Private Members’ Business - Social Welfare Benefits: Motion (Resumed).

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 680 No. 4

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Róisín Shortall on Wednesday, 22 April 2009:

[760]

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  May I share time with Deputy Crawford?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Is that agreed? Agreed.

[761]Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  I thank the Labour Party for tabling this Private Members’ motion, which is particularly important given the fact that, while it does not require legislation, no mention has been given to the Social Welfare Bill’s deplorable cut in the Christmas bonus. When political legacies are discussed in future, one thing is for certain — the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, will always be remembered as the Minister who abolished Christmas by robbing people of their Christmas bonuses.

I was amazed in the debate that followed the budget both on the airwaves and in the House to hear one Minister after another state there had been no cut in social welfare. I heard the Taoiseach say on the news that the Government would not countenance cutting welfare rates and then attempt to take credit for increasing the rates in the good times. I am not sure what the Government considers the Christmas bonus to be. Clearly, it sees the bonus as something of a luxury, something trivial that is not a necessity or important. I am not sure how Government Members spend Christmas or whether they just treat it as another time of the year without the extra associated costs, but Christmas is a time of greater expense for the majority of people. While many enjoy Christmas, they are filled with dread wondering how they will cope and how they are going to afford it. I know of the dread that comes early in January for families in particular when bills and outstanding credit union loans must be paid. Worse, a moneylender’s loan may need to be paid, but there is often no money to pay it.

Last night, the Minister seemed to discount or trivialise the issue of moneylenders. It may not be something that concerns her, but it is a matter of great concern to the many groups working with people in financial difficulties. The morning after the budget, members of a local credit union contacted me to inform me that people would experience difficulties after Christmas. They are concerned that those difficulties will now be compounded. The Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and many similar groups have expressed vocal concerns about moneylenders and the appalling lack of regulation thereof.

Three weeks ago, the House discussed the issue of rising debt. Fine Gael made sound, sensible proposals to deal with the issue and we asked the Government to give us its views on legislating for rising debt, regulating moneylenders and so on. Now we find ourselves in a situation where these problems are going to be compounded and trebled by the Government’s abolition of the Christmas bonus. In light of this motion, I ask that the Government consider the matter of regulating moneylenders. Some of their websites cite interest rates of up to 150%. That they are legitimate moneylenders is a part of the difficulty. When people are in dire circumstances, they will go for the easy option at the time, but it is not easy to pay up to 150% on a loan. With a financial institution, one might only pay 10%. This matter must be addressed, particularly given the current climate.

Every family is entitled to celebrate Christmas. The extra payment is what allows Christmas to happen in many poor households. For others, and this has been stated publicly by many groups representing different sectors dependent on the bonus, it amounts to a fill of oil and the payment of bills. People have become wholly and solely dependent on it. I want to concentrate on its importance for families with children in particular. If one is on jobseeker’s allowance for the required period and it is one’s only income, together with a top-up for one’s children, one cannot save for Christmas out of the amount received and does not have the opportunity to put money aside.

Last night, the Minister addressed the issue of deflation, but the amount spent on necessities comprises the largest part of many social welfare recipients’ household budgets. Deflation is not helping them. The Minister should remember that they will lose the early child care supplement of €1,000 per year per child under six years of age. Other Members have discussed pensioners losing the bonus.

[762]The Government’s decision to scrap the bonus is reprehensible and must be reversed. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me how they would afford Christmas this year. They cannot believe that the payment will not be made, as they will not be able to buy presents or have proper Christmas dinners. The decision shows the most Scrooge-like mentality seen in the State to date. I do not know when the Minister was last in a toy shop, but €204 will not go far in providing three or four children with Christmas presents. How does one explain to a five year old that we are in tighter economic times? It is not a lavish payment that allows families to go wild. Rather, it allows them to keep their heads above water. Many of them are borrowing, even with the bonus, to meet the cost. They are already to the pin of their collars and what the Government is doing will make the situation far worse.

The Government can dress this up any way it likes. It can call it the lesser of two evils, but the axing of the bonus is a social welfare cut. The Minister’s statement, namely, that it would be the first payment to be returned were there a windfall, is rubbish, nonsense and disingenuous. If the Minister for Finance will contribute, perhaps he can tell the House whether there will be a windfall anywhere in the Exchequer.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  We do not know yet.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Will the Christmas bonus be the first provision returned or will the money be spent on other requirements? Clarity in the House would be good. From where does the Minister for Social and Family Affairs see a windfall coming?

Once this decision has been made and she has taken the heat, is she really saying that she will re-examine the matter? She has said that she will, but the amendment is not couched in such definite language. She has also pledged to reintroduce it if she beats her savings targets, which come from her investigations into fraudulent social welfare claims. Bearing in mind that she failed last year to meet her targets, I do not see how she will find more than €156 million extra this year. Even if she does, nobody believes that the bonus will be paid.

