Social Welfare Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

As Senator Norris stated, we are grateful to the Leader and the Minister for extending the debate. I am glad that the latter is remaining in the Chamber because we can only benefit from having the line Minister present for debates of this nature.

I thank Senator Moloney for correcting me earlier. I was so absorbed in trying to marshal arguments in respect of various sections that I got ahead of myself. I have already made a number of points in respect of section 7 with regard to the cut to one-parent family payment. Will the Minister, as was the case with previous sections, provide the justification for this cut? There is a concern that what is proposed in this regard could have a disproportionate impact on mothers, particularly as 98% of those who receive the one-parent family payment are women. One-parent families are at greater risk of poverty than most other families. Those in one-parent families are four and a half times more likely to live in poverty.

I am sure the Minister would agree that we must continue to provide sufficient support for the vulnerable mothers to whom I refer. The changes in the income criteria, the penalisation of recipients who make the effort to upskill and join community employment schemes and the dramatic halving of the eligibility age will hit these mothers rather hard. I would again welcome an explanation from the Minister in respect of this matter, particularly in the context of the restrictions relating to community employment schemes. The entire thrust of the Bill — which the Minister outlined earlier in this debate and on Second Stage — and that of the wider programme for Government relate to job creation. The current Administration has stated that it is concerned with encouraging people to enter or re-enter the workforce rather than the opposite. It appears that the proposals contained in this section were framed in the context of making savings of €20 million next year and of approximately €112 million overall. Will the Minister indicate whether she is of the view that saving money on the one hand will give rise to financial difficulties on the other, particularly given that making such savings inhibits certain individuals from increasing their incomes through upskilling?

There is a matter I had intended to discuss in the context of section 15 but given that the Minister touched upon it briefly, I will raise it now. I refer to the responsibility of employers in this area. In general, initiatives aimed at providing supports to people always seem to come from the Government side. What is the role of employers in this regard? We can discuss employers' responsibilities or the lack thereof when we reach section 15. Radical changes are taking place in the economic landscape — not just in Ireland but across Europe — in the context of conditions of employment, job opportunities, re-education and upskilling. Dealing with all of these matters and developing initiatives in respect of them is too big a burden for the Government to bear alone. The State cannot be expected to provide all the necessary employment and upskilling opportunities. Successful employers, particularly many of the multinationals, have a role to play in this area. There is an overriding concern that what is proposed in section 7 is going to restrict, inhibit or, at best, discourage those in one-parent families from accessing real job opportunities or upskilling themselves in order to be in a position to avail of those opportunities.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is mór agam deis a fháil labhairt ar an mBille iontach tábhachtach seo. Sílim go raibh éagóir á dhéanamh ar dhaoine le míchumais sna moltaí a bhí déanta ar dtús. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil an smaoineamh sin curtha ar leac oighir faoi láthair. Tá súil agam go dtarraingeofar siar go hiomlán an moladh maidir le daoine le míchumais. Sílim go bhfuil éagóir mór eile sa Bhille — an leatrom atáá dhéanamh ar thuismitheoirí aonair. There has been one instance of a rowing back or a pause in respect of the cut to the disability allowance. I hope that pause, which is welcome, will become permanent in nature.

The provisions in section 7 are going to have a dramatic effect on one-parent families. A huge number of issues arise in respect of this section and section 11, and people are extremely concerned with regard to the overall effect of the budget and of the Bill on one-parent families. Frances Byrne of OPEN has stated, "The changes to the One-Parent Family Payment combined with the cumulative effect of other cuts, plus changes to Community Employment schemes are nothing short of a disaster for one parent families."

One cannot deal with the cut to the lone-parent allowance in isolation. If it were a stand-alone cut, then it is possible that it could be justified. However, the cuts being made to child benefit, the fuel allowance and the back to school allowance, the increase in respect of the cost of school transport and the imposition of water, household and septic tank charges will all have an effect on one-parent families. Let us place this matter in context. Some 65% of the country's children are in one-parent families. Those in such families are four times more likely to live in consistent poverty than their counterparts in other families. Those parenting alone were the most negatively affected by the previous budget, losing almost 5% of their annual incomes. Lone parents and their children were poor during the Celtic tiger era and they remain so now. Those in one-parent families experience low levels of education. What is proposed in the Bill is going to impact on one-parent families in a number of ways. Any measure that will diminish the support being given to such families is extremely retrograde in nature. I am surprised, therefore, that such a measure has been brought forward by the Minister who fought for the rights of those to whom I refer in the past. I call on her to reconsider what is proposed.

Senator Mooney is correct when he states that we need to encourage as many as possible of those who parent alone to return to full employment. On a previous occasion the Minister and I discussed the JobBridge programme, in which those to whom I refer are prevented from taking part as a result of the fact that they will lose some of their secondary benefits. That is unfair and it does not send out the right message. With the cuts proposed there is no incentive for someone in a one parent family to seek gainful employment or to take up a community employment or JobBridge scheme to try to get back into employment. This section and section 11 in particular are penalising one of our less vocal groups in our society because they are so busy raising their children. They do not bang the drum as much as other groups, and they may not be as big a lobby as other groups. These are unfair measures. I look forward to the Minister explaining her rationale behind these cuts because they will affect one of our most vulnerable groups. Other options were available to the Government. Sinn Féin outlined those clearly. We believe this is the wrong option to have taken. It was not fair to pick on this particular group of people and we call on the Minister to try to redress the matter.

I am interested in the language employed — one-parent family — and I wonder if the Minister could comment on that because the people in the many organisations that represent this kind of family unit describe themselves as lone parents. I do not think it is biologically possible to have a one-parent family. There have to be two parents. Is there some reason for using the phrase "one-parent family"? I do not want to be tendentious but perhaps that could be amended to "lone parent".

I hesitate to disagree with my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, but while the majority may well be women, the men who take on this responsibility are equally deserving of the praise of society. I would not like to go back to the day when we all accepted that a woman's place was in the home, although I am sure that was not what Senator Mooney intended.

Many of the arguments have been rehearsed by my colleagues, including Senator Ó Clochartaigh, about the greater impact of this measure on lone parent families in terms of driving them towards poverty. There is something mean about the application of it to gross weekly earnings in particular because that means the full total is taken into account, regardless of all the various taxes and impositions already extracted. It is unfair on somebody who has the initiative to go out and seek work, and invariably it is part-time work they get. It is an indication of how low the levels are already if part-time work earnings can be taken into account. The Minister might examine whether that should be gross or net weekly earnings. I would prefer if it was net of all extractions because if the Minister takes the gross earnings into account in these situations where budgets are carefully balanced, it is as if she is assuming that the recipient is getting the full amount when they are not. I ask that that amelioration be made. I know this House cannot do anything that would impose a charge on the Exchequer but there is something particularly mean about taking gross weekly earnings into account.

