Committee on Finance. - Vote 47: Social Welfare (Resumed).

Thursday, 4 November 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 256 No. 7

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That the Vote be referred back for reconsideration.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  Before I moved the adjournment last night I was dealing with a matter with which both the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary are conversant, namely, the payment of the dole to single men. In relating the facts as I know them, I obviously stepped on the corns of the Parliamentary Secretary who interrupted me rudely. Indeed, there were times when I thought the Chair would have to call him to order but, however, the Chair decided that it was not necessary to do so in the circumstances. I might say at this stage that it is not customary for the Parliamentary Secretary to interrupt [1081] any Deputy and I have no recollection of being interrupted by him on any previous occasion.

As is the case with other Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, the Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary are in a very bad mood at this time. Perhaps this is understandable in the light of the difficulties and problems they are facing but which, it must be admitted, are of their own making.

I was referring to the cutting off of the dole from single men living in rural areas. I recall the sudden, snap decision to wipe out, with one stroke of the pen, the payment of dole to former recipients. One can well imagine the shock that created, not alone down the country but also here in the city of Dublin. Following on that announcement, the Fine Gael Party, through their Leader, Deputy Cosgrave, immediately took the matter up as one of grave urgency. Deputy Cosgrave was, of course, discharging his duty to the country and to the people when he did that and he was strongly supported by the Leader of the Labour Party and the Deputies in that party.

There was panic in the Government. Statements were made in the morning and contradicted in the evening. The Minister for Social Welfare would make one statement and a few hours later another Minister would make another statement contradicting the first statement. There was general confusion. Thanks to the newspapers and the media generally, because of the publicity this matter got, the Government had second thoughts and decided to pay the dole to married men with dependants in towns but not to single men in rural areas.

As I said last night, the Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary both come from rural areas. They were reared in rural areas and they were brought up with the people in those areas, the people whose fate it was to have to migrate to England or, in the case of the Minister's constituency, to Scotland. That is where the majority of his migrating constituents go. That is the tradition in Donegal. Travelling [1082] through that county I have noticed that, if one tenders an Irish or an English £5 note at a petrol filling station, one gets Scotch single notes in change, a clear indication of the volume of Scottish money circulating there. In some cases one will get a few English notes as well. The Minister is well aware of the pattern.

In the case of the Parliamentary Secretary the majority of his neighbours, like my own, go to England. A few of them go to Scotland. This has been the tradition of these people for generations past; they emigrate to America or migrate to England and Scotland to try to supplement the meagre incomes from their small holdings of £2, £3, £4, £5 or, maybe, £6 valuation. These little holdings are situated on the mountainside. They are the little holdings that they were grudgingly allowed to have when they were driven off the land by the occupying forces and driven on to the mountainside. There they built little homes, poorly constructed, thatched with straw or rushes. They got little help from the powers that were.

I have travelled through Donegal and not so long ago I saw quite a number of these little houses, still hidden away on the mountainside. Some of them are empty now but some are still occupied. They are in poor condition. Those that are occupied are occupied because of the social welfare benefits paid down through the years. It may have been the dole; it may be widows', old age or blind pensions, children's allowances, and so on. The Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary and other rural Deputies know the problems of these people and the hardships they have had to endure, with the head of the house taking the bus or train to Dublin and the boat at Dún Laoghaire or the North Wall to a foreign country. These migrants also leave from Larne and Derry. They may leave behind wives who are expectant mothers and they themselves will have to face the difficulties, the hardships and the loneliness of an alien environment.

The Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, who were both reared with these people, know that what I am saying [1083] is true. I am amazed that a Minister in an Irish Government could recommend to the Government that these very people should be the first to be deprived of the little bit of benefit they were getting. It was apparently no trouble to the Minister to take this decision. We were told there was a financial crisis and that money was not readily available. It is extraordinary that it should have been a Minister from a congested area, and his Parliamentary Secretary from another congested area, and also a Gaelic-speaking area, who took such action against their own constituents. It was a disgraceful step. It is something of which both the Minister and the Government should be ashamed. Were it not for the media and were it not for the fact that the Leader of the Labour Party and the Deputies of that party——

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  It was the Labour Party who discovered what was happening and broke the news.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  ——and were it not for all the publicity, these unfortunate people would have been utterly deprived. As a result of the publicity something happened; something has happened more than once in the last year and a half as a result of publicity. Fianna Fáil panicked and had a change of heart. But, once again, in the month of November we have single men ineligible for the meagre allowance due to them. This morning, as I left my hotel I met three neighbours. One was a native of the Killala/Carraghmore/ Lacken district. He was returning from England. He told me he was glad he met me because he wanted to see me about a problem he had. He was coming back, he told me, from Leeds where he had gone to bury a sister. I sympathised with him. I am aware that this man lived on a fiveacre holding. He told me that before he left home he had got the bad news that his dole was being stopped. He asked me why this was so and asked me to put his case before the Minister.

This man had helped to reconstruct his neighbour's house under an essential repairs grant scheme. The grants are small and he and two other neighbours [1084] agreed to do the work together in order to reconstruct that little home. The grant was about £200 and this money was needed for materials. The three men provided the labour. He told me his story and said it could be verified. Someone reported that he was engaged in a building contract and that he had a big income. This was the only work he did. I know him to be a decent, honest person whose word I would believe. He went to the local parish priest who took up the matter with the Department of Social Welfare. Subsequently an officer from that Department called on him. The officer told him that he had a figure in his books as income, and said there was nothing he could do to help him. He told him that his dole would be cut from £4.50. I have the name and address of this man and can give the Minister full particulars.

Is it not a disgrace that the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Government are prepared to penalise a man like that who is finding the struggle hard on his five-acre holding? The man also told me that his wife was in poor health. I asked whether she received any benefit or allowance and he said that she did not. He said that the dole was the only ready money coming into the house and he believed the depression she is suffering from has been caused in particular by the stopping of the dole while they have still many problems and difficulties. This man had to pay his fare to Leeds and was on his way home. The prospect for that man under the Minister for Social Welfare is indeed gloomy. This is harsh treatment which is being meted out to him. I know there are thousands like him.

The Minister has given statistics showing the increases in the amount of money being made available under the different headings. On paper it may all seem very rosy, couched as it is in Civil Service jargon. No amount of flowery language will solve the problems of the man I met this morning People like him are in dire straits. The fact that the Minister's figures show increases really means nothing, because much of the increase is being eroded by the increased cost of living brought about by the introduction of turnover [1085] tax, by the increases in rates, food prices, fuel, electricity and other bills. We will shortly have the value added tax. The Minister for Finance said that many people escape tax but that with the introduction of the VAT no one would escape. From his statement I am entitled to conclude that the taxation to be introduced by this Government, if they remain in office—and we are not sure whether they are in office at this moment because while I stand here speaking there is a party meeting in progress——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  This has nothing to do with the Estimate.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  If a messenger comes in to tell the Ceann Comhairle that the Taoiseach has gone to the Park I feel that it would be out of order for me to continue speaking.

Mr. Moore: Information on Seán Moore  Zoom on Seán Moore  Do not let that worry you.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  The Deputy is very encouraging and I thank him for the information because he is taking a chance in making that statement. It is no problem for Fianna Fáil members to make statements without due consideration or knowledge of the facts.

It is a shame and a disgrace for the Minister to act in this manner. The Minister was forced to restore the dole to certain categories of people. He yielded reluctantly to the pressures on him in this matter. The people of whom I speak here are people who have contributed much in one way or another to the national wellbeing. In their time they sent back millions of pounds from England, Scotland and America to help their families at home. They built schools and churches, made roads, tried to educate their families and made a good job of it. Many of them had sons and daughters who distinguished themselves not only within the country but in far, foreign lands.

It is hard to think that an Irish Minister for Social Welfare would select for attack this decent, respectable class of people, many of whom are Gaelic speakers, with good background and tradition. It is no wonder [1086] that emigration figures for the Province of Connaught reflect the distressing situation that exists and that our population is declining. Young people are forced to go to England where the unemployment figure is now about one million people. It is hard on our people if, as a result of the action of the Minister, more and more of them must emigrate. We have had the denunciation of the Defence of the West Committee which met at Charlestown, Foxford, Swinford and other centres, the denunciation of distinguished churchmen, Protestant, Catholic, Methodist and so on and of bishops of the various dioceses pointing out what I have said. What I am saying here is quite correct and it is no pleasure to me to have to tell this sad tale once more.

I do not wish the Minister ill but when I was in Donegal I observed that he had certainly done better for himself than he had done for his neighbours. I wish him luck in that regard. I passed by his home and saw a modern home with all the luxuries that could be provided——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  This has nothing to do with the Estimate. The Deputy should relate his remarks to the adminstration of the Department.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  On the one hand in this country you have people living in luxury. Hoteliers can come here and get thousands of pounds in grants——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Deputy is wandering from the Estimate.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  I can assure the Chair that I shall be able to relate my remarks to the business before the House if I am permitted to do so. In Cork which I visited recently—the Taoiseach's home town one might say-there is a great deal of poverty and hardship while there is wealth and affluence and no scarcity of money for people who are able to get the ear of the Taoiseach and his Ministers. We were told that this was a poor man's Government. As a boy, I listened to the politicians of that day promising all sorts of benefits and blessings if they elected this Government. It is not [1087] surprising that you have protest groups and marches now all over the country. It is nearly impossible to count these groups——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Will the Deputy come to the Estimate or else resume his seat?

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  I know that if I persisted in bringing these matters to the notice of Parliament I should soon be shot down and so, to show respect for the Chair's ruling, regardless of what I may think about it, I shall confine my remarks to what I have already said. But let the message go forth loud and clear that the people in the west, in the congested areas, and their families are determined that they will get a new deal in the future. If they do not get it peacefully I fear many of them will resort to breaking the law which would be a regrettable situation.

I have spoken at length of the benefit that the dole, if continued, would be to those people. I advocated increased social benefits such as the dole, widows' and orphans' pensions and old age pensions and I want that to go on record. If the Government were looking after the affairs of the State instead of fighting among themselves it would be possible to increase these benefits. There were many increases in national earnings in recent years, on the agricultural side through increased prices for cattle and on the industrial side there were also great increases. Another item I am proud to mention is mining which is now becoming a great money spinner. Last night Deputy Carter told us it was easy for the Opposition to suggest increased benefits because we have not to provide money by way of taxation. I am pointing out that our national income has increased substantially but the distribution of our national wealth leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly.

