Tuesday, 27 May 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
Proinsias De Rossa: While I recognise the necessity of this amendment, in view of the fact that the Bill is only now coming before the House on Committee Stage it indicates a lack of urgency on the part of the Government in relation to dealing with poverty. While many fine speeches are made by members of the Government about looking after the worst off in society, it is clear that the long time it has taken for the Bill to reach even this Stage indicates a lack of understanding of the reality of poverty. I do not want the amendment to pass without making the point that, if the Government had been serious about this issue, the Bill would have been before this House in January 1982 and would have been passed by January 1983 instead of almost four years later.
Dr. McCarthy: The fact that the Minister has had to insert this amendment is a grave indictment of the Government's programme — or lack of it — in relation to the alleviation of poverty. Since the Bill was completed in Seanad Éireann on 18 July 1985 one would have thought that there was adequate time to have it introduced in this House long before now. Fine Gael and Labour in their Joint Programme for Government indicated that the social problems relating to poverty would be one of their prime concerns and that they intended to have a very detailed and specific programme to alleviate poverty. However, it is three and a half years since the Government took office and we are only now reaching the final Stages of the Bill in this House. It shows the Government's lack of concern in this area.
Mr. Pattison: I do not agree with the two previous speakers. The Bill was initiated in the Seanad in March 1985 and it was envisaged that the new agency would be in operation before the end of that year. However, it was not possible to introduce the Bill in this House until February 1986, when there was a protracted and detailed discussion on Second Stage. Various speakers contributed and, as I said in my reply, many contributions were  devoted to social welfare provisions which were not relevant to the Bill. Prior to March 1985 much discussion and thought went into the preparation of the Bill and the Government set up an interim board to advise them on the best provisions for the Bill. Every care was taken to ensure that when the Bill was produced it would contain a consensus of views. It is not easy to rush that kind of procedure, especially when one is consulting various groups, and the interim board had to examine the submissions made to them, including one from the Commission on Social Welfare. The Bill was certainly not put together in haste and much consideration and care was given to its formulation. We hope to conclude the Bill at 7 o'clock this evening and to ensure that it is enacted as soon as possible.
Dr. McCarthy: The Minister of State has attempted to blame Members on this side of the House for the long delay in the Bill going through the House. However, I should like to remind the Minister that the Bill was first introduced in this House on 25 February 1986. There was a detailed debate on it, but the Minister's rather dismissive comments about people who spent a long time adverting to social welfare payments and how they affected people's lives are not very helpful.
In her address to this House in February the Minister stated quite clearly that, if we are to devise adequate policies to tackle poverty on an overall basis, we must address all aspects of Government activity to see where Government policies and programmes impact on poor people and how these policies and programmes might be revised more effectively to address the problem of poverty. She had earlier pointed out the fact that it is sometimes said that in Government, concerns and interests in social policy come second to economic policy. She stated that it is, however, impossible to draw a clear distinction between what is economic policy and what is social policy.  She said the biggest problem facing this country is the level of unemployment, which is a major social and uneconomic problem. Clearly the Minister had interpreted the problems to poverty as being effected by various causes, including inadequate social welfare payments. The adoption by the Minister of State of a dismissive attitude is reprehensible and is in direct conflict with his Minister's thinking.
Dr. McCarthy: In view of the fact that this Bill will be completed in this House by 7 o'clock this evening, could the Minister of State give us an actual date for the establishment of the Combat Poverty Agency? I hope he will be able to facilitate us on this point.
Mr. Pattison: This section contains a standard provision empowering the Minister to appoint by order an establishment date for the purposes of the Act. Following the enactment of the Bill, arrangements will have to be made for the selection of the members of the board of the agency. This process could take a number of weeks. However, it should be possible to have the agency established almost immediately following the completion of the process of selection.
Dr. McCarthy: I accept that certain selections have to be made in relation to the personnel who will be on the board of the agency. Can the Minister assure us that there will not be another interminable delay before the agency is formed? Is it likely that it will be founded before the next general election? Is the passing of this Bill just political posturing? Has the Minister an intent to get the agency into action?
Mr. Pattison: The Deputy is engaging in political posturing. I have said that everything possible will be done. The members of the board have to be selected and that takes a number of weeks. It is difficult to be precise. This is the normal standard provision in this kind of legislation. It is not standard for the Minister in speaking on this section in any Bill to be able to state the precise date. All that can be said is that it will be done as quickly as possible. Certainly there will be no undue delay.
Dr. McCarthy: The Minister pointed out that members would have to be selected. I am advising him that he and his colleagues in both their parties have run out of friends and they might well have to advertise for some people to help them in forming this agency. The cronies have gone away.
Mr. Pattison: The Bill would be passed by now and the selections would be completed were it not for the fact that some Deputies opposite were forced in to speak on the Bill in order to prolong discussion on Second Stage.
Dr. McCarthy: I take issue with the Minister on that comment. I assure the House as spokesman for the main Opposition party that at no stage did we attempt to prolong discussion just for the sake of continuing talking. Our contributions to the discussion were made in a worthwhile fashion. The fact that the Bill has taken from 25 February until today to reach finality is not because of any lack of goodwill on the part of the members of the main Opposition party. We have fallen over backwards to accommodate the Government in relation to this Bill. I  received a telephone call yesterday morning from the Government Whip and agreed to the completion of the Committee and Report Stages today having discussed the matter with him. That alone should reassure the Minister that there has not been any lack of goodwill on my behalf or that of my party. We certainly did not prolong the debate simply for the sake of doing so.
I put down this amendment because I consider that poverty is not simply a matter of social welfare payments or schemes, nor should it be the sole responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare. There is no doubt that without our social welfare system the poverty in our society would be far greater. In many cases, however, the social welfare payments received by people leave them very much in the poverty trap. The poverty trap often prevents people from getting out of the category of social welfare recipients.
I have proposed that the agency should  report to the Government rather than the Minister because it is the responsibility of the Government to deal with the question of poverty rather than the responsibility of any single Minister. Poverty is emphasised and in many cases created in areas of life other than social welfare. There are the areas of education, law, housing, the environment in which people live and which are the responsibility of Ministers other than the Minister for Social Welfare. In the area of health, as has been shown by many surveys, the poorer one is the worse one's health is likely to be, and the worse also is the health service one is likely to get. All of these areas are important to people in poverty.
This agency should be reporting directly to the Government, if for no other reason than to indicate that it is a much wider problem. If the agency report simply to the Minister for Social Welfare, I have no doubt that a lot of the work done by the agency will be filtered by the Department, and in many cases other Departments may not accept the responsibility to act on recommendations made by the agency. Other Ministers in Government might also see it as purely a social welfare problem. That is basically the reason I am pressing that the agency should report directly to the Government rather than to the Minister for Social Welfare.
Before I finish let me say that I regard this method of dealing with poverty as largely window dressing. I do not see how this agency, under this Government or under a Fianna Fáil Government, can tackle the problems of poverty, because poverty is not simply a state into which people choose to go. There is little doubt that a very high percentage of poverty at the moment is the result of unemployment. Unemployment does not occur simply out of the blue. It arises from the pursuit of particular social and economic policies by Governments, and by the Governments which we have had in this State for the past 60 years who have pursued a particular approach in relation to our economy and the development of our resources.