I may be misinterpreting this section, and the Minister might comment on it, but section 7(1)(c) appears to be part of her defence strategy in the sense that she has ameliorated the position somewhat by this subsection in that it helps to reduce the grosser impacts of it. If this was part of the Minister’s battle, and if it was successful, the record of the House should show some degree of commendation to her on achieving that.

It is a pity we are not taking sections 7, 11 and 14 together because they are all about the one-parent——

I accept that but it is a pity, given our time and the——

I regret that but, procedurally, that is the position.

With regard to section 7, I am conscious there is a deadline of 1 January for discontinuance of the transitional measures that enable one-parent families to continue to be paid for a period of up to six months where a claimant's earnings exceed €425. We are only three weeks away from 1 January. Have these one-parent families——

It is new. It does not affect existing people receiving a payment under the transitional measure.

I see that, but will it affect anybody?

That was my question because notice is important in terms of preparation, particularly around the Christmas period with the extra spending and so on.

For the benefit of my Seanad colleagues who were not here earlier when I spoke, the fact that there are only two women out of 15 sitting at the Cabinet——

We are working on it.

It is a long time.

Yes, very long.

A female Minister for housing——

There should be a more equal balance in terms of equality between men and women in government. They are far more socially advanced in the Nordic countries.

I find it extraordinary that the Labour Party Government was not willing to increase the levels of income tax for people earning a high income. That is beyond me.

We are on section 7. The Senator's mobile phone or computer is causing interference with the recording system.

I would prefer to pay more in income tax rather than deprive a one-parent family of the money it will lose in these cuts. Reducing the age requirement from 14 to seven years——

That is not in this section.

The cost of child care will prevent women from going back to work.

I apologise for interrupting the Senator but we are on section 7.

I am speaking on section 7 regarding the one-parent family cutbacks.

A total of 98% of recipients of one-parent family payment are women. I did a newsletter on the budget in which I said it was anti-women and anti-family. Two of the eight measures taken were regressive. For the Members who were not here earlier, I stated that on 30 November the CSO, in a survey on income and living conditions, indicated that people on higher incomes were earning five times more than those on lower incomes and that the risk of poverty was 15.8% compared with the previous year when it was 14.1%, the bottom line being that lone parent families are at greater risk of poverty than most other families. A person in a lone parent family is four and a half times more likely to live in poverty. I find it difficult to understand, in this partnership between the Labour Party and Fine Gael, how the Labour Party Ministers in the Cabinet could support cutting the lone parent payment rate. It is incomprehensible. As I said, a good kick in the shins of those men at the Cabinet table might have stopped these cuts. We have passed many laws that came before this House but because there are not an equal number of women and men making the decisions, much of it is not socially progressive.

There are 92,000 lone parent families in Ireland, which is a larger number than in other European Union countries. There are about 154,000 children in lone-parent families.

The purpose of this particular section is to end the current transitional payment to lone parents who take up employment where they have an income of more than €425 per week. This transitional payment to lone parents was only introduced in 2001 and was a new development in the social welfare system at that stage. It was introduced for a period of one year. It was abolished completely in 2004 because it was felt it did not have much effect. In 2005, it was brought back on a six month basis. At any one time, up to about 200 lone parents may claim it. However, it does affect people who have an income. I am at pains to stress that the change does not affect anybody who is currently in receipt of it. They will continue to receive it for the full six months.

I said before that any and all of the cuts in this budget are difficult. We need to have a debate about the outcomes for lone parents in Ireland. I have heard what everybody has said about the higher risk of poverty among lone parents, and the study referred to by Senator White shows that for lone parents, pensioners, jobseekers and others on social welfare income, the biggest factor in reducing poverty is actually our social welfare system. Our social welfare system is a very profound economic stimulus. The chart in the CSO report shows that our very generous social welfare system massively reduces the incidence of poverty, and that is very important. That is why, having looked at the data, I made a strategic decision to seek to maintain the basic core payment to lone parents, pensioners and so on, and to maintain the core rate of child benefit at the €140 threshold. I felt that this was the best way of maintaining the core income of people on social welfare across a wide range.

It was suggested that we cut the basic rates of social welfare, but as I said, lone parents have taken a cut of €16 in the basic rate over the last two budgets, while couples on social welfare have taken a cut of €27 per week in the basic rate. If child benefit was to be cut by €10 per month, then somebody who has six children would suffer a loss of €60 per month. However, there is no change at all to the rate of payment for the first two children. While many commentators wanted flat rate cuts across the board, the changes have been managed in a way that conserves core family income to the greatest extent possible consistent with the requirement to make these large savings in social welfare.

When I became a member of the Cabinet, the cuts on the table in the Department of Finance were for more than €600 million. That had come down from €800 million. It came down because, unfortunately, we have an extra 40,000 people unemployed. That is one of the core problems with the economy.

I would like to return to the issue of lone parents. As Senator White said, I have spoken about this before and I am very interested in it. The lone parent's allowance — the unmarried mother's allowance as it was called then — was introduced by the late Frank Cluskey. It was introduced in a situation where the only choice for women parenting on their own, if they could not get family support, was to move abroad. In many cases, children were institutionalised. The introduction of this allowance in the 1970s was one of the contributing factors to institutions closing down in the following decade. That was one of the great positive things in Irish social history. However, 40 years later we have to ask ourselves as a society why the outcomes for lone parent families are still worse than any of us here would like, particularly in respect of children. People who have worked in the area would say that those among the 92,000 lone parents who have the worst indication of poverty are those who have left school early and not completed their education. Having not completed their education or gone back to education, their prospects of becoming economically independent and moving away from total reliance on social welfare are stymied in the system that we have developed.

Everybody who is concerned about good outcomes for lone parents and their children really has to think about all this. As Minister for Social Protection, I have an objective to see the outcome for lone parents improved. I will be saying a couple of things to my colleagues in the Cabinet, bearing in mind that I and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs are the only two women Ministers. We know that lack of access to quality education is a limiting factor. We also know that lack of access to child care, especially good quality child care, is another limiting factor. I want to say to my colleagues in the Government — as I have said to them in private — that changes in the lone parent's allowance over five to seven years to move closer to the Nordic model are dependent on improving child care and access to child care at the same time.

I welcome what Senator White said about the small number of women in the Cabinet. There is an issue here. If there were a greater number of women, as happens in the Nordic countries, we would reach a tipping point where the argument about the quality and availability of educational opportunity and child care would become the common currency of political discussion. That is something about which we need to have a conversation.

I am not sure that the Department of Social Protection, hopefully in five or ten years' time, should be primarily interested in the relationship status of somebody as the determining factor in their description of a wider Irish society. I hope we move to a day when there are "parents" and "children". It may be useful for social income purposes but, for example, I have never been happy about a school being described as having many children with lone parents. Some people who may otherwise be very caring seem to have a sense that lone parents have less ability. I share Senator Norris's concerns with regard to the other parent. We are coming up to Christmas, but apart from such special circumstances people have two parents. We need to have a deeper debate.