I am not preaching communism. I am an Irish Catholic, perhaps, a very poor one, but somebody must say these things, which should be said even if we get very little publicity for saying them or even if we become unpopular and take the risk of having a “run-in” with the Chair, something I [1088] would very much regret. Last night I referred briefly to the fact that many people who have to go to England come home after spending many years in England and contributing to social welfare over there. Because they were insured workers and employed they had to register there and pay the usual contribution which employed people must pay in England and Scotland.

Many of them worked long and late hours; they could not afford to live on a 40-hour week. They undertook piecework, fuelling furnaces, down in the pits and, as Deputy Coughlan knows, they went to the potato fields. Whereever they went they worked long and late and hard. They earned overtime and their earnings were quite considerable. The majority of them sent home money to keep the little homestead going. Quite understandably some of these people have returned in poor health. Some of them are neighbours of mine. When they try to claim social welfare benefit they run up against certain difficulties. Some of these cases have been drawn to my attention by my local medical men who pointed out the difficulties some of these applicants for benefit meet. They have been certified by doctors as unfit to work. The percentage is not high but there are cases here and there, some of them in my own neighbourhood.

I said last night that I was aware that our Minister went across to England to make reciprocal arrangements for benefits but some people are being denied benefit. They have made a contribution down through the years and they are now unable to fend for themselves. The Parliamentary Secretary saw fit to challenge me and I am happy to take up that challenge this morning. At the moment I have one name which I will give him for investigation, but not across the floor of the House. I will supply him with more names if he is in office next week or even within a couple of days. He said that I was making foolish statements which would not bear examination. I will send him on details of these cases and I hope he will deal with them expeditiously. These people are waiting for their money. They have made their contribution and they are entitled [1089] to their benefit with their record of achievement.

It is true to say that increases have been granted on paper. Ministers can quote the extra 10s a week granted to old age pensioners and widows, but is it not true, as Deputy Barry said yesterday, that we have been suffering from inflation for quite a considerable time? Is it not true that the cost of living has gone up, and up, and up? Is it not true that with the changeover to decimal currency the cost of living went up overnight? Ask anybody in the street. People who are running homes and people who keep records are well aware that the changeover to decimal currency hit the general public very hard indeed.

The Minister tells us in this white-washing statement, which is the most deceitful and fraudulent document I ever read, that these people are well off but I can tell him, and his neighbours can tell him, that they are not well off. The proof can be seen in the figures for unemployment and the figures showing the decrease in the population. If he does not care to take my word for it, let him read the speeches and the pronouncements of the distinguished bishops of various denominations. Let us show an increase on paper for the sake of deceiving the public. Let us throw dust in their eyes and try to blind them. They are not being blinded because they all have to face up to the reality of trying to make ends meet and trying to keep body and soul together.

In an inflationary situation do we not all know that the rich can always cushion themselves in some way or other, but the poor have to pay the last penny. They cannot go to the supermarket, they cannot go ten or 15 miles to a town, to avail of a bargain in clothes or shoes, or something else. They cannot avail of the 4d off one article or 3d off another because they are dealing in quarter pounds of butter and half pounds of bacon. They are in the first line in the trenches when inflation hits as it has hit this country. It has completely upset the balance of things. A few days ago we had the announcement about the £20 million [1090] that suddenly came from under the carpet. I do not know where it was lying for some time past. Deputy O'Higgins described it as an each-way bet.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  What has this got to do with the Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare?

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  I am making a point if I am permitted to do so. We are told that certain categories of industry and certain categories of people will benefit from this £20 million. I have not got the list with me of the various sections who will benefit from this £20 million which is allegedly there. In the course of a little bit of cross-chat, which is quite frequent in this House between some Members on our side and the Taoiseach's, the Taoiseach said he had some good news which would stop us from talking for a while. If you read the Minister's statement, Sir, announcing that this extra £20 million would be made available, you will find it very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to see how one penny of that £20 million will reach the pockets of the people on whose behalf I am speaking here this morning. The well-to-do, the hoteliers, people who subscribe generously to election funds for a certain party, will be considered when they make their claims for increased sums of money for different projects, allegedly industrial development——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Deputy is getting away from social welfare. I suggest that if he has nothing to say on the Estimate he should resume his seat. The Chair will not allow him to continue on this line.

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  Surely I am entitled to make this point on the Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare without being shot down every minute by you? I mean this with respect. After all, you come from a similar area to mine and, with due respect, I think your ruling is a little harsh. There is not a mention of social welfare recipients in the announcement about the £20 million.

I want to deal now with widows and [1091] orphans and other social welfare recipients. Having spent eight or nine years in business in this city I know that the cost of living has gone up very rapidly. This has adversely affected widows and orphans who have to pay rent for a small room and also have to pay for other little odds and ends. It is only fair to say in passing that, were it not for the generosity and charity of organisations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, many of these people would starve and would be on the street. These organisations take a keen interest in the poor and destitute. There are homes in this city where people for a small sum of money can get under a roof for the night and have a warm meal. During the day they stroll around the city and perhaps go into parks. I have met these people. I am more familiar with the way of life of people in this city than I am with that of the people of Cork or any other city. This section has my sympathy and I understand their problems because I worked with them at the North Wall and around the city. I have often discussed their problems with them and I have always found that they are a very proud, honourable, decent people. We read in the newspapers and hear it on radio and television when somebody robs a bank or steals something and is brought before the court, but we do not hear of the great contribution many of these people made in their time when the chips were down in 1916 and indeed before and after that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  What relationship has this to the Social Welfare Estimate?

Mr. O'Hara: Information on Thomas O'Hara  Zoom on Thomas O'Hara  I am making the case that there is very little consideration being given in this Estimate to people who suffered these hardships. The niggardly increases about which the Minister has told us will go a very small way indeed towards keeping body and soul together. I am making the point that, were it not for organisations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, these people would be starving. Many of them would die on the roadside if they were depending on the present Minister for Social Welfare and his Government.

[1092] Deputy Dr. O'Connell mentioned delays in the payment of benefit. He would know more about this than I do because in the country there is something to cushion a person and carry him over for a week or two. There is the grand old tradition that a person can get a jug of milk or a little food next door if he is down and out. There is not much of that in any city. There are letters being written to the newspapers about delays in the payment of benefit usually over a technicality. Imagine the plight of a person depending on his little cheque on a certain morning on being told that it has been stopped or that there is some technical hitch and inquiries have to be made. These people find themselves in serious difficulty and it should not happen.

There is also the problem of people who take up employment with disreputable employers who are not concerned about the welfare of their workers and who fail to stamp their cards. I know of these things having happened in my constituency. This should not happen if there was an efficient Minister who was concerned about the welfare of these people. But after what we have witnessed on the dole and other issues it does not surprise me that certain individuals get away with not stamping cards. It is disgraceful, particularly when one considers the cost of a stamp today and the cost of living, that any employer should get away with failing to stamp cards and depriving people of benefits to which they are entitled.

Maybe it will be some consolation to people to know that the Minister has referred to some benefit after one has died. It seems they are prepared to pay for one's burial. They call these things death grants. I suppose poor people can draw encouragement from the fact that the Minister has promised that when they die they will not be left on top. There will be a few pounds somewhere to bury them. Even in the days of British rule there was that sort of thing and indeed it must have been more generous than the present scheme. I was approached on Monday last by a woman whose husband has died. She lives in a very old county council cottage which is in a shocking [1093] state of disrepair. She is in very poor health. She applied for the death grant to help her with the burial costs and she got a letter back to say that she would not get it. I have known her for 20 or 25 years. She has a little job cleaning a court house. I am taking up the case for her. I do not know whether I shall succeed, but I have a duty to refer to the type of treatment which this woman has received when I speak in the presence of a Minister who comes in here to boast about all the benefits and blessings that are being distributed to the people.

I want to say in conclusion that I do not know what the future holds, but with all the fighting and wrangling that is going on in Government I am not surprised that social welfare recipients have to wait for their benefits. I suppose the Minister can give the matter very little attention. He is one of the very few in attendance this morning; the rest are otherwise engaged in knifing each other at the Fianna Fáil meeting which is going on at this time.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  I do not intend to enumerate in detail any of the cases I have had to deal with during the last 12 months. If I were to do that I would keep the House in session until after Christmas Day. Most of my time and the expenses attached to my duties as a Dáil Deputy go on the Department of Social Welfare. I want to deal with the Department, as I see it, from my working with it over the last 20 years.

The Department of Social Welfare is the most important Department in the Government because it deals with necessitous people who live from hand to mouth. The treatment meted out to these people is a scandal in a Christian country. I cannot for one moment understand the procedure adopted in the investigation of legitimate claims by the officials of the Department. I do not deal personally with the Minister; I deal with the Department he controls.

I cannot understand why a person in my city or county, who is legitimately entitled to social welfare benefits and who applies locally through the employment exchange or at the Custom House for benefit, has to have [1094] his claim taken there and then sent to Dublin to be stamped and numbered before being sent back to Limerick for investigation. In a sane country who would put up with such procedural nonsense? This is a new procedure, introduced in the last three or four years. If claims are investigated locally why can they not be stamped and numbered locally as well? Under the present system they are sent to Dublin and held in the Department for weeks and weeks on end. I know of a case of a man who sent up a claim last July and it still has not been investigated. He and his four children are living on home assistance.

When the application is finally receipted, numbered and dated in Dublin it is sent back to Limerick for investigation. The investigation officer covers a large area including the city and county of Limerick and parts of Clare and Tipperary. He has to file that application away and wait until he has sufficient investigations to make in the area of the person concerned. If that is the way the Department work we should employ a group of cub scouts to carry out this duty, because unfortunate people have to wait weeks and weeks and months and months for a decision on their claim.

At home I have a ledger where I tabulate every application I send and I am willing to let the Minister have a look at it. I have a note of the number of letters and telephone calls I have to make to the Department asking why claims have been held up. The reply I usually get is that they will get around to it and I will have an answer in a few days. Days grow into weeks, weeks grow into months, and I get no answer. I stand for the underprivileged people who spend their time waiting for the postman to deliver a cheque. When no cheque arrives they go up to Coughlan who rings the Department and is told that they are investigating it and a note will be sent next week. They then go down to the home assistance officer who can only give an unfortunate man £3 to look after his four children.