 I do not see an agency like this doing other than researching the causes of poverty, producing reports and making recommendations and, perhaps, in some circumstances, providing an opportunity for some of the poor themselves to actually get involved in trying to tackle their own problems. Fundamentally poverty can only be tackled by the Government implementing wide-ranging economic policies which, as far as I am concerned, would have to be socialist policies. Clearly the private enterprise policies which have been pursued and continue to be pursued and promoted have failed and continue to fail. It has been seen for generations that that kind of approach has always left the poor in our society. There is no likelihood that this agency will overcome that problem.
Another section of the Bill seeks to have plans produced and laid before the Minister every three years. There is another section which states that this agency will be never ending. That is, in fact, the case. Unless we change the whole social structure of this society of ours, this agency will continue in existence and will always have to deal with poverty because poverty is endemic to the kind of economic system we have. While I am arguing these amendments which will hopefully make this Bill a bit more effective, the agency certainly will not cure poverty in our society.
Dr. McCarthy: One of the functions of the agency is to advise and make recommendations to the Minister on all aspects of economic and social planning in relation to poverty in the State. I would like to know what degree of autonomy or independence from governmental policy the agency will have. Will they be free of advice or interference? For example, if they analyse critical problems within the implementation of the Social Welfare Act which are, in their opinion, causative factors in the development of poverty, and recommend changes to the Minister, will such changes be implemented? Will they have the same degree of independence as the Economic and Social Research Institute who report honestly  to the Government and the public on various matters without appearing to have to kow-tow to the Government policy of the day? Will they be able to submit reports that are contrary to Government policy irrespective of what Government are in office at the time, or will they be contained in such a way by the Minister that reports which are contentious and controversial will not be allowed? I would like to know that at this stage. Perhaps the Minister of State would inform us.
Mr. Pattison: I want to assure Deputies that there will not be any form of censorship or filtering of proposals or recommendations from the agency. They will be quite free to make proposals and suggestions and recommendations and offer criticism and so on. They will not be hemmed in in any way.
I agree with Deputy De Rossa that poverty is not just a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare or for the Department of Social Welfare. Other areas are also involved. As the Deputy said, housing, health, education, agriculture and even forestry and fisheries can be involved in some way or other.
It is necessary that the agency report to the Minister who would be responsible to the Government. It has been intended from the outset, as set out in the Programme for Government, that the agency would be the responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare. They will be dealing directly with that Minister in all aspects of their activities — financing, strategic planning, personnel matters and reporting. It is appropriate that they should also make their recommendations to the same Minister. There will be a poverty unit in the Department which will have a co-ordinating function, both within the Department and with other Departments in matters relating to poverty. These matters will include all aspects of social and economic planning relating to poverty.
I refer Deputies to section 4 (1) (a) which states that the agency shall advise and make recommendations to the Minister on all aspects of economic and social  planning in relation to poverty in the State. I also refer them to section 4 (2) (e) which says that the agency shall have the function of establishing and maintaining contact with such Departments of State, statutory and other bodies and voluntary agencies as seem appropriate to the agency to enable them to perform their other functions.
It is quite clear from that that the suggestion in Deputy De Rossa's amendment is already well covered in the existing provisions. There evidently is a fear that recommendations made to the Minister rather than to the Government could be lost sight of, but I see very little danger of this happening. The agency will have the right, under section 4 (2) (g), to publish any reports they consider appropriate. In any event, recommendations sent to the Minister would be likely to be referred to the Department of Social Welfare as the co-ordinating Department, in the first instance, for the normal interdepartmental consultation process. For these reasons, for consistency the agency should deal with the Department directly in this as in the rest of their activities. This procedure will in no way detract from the status of their recommendations.
Dr. McCarthy: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is at least heartening that he believes the agency will have independence in making reports which may not be in accord with the thinking of the Minister or the Government of the time. I ask the Minister to ensure that this is so and that the reports of the agency will take real cognisance of the causation and effects of poverty and the various interrelated factors. I ask the Minister to ensure that these reports will be compiled without any political voice. It is imperative — and I say this advisedly — that the members of the agency should be chosen with the utmost diligence, that they should not be chosen because of the knowledge of the Minister or some of her colleagues as to their allegiance to any political grouping. This is a word of warning. If the agency were to be comprised  mainly or totally of members who formed a collection of political cronies, there is no way in which reports critical of Government policy would be produced. The agency would be constrained from so doing by their political beliefs and because of their allegiances and alliances to their masters in Government. I hope this will be borne in mind.
I take one example from this year's budget. If one had an independent, nonpolitically aligned agency, the percentage increases granted in social welfare payments would be recommended to be granted to child dependants. For the first time to my knowledge, those percentage increases did not apply to child dependants, which was unusual and unique. This implied that the child dependants were not deserving of such increases.
Dr. McCarthy: Let us be quite clear and explicit on this. When the Minister spoke on this matter in the House she did not attempt in any way to differentiate between the various causative factors which can produce poverty. She stated that one could not disassociate Government economic policies from financial situations which might cause poverty to a number of people. She did not omit to mention that one of the great social problems facing the country is unemployment. That, too, has caused a considerable degree of poverty. I am adverting to the omission with regard to percentage increases for child dependants. I hope a politically unbiased agency will report to the Minister that this cannot be allowed, being something which will increase poverty and that the agency will ask the Minister to grant due increases as heretofore.
Section (4) (1) (c) states that the agency shall examine the nature, causes and extent of poverty in the State and for that purpose the promotion, commission and interpretation of research. I trust the agency will analyse poverty critically and have a clear view of what poverty means. Do they consider that poverty should be  defined in absolute terms, for example, as insufficient resources to provide some basic minimum need, such as, might be assessed by a nutritional survey. Alternatively, would they assess poverty in relative terms as the EC tend to do? In relative terms, it can be defined as a lack of resources sufficient to provide normal living standards. In that case one compares one section of the Community as against the normal living standards of the others. In that way a definition is reached. One might say the poverty line is defined where someone has an income of 50 per cent less than the average net income in each country. This must be analysed. We must recognise the fact that we have so many social welfare recipients. Tragically the figure has increased because there are so many people unemployed. That is an indictment of the Government's policies and only they can solve that.
On the other hand, a survey was carried out at EC level between 1976 and 1980 on the extent of poverty in various member states of the Community. It showed that 23.1 per cent of households in Ireland lived below the poverty line. This was the highest of any EC country. It was followed by Italy with 21.8 per cent and France and Luxembourg with 14 per cent. In the light of this and having regard to section 4 (1) (c) there should be a careful analysis as to why poverty is at a lower level in other EC countries and why it is so high in Ireland. What are we doing wrong? These matters need very careful evaluation. If economic conditions in other countries are assessed and analysed critically I have no doubt that the agency will be able, to a large extent, to recognise what is wrong.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are still dealing with the amendment. The Deputy is going into detail on the section. The Deputy should deal with the amendment which is to delete “the Minister” and substitute “the Government”.
Proinsias De Rossa: The more I think about this Bill the more unreal it is. The Minister indicated that the agency will have direct contact with other Departments. That is precisely what it will be, contact. There is no indication in the Bill that the agency will have any power whatsoever to instruct or direct any Department to initiate or to stop any course of action. Likewise, there is no indication in the Bill that the Minister for Social Welfare will have power to direct a Minister or a Department to initiate or to desist from any particular line of action. Poverty is the responsibility of the Government. In practice, that would mean the Department of the Taoiseach. It would make sense if a Minister of State with direct responsibility for this agency was appointed, as was done in a previous administration. The Taoiseach's Department would obviously have direct access to all Departments and would have far more clout in relation to what other Departments are doing or are proposing to do.