The study published recently by the ESRI is very interesting. Senator Mooney referred to this and drew my attention to it and I have had a look at it. It shows that although there has been divorce in Ireland for 15 years the incidence of second marriage in Ireland is exceptionally low and the incidence of second or third cohabiting relationships is very low. The authors of the study wondered whether this is influenced by the structure of lone parenting we have built up in the social welfare system. They did not go into it any further but they wondered why in other countries people remarry. People might have a child early in a relationship in their late teens or 20s. Perhaps this relationship does not last and they then parent on their own. In many cases they will meet somebody else and may have another child or children. The study asked whether people are inhibited by the structure we have developed from being involved in a second publicly-acknowledged relationship or a second marriage. Irish society does not seem to do this.

We have changed in the sense that when the payment was introduced there was an element of stereotyping of people. Are people interested in other people's relationship status?

I do not think they are. Some people decide to get married or cohabit after they have had children. There is much personal choice and we have many types of families about which we have learned more in recent years. To return to what Senators were saying, the one great difficulty is the fact that with regard to an income-poor lone parent who does not receive an opportunity, particularly through education, the prediction of the CSO is that the child in turn will become a poor adult. We spend much money and the question we must ask ourselves is whether we could do this in a better way that would produce better outcomes for the lone parent and particularly for the child.

Will the Minister comment on the gross as opposed to net issue I raised? I understand if she cannot do so.

If somebody is earning €425 a week his or her exposure to income tax is relatively low and in the budget the universal social charge was alleviated somewhat for those on very low incomes. I need information and data on it and I will return to the Senator separately.

If the Minister would. I thank her very much.

I find mysterious the article of faith which the Minister for Finance keeps reiterating as he lauds himself and the Government for not increasing income tax rates. There is a coterie of people in the country who are willing to pay more income tax to try to prevent increased inequality between people at the higher and lower levels. In a true republic——

I must apologise. I need to leave the House for ten minutes but I will return. I hope the Senator does not mind. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will be here in my place.

I welcome to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Dinny McGinley.

We are speaking about the cuts with regard to lone parents, reducing the age from 14 years to 7 years and how it is prohibitive to lone parents returning to work. Will the Minister of State ask his party colleagues why it is such an article of faith that the Minister for Finance does not seem to be willing to consider increasing income tax for those at a higher level of income? I find it amazing that the budget contains so many cuts to those who are less well off. I am mystified. However, I will not go on about it. I ask the Minister of State to bring this point to the Minister for Finance.

I am sure the Minister got the gist of Senator White's comments before she left.

It is for the party of the Minister of State. I cannot understand why the Minister for Finance will not increase income tax — big deal — he should increase income tax for people who are more well off.

Senators should confine themselves to discussing section 7.

Ní raibh sé i gceist agam teacht isteach an dara uair, agus ní thiocfainn murach an freagra a fuair muid ón Aire. I had not intended to speak a second time on this but I found myself getting very frustrated and angry with the Minister's reply to the questions because she was going around the houses and not addressing the issue. I come from a county with probably the highest incidence of one-parent families in the country. They are looking at a very bleak Christmas. They have seen cutbacks to child care, community employment schemes, the back to school allowance and the fuel allowance. The cumulative effect of these cuts will mean hundreds of euro less income for them over the course of a year.

This is not fair and is very draconian. It is disgraceful that it is being introduced by the Government at this stage.

The Minister also spoke about encouraging people back to work. However, benefits such as the back to education allowance are being cut and the type of child care that is required is not provided. We all aspire to the Scandinavian scenario but the Government is cutting back in these areas. This is no solace to somebody who cannot afford to buy nappies or put a loaf on the table because of these cutbacks. It was disingenuous not to address the major point in this issue. This is why I call for the measures with regard to lone parents in the budget to be withdrawn. They are very unfair and hit the most vulnerable people in our society.

On a point of order, the debate is not on section 7. It does not belong.

It is absolutely on the section and the Minister herself brought up these issues.

Sections 11 and 14.

We are discussing section 7 which Senator Ó Clochartaigh is addressing.

I am. It is about cutbacks to lone parents and the Minister herself brought in these issues.

Who is in the Chair?


The Acting Chairman.

The point is well made. We cannot let this debate continue to go all over the place. I appreciate the other issues are very important but the pressing budgetary issue is the effect this is having on families who are losing hundreds of euro and cannot afford to put food on the table or Pampers on their children and must make decisions on what meal to eat during the day. It is absolutely scandalous and I call on the Minister to reverse the cuts.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.


  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

I call Senator Katherine Zappone.

Should it not be the main spokespersons?

Exactly — the main spokespersons.

No, the Senator can proceed.

As the Senator will be aware, I am more than happy to defer to her.

I thank the Senator, but it is my colleague who will speak to this section.

With due respect to my colleague opposite, I must insist on my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, being heard first.

Members will have to wait a little longer to hear me.

We are very happy to allow Senator Paschal Mooney to speak first.

The Senator opposite could have been gracious.

I call Senator Paschal Mooney.

Politicians do not want——

I am sorry, but there is nothing personal in this.

Actually the first name on the list of those opposing the section is Senator David Cullinane. Therefore, I call him.

That solves the problem.

It is not often that Sinn Féin is the source of a compromise.


This section deals with the cuts in child benefit. One of the parties in government made a very clear pre-election promise not to cut child benefit. This needs to be stated because when people go to vote into the polling booth, they vote on the basis of what they have heard from politicians and parties. While voters do not accept everything parties state, when politicians said this was a red line issue for them and that there would not be cuts in child benefit, many voters would have said: "I trust the Labour Party on this." This is one of a number of issues on which its members said there would not be any changes, yet the people have seen them. That has angered many of those who voted for the party, especially when cuts in child benefit were announced.

The Government has gone to great lengths in recent weeks to state this is about making sure all children are equal. That is nonsense because what it has done is cut child benefit for families which need the payment. It was a small increase for the third and subsequent children and it was a necessary payment for families. Whatever way the Minister wants to spin it, the cut made in the budget will impact on many low income families. We have discussed all of the other amendments which will affect lone parents, carers, people with disabilities, those in receipt of invalidity pension and so on. However, this cut will affect many families and mean a net decrease in the income of low income families and people who are out of work.

I want to cite for the Minister a number of quotes made. Mr. Fergus Finlay from——

The Labour Party.

The Labour Party and Barnardos. To be fair to him, he is the CEO of Barnardos and it was in that capacity that he made his remarks.


I am not interested in what he is paid, rather I am interested in what he has to say on this issue because he speaks with authority, given the organisation he represents.