At my local health board meeting tomorrow I am going to ask how much we spend on telephone calls to the [1095] Department every day in order to speed up claims for unfortunate people. We can all talk—talk is cheap —but people with rent due, ESB bills waiting and mouths to feed have to go to the home assistance officer where they are given three lousy pounds because of the dilatory manner in which the officials in An Roinn Leasa Shóisialaigh are doing their job. I cannot speak with as much severity as I would wish on this matter. The quicker we alert these people to their responsibilities the better. I see six of them here today and I wish the whole Department were here. I should like to lay down to these people their responsibilities——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy is aware the Minister is responsible to this House.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  I know that very well.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy should not attack officials.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  We are aware that the Minister has an onerous job at the moment and, being a sympathetic and charitable person, I am trying to save him any more worry. I am sure he will appreciate that. I will say no more.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy is well aware he must not refer to officials. He can refer to the Minister.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  I do not want to be personal in this matter. I wish to point out to the Minister the dilatory, lazy manner in which the officials are tackling their job.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy is well aware that officials must not be attacked in the House.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan  Zoom on Stephen Coughlan  Up to three or four years ago these investigations were carried out locally, but someone got a brainwave that the job should be handled in Dublin and that the people there should make the decisions in all cases. I would ask the Minister if he thinks this is a fair method of investigation. I do not think it is and I would [1096] ask the Minister to consider this matter urgently. We are dealing with people who are living from day-to-day and they should be our first concern.

I wish to give the Minister an example of the bungling that goes on in his Department without his knowledge. Frequently I have occasion to phone his Department, perhaps in connection with an inquiry regarding an old age pension or a pension for a person who might have returned to this country after spending some time abroad. I ring the number in the telephone directory—which is 46811—and I am told I have the wrong number. I am told to ring 300922 but when I check in the telephone directory under Aras Mhic Dhiarmada I find there is no such number listed. However, when I ring the latter number I get an answer but I do not understand why we are put to the expense of ringing a number listed in the book only to be told it is not the correct number.

I rang Aras Mhic Dhiarmada at 9.45 this morning only to obtain the engaged signal. I kept ringing until 10.15 a.m. but the line was still engaged. I asked the courteous lady on the telephone switchboard here to obtain the number for me and explained that I had been ringing for 30 minutes. She told me that was not unusual, that this happened every day. However, she promised to call me back when a line was free and finally at 10.25 a.m. I got through to Aras Mhic Dhiarmada. I do not regard this as an efficient service and I am sure the Minister will agree with me in this regard.

When investigations are held up in the Department, the unfortunate people to whom I have been referring are put on home assistance. The limit of assistance is £3, except in rare cases where they might get £1 extra if there is a very large family. Fifty per cent of home assistance revenue comes from the ratepayers. I am wondering if this is a deliberate campaign by the Department to reduce their obligations and work and to throw the increase on the overburdened ratepayers? In view of the time it takes to investigate claims I am forced to the conclusion that there is such a campaign by the Department. [1097] In the last hours of this Dáil we are aware that all stops are out, no punches pulled. We saw what happened this morning with regard to the Garda Síochána and tomorrow there will be something else. I would advise the Minister for Social Welfare in his own interest in Donegal and in the interest of his party that he has a glorious opportunity now to retrieve the position of his party.

Claims for unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance are sent to Dublin for investigation. Eventually, when the claims are returned, frequently the applicants are told they are disqualified for six weeks because they have not made a reasonable attempt to obtain employment. Frequently the applicant comes to me and we fill up the appeal form. After an interval of several weeks the appeals officer comes to the area—he comes when he has perhaps two days appeals to hear. I should like to put on record that 99 per cent of the appeals officers whom I have met in Limerick have been most courteous and understanding although one always meets the person who is not courteous.

Frequently the appeal is upheld and the applicant is paid his back money. Why can these cases not be dealt with locally? Can the local person, whether an employee of the employment exchange or an employee of the Department of Social Welfare, not judge these applications instead of the person from Dublin? The person with local knowledge will know the applicant better than the official from Dublin; he will know the family background and the character of the applicant.

With regard to free fuel and free footwear, we got our allocation last year, as in other years, but no account was taken of the increase in the cost of living and in the cost of fuel. Most of the recipients of the free fuel are not dependent on liquid fuel, apart from tenants in corporation estates. Most of the people depend on the half hundredweight of coal or on the vouchers they receive for turf. Sometimes they exchange their turf vouchers for coal which devalues the voucher to about one-fourth its value because of the difference between the price of [1098] one and the other. Those people get their bag of coal and that will have to do them for at least a week. There was no account taken last year in our allocation of this difference. We appealed to the Department and we pointed out the cost of fuel, the cost of delivery and the cost of administration generally but still it was the same figure that we got over the years. I ask the Minister when our allocation for this year is received to ensure that the Department will be much more generous than they have been in the past. The Department should take a good look at the provision for free fuel in the coming months because I know the difficulty we went through in Limerick over the past two years.

The same applies to footwear. We all know that leather is practically a thing of the past and the footwear being supplied down the country is no use after one shower of rain. It is like a strainer because the water goes in one side and comes out the other. There is no life at all in the footwear produced today. We got such good wear and tear out of our boots and shoes when we were going to school that we were lucky if we got one pair in the year. Now it is a case of buying a pair every fortnight or three weeks.

I want to talk about the men who are on sickness benefit and national health generally. Somebody in the Department gets an idea that the certificates being sent up by the local doctors certifying these people as unfit are not true and valid documents. The Department then send down an appeals doctor to inspect these unfortunate recipients of national health and disablement benefits. He certifies them as fit for work. They go back to their doctors, who have certified them unfit for work, the following week. Then we have tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee and the unfortunate man is in the middle not knowing where he is going. He will say to his local doctor: “Doctor, what do you think of this?” He will say “I do not know; you are unfit”. According to the Department the man is fit for work. This is more of the Department's stupidity. One doctor is as good as another but we must bear in mind that the doctor from the Department [1099] is expected to cut off as many as possible to save expenses. They have all got the same qualifications but still the piece of paper that one doctor writes on is accepted and the piece of paper which the local man, who knows the history of the case, writes on is not accepted. This unfortunate man is then left with nothing but home assistance. I ask the Minister to do something about his Department and if he does not put a bomb under them we will get somebody from elsewhere to do the job. It is popular at the present time to bomb buildings and I do not see why the Department of Social Welfare should not go up the same way.

Last week I raised the question of the prosecution of recipients. It is very hard to blame the Department for prosecuting these people under the Social Welfare Act because of the manner in which the Act is applied. You have to sign for three days; you do that and on the third day you get a day's work. You are then between the devil and the deep blue sea; you do not know what to do so you look at your wife and children and say: “I will do the two things. I will go to work and I will go down and sign.” I do not blame anybody for doing that because of the stupid way in which the Act and the regulations are applied.

That unfortunate person is brought before the court and because of the harshness with which justice is administered he is put in prison. While he is there his wife and children are outside the gate living on the charity of the neighbours. He is deprived of all benefit while he is in prison because he succumbed to the temptation laid before him. I would do the same thing if I was in his circumstances. I do not blame that man, I blame the Minister and his Department for being the cause of this.

We now come to the cost of running the Department. Is it not crystal clear, from what I have said, that the cost of administration in the Department is beyond imagination? If the Department were only decarbonised and got a decent reboring the cost of administration, without causing any unemployment, [1100] would be reduced considerably. There is too much overlapping, expense here and expense there, which could be cut out and nobody would be a “bob” out of pocket.

I now want to talk about the manner in which the Department check on employers and on their responsibilities to their workers. Deputy O'Connell and Deputy O'Hara have already spoken about the situation but they did not mention that when these things are reported, as I have done on many occasions, the Department's attitude is that it is up to the person concerned to prosecute the employer. I say it is not. It is the duty of the Department to see that every employer fulfils the obligation laid down on him because the employee has, by compulsion, to pay whatever he is called on to pay for the weekly employment stamps. He fulfils his end of the contract and if the employer, for one reason or another, fails to do his part—and this is rampant—it is the Department's responsibility to see that every six months a worker's card is returned. If it is not, the Department have an obligation to inquire why not.

In the great majority of these cases the employees do not bother: they accept the employer at face value and perhaps by an oversight the card has not been stamped. Then the claim arises and the worker goes to look for his legal rights. He is told: “You are not in benefit, you have not sufficient stamps.” By this time the employer may have fled the country or gone bankrupt and the unfortunate worker is left high and dry. He is told to take the case to court. In the name of all that is holy, with legal fees at their present level, how can a worker get a solicitor? Even if he does he may find that his employer has gone to America or Jamaica or that by now he may be an employee himself. This is the responsibility of the Department and I hope the Minister will take up the matter and ensure that employers who for one reason or another do not stamp cards are brought to book.

There is still a more glaring injustice. I am talking about the Nevins— I name them—who have been prowling [1101] around the West of Ireland picking up boys and girls to go into the potato fields of Scotland, exploiting them to the last, giving them conditions unsuited to dogs. Those boys and girls were never registered as employees in either Ireland or Scotland. They were travelling around like Duffy's Circus from field to field from the east to the west coasts of Scotland. Where in the name of God were the investigators then? I want to know what is now being done about it. Are those Nevins being brought to heel and are our people now being treated as if they were in employment in their own country? I will not say any more about them because a lot has been said already, but I ask the Minister to tell us what the position is now.

Those boys and girls were forced to live in bothies, hovels and stables, to work from seven o'clock in the morning to seven o'clock at night. Those responsible, who were making £100 a day out of those boys and girls, must be brought to heel. When I was in Scotland they chased me all over the place trying to catch up with me but they had a damn fine chance of doing that. My investigations were fruitful and if the conditions I uncovered have not ceased to exist completely I hope the Minister will see to it that they are remedied immediately.

I should like to discuss for a moment the Department's contribution to the social welfare centres throughout the country. It is nothing like what it should be from the point of view of the work those centres are doing. Their members are visiting the sick, helping unfortunate people in their homes-out night and day helping old people in bed, washing them, cooking for them. I wish the Minister would send some of his officials to the Limerick social centre where they will learn a lesson which might put a bit of life into them. I hope the Minister will review the contribution he is making to those centres because they deserve a lot more than they are getting.

Some consideration should also be given to what I would call lapsed members of the social welfare system, persons who, though they had contributed for many years, are found to [1102] be out of benefit because they had not stamped cards sufficiently in a given period. We all have experiences of such people. They have contributed thousands of pounds throughout the years and all that money has gone down the drain. I suggest to the Minister that some benefits should be made available to such people. I do not say they should receive full benefits but recognition should be forthcoming for the contributions they have made over the years.

