who engage in this behaviour seem to be able to do as they please. This is a worthy amendment.

Existing legislation provides the HSE with the authority to refuse, suspend or terminate payment of a rent supplement in the case of a person who has been required to deliver up possession of a dwelling provided by a housing authority or an approved body where the reasons for that requirement include anti-social behaviour or the interests of good estate management.

In regard to private rented accommodation, tenancy arrangements are a contract between the landlord and the tenant. It comes back to that issue. If there is anti-social behaviour, the primary onus is on the landlord to deal with it. I gather Senator Ryan is asking what we would do in circumstances where there is a rogue landlord and a rogue tenant. I will reflect on this issue because it has validity. We need to resolve these types of issues, although they cannot be easily answered. I accept we cannot have anti-social behaviour taking place and, on the other hand, we cannot have people sleeping on the streets. We need to reflect on how we will deal with this very tricky issue. We all know of areas where people involved in anti-social behaviour have literally cleaned out whole estates and left estates with rows of boarded up houses, which is a major problem.

Is amendment No. 4 being pressed?

In tabling these amendments, we are not seeking perfection. We are not suggesting by any means that what they propose are the right answers and the one and only way to deal with this problem. My objective in tabling them is to seek a commitment from the Minister to come back on the next Stage with an amendment to improve the position or, as he has done today, to make a commitment to examine the position later and to do something about it. I accept the Minister's bona fides on this matter and, therefore, I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 7 agreed to.
SECTION 8

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 13, line 40, to delete "where required,".

This amendment relates to changes to be provided for a personal public service, PPS, number. The Social Welfare Consolidation Act requires that a photograph and signature be submitted for any customer registering for a PPS number. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that persons applying for a PPS number who do not live in the country are not exempt from providing documentation or signatures. It is perfectly possible for people to provide these by post. To reduce potential fraud, it should be a minimum requirement that anyone who is not applying in person should comply with the same documentation and authenticity requirements as any other applicant.

The purpose of this section is to provide for certain circumstances. For example, as we discussed previously, certain people such as babies cannot provide signatures to register for a PPS number. Neither signatures nor photographs can be provided in respect of deceased persons. The section is to provide a facility to the Department whereby it is not required to obtain such information in cases where it is impracticable to so do. This is a purely technical amendment to the principal Act. I assure the Senator that every effort is and will continue to be made in this respect and these requirements will be obligatory. The call lies with the Department whether it requires such information. In the cases I cited, it would not need it. The call is ours, it is not the choice of the applicant and absolute security will be maintained. With the roll-out of this sophisticated card from January next, we will insist on everything that is required from applicants, but this cannot be a requirement in the case of certain people for obvious reasons. This is a technical provision. It is a case of where we introduced a simple measure and suddenly realised there were technical glitches. If someone needs a PPS number for some State business and the person concerned is deceased, obviously there are certain challenges.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Section 8 agreed to.
Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 12

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 17, line 12, after "assessor" to insert the following:

", vocational rehabilitation assessor, labour market integration expert or other specialist placement officer".

We discussed partial capacity benefit in great detail on Second Stage and I welcome the Minister's initiatives in this regard. I raised at that time whether it is only necessary for people to be assessed medically and said that I believed they should also be assessed socially. It is undesirable and demeaning to require a person with a disability to be repeatedly examined and assessed for the purpose of receipt of various rights and entitlements. Duplication of assessments should be avoided where another Department has authorised a recent assessment of a disability. Thus, section 8 of the Disability Act 2005 provides for the assessment of a person with a disability on request. Its commencement is awaited by many young people and adults. Section 8 provides for the HSE to assess the needs for services and this is already the case. The Act provides for reports of such assessments to be provided to applicants.

On commencement of the Disability Act 2005, with regard to assessment of need for adults, it would be undesirable and a waste of public resources to repeat such assessments for the purposes of ascertaining partial capacity for work.

Different organisations assess for different purposes. We discussed this point before. There is not a direct correlation between a specific disability and a person's ability to work. The scheme is based on ability to work. I gave the very simple example of one of our Oireachtas colleagues in the other House who has a very obvious disability but who can perfectly perform his function as a Minister of State. There is no dispute about the medical issue but while his ability to work in that job is proven, the ability of a person with the same physical disability to work as a plasterer or a blocklayer or in some other manual job would be very different. Therefore, the Department measures a person's ability to work. We must keep it that way because this is the basis for the payment.