Mr. Finlay stated:

It is well known that larger families are at a greater risk of poverty ... 23% of families in Ireland have three or more children and it is their childhoods that are being compromised. This is a policy choice that is again inequitable and unredistributive, it will adversely affect those on low incomes and reliant on social welfare.

He also referred to other changes in the budget in respect of increases in rent supplement contributions and school transport costs, the abolition of a number of concurrent payments and the introduction of several stealth taxes.

In the aftermath of the budget, the director of advocacy with Mr. Finlay's organisation observed:

We are fast approaching a situation where more children will be going hungry because their parents cannot afford sufficient quantities of food. While the loss of €19 in Child Benefit payment per month may not sound like much, in reality for a family with three children it means parents having to go without basic necessities like nappies and milk formula for a baby or a child going without a winter coat.

This goes to the heart of the reason my party is opposed to the cut in this allowance. In recent weeks the House discussed the need to poverty proof policies. I made that point again this morning in a different context. I have absolutely no doubt that if the measure under discussion were poverty proofed, it would not pass the test. I accept that the families of higher earners will not be affected by the proposed cut. However, there are many low-income families that will be affected by it. The Government's decision to single out larger families in respect of this cut is particularly bad. Such families require the extra supports on offer. The Minister may state that the cut is quite small but we believe it must be viewed in conjunction with the increase in rent supplement contributions, the imposition of the €100 household charge and all of the other changes contained in the budget.

My party is troubled by the cumulative effect that this cut will have on families with three or more children. There is no doubt that the Government had a number of alternatives available to it. Those in government state that they were obliged to take certain actions and that they had no choice in the matter. However, there were choices open to them. The Government could have taken many options. It chose to ignore the pre-budget calls from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or any of the other Opposition parties but it could still have examined the proposals put forward by One Family — the one-parent family organisation — Barnardos, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and various other organisations. The organisations to which I refer examined the various alternatives which could have been availed of in order that the Government would not have been obliged to reduce the incomes of hard-pressed families. I am concerned that if this measure is passed by the Oireachtas, more families, and consequently more children, will be obliged to live in poverty. That is wrong and it is why I will be opposing the section.

I wish to defer to Senator van Turnhout.

A true gentleman.

I thank Senator Mooney. I am of the view that the Minister's presence in the Chamber may be influencing the true gentleman's approach.

This is one of the two sections to which Senator Zappone and I are opposed. As an Independent Senator, it is difficult to deal with the Social Welfare Bill because one's heart must be ruled by one's head. I want to oppose all cuts but I feel I must highlight those relating to child benefit and the lone-parent allowance above the others that are being made. I welcome the Government's decision not to reduce the basic rate of child benefit of €140 for first and second children. I am, however, greatly concerned regarding the decision to cut the rates for third and subsequent children. I am also concerned about the decision to discontinue the once-off grants relating to multiple births.

My objections in respect of this matter are twofold. First, I am concerned that what is proposed will increase the exposure of larger families to poverty. The loss of €19 per month for a third child and €17 per month for the fourth and subsequent children equates to a total loss of €432 per year for a family with four children. On the face of it, this figure might not appear overly disturbing. However, it represents a loss of financial support for larger families. The effect the cut in child benefit will have on the 23% of families in Ireland with three or more children cannot be viewed in isolation. It must, therefore, be considered in conjunction with the cumulative impact of the raft of other cuts made across budget 2012 that have specifically affected families and, more particularly, already vulnerable families on low incomes that are reliant on social welfare. In this regard I refer to the cut to the one-parent family payment and the fuel allowance and the increase in health and education costs.

Recent CSO statistics indicate that among those whose consistent poverty rate rose from 6.3% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2010 were families with three or more children. These statistics also attest to a widening gap between the haves and the have nots in Irish society. I wish to provide some examples in this regard. In addition to the €432 families comprising two parents and four children will incur as a result of the cut to child benefit, those eligible for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance will lose a further €310. This will lead to a total loss of €472 per year. If these families live in rural areas, they will lose €1,612 per year as a result of the cuts to which I refer and the increases in respect of school transport. A family consisting of a lone parent and two children will lose €537 per year as a result of cuts to the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, the fuel allowance and the increase in the minimum contribution towards rent supplement. As already stated, the cut to child benefit cannot be viewed in isolation.

The State is constitutionally obliged to protect the unit of society that is the family. However, there is genuine and growing concern among the organisations which deal with struggling families that these new cuts will push many over the edge into deprivation, poverty and despair and will further compound the misery for those who have already crossed that threshold. Children are the most vulnerable members of any family unit and any hardship visited upon that unit is most acutely felt by them.

On Second Stage the Minister compared the rate of child benefit in this country to that which is paid in Northern Ireland. I remind her that while the rate of payment in the latter jurisdiction is lower, in order to compensate for this the system which obtains there provides a raft of other child-related benefits for those who qualify. I refer to free school meals and transport, a preferential maternity allowance, a national health services allowance, access to the start strong health scheme and the sure start maternity grant. I could also provide examples from France and Sweden — I do not want to take up the House's time in doing so — in order to show how other jurisdictions offer additional child-related benefits which compensate for lower baseline rates of payment. When making comparisons, we must ensure that we take all aspects into consideration.

The second matter to which I wish to refer is the importance of supporting and encouraging a high birth rate in Ireland. The decision in respect of the once-off payments for multiple births displays a lack of strategic thinking. This is the very time when we need to think outside the box. We need to encourage and support a healthy birth rate in Ireland because this will, in turn, support and sustain economic growth. Ireland is in the enviable position of having the highest birth rate in Europe. In July of this year, it stood at 16.5%. The next highest ranking country is the UK, with a rate of 13%. However, Europe as a whole has an increasingly ageing population. The Oxford Institute for Ageing estimates that within 20 years, Europe's largest population cohort will comprise those over 65 and that the average age will be 50. An ageing population has significant implications for the labour force, the health service, the education and welfare systems and also in the context of technology and development.

Child benefit payments reflect the values of our society. It universally demonstrates that children are cherished and that the public wants to support their well-being. I am not stating that we should provide support through benefit payments. I would be happy if we were to support families through the provision of services. At present, however, we do not provide support in this way. As a result, removing the payment is not acceptable.

There is a collective responsibility in respect of this matter. In an economic context, children are what might be termed "merit good". In other words, they have value to others beyond their families. As future taxpayers and workers, their contributions will assist in the payment of State pensions. Mr. Frank Field, a British MP, is credited with saying "I may not have children but I need someone to have them if my pension is going to be paid". The State must send out a signal to the effect that it supports and encourages childbirth. The children of today are essential to our future economic recovery. I, therefore, urge my colleagues to oppose section 8. Cutting child benefit and discontinuing once-off grants in the case of infrequent multiple births is not the way forward.