I will refer only briefly to the matter of the abolition of unemployment assistance because enough has been said about it. I am glad it was I who raised it here. I am glad we on these benches anticipated the action of the Department and that we brought nationwide criticism to bear on the intentions of the Department. Because of what we said there was a reappraisal and we got half a loaf. That was not enough for me because it illustrates the callous approach of the Department to the underdog: hit him and let the other fellow get richer and bigger while the unfortunate at the bottom of the ladder gets poorer and poorer.

My diaries and letter book are there to prove how dilatory the Department are in the matter of social welfare. I have said enough to convince the Minister that the Department need a major overhaul if those people are to receive the treatment to which they are justly entitled. I am not asking for charity, only for the just rights of those people.

I ask the Minister to ensure that there will be no necessity in future for expensive telephone calls to non-existent numbers. I feel very strongly about this and I will continue in my efforts inside and outside this House until I see a major overhaul in that Department.

Mr. Moore: Information on Seán Moore  Zoom on Seán Moore  It is quite true to say that this is the best Estimate ever presented by a Minister for Social Welfare because of the fact that it envisages the spending of £134 million. However, what is more important is that the Minister stated that he is preparing a new code of social welfare, and I hope the Minister will speed the day when we shall see this. Some [1103] changes are needed in the whole social welfare code and its administration. When we say we are not complacent in respect of the social welfare code, at the same time we should admit that people are inclined to belittle our social welfare services here, very often speaking in ignorance. It was the fashionable thing at one time to criticise our services here by comparing them with those of other countries. I often thought that if people would really compare them with those of other countries they might find out that in one instance at least our service is ahead of that of the United Kingdom. I do not want to start making comparisons between ourselves and other people; I just mention that to create some air of realism when we are discussing this most important subject.

I can say, without fear of contradiction, that in recent years we have got away from this attitude that Social Welfare is a kind of poor law institution dispensing the slight alms of the State to the people who need them. We have an educated public and a good Government. We have shown to each pensioner in whatever category he may be that we try to cherish all the people equally and to give the old age pensioner, the blind pensioner and the widow that sense of belonging to our society, that they are part of our society and that the State recognises their importance. A great deal more can be done on these lines, and the Department have a great task before them to get the priorities right, to recognise that the basic unit in our society is the family and that our whole legislation must be geared towards protecting that unit.

In that connection it is very important that we should increase widows' pensions and children's allowances. We should ensure that every child from whatever type of home he comes— and they are mostly the poorer type— will have, first, at least a frugal living and, secondly, as full an education as the boy or girl in the more affluent sector. It may be said that education is not a matter for this Department. That is quite true, but children's allowances do come under the Department. [1104] The Minister, to give him credit, in recent years increased the age limit for these allowances. Where boys and girls are taking full education these allowances should be extended at least up to the time they have started the final phase of that education. This will cost money, and I will say for every Member of this House that none of us begrudges this money to the Minister. Of course, it is easy to say that, but it is the Minister who must explain to the House why taxation has to be increased. It is easy for me or for Deputies over there to be generous in our remarks and say: “I do not mind more taxation” but when the Budget comes and the Government must introduce heavier taxation, then we are not so generous. It is well known that any Government could be brought down by the fact that the public will have judged their taxation to be too heavy without examining for what actually the taxation was intended.

Widows and children are the weakest sector of our society and I would like to see increases given to widows and orphans. They get it really tough today when on one side we have an affluent society and on the other side one not so affluent. In between you have the family of the lower-paid worker or the family of the widow. They must be protected against the very serious effects of inflation. Do not let us think we just have it here because this is a problem facing countries all over the world. As inflation increases the hardships on the family increase and the State must try to buttress them against these increases which erode the increases previously given. The Government party, of which I am a member, has, I think I can say with all due respect to the other parties, brought a new outlook to social welfare, the attitude that we are not prepared to stand on what we have done, but will go ahead and ensure that the wealth of the country is distributed to those who need it most.

It is very easy to pick out small things that have happened in the Department. Deputy Coughlan mentioned the telephone. I certainly agree with him. It would drive you almost round the bend sometimes trying to [1105] get on to them. However, that is a small point; a new switchboard would fix that. I do not want to join in the popular pastime of denigrating the Department all the time. The men and women in the Department are just as conscious as I am or any other Deputy is about the needs of the people. The way they administer the laws we make may be a reflection on the laws as we drafted them. If that is so, we must examine the laws and the regulations. The Minister in his brief here promises to do that.

Another section that should get special protection are the old people. In recent years old age pensions have been increased greatly, but again, as the Minister states, pensioners are not satisfied. That is a good sign, but we should look at the matter from the point of view of basic economics. You pay an old age pensioner £5 a week and he lives in the city here in a corporation flat at a special rent; he may have a medical card and he may have some other assistance from the State. The total commitment of the State in respect of that person would be roughly £500. However, if that man or woman cannot stay at home in the little room or flat he must be sent to an institution. The cost of maintaining him there would be almost £1,000 a year. In addition to this economic factor there is also the social side of the question because most old people would prefer to be able to stay at home if they had somebody to look after them. Despite the dedication of the staffs of institutions that cater for these people the very fact of their being in such places can be demoralising for them, as anybody visiting various institutions will realise. Therefore, our efforts should be concentrated on keeping people in their homes. Of course, in some cases it is necessary for old people to go to institutions. The Department of Social Welfare, in conjunction with the Department of Health, could ensure that as many old people as possible are enabled to remain in their familiar surroundings and that they would have daily help. A certain amount of daily help is being provided at present.

The mark of our civilisation will be reflected, ultimately, in the way in [1106] which we care for our old people and other less well-off persons in our community. It is common to see placard-carrying groups in this city who, very often, are protesting about some trivial or even foolish matters. But one will not see any of the many voluntary workers who look after the aged carrying banners protesting against grievances, imaginary or otherwise.

In the Minister's review of social welfare, I hope that the persons I have mentioned specifically will be given priority. It has become almost a national pastime for people to condemn our social services, but in many cases such people do not acquaint themselves with the facts. If these people are not serious in their approach to the problems of the aged or the less well-off, they should not voice their grievances until such time as they have done their homework, because otherwise they only hinder the efforts being made. It would be difficult to visualise a situation in which the social welfare services would be perfect because, basically, this is a matter of finance. Unless our economy is sufficiently buoyant to provide the necessary services, they cannot be provided. We are aware that there are inadequacies in the services but, at the same time, people should not protest without keeping the question of finance in their mind. If there is a real intention on the part of all concerned to better the existing services we can look forward optimistically to the future.

In addition to the Department allocating certain amounts each year for the various services, I would like to see them becoming a kind of social generating station from which would come ideals and ideas on the whole question of social welfare. There are many people in the Department who are of great ability and these people could make a tremendous contribution to the new social welfare code—a social welfare code that we could be proud of and that would be as extensive as our resources allow. As a nation that spends vast sums of money yearly on such items as drink and tobacco, it would be wonderful if each one of us had a sense of commitment in relation to our less well-off brethren and that we would be prepared to accept [1107] additional taxation for the purpose of providing better social welfare services. Profit and loss accounts are no criteria for determining the wealth of a society. The way in which we treat the less well-off sections of the community will be reflected in the national balance sheet.

In conclusion, I wish to pay tribute to the voluntary societies who are doing trojan work in this city in the spheres of social welfare, housing and in many other ways. Even small committees can do a great deal of work. I am a member of a committee of not more than 15 people and this committee are planning the provision of a scheme of flats for old people that will cost probably £70,000. Of course they will be helped by the Government by way of grants, but the point I am making is that people can do a lot if they have the will. The Catholic Housing Aid Society were instrumental in the building of flats for old people at Gardiner Street, St. Anne's Court. Again, they received generous help from the Department. In my own area the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have provided homes for old people, again, with help from the Department. We in Ireland have the means and the will to provide a code of social welfare that will be in keeping with our traditions and our beliefs, but until we have accomplished such a code we cannot say that we have made all the progress possible. From the Minister's brief we can take it that the future can be faced with confidence and I look forward to the day when he will introduce his new social welfare code. I hope there will be no undue delay and I assure the Minister that we on this side of the House will back him in relation to whatever additional taxation he may find it necessary to impose.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I would like to make a few brief comments on the activities or, as some might describe them, the inactivities of the Department of Social Welfare. I do not think this Government will last long enough to permit all of us to deal with the many aspects of the Department that necessitate comment. At a time when there is so much talk of a United Ireland, one is justified [1108] in making comparisons with benefits here and those in the Six Counties. Most of us are aware that the northerner is a hard-headed businessman and business extends along the line to the household as it were. I know there are many Nationalists in that part of the country who would be willing to make sacrifices and come in with us, but I wonder how many Unionists would be willing to do likewise.

When one looks back over the 50 years of rule by Irishmen one realises that quite a number of those years have been spent under Fianna Fáil. I think there is little to show for their policy over those years. One need only look at the state of the nation today. Looking for a republic for the 32 counties! I never knew so many republican parties in this country. Fianna Fáil claim they are republican; but there are many republican parties, if we are to believe all we hear. Who in the North of Ireland would want to come in here in the present state of confusion here?

Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. J. Brennan): Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The Deputy cannot blame the Department of Social Welfare for that.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  No, but we can blame the Minister's party and the policy adopted by Fianna Fáil Governments. The Minister cannot blame his officials because the officials are guided by the rule book and, if they do not follow the rules, they will disappear very quickly.

I said Unionism was a half-hearted business. The Unionists proclaim their loyalty to the Crown. Their real loyalty over the years has been to the half-crown. I do not know to what they are loyal now since decimalisation. These are the people who threatened at one time to kick the Crown into the Boyne. Loyalty! It is like the loyalty in the Fianna Fáil Party today, all the empty seats behind the Minister, who sits there like the boy on the burning deck; all the fire and brimstone is up on the fifth floor.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  There are not many Fine Gael people here either.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  It is two to one.

[1109]Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Is the Deputy saying we are the majority party?

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  Let us turn now to the Twenty-six Counties. Because of the failure of Fianna Fáil hundreds of thousands of young men along the western seaboard have had to emigrate. What had the country to offer them? The policy has been to export our people and export our language. It is the remittances of our emigrants that keep the pot boiling, pay the rent on Monday and put a bite on the table—remittances to the tune of £20 million a year. When the emigrants come back they find that every time benefits are increased in Britain whatever they are entitled to here is cut pro rata. That is all the country has to give them.