To take an example, in preparing the Government's document, Building on Reality, responsibility was not given to the Minister for Social Welfare, the Minister for Education or to any other Minister because it was a major statement of Government policy in relation to how they saw the economy and the social services being developed or undeveloped depending on the point of view. If we take this question of poverty as being a major problem of crisis proportions, the Government should take responsibility for the agency. It is on that basis that I am pressing this amendment. In Building on Reality— and I do not intend to debate that document — there is a direct conflict between what the Minister and the Government are saying in relation to their intentions with regard to this agency to overcome poverty and the direction in which Building on Reality is pushing the whole social services area, education and so on. That is why the more I contemplate this Bill the more I despair of this agency  doing anything other than giving the impression that poverty is being dealt with. That may sound a little pessimistic and I am not normally a pessimistic person.
If the Government were prepared to say they accept this as their responsibility and, in demonstrating that, will ensure that the Government, through the Department of the Taoiseach, will take a direct role in ensuring that whatever recommendations come from that agency will receive priority with all Departments then that would be fine. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate that that will be the case. That is the reason I am pressing this amendment. It seems there is a need not only for the general public to understand the causes and the extent of poverty — and one of the general functions of the agency is to create that awareness — but also a need to create that awareness among the members of the Government. There is no doubt in my mind that, if we take the statements of the Minister for Finance in particular and apply them to the poor in our society, it is clear that the priority which the poor have under the present administration is very low indeed. The Bill is an attempt — I am not suggesting that those who brought it forward are guilty of bad faith — to deal with the problem but I do not accept that in its present structure it is an indication that the Government are accepting the enormity of the poverty problem in our society.
Mr. Pattison: The agency will not have any power to direct other Government Departments or Ministers. It is true to say that poverty is a matter for the Government and that only the Government can take the necessary decisions and make the necessary policies. It is ridiculous to suggest that such an agency should be given the responsibility and authority to take decisions of that kind. It is not practical for the agency to take such decisions.
Mr. Pattison: It is far from being a cosmetic exercise. It has never been said that the setting up of the agency will solve the problem of poverty in our society, but it is a very positive step in the right direction and is in line with the recommendations of the previous poverty committee who had a lot of experience in this area. The members of that committee were very committed people who were involved in many areas dealing with poverty. I have always held the view that combating poverty will involve changes in economic and social policies. The agency will be free to put recommendations to the Minister.
Proinsias De Rossa: I do not propose to prolong the debate on this amendment but I must take up the point made by the Minister, that the agency will not have power to direct Departments. I recognise that it would be nonsensical for an agency established by the Government to have the power to direct Ministers or the Government to take certain action. I have referred to that point to highlight the fact that, while the agency have the power to contact other Departments under section 4 (2) (e), it does not have power to do anything else. The Minister for Social Welfare will not have the power to insist on certain action being taken. I was not arguing that the agency should have the power to direct Departments but if the agency were reporting directly to the Taoiseach, or a Minister in his Department it is possible that the recommendations would be taken up by the various Ministers.
Proinsias De Rossa: I will not get involved in an argument as to which Taoiseach might be better. My argument is that the Department of the Taoiseach would clearly have a much greater influence on the other Ministers than would the  Department of Social Welfare or the Minister. Recommendations from the Department of the Taoiseach would have far greater clout than recommendations from the Combat Poverty Agency or the Minister for Social Welfare. This is an important point. It would be an earnest of the Government's intention with regard to the agency if the Minister accepted the amendment. I do not think acceptance of the amendment will result in major disruption in any Departments. It will mean the establishment of the poverty unit within the Department of the Taoiseach rather than within the Department of Social Welfare. That may mean a transfer of staff from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of the Taoiseach, but not much more. I hope the mechanism involved is being put together and for that reason it is reasonable to ask the Minister to accept our amendment which would indicate a greater commitment by the Government to the elimination of poverty.
Mr. Pattison: The advice available to the Government, and the Minister, is that the Minister for Social Welfare, and the Department of Social Welfare, should have responsibility in this area. Sufficient provision is being made in the Bill for the necessary contacts to be made with the other relevant Departments. One could make the argument being put forward by Deputy De Rossa in respect of any activity in the State, that it should be centralised in the Taoiseach of the day, uno duce una voce. I am sure that is not what Deputy De Rossa is looking for but it is, in effect, what would happen.
Most people who are involved with the disadvantaged or those who are known as the poor say a very basic problem is that they are excluded from active participation in the social and political life going on around them. In setting up an agency to deal with the question of poverty one of their primary functions should be the promotion of effective participation by and consultation with these people. The tendency has been for people like ourselves in this House to make decisions on the basis of what we think is best for everyone outside. We take an average view and assume that the problems as we understand them are the problems which directly affect people on the ground. It is for that reason I would like to see this function included.
The other functions under section 4 (1) include making recommendations to the Minister on all aspects of economic and social planning; initiation of measures aimed at overcoming poverty; examination of the nature, causes and extent of poverty; greater public understanding etc. Nowhere in those four general functions does it say that the poor should be consulted or involved. I am not just talking about consulted by or involved with the agency, but involved generally in the life of the community and society and consulted generally about what is happening in relation to their own lives, education and a whole range of other things. This is an important amendment because it goes to the root of the problem. It actually obliges the agency to take into account the views and the feelings of the poor in deciding what their recommendations may be, or the actions they propose to initiate. In the previous combat poverty effort between 1976 and 1980 various projects were established, very many of which did not involve the poor  directly. In a number of these projects the poor and the disadvantaged were directly involved. It is significant that the number of projects which have survived the extinction of the previous poverty agency are those which involved the disadvantaged. Those are the general points I want to make on that function.
Mr. Pattison: I am very conscious of the alienation of many poor people, notably the young, from the processes of public life and the rest of society. For this reason, I have considerable sympathy with the amendment and with what Deputy De Rossa has stated in support of it. However, an amendment on these lines would need careful consideration before it could be considered for incorporation in the Bill. I regret to say, the amendment proposed in its present form cannot be accepted. There is, first of all, the problem of identifying and defining disadvantaged people and their representatives. They would have to be defined carefully if there were to be a legal obligation to consult them on various matters. I am afraid the description in the amendment is not sufficient. The phrase “at all levels in the life of the State” also entails difficulty. I cannot see how it can be ensured that any particular group will participate at all levels of the State's activities.
There is also the matter of consultation. Large numbers of decisions must be made daily on all sorts of matters and the administrative process would be rendered impossible by the necessity to consult with one particular group on each and every one of these. I suggest to the proposers of the amendment that this matter should be left, at least for the first year or two, to the agency whose functions are broad enough to enable them to consider increasing the participation of the poor in the life of the country as part of measures proposed to combat poverty.
Indeed, I imagine this is a question which will exercise the agency from the start. The agency have a specific function to foster community development as a  means of overcoming poverty and for this purpose, to act as a centre for counselling and training in community development. The interim board of the combat poverty organisation saw community development as a means of involving disadvantaged people in decision-making in matters affecting them. It is to be expected that the agency will have regard to this objective in an active way. This may not go as far as the proposers of the amendment want, but it would not be practical for the reasons stated to accept the amendment as it stands.