Speaking on the salvation of the Christmas bonus last October, the Minister stated: “Even with the challenging budgetary situation, the payment of this additional money to social welfare customers is a clear sign that helping those most in need of support remains the key priority for the Government.” Clearly, axing the bonus shows that helping those who are most in need of support is no longer a key priority.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I welcome the opportunity to speak, but I do not welcome the issue on which I speak. No one wants to see the Christmas bonus being cut. In the first of many budgets introduced in the past year, the Government hit the over 70s medical cards. It saw the reaction. While thousands might not be out on the streets as a result of this cut, I do not doubt that reality will hit home next Christmas when people find themselves without money to buy what they want for their children, grandchildren and so on and necessities such as diesel, oil and gas.

The Government has wasted money in recent years, including €52 million on e-voting machines, millions of euro on their storage and €180 million for the health service computer system, but no heads have rolled. These two items alone would have more than covered the Christmas bonus. There were ways for the Government to avoid this situation, but it has taken the easier way out and taken money from the elderly, those with disabilities and those on long-term social welfare benefits. I ask the Ministers for Social and Family Affairs and Finance to re-examine this matter to determine whether it would be possible to reinstate the bonus. It [763]may only be an overall cut of 2% in social welfare, but the time of year and those from whom it will be taken are the issue.

There has been much waste in the HSE. For example, an ordinary meeting of a health forum is usually only attended by 16 of its 28 members. It is only a talking shop, yet 15 HSE executives attend for a number of hours. The committee cannot make a decision or give guidance. It is only an informational structure. This type of body is allowed to stay in place at a significant cost to the State. While there is no effort to streamline them or to save money, the first item to be cut is a Christmas bonus from those who are least well off. I ask the Government to reconsider and to do the right thing.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  I propose to share time with Deputies Thomas Byrne, Cyprian Brady and O’Rourke.

First, I am pleased to intervene in this debate because the decision taken in this matter was a decision of the Government. To put this matter in context, one should consider what has happened in recent years in the Estimates, in which provision has been made for a 70% Christmas bonus. While it is true that in most recent years, a 100% payment was made, the additional 30% required to so do usually was not agreed by the Government until near the end of the financial year. The saving of €156 million to be made this year that was announced in the recent budget was accounted for by not providing for the 70% bonus. Were the full bonus to be paid, it would cost approximately €223 million.

I have listened with great care to this debate and I have not heard a single Deputy propose how this €223 million would be found in the current financial year. It can only be found in one of three ways, namely, by a reduction of €223 million in some other head or subhead of expenditure, the imposition of an additional €223 million in taxation or, and I assume this is the position of the Opposition in default, by borrowing to pay the aforementioned amount. These are the economic realities at present and it is important that all Members reflect on them.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Administration.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  The Government could have done it all differently.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Prior to the budget, I furnished the finance spokespersons of the Opposition parties with a great deal of information on the precise position of expenditures and revenues in the State and they are well aware of the position. I believe that while the Opposition considers it to be its duty to hold the Government to account and while its spokespersons put forward certain proposals before the budget that did not stack up in numerical terms — I do not take issue with them in that regard at present — the exercise of briefing the Opposition parties on the budgetary position before the budget was of benefit because it improved the tone of the debate in respect of this budget.

However, one must face facts and must reflect on the realities we face. One major reality is that our borrowing has been reined in at 10.75% or our annual national wealth this year, which still constitutes an extremely large figure. Our expenditure is too high and our tax base was too low. Work has begun in repairing the tax base and as I made clear in my Supplementary Budget Statement, in future, work must focus on expenditure because there is a limit to the amount of taxation that can be exacted in any economy and there is a limit to the amount of borrowing that any economy can undertake. As this applies to Ireland at present, all expenditure must be scrutinised.

A number of Members suggested in their interventions that expenditure on the Department of Social and Family Affairs should be exempt from any such exercise. Although Members are aware of the position, it is important to state again that in the context of the general burden [764]of expenditure in the State, welfare accounts for €21.5 billion of the total. This is a substantial sum of money as the envisaged tax receipts this year before the budget were €33 billion. Consequently, welfare already accounted for two thirds of total tax receipts in the State this year. Therefore, we must reflect on the reason we are in this position.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  One could.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  One often hears that the money from the Celtic tiger was wasted. However, I wish to put on the record of the House a few essential facts. In the past decade, the Government has been able to provide highly significant increases in welfare payments. For example, the payment of child benefit has increased from less than €44 to €166 per month. The State contributory pension has risen from €113 to more than €230 per week. The weekly rate of long-term jobseeker’s allowance was raised from €93 to €204.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Costs rose at the same rate.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  These payments compare very well internationally and in particular with payments in Britain and Northern Ireland. Listening to Opposition Members in this House, I often believe they are living in a financial bubble of their own because one continually hears that the Celtic tiger benefitted bankers and developers.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  That is rich, coming from the Minister. Opposition Members know what they are talking about regarding the bubble, unlike the Minister. Three times the pay——

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Costs rose during that time.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  These are the precise figures regarding the increases that were made in the past decade for the most vulnerable and most dependent in our society.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  In that case, why is the Minister taking away the Christmas bonus?