I am sure Members on all sides will join me in expressing appreciation to Senator Jillian van Turnhout for her contributions which have considerably enhanced the debate. The Senator has been an advocate for the protection of children's rights and interests for many years. I understand she is due to step down from her position as chief executive officer of the Children's Rights Alliance——

I finish on Tuesday.

——and I am sure the House will join me in expressing sincere appreciation for her outstanding contribution not only to her job but also in highlighting the aims and objectives of the alliance in the public arena. I wish her successor well. I have no doubt that as a result of her strong identification with the alliance she will continue to have a valuable input into its procedures and activities.

In opposing the section I could say I have nothing further to add to the debate, but I want to draw attention to the following remarks as an extra justification for my opposition, for which I am grateful to the Minister, the leader of the Labour Party, the Tánáiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and the Labour Party. They stated:

Enough is enough. Families cannot take any more. If you look at any of the studies that have been done on poverty, the people in our population who are worst affected are children. The cutting of child benefit makes that worse. There are a lot of big houses around the country where there is very little money because people are at the pin of their collar paying their mortgages. Child benefit is a critical income support to put food on the table. Any further cut in child benefit would be a genuine crisis. It is the State's only recognition that Ireland remains a very expensive place to raise a child and if the Minister were to cut child benefit it would be creating poverty traps, work disincentives and increase the number of children in poverty.

All of these quotes were made before, during and subsequent to the general election.

Where does the Minister stand in her defence of the proposed cuts and reductions? These quotes are the reason so many are angry about these measures, not so much because of the cuts proposed but because they were led to have such high expectations in the past nine months that there would not be any adverse impact on child benefit. It may be somewhat embarrassing, but I was on the other side of the House for many years when similar quotes were made by party colleagues. It reminds me of the famous dictum of Sean Lemass who said that once an election was over, all promises made were not valid. However, the question about the justification for these measures remains. The Minister will say it all has to do with the economic position and that we must make cuts somewhere, but these measures cut to the core of the Bill because it is such a sensitive issue.

An aspect that interests me, into which Senator Jillian van Turnhout went in some detail, is that we have the highest birth rate in Europe. In that context, the Government's philosophy should be to encourage and support people to have families because of the high fertility rate and perhaps because child benefit is not seen as being as important in other parts of Europe. If the Minister wanted to cut the benefit, there were other ways of using the money available or getting money elsewhere to provide child support within families.

The significant increase in child benefit granted by the two previous Fianna Fáil Administrations from 1997 to 2002 and particularly 2002 to 2007 was astonishing. It is extraordinary when one looks at the figures. Thankfully, I was able to support my family of five because I was in this job which provided most of my income. During that period my wife, Sheila, and I often talked about the significant increases granted and considered that we probably could afford not to take all of the money being given. We could look to those on high incomes of €100,000 plus a year, a suggestion made repeatedly in the debate.

There is considerable wealth in the country. This remains one of the top three or four wealthiest countries in Europe. Therefore, why is there not a philosophy within the Government to address the issue? Is it that, as there are only two women in the Cabinet, as Senator Mary White eloquently put it, there is not the critical mass to convince the male members of the Cabinet of the need for a more balanced sense of parity of esteem, as quoted by my Sinn Féin colleagues in another context? This does not seem to inculcate the thinking of the Government or the Department of Finance. We could be debating today and more than likely agreeing to increases in the tax rate for those on very high incomes, a tax on the wealth that is unquestionably still within the country, as proved by the statistics. Like everybody else, I ask where that wealth is to be found when one sees families and those on the margins of society struggling. One wonders where it is to be found, given our economic position vis-à-vis the rest of Europe, but the statistics do not lie. The money is available.

I recall the Minister, when in opposition, railing against the various tax shelters and tax breaks and asking why the wealthy in our society were not being more responsible. That is not just about the euros being taken from the third and subsequent children, it is about a philosophy and a Government approach to this issue.

I am glad that the Minister is a caring Minister, but she also has something that is lacking in the political class in all parties, namely, a vision. It is evident from listening to her both on Second Stage and again today that she has a vision of a social welfare culture. We should hear some philosophy from her based on the contributions she has heard so far and those she will probably hear before this section is decided. This debate is about whether we will continue to protect those who need protection or whether we will go after those who can afford to pay more tax. The Minister has heard the arguments from both sides of the House. My wife and I are raising five children — our eldest has flown the nest and we have four at home — but in my position I would not object to an increase, even though I am not in the €100,000 plus a year category. Surely those who are in this category are the ones we should go after. It would not act as a disincentive to creating wealth. That is a Republican Party philosophy that seems to have come from across the Atlantic — do not touch those who are wealthy because they will drive capital out of the country. When I lived in London in my early 20s, the talk was that if the Labour Party was elected — it was mainly Tory Governments which were in power during that period — capital would fly out of the country and that if the Tories were elected, capital would flow back into it. It was nonsense and a smokescreen.

Although I am not dealing specifically with the rate cuts——

The Senator is wandering somewhat.

——I suggest the Minister has embarked on a philosophical argument about many of the other measures she has taken. I am interested to hear how she intends to square the circle in the next round of discussions on expenditure to the point where she will probably have to fight her case again against more reductions in her Department. I hope that with the help of this and the other House she will be encouraged by the fact that the sentiment is being expressed that we need at least to analyse whether those on very high incomes in what is still a wealthy society could make a greater contribution that would prevent her from having to come back into the House next year to justify further cuts, including, more than likely, in child benefit.

I would like to remind Senators that there are eight Members lined up to speak.

Senator Mooney spoke about a philosophy. There is a philosophy here and a value judgment has been made. When higher rates were brought in for the third, fourth and subsequent children, a value judgment was made at the time that we value families who have more children. We recognised that they have extra costs that other families do not have. We also decided that it is a good idea that we have families to pay the pensions in future years, as Senator van Turnhout stated. This is an important factor.

A value judgment has been made by the Government that we will cut the basic social welfare rate for large families. That is what has happened. There has been a cut in the basic rate. This claim that the Government protected basic rates is not true. A family with one single child and three triplets is down €31 per week as a result of these changes. I know three such families in my own area.

There is no——

Have they been brought down to €140?

No. A family with twins gets three payments for the two children. There is no change in that at all.

What is their base rate for which the multiplier is used? Is it double the €140 payment?

Yes, but that is what it always has been.

If there were four children in the family——

Please address your remarks through the Chair and the Minister can respond.

There is no change for families with twins or triplets on the additional payments they receive.

The twins get one and a half times the payment, and the triplets get twice the payment. The Minister has confirmed that it is one and a half times and twice €140, regardless of how many children are in the family. Are the triplets still getting €167?

The rate for the third child is €148 and the rate for the fourth child is €160.

That has not changed.