Proinsias De Rossa: The points made by the Minister of State arise from a misreading of the amendment. The amendment gives additional functions to the agency, one of which will be the promotion of the effective participation of and consultation with disadvantaged people at all levels in the life of the State. The amendment is not placing an obligation on every agency, Department and organisation within the State to consult with disadvantaged people. It is giving a function to the poverty agency to promote that concept and idea. Presumably, in their other functions of research and community development and so on they would implement that function. If we accept this amendment or a form of it which would be broadly the same and would meet the Minister's drafting problems, at least the agency would be obliged to promote that idea.
At present they are not obliged to promote that idea. They are obliged under their general functions to make recommendations to the Minister; to initiate measures to overcome poverty; to examine the nature, causes and extent of poverty; and to promote greater public understanding of poverty. Under subsection (2) without prejudice to the generality of those four points they have functions of evaluating, advising and making recommendations to the Minister; the identification of possible new policies; the encouraging and giving of information to community development; and fostering and assisting in projects of  community development and activities to overcome poverty. Nowhere in either the general functions or the sub-functions, if I might call them that, under subsection (2) is there an obligation on the agency to promote consultation with and the involvement of disadvantaged people in all of the layers of decision-making which directly affect their lives. The amendment seeks the promotion of that concept. We do not like the idea that the Government's obligation to do it should be transferred to the agency.
Mrs. Barnes: The Minister spoke about binding the agency with a rigid form of legislation. He said he wants the agency to be as free and, therefore, as effective as possible. The point made by Deputy De Rossa is well taken by me and, I am sure, by the Minister. Earlier, Deputy McCarthy asked why we have such a high level of poverty in Ireland. We all know that fundamental to the causes of poverty is the lack of control and power poor people have over their lives or over efforts to improve them. They have always been lacking in participation in the efforts to remove poverty. For too long we have had people here and throughout the western world talking about handouts, about giving some relief of poverty, rather than providing the means whereby those involved in poverty would be helped to help themselves. This can be boiled down to the way in which communities have developed. If poverty is to be tackled properly, people must be given power to find the means to ease the problems of the poor.
We have had other groups in the community who have found themselves powerless and we came up with some ideas. For instance, we found it difficult to allow participation by women in power areas. We have models in other areas on which we could base new methods in our efforts to fight poverty, and because of this I suggest that Deputy De Rossa's amendment could help. We must realise that it is asking too much to suggest that one Minister could undertake the removal of poverty. That would be a herculean task. This is a Government  commitment and should not be the responsibility of one Minister only, but, unless we acknowledge that participation by and consultation with those affected by poverty will be necessary, we will not ease the problem.
Mr. Pattison: I agree with Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Barnes that poor people should be involved in all aspects of community effort. Deputies know how difficult it is to achieve this and how hard it would be to write it into legislation. That would not achieve it. It is expected that the activities of the agency will encourage participation by poor people, bearing in mind that the agency will be responsible for further community development. The agency are being given plenty of scope to do what Deputy De Rossa's amendment would have them do but the difficulty is to get that into legislation. There is provision in the Bill which recognises the need to involve poor people in matters affecting them.
The community action approach would allow poor people to have a say in community development and I suggest that the matter be left until the Act has been in operation for a year or two. The agency will have among their functions the general ability to involve the poor because they will consist of people familiar with poor people and they will know and understand their difficulties.
Mr. Pattison: That remains to be seen: they very well might be, because the members have not been appointed yet. Whether or not they will be poor, they will be selected on their track records in this area and anyone who has any knowledge of the poor will accept the case Deputy De Rossa has made.
Mr. Pattison: In one or two years the Deputy will see that what he is trying to legislate for through his amendment will have been attempted by the agency though, perhaps, not achieved. Whether the agency will be successful remains to be seen.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister has said that in the four general functions set out and the others provided for in subsection (2) the agency will not be precluded from doing what I am proposing in my amendment. That is so. The concept of community development is so broad that I would hazard a guess that the 165 Deputies in this House would each have a different definition of it. We should include involvement, participation and consultation as set out in our amendment as one of the functions of the agency. It is clear the Minister has made up his mind and I regret that. It is the view of many who work daily with disadvantaged people that such involvement, participation and consultation should be an important function of the agency if they are to have any credibility with the people for whom they are supposed to work. For that reason, I intend to press the amendment.
I do not know if Report Stage is being taken today. In that event there will not be time to take up this matter. I had hoped that the Minister might reconsider his position and come back to us with an amendment on those lines that would eliminate the drafting or wording problems he foresaw in my amendment. This is an important amendment and it should be included in the Bill. I urge the Minister to accept it.
Proinsias De Rossa: Subsection (3) states that the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, by regulations amend subsection (2) of the section so as to modify or withdraw any function to which that subsection relates,  or to confer such additional functions on the agency as the Minister thinks proper. I do not know the purpose of the subsection. I can understand the Minister requiring the power to provide additional functions but I do not understand why he feels the need to take the power to withdraw any functions. That seems a rather odd thing to do. We are talking about the Combat Poverty Agency and the Government and the Minister have presumably thought fit to include the functions in the Bill. I am not happy that the Minister for Social Welfare, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, can withdraw any provision that has been passed by the House. It is also a matter of concern to me that the Minister apparently can do this without coming back to the House and getting agreement here.
Subsection (5) states that the agency shall in the performance of their functions comply with such directions as may be given to them from time to time by the Minister. That seems a strange kind of power to give to the Minister. It may be a common feature in other Bills in relation to agencies set up by the Government but I do not know. This agency will deal with a sensitive area and with a wide range of policy issues concerning virtually all Departments. It appears to me that subsection (5) could be open to abuse. I am not suggesting that the Minister present in the House has any intention of abusing that power but it appears to me that, if the agency came forward with particularly difficult proposals at a time when they would not be popular with the direction of Government policy or with certain Ministers, the agency would be obliged to comply with the directions given by the Minister.
There is no limit put on the kind of directions that can be given or in what regard the agency will be directed by the Minister. The phrase used is, “in the performance of its functions”. That covers a very wide area. Could the agency be directed to stop projects or not to employ certain individuals in community projects? Could the agency be directed to withdraw recommendations made to a  Department or could they be directed to withdraw statements they made to the media on some aspects of policy? If one takes subsections (3) and (5) together, it appears that the Minister of the day will have wide-ranging power over the agency and I am not happy about that. It is particularly worrying when one considers that the Minister, under this legislation, will not have to come back to the House and explain the directions given or to have any regulations he has made agreed by the House.
At present we have two sections in society who are affected by poverty to a large extent. I am concerned that the formation of this agency is just a cosmetic and face-saving exercise and that their recommendations will not be implemented by the Government. Two sections of our community are suffering at this time from severe deprivation, both economically and socially. We do not need any research groups or agencies to identify them. On the one hand we have the elderly. In 1981 there were 369,000 old people in this country, representing 10.7 per cent of the population. Many of these people are living on the breadline because of inadequate State finances, and the fact that, in particular over the last three years, they got inadequate increases in their old age pensions. As a consequence they are deprived of even the basic necessities of life. That is a lesson the Government should clearly understand.
Social welfare increases for the old or the unemployed must not just match the annual inflation rate but most outstrip it so that old people have sufficient financial resources to provide essentials, and maybe even the odd luxury. As I said, in 1981 the old comprised 10.7 per cent of our population and between 1971 and 1981 our elderly population increased by 12 per cent. Of these, 4 per cent, or 36 per cent of the population were over 75  years of age, and it is obvious that these numbers will increase over the next decade. It has been projected that the number of those over 65 years of age will increase by another 10 per cent in the next ten years, putting a major social responsibility on the State. These people have given a great deal to this country and we must ensure that they do not spend their final years existing in miserable conditions. There is a serious responsibility on any Government to provide adequate social and financial provisions for these people.