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  It is important to record that those substantial increases were made. Moreover, it is important to note that while Deputy Crawford represents a Border constituency, most Irish people have frequent exchange and intercourse with our neighbours in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  They do. It is called shopping.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  They are well aware that the welfare payments——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  They are spending millions there every week because the Minister increased VAT rates.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Allow the Minister to speak.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  The welfare payments provided by the Deputy’s comrades in the Labour Party in the United Kingdom are but a fraction of what is provided in this jurisdiction. These are the realities and the sooner that all Members begin to reflect on them and to work out how to deal with them for the future, the better for this country and our children because we cannot continue——

[765]Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  We also must compare the health service with its counterpart in Northern Ireland.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy Crawford should allow the Minister to make his contribution.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  I agree with Deputy Crawford and we must attend to the health service. While it is not the subject of this debate, I agree with him.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  There must be a balance.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Again, very difficult decisions also will be required to get that balance right. All Members know the type of decision that must be taken in that regard but that debate will take place in this House another time.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  A new hospital in Enniskillen.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  The Government considered carefully how savings could be made in the welfare area. In the budget last October, it increased payments by approximately 3%. That increase was given and decided upon by the Government on the basis of a forecast that suggested there would be inflation this year of that order. That was only last October. As I noted recently in this House, the science of economic forecasting has become like meteorology and it is extremely difficult to predict the economic weather. The position has moved to one in which the forecast this year is that the cost of living will reduce and not increase. However, the Government is not prepared to adjust social welfare rates on the basis of a forecast.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  How is the Government doing it?

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  The Government knows that to date this year, there has been a reduction in the cost of living. The position may arise at the end of this year that when one takes together the 3% increase provided for this year and a 5% drop in the cost of living, that there will have been a real increase in welfare provision of 8%. That is what is envisaged this year.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  It depends what one includes.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  That is rubbish. The price of food has not fallen.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  These are the economic facts, upon which Opposition Deputies do not wish to reflect.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Pensioners do not have mortgages.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Allow the Minister to make his contribution.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  These are the difficult economic issues to which Opposition Members do not wish to direct their minds.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Could the Minister live on jobseeker’s allowance?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy O’Donnell, please allow the Minister. This is not Question Time.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  It is far easier to enter this House and utter platitudes than to deal with the realities of the position facing this country.

[766]Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Members are dealing with the realities that face people.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  These are real people’s lives.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Yes, absolutely.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Yes, they are.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Real public servants were obliged to make a substantial contribution, on average of 7.5%, to their pension arrangements. Real taxpayers throughout this community face substantial increases in income tax across the board.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  That is because of the mistakes the Government made.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Everyone is paying for its mistakes.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  There is no point in Members referring to what happened in the past as though we do not all bear some responsibility.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Pol Potism. The world begins now.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  This is not——

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  That would be very convenient.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  The Minister cannot simply cut it off.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  While we will not go back as far as Adam and Eve——

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Mistakes were made for which both taxpayers and social welfare recipients are paying.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Members will just deal with the past 12 years.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  ——I outlined clearly the rates of increase that were introduced in recent years. I contrasted that with the relatively ungenerous treatment in other jurisdictions for persons in exactly the same position. The idea that this country is a haven of difficulty simply is untrue.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Such countries have much lower wages and costs of goods.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  If one considers the consistent poverty statistics, which is an important issue in any social welfare debate, one can see how dramatically the position has improved in Ireland in recent years in respect of the elderly, among whom there is very little consistent poverty, not alone because of the extremely high rates of payment by international standards on the basic State pension, which is acknowledged worldwide, but also because of the wide array of fringe and associated benefits and supports that are given.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  The Minister is not living in the real world. Has he visited old people living on their own?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  What about families?

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Of course old people living on their own need every support.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Deputy O’Donnell, this is not Question Time.

[767]Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  However, Deputy O’Donnell will be aware, if he studies conditions in other countries, of how superior are our arrangements.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  That is no excuse.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Opposition parties must get out of this bubble because we must compare ourselves with other countries. The real world in which we live is one in which we must compete with other countries to sell our goods and provide services.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Exactly. That is where the problems have arisen over the past 12 years.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  That is what dropped during the Government’s period in office. In this House we should be engaged in examining——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Does the Minister intend to speak for ten minutes?