I never believed the dole would solve the economic situation in the West. The dole has now been withdrawn. What has been done by Fianna Fáil to compensate those who are deprived in this way or to provide work for these men? What is there for the young man who stood by his ageing parents? That was the loyalty that kept him at home; it was not loyalty to the crown or the half-crown, but to his father and mother. When the parents die this man has no option but to emigrate. All over the countryside there are hasps on doors and chains on gates.

The Minister talked about increases in social welfare. What about the increases in the cost of living? The people were like dromedaries carrying a hump of taxation. When the value added tax is introduced they will become camels with two humps. Ministers are running around all over Europe. I would ask the Minister to run over to Britain and do something about the reciprocal arrangements where social welfare benefits are concerned. It should not take him long. Every day Ministers are running up and down the steps into and out of Aer Lingus planes, being seen off by their friends and officials. If the Minister will go to Britain to do something about these benefits I will see him off and I will meet him when he comes back. Something must be done to alleviate the hardship on these poor people. We [1110] have the telephone number of the Department of Social Welfare off by heart, 46811. It must be one of the busiest Departments because now one has to queue to get a call through.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Where is that number?

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  It is the number of the Minister's own Department. I have known that for 30 or 40 years.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Which part of it?

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Is the Minister talking about Phibsboro Towers now?

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  It is the Department of Social Welfare.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  The Minister is sitting there waiting for the white smoke. We will have to bear with him if he does not know his own number. Every time one rings the Department one gets the engaged signal.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  Because it is a busy number.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  That is exactly what I am pointing out. One would not have to ring the Department if everything was all right. Things should run smoothly. People should not have to suffer delay in the payment of benefits to which they are entitled. Mention was made of a bomb being put in the Department. I suggest a time bomb should go in with every case. I would not like to injure any of you. Something must be done to activate the Department of Social Welfare. Perhaps a time bomb or some sort of explosive device could be set to warn the officials about long delays in dealing with queries. Many unfortunate people have their claims delayed. I know of many cases of delay. We are a society in which the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. Some people in our society are affluent and we have the Taca element and I think of them as “effluent”. The rats are beginning to desert the ship. People are beginning to realise on which side their bread is buttered.

Reference has been made to deserted wives. Unfortunate women who have [1111] been deserted should be helped. What are we in this country doing for them? The “good time boys” in England should be brought to justice. Why should we have to pay expenses which are really theirs? Many families would bring cases against the missing husbands if these cases could be held in camera to save the embarrassment of the wives and children. Perhaps the Minister for Justice could make a special effort to bring home these husbands to face their responsibilities. Any such cases should be heard in camera. This might result in the Minister benefiting more than he imagines.

Many claims for social welfare benefits have been delayed in the Department. I know of one case of an old age pensioner, aged 75 years. For three years she did not draw the pension. Old people in the country are sometimes uncertain of their age. She was 73 before she got a pension or even applied for it. For a short period she was overpaid. Is it just that the Department should demand repayment of the slight overpayment? The old lady was overpaid a few shillings, but the State benefited by the fact that she did not claim a pension for three years. Credit should be given to her for these three years instead of looking for the few shillings back.

I would like to commend the great social welfare work done by voluntary organisations. Great things have been done in this country by voluntary effort. We hear of students who are dissidents or radicals. There are many students who work quietly. They are not shown on television working for old people. I have seen lads papering rooms for old people. I commend the great work they do.

I conclude by asking the Minister to have his telephone fixed.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  That is the only sensible thing the Deputy said since he started.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I must sympathise with the Minister. Some of the Deputies are coming down with long faces after the party meeting.

(Interruptions.)

[1112]Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I regret that, year after year, the Department of Social Welfare appears to be the whipping-boy for practically every Deputy. If someone has a complaint to make about a Department it is in order to bring it before the Minister in the House. I have done so myself on numerous occasions. It is a pity that matters which are either not correct or only partly correct should be brought in here and hurled across the House as if they were the absolute truth. To listen to the record of complaints about the Department of Social Welfare one would get the impression that people were born and reared to become social welfare officials in order to crucify the poor people of this country. I have more dealings with the Department of Social Welfare than any other Deputy in this House. In the main the officials are both efficient and courteous. It is only right that should be said.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  We do not need the Deputy's “hear, hear”.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  I made no complaint about the officials. The rules are in a book and they are handed on to them to enforce.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The administration of the Department by the present Government has left much to be desired. It would be unfair if the people who are administering the instructions of the Government should be blamed.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan  Zoom on Fintan Coogan  Deputy Foley has resigned and the Minister is not listening.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The official record will carry my remarks.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I am listening.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I should like to ask some questions about the administration and I hope that the Minister will comment on them when replying. I should like to know the number of people who were laid off unemployment assistance this year. Would the Minister be able to tell me what the net saving was? Many of these people went on home assistance or other payments. The net result was that the number of names appearing on the unemployment register was reduced.

[1113]Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I do not think there is any significant increase in home assistance payments.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I cannot go into details but in my own area I got figures. Deputy Joe Lenehan should be asked about the figures in his area also. He will give the figures for his area and I am sure the Minister, in his own constituency where many thousands of people were involved, would know what the score is.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I have the figures for every area. I shall deal with the matter when replying.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  They have not been living on the wind. They had no employment and they must live on something. It was certainly not on savings they made while on unemployment assistance. They had to get money somewhere and the only place they could get it was from home assistance. I suggest that is what happened.

This did reduce the number on the unemployed register. Another thing with which I entirely agree also reduced the number. It is as well to point this out. People went on retirement pensions—about 4,000, according to the Minister. At age 65, because of the number of stamps they had, they were entitled to do so. This is a very good idea but I would ask the Minister to arrange that, when somebody is retiring, if he leaves a job and applies for a retirement pension, there would not be the great delay there is at present in issuing the pension book to him. It appears that there is a crossing of lines somewhere. People employed, perhaps, for 30 or 40 years and stamping cards who apply for pensions have to wait far too long. If their incomes from employment cease they should get the pension without delay; if they are drawing unemployment benefit they should be allowed to continue drawing it until the week the pension book is issued. Although that seems simple, I have had one or two cases where it does not happen.

It is quite safe for the Minister to go now, I understand. I am not talking about myself but about the party meeting.

[1114]Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  I shall listen to the Deputy without interrupting.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The retirement pension should be paid without any delay. Recently I had a case of a woman whose husband was invalided and she was drawing unemployment benefit and subsequently home assistance. When her husband died, although she was then destitute, the Department informed her she was no longer entitled to draw unemployment assistance because she was a widow entitled to a pension. When she applied for the pension she was told it would be possibly five or six weeks before it could be issued. She was left suspended like Mahomet's coffin. She would possibly be now out of the way altogether but for the charity of her neighbours which enabled her to live. I hope she gets the pension soon. This is another case of delay where delay should not be.

I have complained consistently here and must now repeat the complaint about the situation in regard to appeals whether these are against a referee's decision who decides somebody is— they use a lovely expression—“not unfit for work”: they do not say he is fit for work with the result that the disability benefit is cut off—or whether it is decided for some peculiar reason that he is not entitled to unemployment benefit or assistance and an appeal is submitted. The delay is far too long. A few days ago I was appalled by a complaint from a man with a wife and ten children, all at home and entitled to benefit, who was ill and whose doctor says he is not to work under any circumstances and who was, on two occasions, declared “not unfit for work” by a referee. The result is that this man had to get home assistance which is not very generous. Therefore, his low standard of living has dropped almost to zero. This decision was given in July; the second decision was given in September and the man is still awaiting a decision from somebody in the Department on whether the certificates issued by his doctor are to be honoured.

The man could, if allowed by his doctor, sign as unemployed but since one of his eyes is badly affected by an abscess and he cannot see, the doctor is not prepared to agree that [1115] he should seek work. Therefore, because the Department of Social Welfare cannot make up their mind this man and his family are left in an unenviable position. This is an instance of appeals taking too long. They should be dealt with far more quickly. If there are not sufficient of these officers to deal with the cases, for goodness' sake appoint them. Why should the Ministers come here every year saying: “They are very busy and unable to cope with the volume of cases”? Obviously, if they cannot deal with the work you must get more people to do the job. The appeals officers are dealing with people in dire need.

The matter of insurance cards not being stamped has already been mentioned. I am very glad to welcome the recent change whereby if an employer does not stamp cards and the insured worker applies for unemployment or disability benefit, the Department, if the card is stamped, will no longer impose a six weeks penalty but will pay from the date the evidence of unemployment or illness was produced. This is a big improvement but far too many employers have been consistently failing or refusing to stamp cards. It amazes me when I find an employer, particularly a large employer, who was forced by the State to stamp cards four or five years ago not stamping cards in the meantime so that the case recurs. Is it not reasonable to ask that the State should keep an eye on employers who have failed to stamp cards? They deduct the cost of the stamp which is over £1 a week from the workers and they should not get away with it. Recently, I had a report about somebody who owed about £8,000 insurance to the State. He had to be coaxed into paying it. The proper thing is to prosecute people who fail to stamp cards and if that were done in a few cases the others might change their minds.

Another matter arose recently in regard to stamping of cards. Apparently, Westmeath County Council, and I do not know how many other employers, last year handed in their stamped cards to the local office. The cards were stolen with the result that [1116] everybody whose cards were stolen and who applies for a benefit must first get a notice from the Department informing him that his 1970 card was not received in the office. When somebody like myself kicks up a row eventually a query goes to the employer to find out if the card was stamped and if the Department are satisfied that it was, they give credit for the stamps and pay the benefit. Why cannot the Department ask each employer concerned, particularly an employer like Westmeath County Council, whether all their employees' cards were stamped, if not, what stamps were put on, and give credit for them now? The point is that if the Department do not do that, individuals applying for benefit and who are eventually paid may be all right but those who do not apply for benefit, if they retire inside the next few years, will be affected by the fact that a full year's stamps are not credited to them.

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  Westmeath County Council should have taken action straight away and notified the Department that their office was broken into and that the stamps and cards which were duly stamped were stolen. The Department would accept that.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Would not that be lovely? The only snag is that it was not Westmeath County Council who lost the cards. It was the Department who lost the cards. The cards were deposited in the office of the Department and they were stolen from there. If Westmeath County Council lost the cards naturally they would make a claim for a reissue. In fact, it was the other way round. The Department should clear up their own house.