The capacity assessment process will represent an extension and development of the existing medical assessments which determine entitlement to invalidity pension and illness benefit. The medical protocols which will underpin the capacity assessment will draw on best international practice and are being developed in accordance with established evidence-based disability evaluation protocols and will be set out in regulations. The medical assessors in my Department will also have specific training provided for the undertaking of capacity assessments in order to ensure that a consistent approach is taken to the key element of the scheme.

It is not possible to do this other than by assessment of a person in the context of his or her work, education, training and so on and his or her capacity to work. This will be done in a professional manner to the highest standards. I look forward to the chief medical officer of my Department being invited to the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs to talk about the issue of medical assessment for the domiciliary care allowance or for partial capacity. I have been very impressed with his approach, as I think have most Members, to how the system processes these assessments. He has made it clear to me that he is more than willing to discuss these issues with the committee. We need to have a good process in place but we also need to satisfy the Members of the House that a good process is in place which is well thought-out and which conforms with best international practice.

My amendment refers to duplication. Taking account of any assessment undertaken under the Disability Act 2005, I fail to understand the reason if a person has already been medically assessed, he or she must be subject to the bureaucracy of having another assessment. It seems to be a waste of resources.

I do not wish to be too leadránach on this point. It is often the case that a person sends in medical certification only to be refused a benefit. The person will argue he or she has the medical condition but the point in the legislation is being missed. I do not mean to say the Department disputes the person's medical condition but it disputes whether that condition prevents the person from working, taking into account ability, training and education. Whereas the person making the application can use all the medical evidence from any previous assessment, it all has to be put into the context of the terms of the scheme, for example, if a person needs constant care and attention. It is not just the medical condition but whether that medical condition leads to a further step of either inability to work or the need for constant care and attention or whatever the scheme requires in the various cases. Sometimes people do not see the subtle difference between accepting or not accepting what the medical condition is and accepting or not accepting whether that then stops a person participating in the workplace at various levels. That is the challenge. The people who will be making these judgments will be highly trained to do so according to best international practice.

My amendment refers to a vocational rehabilitation assessor, labour market integration expert or other specialist placement officer. Such a person would be aware of people's needs. The Minister referred to workplace programmes to suit an individual. I suggest such a specialist officer would not necessarily require psychiatric training but rather would be an expert in negotiating and dealing on behalf of the person with a disability in order to place them in the best possible position. This is a very worthwhile section of the Bill and I commend the Minister for his interest in the details.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 12 agreed to.
Question, "That section 13 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Sections 14 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.
Question, "That section 17 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 18 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 19 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 20 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 21 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Sections 22 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.
Question, "That section 25 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Section 26 agreed to.
Question, "That section 27 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 28 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 42, before section 29, to insert the following new section:

"29.—The Minister shall, within 3 months of enactment of this Act, publish a strategy on how he will reform the practices of An Foras to assist people to get back to work.".

I will not rehearse what was said in our previous lengthy discussions on FÁS because I am aware that people are worried about the state of the roads and anxious to get home. However, it is reasonable to ask the Minister to lay before the House a strategy to assist people to get back to work.

The Deputy's amendment provides that An Foras Áiseanna Saothair would provide a strategy, but given that it will be subsumed into the Department, it will not be able to publish such a strategy.

Tús is only a scheme. The Department is obliged by statute to publish its strategy statements. Like Manpower, community employment services will become a regular part of the Department and, as such, be covered by departmental strategy statements.

When will the next strategy on job creation be announced? That is a reasonable request.

I am committed to promoting job creation. We have announced new schemes on internships in the public and private sectors, as well as the Tús scheme. We are developing a comprehensive employment strategy and many of our efforts are aimed at facilitating people to get back to work. We will continue to publish policies on employment. However, there is also a need for practical reforms to allow us to get on with the job. I would be happy to return to the Seanad to debate the Department's role in employment creation.

That would be great.

We are developing pilot schemes to bring people to group interviews. I expect to have the results of the first phase of the schemes at the beginning of the year, at which point I will present a detailed account of our progress.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That section 29 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Sections 30 to 44, inclusive, agreed to.
Question, "That section 45 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.
Schedules 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
Question, "That the Title be the Title to the Bill," put and declared carried.
Bill reported without amendment.
Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 17.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 19.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden.
Question declared carried.