Deputy Brian Lenihan: Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  If my time has expired, I am happy to conclude. I welcome the opportunity to intervene in this debate and support the position of the Government.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  I have listened to the debate in the Chamber. It is all very well trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes——

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  The Government has done that for 12 years, and done it very well.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  ——in respect of where the economy is going and using the most vulnerable people in our society as a political football.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  That is pathetic.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Ireland is in the position that more is going out than is coming in. It is like any household — one cannot spend what one does not have. The Department and the Minister have come out early and been upfront about this. Nobody likes making changes to people’s daily lives and their income by making cuts that have become essential if we are to provide a top-class social welfare system for the most vulnerable people in the country. That the Minister has come out so early gives people a chance to budget in whatever way they can take account of the change that will take place at Christmas.

This is a bonus payment. I worked in employment exchanges in the early 1980s where there was no such thing as a Christmas bonus. People were on very low payments, whether on assistance or benefit, invalidity or disability benefit. That has changed dramatically over the past ten years. Child benefit has increased from €44 ten years ago to €166 per month now.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Look how much more expensive everything is now.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  The contributory pension has increased from €113 ten years ago to €230, an increase of over 100%. Old people appreciate that and accept that conditions have improved. I have spoken to pensioners on this issue and they see it as a bonus they receive at Christmas. The vast majority would rather have a bonus reduced or taken away at Christmas once a year rather than having their payment cut on a weekly basis. That makes life more difficult for people.

In my constituency, we have a large number of people dependent on welfare payments such as lone parent’s allowance, invalidity, disability or pension payments. A certain section of [768]society will not be able to manage finances and income and will end up in trouble irrespective of the payment they receive. These people must be assisted. It is incumbent on every Member of the House to ensure that these people are aware of what is available. They can make a telephone call to the money advice and budgeting service; they do not have to go to the office.

Other Members referred to moneylenders. I have dealt with cases where people got into trouble with moneylenders. The advice we can give them is that there is help out there for them. There is a welfare system in place to assist them. Some people cannot cope or live from day to day and find moneylenders knocking at their doors. We must protect those people. We must make adjustments now rather than waiting and making tougher decisions, which would have a more direct impact on people, later in the year or next year. Only in the good times could a 100% bonus be paid. The sum of over €200 million saved will ensure that those who need it most get it and weekly payments will not be affected directly. They will be in a position to continue to manage their finances week to week.

Fraud is being tackled and taken seriously. Great resources are being put into it and this is money well spent. There are opportunities out there. For many years I have listened to people saying that a person was not entitled to a payment but was receiving it or taking advantage of the system. We must accept that fraud takes place, and we must tackle it. The Department had major success on fraud towards the end of last year. Whatever resources are needed will ensure that those who most need it will get it, as will the most vulnerable people. Early signalling of this change will give people a chance——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  To cancel Christmas.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  ——particularly those who are not used to being on social welfare such as those who are recently unemployed and have never been unemployed before.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  They are not eligible anyway.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  They will have an opportunity to manage whatever the State can give them. The Minister for Finance has pointed out that we have one of the most generous and efficient welfare systems in Europe, if not the world. People in other jurisdictions are envious of what we can do with our welfare system. The percentage of income the country spends on welfare shows that successive Governments have tried to protect people and ensure that the most vulnerable in society are catered for and protected. The measures that must be taken are not palatable and no one likes taking these decisions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  There are 13 minutes and two speakers left in the slot.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  If the Opposition Members think it is palatable for those on this side of the House to make these decisions at this time, they are not living in the real world.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Can the Leas-Cheann Comhairle tell me what time is left?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  There are six minutes for Deputy O’Rourke.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I understood it was ten.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  An extra speaker has arrived.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I understand, and I am delighted to see all of our side in the House.

[769]I thank the Labour Party for tabling this Private Members’ motion. It is edifying that, in the first week back after Easter, most of the debate in this House has been on social welfare, with the Social Welfare Bill and this motion. For the Minister and those who shadow her it means more time in the Chamber but it is important that we debate the matter as it is a part of life in receipt of a major amount of funding.

Last night, when I spoke on the Social Welfare Bill, and this morning, when walking to Leinster House, I thought that, as the song goes, would it not be lovely to be in opposition where one can demand, demand, demand and constantly put forward ideas without the corresponding saving?

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  We are happy to swap.

  12 o’clock

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That would be lovely but then as I came in I thought it would not be lovely because one likes to feel that one is contributing to a full debate, which this is from the point of view of the Labour Party, on how this payment could be made out of the social welfare budget. That means that if the Christmas bonus was to be paid, it would have to come from the subhead of some other item in social welfare. It is only when one has been a Minister, and I do not want to talk myself up or down, and faced with a plethora of subheads, which is particularly acute in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, that one must make a decision. These are Government decisions. To taunt and say silly things across the Chamber — calling people Marie Antoinette, for example — is puerile and infantile. It was as if someone took delight in the decision. I am quite sure Marie Antoinette took delight when she said whatever she said, historians have changed their minds several times on it. To think that anybody would approach with delight saying to people that a Christmas bonus would not be paid would mean that person is very sadistic.