It must be remembered that a person's standard of living does not solely depend on how much money he has in his pocket although that provides the necessities of basic living, but housing conditions are very important. There seem to be more elderly people living in rural areas rather than in urban areas. That tendency is particularly marked in some of the western counties like Leitrim, Roscommon and Mayo. Many of these older people live in old houses which are very inadequately equipped and do not even have basic comforts. This is very important because of our climate. The Government do not need research groups or agencies to define these problems. The Government should have a mechanism to provide basic comforts in these old houses. Three or four years ago a group of medical practitioners in a rural practice carried out a medico-survey of the elderly patients in their practice. They found that 70 per cent of these people lived in substandard, unsuitable houses and 5 per cent had no indoor toilets or running water. It is a terrible indictment of any Government that this state of affairs should exist today. This is a problem which only a Government can deal with and they do not need advice from any agency.
Another obvious area of poverty is the unemployed and the Minister adverted to this in her speech. I was relieved that she had not disassociated unemployment from poverty but recognised that they might be interlinked. At present there are about 240,000 officially unemployed  and 160,000 of them are on unemployment assistance or long term unemployment payments. Let no one try to convince me that social welfare payments for the long term unemployed are adequate to maintain a family.
Dr. McCarthy: That is so, but I am pointing out a large area where poverty is rampant and we do not need any research groups or agencies to identify it because it is patently obvious that many families are living almost in penury and they will continue to merely exist unless the Government provide adequate State resources.
While it is obvious that many of the unemployed are living in penury, they are treated with scorn by some of those who are better off. Among a certain section of the community the impression is given that a person is better off unemployed than working and that many people in receipt of unemployment benefit do not want to work. This is the type of comment which all politicians should refute. Most of those 240,000 unemployed would give their very eyes for a job if they could get one, but they cannot. They do not wish to remain within financial constraints because of inadequate unemployment payments. People who make such absolutely fallacious comments suggesting that unemployed people are as well off as if they were working have never been inside an unemployment exchange in their lives. They do not even know what a dole queue looks like. The agency will not need a great many research groups and they will clearly give recommendations to the  Minister on the very obvious needs of the aged and the unemployed.
Mr. Pattison: Deputy De Rossa referred to subsections (3), (4) and (5) of this section which enable the Minister to amend by regulation the functions of the agency and to give directions to the agency from time to time regarding the performance of their functions. The power to alter the agency's functions by regulation extends only to the functions outlined in subsection (2), that is, the specific or subsidiary functions of the agency. This power does not extend to the general or basic functions of the agency contained in section 4(1). The regulations in question will require the consent of the Minister for Finance. It may also be noted that under section 22 every regulation made under the Bill when enacted must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, which has the power to annul the regulations by resolution. This ensures that the Oireachtas will have the opportunity to comment on any changes in the functions of the agency. It is envisaged that, in practice, the regulatory power given in these subsections would be used only, if ever, to expand the functions of the agency rather than restrict those functions in any way.
The subsection was put in as a standard provision. It appeared previously in the National Community Development Agency Act, 1982, and the National Social Services Board Act, 1984, both of which dealt with agencies similar to the Combat Poverty Agency, and was not seen as a threat to the effective functioning of these bodies.
The first point I make in relation to this is, whether we agree with it or not, the Minister and the Government of the day have the overriding responsibility in all matters of public policy. The establishment of the new agency will not in itself solve the problem of poverty. They will  have a central role in identifying the causes and extent of poverty in Ireland and initiating measures to overcome it, but without a commitment by the Government of the day to putting into effect in their economic and social policies the measures necessary to address the needs of the poor, the work of the agency will have little effect.
We must assume that the Minister shares with the agency a concern to tackle the problem of poverty. For the effective operation of the agency there must be a degree of harmony between the agency and the Government, although not necessarily total agreement. It might be thought that the Minister and the agency could in some instance be at loggerheads. This is unlikely where the parties involved are concerned sincerely to work in harness for a common aim but, if it arose, it would have to be dealt with by either or both sides and might conceivably result in resignations or removal of some situation without having to resort to the ultimate power which the Minister would have under the Bill to remove members of the agency from office.
It could be argued that, in recent times, too little rather than too much ministerial control has led to failure in several areas of the public sector. It is to be hoped that the need to exercise the powers given in section 4 (5) would rarely arise, if ever. However, the Government have considered in the present case that the Minister needs power to intervene. Whether that power will ever be exercised will depend largely on the experience of the agency's operation. The power to issue directions under section 4 (5) is, therefore, in no way a radical measure and is not likely to be used in the event of any fundamental difference of opinion between the Minister and the agency, should that arise. The power to direct is limited very specifically to directions as to the performance of the agency's functions. It has been drafted clearly to exclude any power to prevent the exercise of any of the functions laid down in the Bill including the important freedom to publish their reports.
Proinsias De Rossa: Let me apologise to the Minister of State. I misread. I realise that section 22 refers to the making of regulations, and I have an amendment down seeking to make that a positive procedure rather than a negative one which is common in these Bills.
Even with the provision that a regulation will be brought before the House, as section 22 stands the Minister is incorrect to say that the House will have an opportunity to comment on the regulations made. I do not want to go into a debate on regulations but, while in theory that is the case, the reality and practice are that these regulations are never debated unless the Government choose to have them debated. The Minister, I am sure, will realise that this is so. That is why I have an amendment down seeking the making of positive rather than negative regulations.
My point still stands that in the past in any Bills I have dealt with the Minister makes regulations to add on the detail, so to speak, of functions of a body or to extend the powers of a body. In this subsection (3) the Minister is taking power to withdraw any function under subsection (2). That is an extraordinary power. If a function under subsection (2) is important enough to be included in the Bill, then surely it should not be open to what is in practice the arbitrary power of the Minister to withdraw that function. In practice as things stand, a regulation made by the Minister withdrawing a function will not be debated in this House. That is why I am drawing attention to that point.
The other point in relation to subsection (5) is that again the Minister has indicated that it is not unusual to have that kind of power given to a Minister in relation to agencies under his control. It is interesting to note that the subsection does not require the Minister for Social Welfare to consult the Minister for Finance although other subsections oblige him to do so. I shall give an example of the kind of thing about which I am worried, a minor issue but one which could be extended. I refer to the recent  experience of the Arts Council which produced their annual report and were instructed or directed — presumably under the same power which the Minister has in this Bill — to withdraw the report because the Department of the Taoiseach were not happy with its cover as it seemed to be critical of the Government's attitude to the arts. That is a relatively minor issue, the country will not fall apart as a result of the report being withdrawn because of the cover but it indicates the kind of thinking which can grip a Minister or a Department when they are likely to be criticised by an agency under their control. That is why I am concerned in relation to this agency because I hope they will be dealing with problems relating to the most disadvantaged people in society and they will, of necessity, have to be critical of Government policies and Ministers if they are to do their job correctly. That is inevitable and to give the Minister a blanket power to oblige the agency to comply with any directions given in relation to the performance of their functions is too wide a power to give. That is why subsections (3) and (5) of section 4 confer far too much power on the Minister in relation to the agency and I am not happy about them.