I have already taken up several individual cases of disability benefit. I do not think it should be necessary for me or anybody else to have to make representations on behalf of someone who was in employment for 40 years and when he makes an application for the first time, he is told that his insurance card——

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  I hope the Deputy will give me the full name and address.

[1117]Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Department are dealing with it. I do not bother the Minister of the Parliamentary Secretary with these matters. I just mention this case because I want the whole thing to be considered on a general basis. I hope the matter will be dealt with expeditiously. Can the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary tell me if it is proposed to issue a new SW. 4 in the near future?

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  There will be a new one in January.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Why not issue it in October? There is also the case of persons who draw disability benefit for a full year and because they have less than 156 stamps they are told: “We are terribly sorry, but you are not entitled to any more benefit.” If they were unemployed and that happened they would sign up for unemployment assistance, or the dole as it is called. Why not introduce a scheme of disability assistance? Why can there not be a lesser benefit which could be paid to people who have not got the correct number of stamps to enable them to draw continuously? Surely it should be possible to ensure that people in that position will not have to draw home assistance or, if they are in hospital, be left destitute because they are not entitled to draw anything at all.

Deputy O'Connell asked a question yesterday about old age pension books and the cheques for disability benefit which go to people who are in hospital. Pension books should not be taken from people who are in hospital. A strict order should be made by the Department that a person in hospital for treatment as an ordinary patient should not under any circumstances hand over his books to the people in charge of the hospital. This is a game that has been going on for far too long. I know the reasons for it. It means that these old people are subsidising the general rate because, if they hand over their books and £3 or £4 is taken from them every week, this is supposed to reduce the amount of money which their stay in hospital will cost. If they were 30 years of age instead of 70 years this would not happen. It should not happen. If they go in for shelter, [1118] which is entirely different, there is a regulation and, while I do not entirely agree with it, I can see a certain amount of justification for it. I can see no justification whatever for the other matter.

I also want to mention the position of a person in a mental hospital. I object very strongly to the present system whereby disability benefit to which a patient in a mental hospital is entitled is sent to the RMS. The RMS is usually a very busy man and has not got the time to deal with the cheques that come in from the Department for patients so he usually passes them on to somebody else. On more than one occasion I have had to make lengthy representations on behalf of an unfortunate person who suffered mental illness for several months and on being discharged was allowed out of the hospital without his bus fare home although the Department had sent perhaps £100 or more which belonged to that person to the mental hospital. This is entirely wrong and it should be stopped. Perhaps it is not administered as the Department intended it to be administered. If it is not, they should ensure that it is properly administered. This has been happening too often and it should be stopped immediately.

Only a few months ago I discovered that the Department had set up a new section in Phibsboro' Towers. The telephone number which was quoted by Deputy Coogan, 46811, is well known to us all. Not so many people know the number 300922. I have to look at it myself to make sure that I get it right. This is the phone number of Phibsboro' Towers. The officials of the Department are usually very courteous. If a person rings 46811 he is told that the section is no longer there but that it is now in Phibsboro' Towers. This means another phone call and another long wait to get through. On every communication and document sent out by the Department to newspapers or anywhere else the phone number should be set out so that people will know exactly what number they should phone.

Recently I have found it extremely difficult to get through to either of those numbers. It is relatively easy [1119] between 9.30 and 10 o'clock in the morning. After that there is a long wait. It appears to me that the people employed on the switches at those two places are grossly overworked. It appears as if there are not enough operators. This is a service which requires to be dealt with expertly. There should be a proper phone service in those places. If they have not got enough telephones, as has been suggested, more should be provided. Very often the phone rings for quite a long time. Nothing is so annoying as holding a telephone in your hand for five minutes waiting for a reply and, when you think you are getting through, there is a click and you are cut off. This may be due to the fact that the person doing the job is already overworked in trying to deal with other calls coming in and may accidentally knock over the switch. Very often it is impossible to get through at all. The line is engaged and you have to dial about 20 times in the hope of cutting in between calls. I am not blaming the staff. I am saying that proper facilities are not provided.

I want to refer now to the amount of money being spent by the Department. Over the past few days we had queries about the Common Market. Everybody in this House knows my views on the Common Market. I do not think we should go in and I do not think we will go in. If we are put into the position that we have to go in, we should know what social welfare will cost each individual and what benefits we will be entitled to get. It is very hard for someone like me who is continually meeting people to try to give them the full particulars when the Minister does not know them. He was asked here in the House and he gave a very evasive reply. He dithered around and gave the impression that everybody could set their own rates, that it would be no different when we go in. This is wrong. He knows it is wrong. The Department should get out a document setting out what the rates are, what they are likely to be in five years time.

There is far too little money being spent on social welfare particularly as the raising of money is something at [1120] which the Government are so expert. We are told now that because of certain things that are happening an extra £3 million will have to be found for defence. I am quite sure that if things get any worse it can be £6 million, £9 million or £12 million and nobody will grumble. It will be brought into this House. There will be a few hours discussion and it will go right through. I think the greatest emergency in this country is the state of our sick poor. The Government should take steps to improve the rates paid.

The Minister for Health used a neat little trick to pick up £5,200,000 on the Department of Social Welfare stamp. He said he was giving something to people who have to go as out-patients to hospitals but this will cost £700,000 which was collected last year so there is a hefty balance. Why do the Department of Social Welfare not look after their own house? Nobody who is employed will complain if they are asked to pay a little extra on insurance stamps if there is a decent increase given. The 15p which was put on for health, if it had to be put on at all, should have been put on for social welfare. If that had been done, the claims of the many people who are depending on social welfare could be dealt with in a reasonable way. Unfortunately, I understand that the percentage of people in the older age group is so high that people who are working are overloaded. In this case the State should assist more than it is assisting. I see from the Minister's brief that of the extra £5 million which has been put in to pay certain increases the State is supplying £1 million. That would suggest to me that the State is opting out of its responsibilities.

I do not know what the result of this morning's meeting was nor do I know whether in the vote next week, as one Deputy said last week, Deputy Foley's voice will say one thing and his feet do a different thing, but if the feet follow the voice when the vote takes place we may get an opportunity of giving the people of this country the right to decide whether they are satisfied with the Government and the way they are being treated.

Personally, I think the Department of [1121] Social Welfare are doing a good job within the limits set for them.

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  Thank you.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Including the Parliamentary Secretary. He does not give anything away but at least he will reply civilly to a letter sent to him. I find that most of the complaints made about non-payment are caused by the fact that somebody put a wrong number on or sent it to the wrong section or did not put an X where they should have put it. I believe the Department could help by explaining more clearly what people are expected to do.

One final thing I would ask. When somebody applies for disability benefit or occupational injuries benefit, would the Department immediately send a DB.5 to him on the off chance that he is married and has six or seven children because it is very annoying when somebody who has sent in a couple of certificates is treated as a single man when there are a great many people depending on what he gets from the State.

With regard to occupational injuries, delays caused because employers fail to certify that the accident occurred in their work can be cut out. If an employer does not reply within a week he could be visited by a Department official and some penal clause could be introduced to ensure that such an employer would have to pay out of his own pocket the amount of benefit which should have been paid by the State if the certificate was sent in in time.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Mr. Andrews): Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I consider this one of the most important Estimates. To reply to Deputy Tully I am sure he will hear what happened at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting this morning but we do not know what happened at the Labour Party meeting yesterday and we probably will not know for a considerable time, maybe until such time as the history of the Labour Party is written. No matter what happens on Wednesday, and I am entirely optimistic about what will happen on Wednesday, the record of the Labour Party in coalition in the context of [1122] social welfare cannot be held up as a banner of honour, as an example to follow. That is a matter of ascertainable fact. When one talks about what goes on at party meetings one should examine one's conscience.

There has been many criticisms of the Department but when I looked at a document last night setting out the various areas in which the Department are operating I wondered how they work so well having regard to their many and varied responsibilities to the people who are entitled to social security. The words “social security” appeal to me. This is an old chestnut of mine which I shall deal with later. When there are so many people entitled to social security benefits the people administering those benefits must be under considerable pressure. We should recognise that.

Since the Fianna Fáil Government have come into office the whole area of social security has taken on a completely new and realistic look. This is not to suggest that everything is absolutely correct. Who is to say that instead of a £5 pension one would not like to give a £10 pension but the reality is that we must work within our own financial limitations? What Deputy who saw a person in very bad conditions would not like to get that person out of his difficulties? It is unrealistic to suggest that insufficient money is being given out.

As far as the Fianna Fáil Government are concerned every single penny that can be given to people entitled to social scurities benefits is given. There is no gainsaying that; the record is there. Deputy Tully made snide asides about future general elections but we can go to the country with a record which is ascertainable and identifiable. The record of Deputy Tully's party is equally ascertainable and identifiable but it does not measure up to our record.

The Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary have moved:

That a sum not exceeding £75,326,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on [1123] the 31st day of March, 1972, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare for certain services administered by that Office, for payments to the Social Insurance Fund, and for sundry grants.

This is quite a considerable sum and I, in common with every other Deputy, would like that sum to be three, four or five times greater. However, there are other areas of economic, social and cultural endeavour which must be taken into account when one is making up the national Budget on an annual basis. Any extra moneys which become available from time to time are directed towards the Department of Social Welfare.

I should like to deal with the term “social welfare”. I know I am a bit of a bore on this particular subject but, having brought up the position of deserted wives, illegitimate children, paraplegics and so on, people have begun to listen to me and as a result of my urgings quite an amount of social legislation has arisen although I must say my urgings fell on receptive ears.

What I am about to say now has already been recorded in the Dáil Debates and will continue to be recorded until such a time as the situation which I am about to speak about is changed. One of the many functions of a Deputy is to bring about change in the way he thinks change should be brought about within the context of the disciples of one's political party. I would strongly urge the Parliamentary Secretary to bring to the attention of the Minister for Social Welfare the question of changing the title of his Department from “Social Welfare” to “social security”. The word “welfare” reeks of the soup kitchen, the poor law, the county home and all the cretinous side issues that involved; it reeks of Victoriana. It has been with us since the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in the 1830s and it is still with us today. I have taken the view over the short number of years I have had the honour to represent the constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown that the word “welfare” should be changed. It is a small matter and may be the [1124] Parliamentary Secretary and his officials think I have been niggling, but I do not intend to be. I make the point as an observation and not as a criticism, in the hope that as a result of my observations this change will come about. I know my appeal will not fall on deaf ears, but I should be grateful if the Minister when he is replying would deal with the point.