Nobody wants to do this but the country is faced with a 20% increase in the social welfare budget, mainly due to the rising tide of unemployment. It is sad and almost hopeless for people with no jobs. I know the Minister is trying to ensure that those who have to queue for benefits would be treated in a dignified and proper fashion and I reiterate that today. People are now looking to get unemployment benefits who have never dreamt of or faced today’s measure of unemployment.

We cannot cut the single parent allowance, unemployment benefit or child benefit. Neither can we cut the carer’s allowance. We all met with carers’ groups prior to the supplementary budget and we indicated that the very best we could hope for would be no dilution of the carer’s benefit payments or the respite payment for carers. That was preserved.

I do not know in the current climate how long more we can keep preserving such measures. Social welfare has the first call, which is correct for a society in which people have rightly always placed great emphasis on looking after those who are vulnerable and in need. My plea today is that we all would continue to wish to focus on the unemployed, single parents and child benefit. We should ensure that those who get some measure of support and comfort from such payments will continue to be able to do so. I am hopeful that this will continue to be the tenet of Government.

The Minister opened a chink in the argument last night and Deputy Enright asked her to elaborate on that chink.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  I asked the Minister for Finance if he agreed with it.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Fair dues to the Deputy.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  He did not answer.

[770]Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  He may yet do so.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Deputy O’Rourke would know the Minister well.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Deputy Enright should not fret. I know her to be a woman of worth.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Deputy has one minute remaining.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  She should not use it talking about me.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Anything the Deputy says is well grounded. She is from a neighbouring constituency and one is always careful of such things. The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, indicated that if there was a chance of giving this Christmas bonus, she would grasp the opportunity and encourage the Minister for Finance to do so as well. That is more or less what she said but perhaps I have encapsulated her comments incorrectly.

I add my voice to this and will continue to do so. As the months go by and Christmas approaches, we hope there will be some avenue which could be further explored for the partial or whole payment of this Christmas bonus. Be that as it may, the position is very serious in Irish economic life and it behoves us all to approach it in a serious fashion and ensure that the money so garnered for the social welfare budget — it is up 20% in less than one year — will continue to be used usefully and well.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  The motion I speak on today is difficult but the decisions faced by the Government in the past few months have been extremely difficult. Never before have such difficult circumstances been seen in this State. Who would want to have to make the decisions taken by Government? Who would want to increase social welfare payments by 20%? This is all about unemployment and who would want to have to deal with this? The problem we face must be tackled.

The social welfare budget must be increased dramatically and we must spend two thirds of our tax revenue on social welfare because of the economic crisis we face but who would want to do so? We would rather be reducing taxes, with fewer people on welfare. That should be the aim of the Government throughout this crisis. Ideally, there should be less of a Christmas bonus, as who among the unemployed is looking forward to it; they want a job and we must work towards that by getting public finances back in order. People are not looking forward to a Christmas bonus because they want a job instead. It is our responsibility to do whatever we can to try to get them into work.

Some €21.3 billion is being spent on social welfare this year, with the tax take only €33 billion or €34 billion. We are not sure about that and it may even go down. The figure has decreased in the first couple of months of the year, although I have confidence that the actions taken by the Minister will address that. By any measure, a massive amount is being spent on social welfare.

The Minister has ensured that no other areas in social welfare are to be cut at a time when prices are going down. I acknowledge that food prices have not decreased but there is deflationary pressure on food and utilities. I encourage any of my constituents who want to switch utility, particularly electricity to Bord Gáis or Airtricity, to do so. In my own area there is competition for gas supply which brings about a reduced price. The regulator may need to move more quickly but Government action has taken place. Those prices should be decreased and people should get more bang for their buck.

Child benefit has increased dramatically. Why should child benefit be paid as it is to me, a Deputy with two children? It should be taxed or means tested. The Minister has indicated such [771]measures will be introduced, but when they are there will be a Private Members’ motion in this House criticising it. Every action taken by this Government is criticised, as well as every change it wishes to make. Every change made by this Government has garnered attention from some lobby group which is then picked up by the Opposition. I would not describe the people benefitting from the Christmas bonus as part of a lobby group but that is the hallmark of the Opposition. This issue concerned a very difficult decision which no Government would like to take.