Dr. McCarthy: The Minister has said there is nothing sinister in regard to the subsections referred to. If there is nothing to worry about, why was it felt necessary to insert them? I am worried although the Minister attempted to reassure us earlier that the insertion of the subsection did not give cause for concern. However, this section will ruin the independence of the agency because it is implicit that the Minister may issue such directions as he wishes to ensure that the functions undertaken by the agency will comply with his directions. I worry that the subsection is a surreptitious attempt to muzzle the agency and that they will not be in a position to bring reports or recommendations to the Minister towards which he would not be favourably disposed.
This is a very clear attempt to ensure  that the agency have no real independence and that they are purely a mouthpiece of the Minister's Department. Another problem which often arises in relation to agencies or organisations under departmental or ministerial control is that very often such agencies or organisations have a departmental ministerial nominee on them. The purpose of selecting a departmental nominee is to ensure that the Minister from within can steer the thinking and attitudes of the agency concerned. If the Minister's man is in the agency if anything contentious or politically offensive to the Minister's way of thinking arises, he can tell the other members that the Minister would not approve of such thinking and they would probably not pursue such a policy. It is just as well to express these thoughts and to warn the Minister and anyone else concerned that there are inherent dangers in introducing these constraints on the independent working of the agency. I hope that subsection (5) has not been inserted to ensure that the agency is merely an instrument of the Minister's Department, guided by him through one of his nominees.
Mr. Pattison: I fail to understand the argument put forward by Deputy McCarthy who supported this subsection in the House when the national community development agency legislation was going through the House. It is a standard provision and is always included in this type of legislation. There is nothing new or sinister about it. When the Deputy's party were in power it was also included in legislation. The power given to the Minister in subsection (5) cannot be used to override or withdraw any of the functions of the agency. However, the Minister might want the agency to look at a particular area or problem and he should have the necessary power to direct the agency to do so.
This section should be seen as enabling the Minister to increase the work of the agency if an unforeseen or unexpected problem arises. The Minister should have the necessary power. It would be wrong to imagine that any Minister would see  this power as a means of preventing the agency from carrying out their functions. What would be the purpose in setting up the agency if the Minister were to use a section of this Bill to prevent the agency from functioning? The case is being made on those grounds. The Minister has the overall responsibility and this is a standard provision in legislation of this kind. It should be left there.
I am proposing this new subsection because all the sections regarding the strategic plans envisage that they will be presented to the Minister. The only point at which the Oireachtas will be brought into the picture will be when the Minister carries out a review of the operations of the agency. The Oireachtas should have an important role in considering the strategic plans being proposed by the agency. I am not suggesting that the Dáil should have the power of veto on those plans, certainly not at present, although it is something that should be considered. Members of this House, through their experience in their constituencies, would have a contribution to make in relation to proposed plans. Since this House is  the body establishing this agency, it is important that the long term, three year strategic plans should come before it.
A number of other aspects of section 5 have a bearing on the proposal about plans. Section 5(1) requires the agency to submit a programme to the Minister for his approval, which he will give having consulted with the Minister for Finance. Again the Oireachtas is excluded from the process. This relates back to the argument I made at the beginning of this debate today. Here we have the Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Finance dealing with plans to combat poverty, whereas it is my argument that the Government as a whole should deal with these plans. That point can be dealt with on the section but it has a bearing on this amendment, which seeks to have the plans laid before each House of the Oireachtas. If the plans are not to be presented to the Government for approval and are to be approved by the Minister for Social Welfare of the day in consultation with the Minister for Finance, then I feel very strongly that a wider view should be taken of the plans. Members of this House should have an opportunity to look at the proposals and make their views known.
Mr. Pattison: This amendment concerns the strategic plans which the agency will be required to submit every three years under section 5. These plans will ensure that the agency operate a coherent programme which incorporates the different objectives which the agency have set for themselves. It will also provide the yardstick for testing its results.
The notion of strategic planning as far as agencies of this kind are concerned is a relatively recent one. There are obvious advantages in this approach, both for the agency and for the parent Department in planning the agency's activities over a number of years ahead. The plans will be a very useful management tool and, from the point of view of the Minister for Social Welfare, will enable planning of resources for the agency's activities. Essentially, however, the plans represent an  administrative device for the better management of the agency's activities. There will obviously be a great deal of discussion between the agency and the Department in relation to the plans and the objectives to be set.
I do not think it necessary or appropriate that the Oireachtas be involved at that stage or that the plans be laid before the House, as this amendment proposes. The Minister for Social Welfare is given the task under the legislation of overseeing and monitoring the work of the new agency. As the Minister is statutorily responsible, the question of approving the agency's plans should be a matter for the Minister on behalf of the Government.
I also refer to the provisions in section 5(3) which deal with the reviews of the agency's functions etc. to be carried out from time to time by the Minister for Social Welfare. Such reviews are to be carried out in particular by reference to the strategic plans of the agency and subsection (3) requires that a report of any such review should be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. This ensures that the Oireachtas will be kept fully informed of the agency's activities and I do not consider that the additional requirement to submit the agency's plans to the Oireachtas is really necessary.
Proinsias De Rossa: There are a number of points I wish to raise, one of which I have already mentioned. The Minister will be giving approval to plans, having consulted with the Minister for Finance. It is notable in this whole Bill that, where the Minister has to consult anybody in Government, it is always the Minister for Finance. I do not know whether this is because the Government consider the Minister for Finance of the day has some crystal ball relating to the causes and effects of and solutions to the problems of poverty.
 I do not believe that the present Minister for Finance has any understanding of that area. It strengthens the case that I was making earlier on section 4 when I argued that it is the Government who should be responsible for the agency. The whole thrust of the Bill is towards the Minister doing certain things, having the power to make regulations and to withdraw particular functions under subsection (2) and to direct the agency. He does not even have to consult with the Minister for Finance when directing the agency. This increases my concern that this agency will be very clearly locked into the social welfare area. Under section 5 of this Bill there is no obligation on the Minister to consult with the Government when the agency present their strategic plans to him for approval. That is a weakness in the Bill. Section 5(3) provides that “The Minister shall from time to time review the purposes, functions and activities of the Agency under this Act” and, after consultation again with the Minister for Finance— the all-seeing eye, that “a report of such a review shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”
That subsection does not oblige the Minister to come back to us after three years of operation of the agency, or after any particular time, but just from time to time. Conceivably, the Minister might not come back to us for 21 years to review the operations of the agency. It is probably unlikely that he would get away with it for that long, but there is no obligation on him to come back to us within a reasonable time to lay before us a review of the operations of the agency, its successes, its failures, any functions he has withdrawn from the agency, how many additional functions he has given to the agency, how many directions he has given the agency and what kind of directions.
It would be interesting to know whether or not the Minister is obliged to tell the House and the public when he does give a direction to the agency in regard to any matter. Those two subsections, (1) and (3)(a), indicate the weakness of the Bill. The Minister is consulting all of the time, where he is  obliged to consult at all, with the Minister for Finance. In terms of Government policy, regardless of what Government would be in power, the Minister for Finance is not the best person to go to when one is looking for agreement or particular powers or particular sanctions for projects which automatically would require the expenditure of funds. The inclination would be not to give sanction for the proposals. I am not saying that the sanctions will not be given; but the inclination would be not to give them. If, for instance, the targets in the document Building on Reality were to be breached in order to allow the agency to operate, would the present Minister for Finance be prepared to breach those targets? I do not believe he would. This highlights the weaknesses of the Bill. We are talking about consulting with the Minister for Finance, not with the Government, not with the Oireachtas. There is no time limit within which the Minister must come back to this House with a review of the operation of the agency. I regard that as a severe weakness in the Bill.