Okay, I accept that, but that is not the information on the Department's website. If it is the case that the base rate is down to €140 — I will accept the Minister's confirmation, but the officials seem to be giving her contrary information — this means that a family with a single child and three triplets is down €31 per week. I remember the scare stories put out before that we were going to cut the rates for triplets and twins, and the fear among those families was extraordinary. The mental and financial stress on some of these mothers was severe and consideration must be given to them. The abolition of the periodic grant is a massive change for them as well, because they would be looking forward to it as it comes at particular stages in life. The Minister can laugh at the grant being abolished for twins and triplets, but it was given out at important stages when particular costs would arise. It is not a laughing matter. These are very stressful situations.

The Minister has made her value judgment. She has decided to forget about big families. Dr. Garret FitzGerald did the same in the 1980s when a tax allowance was abolished by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government of the time. There should not be discrimination against large families, but the Minister's spin that the basic rate is being protected has been shown to be false. I want clarification on the base rate upon which she uses the multiplier for twins and triplets, because there seems to be some confusion.

Senator Byrne has touched on a point. Whatever way it is to be dressed up, the changes being introduced are cuts through the back door to child benefit payments. There is no question about that. These cuts will have major impacts on very many families, particularly those with three or more children. In our pre-election submission to the Department of Finance, Fianna Fáil proposed no cuts to child benefit payments and that those savings should be obtained from elsewhere. A number of my colleagues have shown where those savings or the additional money could be ring fenced from the wealthier in our society.

From next year, families will be hit with massive reductions in their income, be it from social welfare or the increased charges coming down the tracks, such as the household charge and the septic tank charges. These will have implications on many families.

We need clarification on the elimination of payments on multiple births. It is my understanding that proposals from the Department contained in the legislation suggest that payments on multiple births are to be eliminated. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this, because approximately 1,200 families will be affected annually by this if that payment is terminated. The children's charity Barnardos warned prior to the budget that any cut in child benefit payments would affect many children. They estimate that approximately 90,000 children in the State are currently living in poverty. They warned against any cut in child benefit payments. The National Women's Council of Ireland stated that the payment had become an easy target for successive Governments, and that any reduction would lead to further hardship for families.

Senator van Turnhout said it much better than I could in respect of the European situation. The child benefit schemes here are in place to support families to have children. Senator van Turnhout is right. Ireland currently has the highest fertility rate in the EU and enjoys a youthful demographic profile, unlike ageing societies like Germany or Italy. The birth rate here is 17 per 1,000 population. That is up from 14.4 per 1,000 in 2000. It is the highest birth rate of all 27 member states and the social welfare payments have played a part in supporting the family and protecting children, and in supporting women who are doing such a fine job raising families.

I would like to provide the Minister with three quotes from the Labour Party prior to the election.

We are on section 8.

They are from the child benefit section. They might have been made 20 or 30 years ago, but in fact they came from earlier this year. The Labour Party leader, now Tánaiste in the new Government said:

Things like not cutting child benefit any further. Enough is enough. Families can take no more.

He also stated that it would be a pre-requirement for entering Government with Fine Gael that child benefit payments would not be reduced. The current Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party said this in February. In October 2010, he also spoke about child benefit.

It is the only State recognition that there is of mothers because it is paid directly to mothers... Does Labour see room for some cuts? No we don't. Again if you look at any of the studies that have been done on poverty, the people in our population that are worst affected are children...The cutting of child benefit makes that worse.

At the Labour Party child care policy launch on 23 February 2011, the following was stated.

Labour will not cut child benefit, because we acknowledge that: some extremely harsh budgets in recent years have meant that family incomes have already taken a substantial hit; despite our current economic problems, Ireland remains a very expensive place to raise a child, and child benefit is the only recognition by the State of this high cost; cutting child benefit will create poverty traps, work disincentives, and will substantially increase the already high number of children in poverty.

We are now ten months on and those words ring hollow. The cumulative effect of the cuts being proposed in the budget will hit larger families disproportionately. A family with three children will be down €324 per year by the end of 2013, following the introduction of these child benefit cuts. A family of five children will be losing €1,200 by the end of 2013.

A family of six, seven or eight children — there are families in my constituency with eight children — will lose €3,816 at the end of 2013, as a result of this decision together with all the other associated cuts. It is a step too far and is in stark contrast to what was being said before the election. One of my Sinn Féin colleagues mentioned that prior to the election, people voted for the Labour Party and Fine Gael because of the protections that were perceived to be given on the social welfare side of expenditure but that is not the case today following its first budget. That leads to the question as to what will happen in subsequent budgets in the coming years. The Minister is going down the wrong road and is attacking children. Whereas Barnardos said 90,000 children are living in poverty that does not appear to be recognised. The payment is available to the child to support children growing up and family units. The child benefit increases provided by the previous Government have been welcome but it is a step in the wrong direction to reverse and continue to reduce such payments to the levels I have outlined. We cannot support the proposal to cut child benefit payment because we have provided alternative solutions in our pre-budget submission to the Department of Finance.

At this late stage I appeal to the Minister not to proceed with those cuts. It will be a matter for Labour Party and Fine Gael Senators to decide whether to vote in favour of the section. I remind them that prior to the election they were utterly opposed to any cuts to child benefit payments.

I am working off the rota list bar the addition of Senator Zappone who was in the Chair before I took over.

I will start on a positive aspect. The Minister's comments in regard to protecting universal——

I ask Members to remember that those whose names are appended to the amendment should get priority. I will be fair to everybody.

The Minister's comments in respect of protecting universality are crucially important. She will have a battle in doing so during the next few years. The Minister's constituency in Dublin West is similar to mine in north Dublin. A family who may appear to be financially comfortable are not in many cases. Senator van Turnhout referred to the increasing birth rate. Many of those fall within the demographic of families who purchased houses between 2004 and 2008, have large mortgages and have not had rate decreases passed on to them as promised. The child benefit payments are crucially important. That is why we oppose the cuts being proposed. This is one of a series of budgets. Given the economic situation and what is happening in Europe and Ireland I believe we will have a budget earlier than this time next year because the tax element of the budget has been far too light. The measure introduced in the other House by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, was, in the main, a VAT increase. He will not get €679 million from the additional 2% on VAT. Day-to-day spending will come under increasing pressure, in particular the Minister's Department. These are easy hits for families who believe they cannot do anything other than accept them. Once they are passed they become law.

The Minister and I know families in middle Ireland who depend on child benefit to put food on the table for their children. They receive no other State support, pay their taxes and have done so consistently and will be affected by the reduction.

The free pre-school year introduced by Mr. Barry Andrews was an inventive way of——

It was introduced by the late Brian Lenihan.

I drove the issue over many years.

Senator O'Brien to continue, without interruption.