I urge the Government to reconsider the payment as soon as we are out of the current economic position. It could also be reconsidered as we do more work on fraud prevention. The Minister has done tremendous work on that but much more can be done, as many people are committing social welfare fraud. They must be dealt with as the cake is only so big and it must be divided as best we can. There are inherently difficult decisions in this, which the Opposition knows. Despite that, the Opposition will argue that the Government is acting incorrectly.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs we met with representatives of the Combat Poverty Agency, which has done much good work. As that agency merged with the Department, there was a lobby group to prevent that happening. Any changes we have made to agencies or in trying to make the social welfare process better have been objected to. I will look for the child benefit payment system to be examined as such a system is not right at a time when we cannot pay the Christmas bonus. We do not have the €223 million to pay the bonus and it cannot be gained through taxation or borrowing.

At the same time as we are dealing with this problem, wealthy people or those with good earnings are still getting a children’s allowance. I encourage the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, the Minister for Finance and the Commission on Taxation to consider the issue as savings must be made. We do not know the circumstances of every family but it is not right for people on very high incomes to be taking a bit of the social welfare cake that would be better spent elsewhere, either on the Christmas bonus, reducing the taxation burden or on the extra expenditure required because of unemployment.

There were significant increases in the October budget of 3% or 4% in the payment rates of social welfare. Prices are going down, although there may be arguments about certain aspects, and the phenomenon is being repeated in the UK, even with sterling so weak and imports so expensive. There are advantages and disadvantages to decreasing prices for the economy as a whole but it is good for people on social welfare.

I spoke briefly to the Minister for Finance last week and I told him our challenge as a Government is to keep prices down and provide people with more buying power. We want this Christmas bonus to be paid but the money must be found. The Opposition does not have to find the money and it can just criticise the Government’s action. I have confidence that when we emerge from the current economic position, not only will the Christmas bonus be paid but it will not be paid to the tens of thousands of those currently out of work as I hope they will be back at work by then.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  With the permission of the House, I wish to share time with Deputies Ciarán Lynch, Mary Upton and Kathleen Lynch.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is agreed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  I wish to respond to some of the contributions made by those on the Government benches. We are not accusing Ministers or backbenchers of sadism or, as some of them seem to be feeling the pain themselves, masochism. However, we are accusing them of [772]getting their priorities and their economics wrong. Deputy Thomas Byrne indicated that we did not suggest any alternative with regard to where the money that is required might be found.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Other than from the social welfare budget.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  I do not believe the money needs to be appropriated from within the social welfare budget. The motion states that “the €156 million required for the payment this year could be raised through further restrictions on interest relief on rental property, including restriction of relief on rental properties”.

In a downturn such as that which we are experiencing, the areas that must be protected are those where jobs are being created. In addition, we must protect those who are losing their jobs. As a result, there is a need to examine the position with regard to the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Social and Family Affairs, Education and Science and Health and Children and ensure they are protected. I do not buy the argument being put forward by those who represent the Government to the effect that the money required had to be obtained from within the social welfare budget. We should find that money elsewhere and we should ensure that those who are most vulnerable are protected. What we should be doing is targeting those who can afford the services of accountants and who can stash away their money. These people will not be spending their money in the economy. The Minister can rest assured that practically every cent of the Christmas bonus would have gone back into local economies throughout the country next December. There is no doubt but that those economies, local shops and the people who would have received the bonus need the money.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the Government is cancelling Christmas for many families. All Members are in direct contact with ordinary families within their constituencies and they will be aware that these people spend their bonus money on food for Christmas dinner, presents for grandparents and the fuel required to provide extra heat at that time of year. Discontinuing the bonus will cause genuine hardship for the most vulnerable people.

Before coming into the House, I carried out a Google search on the name “Scrooge”. Everyone perceives Scrooge to be the man who tried to cancel Christmas until three ghosts appeared to him and taught him the error of his ways. As a result of my search, I came across a definition on Wikipedia which states that it is usually assumed that Scrooge is a banker or professional moneylender. That says it all with regard to the recent budget. The only people who will benefit from the latter are bankers and professional moneylenders. Such moneylenders — be they legal or illegal — will benefit because increasing numbers of people will be obliged to borrow money from them because otherwise they will simply not be able to afford everything they need for Christmas.

The recent budget was a matter of both priorities and economics. The economics are that if people do not have money to spend at Christmas, then their local economies will not benefit and businesses and others will feel the strain. The hardship that will occur is an extremely serious matter for the families which will be affected by the removal of the bonus.

I received an e-mail from the Senior Citizens Parliament, which points out that the Christmas bonus was first paid in 1955. There was not a great deal of money floating around at that stage and many people emigrated to England to try to earn some to send back to their families. The e-mail also states that, according to Dáil records, a bonus of a double week was paid in 1955. It further states that eventually in the 1980s the principle of a payment to all in receipt of social welfare payments of all types was achieved. It points out that this was a progressive development and one which was greatly needed and appreciated. The e-mail also states that if the [773]country was in a position to pay the bonus in 1955, then surely €156 million can be found to ensure that it is paid in December of this year and in future years.