Mr. Pattison: This section obliges the agency to draw up a strategic plan every three years, the first within six months of its establishment. This provision is necessary both to ensure that a coherent programme is devised against poverty and to provide a yardstick for testing its result. The section also gives the Minister power to review the agency in all its aspects in the light of experience and a report of such a review is to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and, of course, the agency itself will be issuing reports.
The plan will, naturally, incorporate an operating budget for its main activities, detailing proposed expenditure, projected staff resources and so on, and these are matters which have to be agreed on with the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Finance. There is no point in pretending that it will always be easy to reach agreement. The financial constraints which apply elsewhere will also affect the operations of this agency and it will probably be too  much to hope that the resources will be available to enable this agency to do all that in their view needs to be done. The benefit to the plan will be however that it will enable the agency to plan for three years rather than for one year ahead as would be the case in the absence of a provision on the lines of that contained in this section.
I should say, too, that subsection (1) of this section was amended by the Government on Report Stage during the passing of the Bill through Seanad Eireann. The subsection in the Bill, as initiated, provided for the submission of a strategic plan to the Minister and to the Minister for Finance for their approval. The amended subsection provides for the provision of a strategic plan to the Minister for his approval given by him after consultation with the Minister for Finance.
Mr. S. Walsh: I seek some clarification on section 5(2) regarding the Minister's amendment to extend the date up to 31 December 1989. What are the reasons for this? The time in the Bill is 31 December 1987. The 31 December 1987 is quite a long way away. The purpose of the Bill is to combat poverty and, in view of the fact that poverty is on the increase, if we extend the time what effect or strength will this section of the Bill have then? I would ask the Minister to clarify that.
Mr. Pattison: Subsection (2) of section 5 obliges the agency to draw up a strategic plan in respect of each three year period. It is proposed to establish the agency this year. But the initial plan is not due to be submitted until six months after the date of the first meeting and will not therefore be approved until early in 1987. Therefore, the amendment is necessary to provide that the first plan will cover the  period of approximately three years up to the end of 1989.
The Minister shall from time to time review the purposes, functions and activities of the Agency under this Act, in particular by reference to the strategic plans, and shall cause (after consultation with the Minister for Finance) a report of such review to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.
Obviously, a time limit is set on the preparation and submission of strategic plans by the agency. There appears to be no such time limit set on the evaluation of reports of the agency by one or both Ministers. Of course, they might not even accept these reports. There could be a rather long time lag while the Minister or Ministers were reviewing such strategic plans before such plans were accepted. What functions would the agency have in the interim? Would they hibernate, or take a protracted holiday? I should like this matter clarified.
Mr. Pattison: This subsection is a new provision. While it might be desirable to fix time limits, it is felt that with a new provision of this kind it is well to see how it works. This is felt to be the best way to provide a review of it. There is nothing to be gained by prolonging reviews and each review must be done as quickly as possible and the report laid before the House as quickly as possible.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: That the board be small and limited in number is a welcome proposal. I should remind Members that  this was specifically recommended by the previous combat poverty programme which provided for 25 members. I support my colleagues who consider that representation on this board must come from all parts of the country rather than being Dublin based. I hope that astute political people are not placed on this board, because that would not be of benefit to the agency in trying to achieve what they are meant to do. It would be helpful to have a variety of different skills and talents available in the respective members. That is very important. A small board work better. They are more successful in reaching a consensus of opinion, in making decisions and in negotiations with other bodies. I also mention the lack of resources available to special interest groups such as the elderly and the handicapped. Such groups are in danger of being marginalised.
Better health care ensures that people live longer, but economic and social conditions and policy combine to make this an unhappy existence for many who are destined to live out their last days in penury. The Bill provides for the appointment of people to sub-committees. This means that voluntary bodies can be represented on the sub-committees or on the actual board. This will allow specific work to be undertaken. Such groups have programmes developed and measures drawn up specifically geared to their needs and using resources which are most appropriate.
I would like to draw attention to the importance of the work of this agency being linked into work already being undertaken by State bodies. It is essential that existing bodies should link into the Combat Poverty Agency because this agency are looking at new ways of working with poor people. This could take the form of practical co-operation on the ground and the use by the bodies of information discovered during research based on work by small poverty bodies. There is an overlap between much of the work done by large funding agencies concerned with community development and the Combat Poverty Agency where there should be co-ordination at national and  local level in order that common problems will get uniform attention.
The Bill provides for a focus on demonstration projects. There is no use in undertaking research unless it is taken note of and this work incorporated into larger projects. The provision of demonstration projects on a pilot basis is a welcome introduction, since many problems encountered at local level are common to many areas. This is partly because of the macro-economic and social conditions. Relative methods of intervention and distribution of resources and preventive measures designed to combat poverty can be thought up and tried out and used as a base for further antipoverty work on a wider scale.
I support the introduction of the Bill. This measure which is now overdue represents a small advance in the Government's consideration of the serious situation of many in our population. The measures in the Bill will be effective first, if results fit into financial, social and economic policy; secondly, if the board have wide representation and autonomy; thirdly, if representatives of voluntary bodies can engage in specific work; fourthly, if the work of the agency is linked into work already being undertaken by State bodies and results of demonstrations used for larger projects. I am sorry I missed the Second Stage debate because I would have made a lengthier contribution.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Bill as it stands gives a free hand to the Minister to appoint whomever he chooses to this agency. It is unfortunate that we have not included in the Bill a section insisting on particular categories of people being included on the board. My amendment referred to having one member of the agency elected by employees of the agency, which is important from the point  of view of having worker democracy in as many agencies of this kind as possible. People who are employees of the agency by and large, will be committed to the task of dealing with poverty and should have a direct say on the board.
My amendment also proposed that not less than three members be drawn from groups or classes of persons afflicted or likely to be afflicted by poverty and that not more than three should be drawn from statutory or other bodies of voluntary agencies which work with groups or classes of persons afflicted or likely to be afflicted by poverty. That three members should be drawn from groups or classes of persons afflicted or likely to be afflicted by poverty is the more important. As I argued earlier, the board should be obliged to promote the involvement and participation of the disadvantaged in our society generally. A good start to that would be involving in the agency people who would have, from life's experience, a direct input to make into what the board are doing or proposing to do.
I regret very much that I missed moving the amendment in time. I am sure the Minister is aware of what I am trying to do with this amendment. I will not go through the whole argument again about the need to involve disadvantaged people in the structures of society and to come up with proposals as to how their position can be alleviated. I contributed at length on Second Stage, some people would say too long. I would partly agree with them on that, but it is necessary for us to be fully aware of the fact that poor people are not poor by choice. In the vast majority of cases they are born into poverty. Poverty is not simply a lack of income, which has a great deal to do with it, but it also has to do with education, the culture of our society and a whole range of things. People who are in that position will have something to say about what might be ways of alleviating the problem.
As I said earlier in this debate I do not believe, and I think the Minister does not believe, that the agency will solve the problem of poverty. They can help to get a number of useful projects off the ground and to put together statistics on  the exact nature and degree of poverty which exists. Having disadvantaged people involved in the agency at board level would be an important way of ensuring that the agency are relevant to the problems which they are trying to deal with. I regret very much not having been here to move my amendment but I ask the Minister to accept it in spirit.