Well done. Many people are seeking credit. That resulted in substantial savings. Two thirds of the budget was the early payment supplement on the birth of a child in year one that was put into the child care sector. It ensured that the money went directly to the children for the children's benefit. The Minister has to perform a balancing act and we have got to think outside the box on these issues. That payment has benefited thousands of children regardless of the income levels within their households as it goes towards educating them. I ask the Minister to give a commitment that the free pre-school year will remain in place during the term of the Government in order to give certainly to those whose child benefit payment will be cut in respect of third and subsequent children. The very least the Minister can say is that while this has happened she will ensure that children get the correct start in education and proper care and attention before commencing national school. The commitment from the Minister today wold be helpful. My colleagues have set out their fundamental objection to these cuts but I still think the Department of Finance, for next year's budget whenever that is, has got to be more inventive about how money is spent within the Department.

It is interesting to listen to Senators' comments. I do not believe there is enough evidence to suggest that reducing child benefit for third and subsequent children is exposing children and families to poverty because the way the social welfare scheme is set out there are other measures within the system to pick up the slack, such as family income supplement. It goes back to my point in another part of the debate that this is all the more reason we should look at overall household income. I shared a case on Second Stage. In the past week, I had a case of a family with six children who, up to the last budget, received €49,000 in social welfare payments. After the budget they will receive €41,000, a reduction of €7,996, without the husband's income being taken into account. This is a substantial income for the State to provide and is a disincentive to work. What is wonderful about the decision is that the payment was maintained at €140, that all children are deemed equal——

The Minister did not use the word "wonderful".

I will revise the word "wonderful" in light of that interjection.

Please respect the Chair.

It is positive that child benefit was maintained at €140 per child. It also says that all children are equal in the eyes of the social welfare code. Ifanything, I would be able to make a much stronger argument that the first child shouldreceive more child benefit than any other child because this is where all the expenses are incurred and all the infrastructure is put in place around children; buggies and so on but there is much more. Maintaining the universality of the benefit is an interesting principle. There is an argument that it would be taxed in order that we can reach the equity we are trying to achieve.

That is a tricky one.

I realise it is a tricky one——

I am glad the Minister, Deputy Burton, is in the Chair and not Senator Healy Eames.

I am just suggesting that.

The Senator is not speaking to section 8.

The point made by Senator van Turnhout about the birth rate is valid. Maintaining and encouraging the birth rate is critical. Her points were well made and I respect her comments in this regard. I had a chilling experience in the past two weeks. I was in Brussels attending an EU summit on China, and we know how high birth rates are there. There was an interjection from the Serbian delegate commenting on how bad things were in that country because people were not having babies.

The Senator is wandering from the section.

It is clear I am staying with section 8. We must encourage the maintenance of our birth rate and I would rather see families supported in a different way. Another speaker alluded to one of the measures. If we want to avoid high rates of leaving school early and intergenerational fall-out, it would be wonderful to see a school meals programme. It would be very positive as it would ensure nutrition, and there is a positive effect from nutrition, particularly breakfast, on learning. That is well documented. That measure would definitely be targeted at children and our school system is there to support it.

I support the measure on child benefit. If I disagree with anything, it is the elimination of the multiple births grant. I come from a family where there have been a few sets of twins and I have witnessed at first hand the cost involved with such arrivals. It is hard to explain because of the amount of time involved.

It is genetic.

Exactly. I ask the Minister to consider this issue in a more holistic fashion and examine overall household income. It was put clearly to me earlier that the system is not set up that way. We must also consider the position of the child within the family, which the Minister indicated she would do, particularly with regard to the one-parent family. We must also consider how such children can be supported through the school system in order to get the best chance in life.

Bearing in mind that the curtain falls at 5 p.m. for this Bill, I ask Senators to be cognisant of those behind.

I have been a Member of this House since 2002 and in that period I have produced three publications. I find it very irritating at times as some of the new Senators think nothing was done in this House until they arrived. I produced two documents on a new approach to child care in Ireland. I drove the issue at parliamentary party meetings and my colleagues, Senators Jim Walsh and Darragh O'Brien, know I sought free child care through the parliamentary party process. I support my colleague, Senator O'Brien, in asking the Minister to promise she will not touch it. Education is the key to getting out of poverty. Senators can see how on my website I drove the issue, and I can give Senator van Turnhout a copy of my document.

It was during that time the Minister of State with responsibility for children was given a Cabinet position. The former Senator, Kathleen O'Meara, and I consistently pursued the issue. We are privileged as we have the highest birth rate in Europe, which is unique, and other countries are desperately trying to get people to have more children. These cuts will go against people having a large family, and I am beginning to think Fine Gael is like the Tea Party movement in the United States because it has become so right wing. Those associated with the Tea Party movement argue they do not have any responsibility for people who do not earn a living or to provide an income or welfare payments for people. Fine Gael is becoming more like that.

I do not want to hold up colleagues but I must point out that these measures militate against large families. A family with four children will lose €430 per year on benefit and it will pay at least €400 extra with VAT. It will pay €144 extra for the drugs payment scheme and €100 for the household charge. I could not be here last week but there is a €10 surcharge for older people who cannot pay by credit card or cheque and who must pay cash. Many older people do not have access to credit cards or cheques. With motor tax, excise duty and carbon tax, the family will pay a minimum extra of €100. If the family is fortunate enough to have health insurance, VHI has indicated that a typical €2,000 premium will now cost at least an extra €1,000. The budget hits large families and can cause additional expenditure of up to €2,276. It is something else.

We would be better off hearing more reasoned debate from the likes of Senators van Turnhout and Darragh O'Brien than the petty party political points scoring we have heard. It would be better for the House and everybody involved. All parties in this House and the other agree that the deficit in public finances must be closed and most parties are in agreement on the broad parameters of that deficit. We can talk about raising taxes and cutting capital spending but there is really no possibility of achieving these necessary reductions without having a look at the highest spending programmes in the Government, with social protection at the top. It is absolutely fanciful to argue we can close the deficit without touching these high-spending programmes.

Anywhere the hand falls within this programme will be seen as unpalatable and sometimes unfair. The Opposition may argue these measures are unfair but we see them as unpalatable. We regret them and hate implementing those measures because they are terrible. They are necessary, nonetheless, and the Opposition would act similarly in our position. There is no point in being pious.

I do not agree that the Minister's actions have been wonderful or positive but she has achieved a remarkable result in protecting core welfare payments and having as few reductions as she has. There is a 2% reduction in the Department's funding, and the Minister is to be commended for keeping the reductions so small and protecting her Department. She has done the nation a great service.

I am alarmed to hear the Leas-Chathaoirleach say the debate could be curtailed at 5 p.m. I agree with Senator Gilroy, as I have done many times, that constructive comments on this are very useful for the Minister and the Cabinet. Our comments will be of assistance to her in future difficulties and if the debate on the Bill is guillotined, it would be a disgrace and a shame on those who proposed the guillotine.