If the 1950s were bad for this country’s economy, so were the 1980s. However, whoever was in power between 1955 and today — the Minister’s party was in office for the majority of the period — managed to pay the Christmas bonus. Even though we are experiencing a downturn, we still have a great deal of money but the first thing that is being cut is the Christmas bonus. This will affect the most vulnerable.

It is a matter of choosing priorities and those in Cabinet have a duty in this regard. I do not accept the argument that the money must be taken from specific areas and that the Department must make savings within its budget. That is why the Labour Party has specifically chosen not to identify areas within the Department’s budget from which the money could be obtained. We are of the view that this money should be procured through a reduction in the interest relief on rental property. Such interest relief goes into the pockets of the kind of people who are quite likely to fly to New York to do their Christmas shopping, whereas those in receipt of the Christmas bonus will most definitely not do so. It is for these reasons that I suggest that not only is the discontinuance of the bonus extraordinarily Scrooge-like in the context of its effect on the most vulnerable in society, it is also extraordinarily bad economics.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan referred to Scrooge, who is a character in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The Victorians — quite possibly in the form of Dickens — invented the modern concept of Christmas. The opening line of A Christmas Carol is: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” The opening line of the Government’s history could well be “The Celtic tiger was dead to begin with”. The Celtic tiger died because the Government neglected it and instead overfed fat cat bankers and developers and others who filed into the Galway tent each year. That is why we are in the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. Instead of a Celtic tiger, we now have fat cats.

While we continue to bail out the fat cat bankers and developers, the payment made once a year to the most vulnerable in society is being removed. This payment amounts to approximately €240 and it is issued at the time of the year when people need it most. The overall cost of the bonus is a mere pittance when compared to the amount we have invested in trying to bail out the banks, to what will be the eventual cost relating to the national asset management agency or, as Deputy Burton refers to it, the “banana bank” and to the cost of PPARS and similar projects — such as that involving the e-voting machines — which are an example of the waste that marks this Government’s tenure. The removal of the bonus indicates where the Government’s priorities lie.

We were led to believe that the sun shone continually for the past ten years. As soon as a rainy day arrived, however, the Government went after the vulnerable, namely, the elderly and those on long-term social welfare payments. It is these individuals who are taking the hit. There is a perverse logic to the position adopted by the Government in respect of the motion. It has stated that because we are not identifying areas of the social welfare budget from which the money might be taken, it will not accept the motion. The logic behind the Government’s argument is that in order to assist certain poor people, it must take money from other poor people.

There are many areas from which the money required could be obtained. Income tax was increased in the budget — by means of the levy — but nothing was done to tax the wealthy. Action could have been taken in the context of removing the Cinderella clause that applies in respect of tax exiles or ending the tax breaks given to property investors — who benefit to the tune of €500 million per year — and others. The money is there to pay for the Christmas [774]bonus, but it is a case of changing priorities and direction. Unfortunately, the Government has failed in this regard.

What is striking about the Christmas bonus is that those who receive it do not even spend it on themselves. Instead, they spend it on their grandchildren or on buying presents. They might spend it on a turkey for a family gathering over Christmas or so that there is a bottle of whiskey in the house in case a neighbour calls in. This money is not going to a tax exile in Portugal or to a tax haven, it is being spent in local shops and supermarkets, stimulating the local economy. The Government is looking at this in terms of savings without considering the local economic context or individual circumstances.

In my constituency, Fianna Fáil backbenchers and Government Senators have mentioned their discomfort over this issue. I have listened to them crying crocodile tears on local radio about it. They have an option today, they can relieve their discomfort by voting to support this motion. Although it is a cliché, if they do not support it, they are turkeys voting for Christmas because when I am out canvassing, the cutting of the Christmas bonus is being raised by the public on every doorstep.

I also hear on the doorsteps that we are all the same. We are not all the same, there is a clear difference that distinguishes the Labour Party from the Government. We are not going to be in Government no matter what the circumstances, we will not stand over everything. There are some areas where a line must be drawn. The public recalls that when it was proposed that VAT be introduced on children’s shoes, the Labour Party walked out of Government because it was an unacceptable tax on the poor and the vulnerable. We would have also walked out of Government on this issue.

Where are the lines drawn for this Government? Deputy Rabbitte put it eloquently a week ago when he explained that the Green Party had become so entrenched in Government that no longer will the Greens walk out on Fianna Fáil but Fianna Fáil will walk out on the Greens.

Returning to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has been treated unfairly since the book was published. The novel closes with talk of Scrooge’s generosity because the story is about redemption, where someone who was miserly at the start became very generous. We know that Fianna Fáil cannot be redeemed. If it is to be rehabilitated, it must happen on the Opposition benches because it will never be rehabilitated while in Government.