I am very pleased to see the various reciprocal agreements with Britain being brought up to date. The question of deserted wives has been of considerable concern to me over the years, as has the position of illegitimate children in our society. I should like to thank the Department of Social Welfare for taking note of what was said in this House. Reciprocal legislation relating to deserted wives between this country and Britain is not entirely satisfactory, but I believe moves are being made there to introduce legislation whereby a husband who deserts his wife and goes to Britain can be prosecuted there with a view to getting him to pay whatever weekly sums his deserted wife is entitled to.

The amount of money given to illegitimate children and their mothers cannot in these inflationary times be described as generous. I have no doubt that the sum will continue to be increased as years go by in order to make the mother and her child as well off as one possibly can. It is a fact of life that we are living in a situation where money loses its value daily. This is not endemic to Ireland; it is the pattern in developed societies throughout the world.

During the Fianna Fáil term of office many innovations have been brought about in the Department of Social Welfare. One area which one would like to see improved is the position of the old in our society. I read an article on this very subject in a magazine entitled Land and Liberty, November-December, 1971. The article was entitled “Review and Reflection” by Robert Clancy, in which he comments on the place of the aged in our society. The expression “The poor we will always have with us” is anathema so far as I am concerned and I will not accept that from any quarter. It is my belief we should have a good and [1125] decent society in which the poor will no longer be poor and where they have a reasonable standard of living. I accept there are people who cannot help themselves, but we have an obligation to help them. It is totally unacceptable to this side of the House that the poor shall always be with us. This need not be so if we take a proper view of the whole philosophy of the workings of government, not only in the Department of Social Welfare, but throughout other spheres of economic endeavour.

Regarding the aged poor, Mr. Clancy states:

It is evident that the problem is basically an economic one. Making a decent living in a way that provides for one's old age holds the key to the problem.

This is the point I was making about the expression “The poor we will always have with us” and it coincides with Mr. Clancy's writing on this topic. He continues:

When we can solve the problem of having progress without poverty we will be in a fair way towards solving old age as a social problem.

Sometimes we shy away from the words “old age”; we use such words as “the later years” and “our senior citizens”. If they are used in everyday language and in a fair context that is all right. But sometimes they are used by people who wish to escape from their responsibilities and, used in that context, they are used fraudulently. The use of such terms puts me on my guard about the person who is using them and the context in which he uses them, because he might utter these words in an effort to avoid his responsibilities.

No praise can be loud enough for the voluntary bodies throughout this city and country who are dedicated to alleviating the lot of the aged in our society and I have no doubt they will continue their worthwhile work. I would mention the home help services, the voluntary social welfare services and the various societies such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Little Sisters of the Poor and organisations of that [1126] calibre who work to lessen the stress of modern living on the old. I know the Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Health are appreciative of the work being done by these organisations. In effect, they are taking over the functions of the State. Perhaps the State should do the work they are doing, but it is a happy combination of the State and voluntary organisations working hand-in-hand. It is good that people make some voluntary contribution towards the society in which they live.

It is important that we take a hard look at the integration of the aged into housing estates and new housing complexes. People with money do not have problems in that context as they can buy the necessities of life and so maintain a good standard of living. However, those who retire from jobs that do not carry large salaries have low pensions and these are the people I have in mind. In some cases their families may be deceased or they may have been neglected by their families. A young or middle-aged couple may find they cannot cope with their parents and they may take the view that it is the responsibility of the State to care for them. One might regard this as tragic, but nevertheless it is a reality of life. If a young, or middle-aged, couple have not the necessary financial resources to look after their parents, then it is a matter for the State. Having accepted that principle we must integrate them into a society in which they will have a decent standard of living.

I urge strongly the integration of the aged into housing estates, and I consider they should be given flats or accommodation in schemes which cater also for young people. Once the old people have their own base their neighbours will look after them; from time to time the younger people may invite them to their houses perhaps to baby-sit or to do a similar service. This gives the old people a feeling of belonging and this is most important.

Lack of finances and a sense of boredom afflicts the aged. At the risk of being a little crude, to get the smell of old age when one visits the apartment of an old person is upsetting. This [1127] is tragic when one considers the emphasis placed nowadays on affluence. I do not believe in being a killjoy—quite the contrary—but we should reflect from time to time on the conditions of the less well-off sections in our society. It is an exercise in mental discipline, if nothing else; and if it does not prick one's conscience that is a matter for the individual concerned. I do not believe in moralising, nor is it my intention to do so now, but I would make that point with regard to the position of the aged in our society.

The Minister mentioned the information services in the Department of Social Welfare. It is good to know that there are booklets and summaries of social insurance and social assistance services available to the public. It is important to put on the record of the House once more that there is in the city of Dublin a public office at Beresford Place and that another office was provided earlier this year in the Phibsboro' Tower, which is intended for the personal use of callers there. I would like to thank the Minister for Social Welfare for providing that office. It is a welcome development and one which I know will not cease at the Phibsboro' Tower but will spread throughout the city and county of Dublin and also throughout the country. I am not familiar with the position throughout the country but I am satisfied that there are other places where information relating to social security entitlements is available.

One finds, in one's capacity as a TD, that people come and ask what their entitlements are. With all the waste of time from the point of view of the person concerned it is pretty frustrating that one cannot say that there is a social security office down the road and ask the person to call in there to get all the advice he or she requires. Instead, one is obliged to say: “The employment exchange will be open on Monday next, perhaps you can go down there?” The person usually says: “No, I will be working.” You then say: “I will send you a copy of the pamphlet Summary of Social Insurance and Assistance Services.” You then find the person comes back to you and states that he or she did not quite [1128] understand what was meant after reading that booklet.

This is another matter which should be guarded against. All those entitlements should be put down in clear, unequivocal language so that a person's entitlements are put down in figures rather than in words. If there is something which confuses people, including myself, more than anything else from time to time it is to have figures explained with a long piece of verbiage added. It is interesting to note that 45,000 copies of this booklet were ordered in the last reprint. It is distributed free of charge to Deputies, Senators, local authorities, trade unions and others on a mailing list. It is also issued to any individual inquirer and is available for consultation at employment exchanges, employment offices and post offices.

I would ask the Minister to examine the possibility of setting up information offices of the type already set up in Phibsboro' Tower. If the office is only to be staffed by one person, they should be dotted throughout the city and the country generally, particularly in the areas of dense population. This would take a lot of worry off the people entitled to these benefits and it would, to be a little selfish about it, take quite a lot of work off individual Deputies, not that I believe in complaining about anything a Deputy has to do. I always believe if a Deputy does not like what he is doing he can get out, so Deputies do not deserve any sympathy in this or any other context in the light of the type of job they are called on to do. “If you do not like the heat of the oven you can always get out of the kitchen” was an expression used by an American President, I do not know whether it was Roosevelt or Truman. That is the answer when that type of sympathy is directed towards Deputies.

I believe if these individual offices were set up throughout areas of dense population it would go a long way towards educating the people to what their entitlements are and it would also help the Department of Social Welfare because it would take quite a considerable amount of pressure off them in terms of inquires and so on.

Deputy O'Connell mentioned a case [1129] yesterday which I did not have an opportunity of pursuing. It is that of a woman who is a deserted wife and is in poor physical condition. She is in one of the Cheshire Homes in Dublin, in the Earlsfort Terrace/Harcourt Street direction. He mentioned that the woman cannot look after her children and therefore she is not entitled to support. As he described it she could not even afford the price of a bottle of lemonade. I really have not examined this case so maybe it would be wrong for me to predict what the outcome of it might be. I am quite satisfied that Deputy O'Connell did all in his power to bring about a situation whereby this woman of 31 or 32 years of age could afford a bottle of lemonade and I have no doubt that the Deputy in his generosity bought her whatever she required. If this is the position it is wrong that this should be the case. However, as I pointed out to Deputy O'Connell, I believe that that is not the position and that the matter has not been fully investigated and that after full investigation it will be found that she is entitled to something.

I realise that the conditions for deserted wives have to be very strict and if she has not got one dependant living with her it would be unfair to make an exception in her case, but nevertheless she is a deserted wife. Deputy O'Connell did not tell us where the children are living at present and whether in fact they are being looked after by the State or being looked after privately. If they are being looked after by the State surely in that way the State are discharging their obligations to some small degree to the unhappy mother. I told Deputy O'Connell I would mention this and I will pursue it. He gave me the name of the person concerned. It is fair to say that he also gave the name to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare. During the course of the day I will remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the case and I am sure he will solve it or attempt to solve it. One can never be sure as to the full facts involved but when one states that one can solve a case one has to be very careful because it might be unsolvable.

I should like once more to bring to [1130] the attention of the House, arising particularly out of Deputy Tully's criticism of the Government in relation to our efforts in the field of social security generally, that Fianna Fáil have nothing to be ashamed of in this respect. They have made available all the resources at their disposal. As I said already, we should like to give £10 where a beneficiary is getting £5. However, a budgetary problem is involved as well as an economic situation. Perhaps in the not too distant future we will be able to give people sufficient benefits to meet their needs.

We have a darned good social welfare staff and one realises this by comparing our social welfare entitlements with those of other social welfare structures, be it in Britain or the Six Counties. When we make such comparisons, however, we ought to be perfectly clear on what we are talking about. When a person says that one reason why the Six Counties would not join us is that our social welfare benefits are not as good as theirs, which are paid for by Britain, that is a fraudulent argument. It is fraudulent, peripheral and lightweight and people who make such arguments should sit down and examine the various entitlements and the relative positions of the recipients in either case.

Such an argument put forward as a justification for the people in the Six Counties refusing to reunite with us is as lightweight as that which suggests that they might join us if our contraceptive and divorce laws were changed. It is a fraud of an argument, totally out of touch with the reality of the position that exists and it worries me when people trot out such arguments without consideration, apart altogether from the effects such arguments may have.

We have done quite well down here in the matter of our social services. Perhaps we do not give as much as we should like to give but we have made a beginning and I believe that with a little modernisation within the Department we have the basis of a very good social welfare structure. We realise that nobody in our society should have to go without a minimum standard of living and I believe we [1131] can realise that ambition in the not too distant future. It will be a Fianna Fáil Government who will do it. A long list of new concepts in this field has been the result of Fianna Fáil efforts. We have nothing to be ashamed of. When the Opposition criticise us on this they should examine their consciences and think of what they did in Government not so long ago. Let them compare what they offered to what we achieved.