Mrs. Barnes: I would like to support what Deputy De Rossa has said. Even though it has not got the full force of an amendment I would ask and hope that the Minister would take it as strongly as that. Time is too limited to repeat all the arguments which have been put forward on Second Stage and again today, but we cannot repeat often enough the absolute importance of ensuring that the Combat Poverty Agency will be as effective as possible. The Minister was quite truthful and modest here today when he said he knew that much more commitment and many more changes were needed other than the poverty agency to bring about the real removal of poverty.
As Deputy De Rossa said, it is not just a matter of more equal distribution of income although that might be regarded as the foundation stone. It is the whole lack of confidence, of control, of voice and of importance which people in disadvantaged areas feel and the kind of building programme which we have to bring them up to the same level as people who are more privileged. There is no better way to reflect this than to have people who have gone through the experience of poverty on the agency. I place particular importance on the fact that, of all the boards I know and memberships which need the inclusion of women, this is one of the most vital. From research, we know that women and children are the real poverty stricken people. I urge the Minister to ensure that a number of the people appointed to this board are women. It is stated in the Bill—and I am sure the draftspeople will have an answer for it—that the agency shall submit such reports to the Minister as he may from time to time request. If at  this level of State involvement we cannot include women I would stress that we should do it at the level of the Combat Poverty Agency.
Dr. McCarthy: I support Deputy Barnes on her point about women. I welcome the decision that the board should be limited in numbers. There should not be a whole plethora of people, most of them doing nothing, as is the case on most big committees. The smaller it is the more efficient it is likely to be. I hope when these eight or ten appointments are being made the people will be chosen on merit and because of their knowledge of the problem of poverty in various areas. I hope the board will not be Dublin orientated, that it will represent the viewpoints of those with knowledge on the subject from all over the country.
I very strongly support the request made by Deputy Barnes that there should be women on this board. Even though I have great respect for men, women very often become involved in programmes, committees and organisations and have more of an indepth knowledge of the problems that appertain to society than men. Many women have immense knowledge in areas such as poverty. I strongly recommend that the Minister should listen to Deputy Barnes if he does not wish to listen to me. We are on the same tune. I know he would not do that in a fit but he may not have the choosing. The Minister should ensure that the committee is not just another collection of political lackeys. Far too often since the Coalition took office political lackeys or cronies were appointed to every little group or association. This type of crony society does not mean that the work is being done properly. It appears that the political cronies the Government are appointing are dull and stupid. They do not appear to be able to think very well. It may be that they are chosen because they are slow and inadequate. I hope the Minister will take cognisance of the suggestions I have put forward.
 Any member of the Agency may, at any time, be removed from membership of the Agency by the Minister if, in the Minister's opinion, the member has become incapable through ill-health of performing his functions, or has committed stated misbehaviour, or his removal appears to the Minister to be necessary for the effective performance by the Agency of its functions.
Will the Minister tell the House what “necessary for the effective performance by the Agency of its functions” means? How does the Minister see any person appointed by him, or by any other Minister, inhibiting the effective performance of the agency? According to subsection (8) the Minister may by regulation amend subsection (1) by varying the maximum number of members of the agency. The regulations made under the legislation will be laid before the House, and, if not annulled within 21 days, will automatically become law. I have often argued that that is an undemocratic process. I have gone back through the records and have yet to find an occasion when such regulations were debated in the House. The only reference I found was in relation to a debate which took place in 1981 or 1982. In that case the Government of the day brought the debate forward.
It is clear that, unless the Government want to debate such a negative process for making regulations, no debate can take place in the House. I have tabled an amendment to section 22 calling for the making of positive orders but I do not think we will have time to reach it. Will the Minister consider bringing all regulations before the House and accept that they should not be put into force until they have been passed by the House? It is important that the Minister should agree to such a procedure because he has power to take functions away from the agency. He may, if he wishes, increase or decrease the membership of the agency and he has many other powers. Regulations made under the legislation should be open to debate by the House  and should not become part of the law unless agreed by the House.
Mr. Pattison: On a number of occasions during the debate Deputy McCarthy mentioned political cronies and political lackeys. I should like to remind him of a number of matters. His memory is very short. I should like to remind him that when the term of office of one of the non-political appointees to the South Eastern Health Board, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, expired and the filling of the vacancy was up for review, she was replaced by Deputy Haughey who was in power by none other than Deputy McCarthy.
Mr. Pattison: Deputy McCarthy replaced a non-political person on the South Eastern Health Board and did not have any qualms about doing that. That is sufficient response to the Deputy's accusations about lackeys and cronies and his concern to have women appointed to boards.
 I should like to make a number of points in the short time at my disposal. A considerable amount of thought went into the question of the size and composition of the new agency and I would like to say a few words about this. To go back to the experience of the First Programme to Combat Poverty the national committee which ran that programme had 25 members, representing a very wide range of relevant skills, disciplines, experience and perspective. As the final report on that programme stated, however, the extent to which the different disciplines and perspectives were fused in the service of the programme was open to question. The following quotation from the final report, in reference to the size and composition of the national committee, is relevant here:
A Committee of twenty-five members with proven “track records” and a variety of disciplines may not necessarily be the best ingredients for a committee charged with piloting innovative projects. Such people usually come with strong and differing views on what is to be done and how it is to be done. When the area of concern is seen to be related to their professional, voluntary, or political interest, this can give rise to additional complexities. If, however, such a committee's status, structure, and role are clearly understood and accepted by members, then it can be expected that the diversity of expertise and disciplines will be a creative force in the management of a programme. A committee requires different types of management and leadership depending on its status as either “advisory” or “executive”. The fact that such a strong membership acquired executive functions placed heavy constraints on the committee as a body, and despite the best efforts of the chairperson, and the different structures created, various subcommittees and an executive, the committee never became integrated as an effective working body. In this context it did not have a clearly defined goal,  nor did it develop a clear time dimension with planned stages for the pilot schemes. While the creation of the executive group did ensure a more business-like approach to the management of the programme, it also resulted in the isolation of other members.
In the light of the experience of the last programme and in line with the views expressed by the interim board of the Combat Poverty Organisation, one of the specific tasks of which was to advise on the structure of a new agency, the basic approach on this occasion has been to keep the membership of the agency to a more manageable size—between eight and ten members as provided in section 7 (1) of the Bill.
The membership of the agency should of course reflect the different broad functions which the agency are to carry out, research, policy and action, and, as the interim board proposed, it will be necessary to have on the board of the agency people who are experienced in each of these areas. The community development aspect will be of particular importance in this regard.
One point which the board made and which is of particular relevance here was that the members of the agency should be chosen for their commitment and expertise rather than as representatives of particular organisations. There are, of course, a wide variety of organisations, statutory and voluntary organisations, who are involved in tackling the problems of poverty in one way or another. Apart from Government Departments which have direct responsibility of one kind or another in this area and the health boards and local authorities, one might mention the trade union movement and its concern for working people and, in particular in the present context, the problems of low paid workers and unemployed people. There was also a large number of voluntary organisations operating on a national basis which have a direct involvement with the problem of poverty in its everyday manifestations.
An Ceann Comhairle: As it is now 7 p.m. I must put the following question in accordance with an order of the House made today: “That the Bill, as amended, is hereby agreed to in committee and, as amended, is reported to the House; the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”
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