I have not spoken on the Bill before now. I do not envy the Minister her job, which is difficult. The correction that must be made in our fiscal position is enormous. I do not know the Minister very well but from my observations I regard her as fair and she approaches issues by trying to come to a fair conclusion. Having said that, I have great difficulty with some provisions. We are all informed to some extent by our own experiences in life and as somebody reared on the widow's pension and the children's allowance, I know how important they are. Any reductions would have imposed difficulties for our family and others will find themselves in similar circumstances. I was not here for the debate on earlier sections but I was appalled to hear about the increase in qualifications for the widow's contributory pension from 156 to 520 contributions.

That was a mistake.

It will increase to 520 contributions in two years.

No, it will not.

Has it been reduced?

The matter has been dealt with already.

I accept that. I only mention it in passing. The point has been well made by others that child benefit is an important component in ensuring families can achieve some level of sustenance in their livelihoods. A reduction would particularly affect those families with a greater number of children because in many cases, if not consistently, the mother is excluded from participating in the workforce.

I compliment Senator Mary White who has referred to the reports she drew up in the previous Seanad. One very good report was related to child care and its recommendations found their way into some of the provisions made by the then Government. In general, because of the cost of child care it will be difficult for those with three, four or five children to continue to participate in the workforce which will mean they will become one income families. Therefore, any loss in their income stream will have a serious impact on them. As a result, I am concerned about the measure to which I am opposed. I accept it is easy for me to say this.

Other Senators have spoken about an underlying philosophy. I came across a quotation three years ago from Pedro Arrupe, Father General of the Jesuits, in the 1970s. He changed the wording of the mission statement from "the propagation of the faith" to "the propagation of the faith and the promotion of justice". I have tried to get my party to embrace it without great success, but it is worth mentioning it. It would be a great philosophy for the Minister for Social Protection to adopt. He said, "Let there be men and women who will bend their energies, not to strengthen positions of privilege, but to the extent possible to reduce privilege in favour of the underprivileged."

That brings me to the point that within government — the Minister is honoured to be a member of Government — one has choices. These choices could include, for example, not increasing salaries in the public service next year, instead of reducing the incomes of those on social welfare who are probably on the breadline, struggling to put food on the table and have clothes for their children. These choices inform our ethos as politicians and parties, as well as the ethos of the State. It is something I recommend the Minister adopt.

I agree with Senator John Gilroy. I accept that there are no easy answers, but I would have far preferred the burden of the corrections to be spread across all those us working in the public service and all those on social welfare. The rates in both areas are much higher than among our counterparts in western Europe. I do not even need to refer to the eastern bloc. We have a problem in that our prices are far too high also. I do not understand the reason in the current crisis the Taoiseach did not establish a Department of consumer affairs and competitiveness because such a Department is required. We have reduced pay and social welfare rates to a minor extent and, accordingly, must reduce prices. We must take an holistic approach.

The income of a family with five children will reduce in 2013 by €1,200. We only give such an amount to them for one year. This morning the State paid numerous barristers representing it €1,200 for two hours work. The payment to various ancillary units of the State is based on the half-day rate for barristers. That brings us back to choices, priorities and what we are about. Above all, it brings us back to the words of Pedro Arrupe about whether we are facilitating the privileged.

My colleague referred to the Tea Party movement and Fine Gael becoming the Tea Party of the Irish political system. Will the Labour Party be the server of the tea or will it stand up for the underprivileged and those struggling rather than impinging on them in the manner outlined in the Bill? We must spread the cuts right across the public sector. I also accept that social welfare rates must be cut. However, public service pay must also be cut, as it accounts for three quarters of the budget. We are trying to say we will not cut it and that we will try to find a solution with the other 25%. Of course, that will impact on people severely and unfairly. I appeal to the Minister who, from comments she has made previously, genuinely has people's concerns at heart.

The Minister needs a few women to back her up.

I appeal to her to stand up for those in need and the underprivileged. If she does, I will be the first of many on this side of the House to commend her for it.

I stand very much in solidarity with my colleague in opposing the section. I do not need to go through the reasons as she has already spoken eloquently aboout them.

I have listened to the Minister and reviewed all of the debates, in particular on this Bill. I am impressed by the vision she has outlined. She has identified various aspects of the principles she espouses in trying to carry out the huge task of reforming the social protection system such as by not defining people by their relationship — one person or one payment — or the other ways by which she is trying to identify the categories which ought to be paid. Some of the comments made by Senator Paschal Mooney on philosophy are well made. It could be helpful to the House, as well as to those on whom the cuts will impact, if the Minister were to consider putting a paper together to identify her vision, principles and the direction in which she is going. That would be extremely helpful to us in our debate.

I am concerned about the decrease in child benefit for the third and fourth children and the effect it will have on one parent families in particular. The Minister expressed her concern about the fact that even with all of the payments made and amounts of money given, they do not seem to have impacted on poverty rates. The question is: why are people still poor? The Minister has identified the lack of parental education, the lack of access to education and training and child care issues. The people concerned are not necessarily still poor because of the money being given; therefore, cutting child benefit will not help.

The Minister has referred to the importance of the labour market activation fund of €20 million that will be made available. My question is whether lone parents, in particular, will benefit from the fund. Is it not correct to say lone parents cannot access the supports are available to job seekers on the live register? In that case, how will they benefit from the fund? The Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has set out to a limited degree that the fund is primarily for the long-term unemployed. Will lone parents benefit from it and, if not, will measures be forthcoming to assist them in returning to education and training?

My final point relates to a suggestion made by Senator Darragh O'Brien about the acknowledgement and acceptance of a universal income for children, of which I am also in favour. If one does have to affect the payment for the third and fourth children, especially for families experiencing poverty, the free pre-school place for one year is critical. There is evidence to prove that if children from poorer backgrounds have access to early years education and care, they do better later in life. In the budget the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs reduced aspects of the free pre-school service by way of cutting the staff ratio and the capitation grant.

If the Minister is going to take some of the money in child benefit from larger families, could the money at least go towards maintaining the quality of the pre-school service currently provided free for one year?

As it is now past 5 p.m., I am required——

On a point of order, may I ask——

There is no point of order.

There is. Would the Leader consider allowing the Minister to reply to the debate?

That cannot be done. The Order of Business was agreed to.

Can there not be an amendment to it?

That is not a point of order.

Will you put my question to the Leader?

In accordance with an order of the Seanad of this day, I am now required to put the following question: "That the sections undisposed of and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, that the Bill is hereby reported to the House without amendment, that the Bill is hereby received for final consideration, and that the Bill is hereby passed."

This is the first time in my 14 years in this Chamber that the debate on the Social Welfare Bill has been guillotined. If the Labour Party and Fine Gael believe this is the way to deal with the interests of the underprivileged and people who are suffering, let it be on their own heads. This is nothing short of disgraceful.

The Order of Business was agreed to this morning.

Question put.



The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Under Standing Orders, I call for a walk-through vote.

Question again put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 17.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.