I wish to conclude by thanking the Minister for Social Welfare and his Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Geoghegan, who is efficient and competent. When one brings a matter to his attention in the social welfare sphere he deals with it immediately. I should like to put on record also my appreciation of the officials of the Department who over the years have been most helpful to me in my efforts on behalf of my constituents.

Mr. Finn: Information on Martin Finn  Zoom on Martin Finn  Coming from a constituency where the number of social welfare beneficiaries are so great I cannot let this Estimate pass without making a few points that affect my people there. Their problem is very great and far different from that in other counties. Most of them occupy small holdings. Therefore, the decision taken last year to do away with unemployment assistance affected them grievously and the leader of my party brought it very forcibly to the attention of the House and the country. It almost brought down the Government at the time.

The Minister for Social Welfare comes from a county similar to mine. During the Donegal by-election I travelled his constituency extensively and I should think that the number of social welfare recipients there exceeds even that for my constituency. Therefore, the Minister knows perfectly well that if that decision by his Government had been implemented the hardship imposed there would have been enormous.

Many of those in my constituency have stayed on small poor holdings to look after their parents. Some of them, boys and girls, are well educated and could have succeeded elsewhere but [1132] they stayed at home to look after their parents. The few shillings unemployment assistance which helped those people to stay to look after their aged mothers and fathers was to be taken away from them. That decision by the Government should not have been tolerated by the Minister, who comes from a constituency so similar to mine. Many people in my county would not survive or rear their families were it not for the social welfare benefits. They would have to emigrate. It is true to say that 6,150 people have left my county since 1966 and practically every one of them was a recipient of social welfare. The Government failed miserably to provide work for them and they had to leave. I am delighted that a Deputy from my consituency who belonged to that party across the House voted openly against the Government on that issue. That man knew exactly the position and the conditions that exist there.

I come to a more pressing situation in relation to old age pensioners living alone or living with their sons or daughters and receiving an old age pension. Many of them should be in hospital. There is an allowance paid to a female relative to look after an aged person who cannot provide care and attention for himself. In many cases daughters-in-law have to care for their mothers-in-law and take them in and out of the bed maybe ten times a day. They are completely debarred from any assistance to look after those aged people. There is a regulation there that debars the woman of the house from an allowance and if she is maintained by her husband.

In the normal course of events these people go into hospital. In my county it is impossible to get people into the county home or the district hospital. There is a waiting list. I would appeal to the Minister to give an allowance to a male or female relative who is prepared to look after his or her father or mother at home so as to keep them out of an institution, a county home, a district hospital or a geriatric institution. An old person is never happier than when he is in the home in which he was born. It is tragic that assistance is not provided for such a person. I [1133] have to make a recommendation to the local authority for home assistance. I do not know how many letters I have written, for home assistance, for these poor people since the Minister changed the regulations for unemployment assistance. As a result of that, there is a rate in our county of £7.50; we must pay 50 per cent of the cost of home assistance. I must say that the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the various towns in which they operate have given a tremendous amount of help to those people.

I would say 50 per cent of the people of the West of Ireland have gone to England as migratory labourers and many of them have had to stay there. It was as a result of the earnings of these people across the water that they were able to rear their families and build the homes they have at the moment. The Government may claim that they built the homes, but it was the hard-earned money of the people who emigrated that helped to make these nice homes we have in our county today or which are in any other county where such conditions prevail. These people come back after years of slaving to earn big money. They are among the finest working people in Ireland.

Let me say to the Minister that there is no man in the West of Ireland who wants unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit if work is available. Thank God our fathers never lowered themselves to that level. It was a Fianna Fáil Government that did that. We do not want that. What we want is work and an honest living. We in the West of Ireland have been classed as lazy people by people in the city or other well-off areas, but I can guarantee that there is no lazy man there. If the work is available and the incentives are given they will do the work. We have proved this in the West of Ireland through the large number of our people who have emigrated to Britain, America and other countries and done so well. I do not want my county to be called a social welfare county. What I want in my county is that full-time employment be given so that people can earn a decent living.

In regard to sick benefit, I want to refer to people who are injured and are called before a medical referee. I know [1134] of a man who was called before a medical referee on three occasions in a nice hotel in some centre in County Mayo. He was turned down each time even though he was wearing an appliance and, as I knew, could not work for one half hour. I wrote to the Department of Social Welfare and asked how this person could certify that the man was not fit for work when he had not been examined by an orthopaedic surgeon. I complained in my letter that this man who had a family of seven children and who lived on a small holding was deprived of benefit for 15 months. In fairness to the Department, they arranged for the man to be examined by an orthopaedic surgeon and, subsequently, he received the social welfare benefits that were due to him. My point is that it would be impossible for any of these medical referees to determine whether a man was fit for work without first having reports of medical examinations and X-rays. Of course, in certain cases a referee would be able to decide. I would suggest that in cases such as the one I have mentioned, the Department, instead of sending down a referee, would request reports from orthopaedic surgeons. I have known of cases where persons were considered to be eligible for benefit by one referee but were rejected by another. Can the Minister say if a Deputy of this House is entitled to be present when a person is interviewed by one of these referees?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  A person is entitled to have a representative with him. For instance, he can bring along a solicitor or some other person. I do not think we discriminate against TDs.

Mr. Finn: Information on Martin Finn  Zoom on Martin Finn  Is a public representative entitled to be present?

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I think so. The regulations enable a person to have somebody with him and a TD is somebody, too.

Mr. Finn: Information on Martin Finn  Zoom on Martin Finn  I thank the Minister for that information. In anticipation of changes in the social welfare code, I advocate that an allowance be paid to persons who look after aged persons in their own homes.

We do not wish to have to depend [1135] on social welfare benefits but were it not for the benefits that are paid to some people in my constituency these people would not be able to survive. It is disappointing that, having had two Ministers in Dáil Éireann from our constituency, these Ministers did not succeed in creating more employment for the people there.

Mr. Kavanagh: Information on Liam Kavanagh  Zoom on Liam Kavanagh  I read the Minister's brief and I listened this morning to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach. My reaction is one of amazement at the complacency of the Government in respect of social welfare. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government had nothing to be ashamed of in respect of their record in the field of social welfare. The Minister has told us that he accepts that while things could be better, he thinks everything is going well. He said:

When it becomes evident that the community is prepared to pay substantially more, I, as Minister for Social Welfare, will be only too glad to introduce further improvements.

Does this mean that the Minister considers further improvements to be necessary but because he is either unwilling or unprepared to seek more money, he does not intend trying to improve the benefits under the various schemes? It has been evident during the past year that the Government have disregarded social welfare recipients. Everybody on this side of the House who has spoken so far has mentioned the dole issue. While this question may not be of the same dimensions in my county as it is in the west, nevertheless, it had its effects. The Minister has told us that the change in the application of the dole has saved the Exchequer nearly £2½ million but he said that these increases are offset by a reduction in the provision for unemployment assistance. I take it that this is the saving that was made by the removal from the register of persons——

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  No.

Mr. Kavanagh: Information on Liam Kavanagh  Zoom on Liam Kavanagh  That is my interpretation of the Minister's words. We [1136] all know that unemployment figures have been increasing steadily during the year and when the full figure is known and when there is a return to the register of the people who were removed from it, no doubt, it will be seen that there are more people entitled to assistance now than there were last year.

One can only deplore the attitude of the Government towards the recipients of social welfare. The attitude adopted this morning by the Parliamentary Secretary must surely be indicative of the attitude of the Government as a whole. However, perhaps, the situation is not as bad in the Parliamentary Secretary's constituency as it is in other areas. For instance, there is a difference of 32 or 33 per cent in the number of medical card holders in my constituency as against the Parliamentary Secretary's.

I would suggest to the Minister that the carrying of the dual responsibility for the Departments of Labour and Social Welfare is not only unfair to him but unfair also the Department of Social Welfare. During the past couple of years he has had to face immense problems in respect of the Department of Labour and no one could blame him for having less time to devote to the problems of social welfare. The Minister for Lands has expressed his willingness to give up that office and suggested the amalgamation of the Department of Lands and Forestry with Agriculture and Fisheries. Perhaps if there is a spare Minister about he could be appointed to the Department of Social Welfare. This is a Department which ranks high among Departments of State.

There is no information in the Minister's opening statement about social welfare in the event of our entering the EEC. The social welfare code in the EEC differs very much from our code. The Minister does not tell us what changes, if any, he proposes to make in order to dovetail our social welfare code with that of the EEC countries. I am amazed that there is no reference to this by the Minister because we are pursuing entry into the EEC with great vigour.

It would not be fair to compare [1137] social welfare benefits in the EEC countries with those obtaining in this country since there is a wide divergence in the standard of living. There is also a wide divergence in ability to pay for social welfare. That is why the Minister should give us some information now as to proposed changes in our code should we become members of the EEC. It is suggested agriculture will benefit to the tune of £30 million when we enter the EEC. Will there be any funds to improve social welfare benefits? Our cost of living will inevitably rise sharply when we join. I am speaking from experience now because I was in two EEC countries in the last month and I know what the cost of living is; it is almost twice as high as it is here. If we join there will have to be changes made in our social welfare benefits to offset the increased cost of living. I personally hope we will not join, but I cannot discuss this now. When the Minister comes to reply he might tell us what will happen in our social welfare system when we become members of the EEC.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach suggested to the Minister that the title of the Department should be changed from Social Welfare to Social Security. I think there are a great many more important things the Minister could do before he engages in that exercise. Recently we had External Affairs changed to Foreign Affairs. Social Security might sound a little better but will it make any difference to recipients? This is just an exercise in semantics. The real benefit will be in the size of the payments made to those in receipt of social welfare and the Minister could bend his energies in this direction before he engages in name-changing.

The explanatory booklet is both useful and interesting. The information in it is up to date and helps in solving problems which constituents bring me. More problems arise under social welfare than under any other State activity. As I say, the booklet is useful and the Department are to be commended on its production. Examples would have been very useful. They might add to the cost of the booklet but examples would be a help to ordinary people since they might save a journey of [1138] several miles to the nearest TD to find out what exactly a particular sentence really means or what a constituent must do in order to claim benefit.

I have a great deal of sympathy with widows particularly those of them who go out to work and who are not always, I think, fairly treated. Income is lumped together for taxation purposes. Recently two widows working in a factory some miles from me received a large bill from the Revenue people. They had neglected to include their widows' pensions as part of their incomes. The result is they have to work for practically nothing for some weeks in order to pay the back tax.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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