Wednesday, 12 May 1982
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: The present number of units granted by his Department is a deterrent in many cases, particularly with regard to old age pensioners who find that they have reached their maximum number of units and are afraid to use an electrical appliance because of the increased charges involved. Would the Minister consider looking again at the scheme with a view to increasing the allowance? Many pensioners spend many days freezing in the cold weather because of the fear of using the extra units.
Mr. Farrelly: Would the Minister assure the House that for next winter, because of the serious increase in the ESB's charges over the last six to eight months, the less well off in our society will have more units made available to them?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): An effort has been made in the last few years by successive Governments to try to make life easier for the older and less well off.  However, there is a limit to what Departments can do in this regard. We have been doing reasonably well and while I accept that there may be hardship cases, the Department cannot accept increased costs at present in relation to this matter.
Miss Flaherty: asked the Minister for Social Welfare if a free electricity allowance will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon, who finds it very difficult to meet electricity bills on his low income.
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): The application for the free electricity allowance from the person concerned has been approved. The ESB have been instructed to apply the allowance to his electricity account from the November/December 1981 billing period onwards.
Mr. Griffin: asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reasons for the undue delay in resolving the problem of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary in respect of unemployment or pay-related benefits; and when payment will be made.
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): The person concerned was employed in the United Kingdom up to November 1979 and on his return to this country was paid unemployment assistance from 3 December 1979 to 8 March 1980, when he ceased to sign the unemployed register. The person concerned stated that he was employed for one day on 20 December 1979 and on this basis he claimed unemployment benefit from 21 December 1979 under the provisions of the EEC regulations.
He was asked to furnish evidence of the employment but there was delay on his part in providing this. The insurability of the employment is at present being investigated and a decision on the matter will be given shortly. The entitlement to unemployment benefit will be reviewed in the light of the decision.
Mr. Griffin: I cannot be accused of rashness in putting down this parliamentary question because this query has been  going on for two to three years. I did ask the Minister when payment would be made. Are we to take it that a further two to three years will elapse before any payment is made to this person?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): I understand that the investigations entered into by the deciding officer have been completed and it is for him to decide whether this person has insurability or not. One of the matters which has made the situation more difficult is that this man was employed in Britain and checking the length of time of his insurance in Britain took time.
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): I must accept that there seems to be undue delay in having this case processed. I will take the matter up again with my Department in an endeavour to get an early decision.
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): It was determined by an appeals officer that the person concerned is not entitled to a non-contributory old age pension. Her means, consisting of capital and a share in a holding, exceed the statutory limit.
Mr. Pattison: asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason for the delay in paying unemployment benefit to persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who have been out of work since 15 March 1982 because of their firm's decision to cease production.
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): A deciding officer of my Department has decided that the persons concerned are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit  with effect from 15 March 1982 in accordance with the provisions of section 35 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981, on the grounds that they lost their employment by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute at their place of employment.
This decision has been conveyed to the persons concerned and they have been advised of their right, if dissatisfied with the decision, to have the matter referred to an appeals officer for determination. Forms on which to lodge an appeal may be obtained at their nearest local office.
Mr. Pattison: Firstly, the Minister has not answered my question, but I am very grateful for the information which he has given. One of the reasons for putting down this question was my anxiety to know the reason for the delay in the decision on the question of eligibility for unemployment benefit in this case. The Minister has not explained that reason. He has stated the decision. Is the Minister aware that there was no trade dispute at this firm since 15 March 1982, that the workers concerned have been reporting for work, are available for work and willing to work ever since that date but, for reasons on the management side, a decision has been made to close down operations? Surely it is really stretching the interpretation of the relevant section of the Act beyond the limit to suggest that these people should be debarred from unemployment benefit because of a non-existent dispute?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): The explanation given to my Department is that there has been a dispute and while that is the case social welfare payments cannot be made. The deciding officer discussed the matter with the management of Castlecomer Mills on 28 April to clarify the matter of the negotiations taking place. He was informed that there had been a number of unofficial strikes in the company since its inception and that the plant would remain closed until agreement was reached for an end to that type of unofficial action which was taking place. The deciding officer, having examined the evidence, considered that there  was a dispute within the meaning of section 35 (6) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981 and decided that claimants were disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under the provisions of section 35 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981 with effect from 15 March 1982.
Mr. Pattison: I am astounded at the Minister's statement, which I think I heard correctly. The substance of it was that these people were disqualified because the management side had said that there was a history of disputes. A legitimate claim for unemployment benefit made on 15 March 1982 is now being disallowed because of alleged disputes in the past. Surely this is stretching the section of the Act far beyond any reasonable interpretation. Last week, we discussed the situation at Clover Meats, but this is even worse. People are told that they are in dispute with their company because of alleged disputes which were over and done with years ago. Surely this is completely ridiculous?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): The officials in my Department have investigated this matter in the normal way. From the information available to them they appear to be satisfied that there is a trade dispute and while this dispute lasts it is not possible for the Department to pay social welfare benefits to the workers concerned.
Mr. Pattison: Would the Minister arrange for an immediate appeal in this case? I do not feel that he would stand over such an injustice being done, where people are now being victimised because of alleged disputes in the past and are now being refused unemployment benefit. Would the Minister arrange for an immediate hearing on the appeal cases, possibly early next week, or within the next few days?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): When a deciding officer makes a decision on matters of this kind it is final unless some new evidence can be produced. If the Deputy can produce new evidence. I shall  be glad to have the matter reinvestigated.
Mr. Pattison: The appeals have been lodged. Could the Minister arrange for the hearing of these appeals as quickly as possible, because a large number of workers and their families are suffering severe hardship and dire poverty since 15 March as a result of this gravely unjust decision of the Minister's Department?
Mr. Gallagher: (Mayo West): I shall be glad to give the Deputy every possible assistance to try to ensure that justice is done. From the evidence available at present, it appears that there is a dispute and, because of that, it is not possible for the Department to pay social welfare in these circumstances.
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