The most poignant scene in the novel is the ghost of Christmas present drawing back his cloak to show two wretched children. Scrooge asks who these children are and the ghost replies that the boy is ignorance and the girl is want, and that Scrooge should beware of them both, particularly ignorance. The ignorance the public has endured about Fianna Fáil and this Government in recent years is long past and the Minister should beware of it because the members of the public are waiting for the Government on the doorsteps.

Deputy Mary Upton: Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  The Minister should stop picking on the weakest in society. The cutting of the Christmas bonus has caused an unprecedented public response and not only among those who will lose it; other people who are employed refer to it as a miserable act.

The Government amendment states that €223 million is needed to fill the gap, a substantial amount. Government speakers all say that this must come from the social welfare budget but my colleagues have all highlighted that this should not be the case, there should be procedures in place to act on the need to call in money from other sources. We have listed those sources and they include off-shore accounts, rental income paid to overseas landlords renting houses in this country, tax relief for rental income and a real plan to tax high earners. There are [775]many ways to make savings and get the money, and it does not need to be from the social welfare budget.

Suggesting that all social welfare recipients would lose money if the Christmas bonus was retained is incorrect, there are other ways to go about this. The most vulnerable will be punished by this miserly attack. I have listened to the sad stories being told by pensioners about losing this small cushion that they depend on at Christmas. It goes on small gifts for grandchildren and the Christmas food and the luxury they could not otherwise afford, such as visits to family and cards for neighbours who have helped out during the year. These are quality of life issues that must be made available.

Some of them mention the extra heating costs or the taxi they might be able to afford for one night out, this is not a luxury they indulge in during the year. These people are not living the high life, the Christmas bonus allowed them to top up a little on the basics. Most of them are sad and disappointed, but the anger is coming from those looking in on the situation who recognise the impact it will have on the elderly.

I was talking to a young man who is in receipt of the disability allowance. He cannot work and never will, this is his income for the rest of his life. He needs his “old banger” of a car to get to the shops and frequently to the hospital. He is now worried that he will have to cut back on heating, food or some other basic because of the loss of this bonus. This man is meticulous about his budget, measuring out his money on a weekly basis, exactly aware of his expenditure, unless an emergency arises. It is for those emergencies that he wants to set aside a little extra. The Christmas bonus allowed a small degree of flexibility to plan for emergencies. He pointed out that his family are generous and supportive and that they can supplement his income on occasion. He treasures his independence, however, he does not want to ask for help, it damages his pride if he does.

He is in the fortunate position of having a supportive family because there are many who do not have that. Those people might find themselves turning to moneylenders. We are not imagining this, it is a fact. These people are vulnerable and the last thing they need is a further threat from the debt collector when he calls in his debts.

It is easy to say to those on social welfare that the cost of living has dropped. For most of them this has little bearing on real life. They cannot access those places where there is good value because they do not have a car. They are dependent on local convenience stores that are often much more expensive. Telling them about the drop in the cost of living is pointless, it has no meaning. During the week an elderly woman, who is diabetic, talked to me at length about her situation. The quality of her food is very important for her. Again, I do not claim the €230 or so at Christmas would take care of that problem entirely but she pointed out that it would have been a help and given her a little support.

A chiropodist contacted me yesterday — he has also contacted many of my colleagues — about the charge for chiropody which affects people with medical cards. He particularly mentioned elderly people and people who are diabetic. Once again, they are the hardest hit by the budget. If their current social welfare payments do not allow them to pay the extra charge that is demanded of them, as any little amount they have set aside will be eroded, he pointed out that they will not go for the visit to the chiropodist that they badly need. That will have huge long-term consequences. I put that problem against the background of somebody already being on a very meagre budget. One can see how important €220 or €230 is to them.

Mention should also be made of the suspension of the community support programme. I realise it is not dealt with by the Minister’s Department but it is important in this context. It is under the remit of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It involves a small amount of money but it is having a huge impact on the safety, security and quality of life [776]of elderly people. I have received numerous complaints about it. Again, somebody will have to pick up the tab for it, whether it is directly by way of putting in place the cost of the pendant alarms and so forth or the family will once again be called on to provide that support. Otherwise, people will live in fear.

These are small items but, collectively, the cuts amount to a threat to the safety and security of certain categories of social welfare recipients. These are not the type of people who will be drinking fine wine, eating caviar or heading abroad for their Christmas break. They will be struggling to make ends meet to provide the little bit of luxury they might have hoped to have for Christmas. It is a mean and miserable cut and I ask the Minister to reverse it.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Given the times in which we are living, when there is such turmoil not just in this country but also in other parts of the world, although it is far worse in this country, one would wonder why losing the Christmas bonus is having such an impact. The difficulty with losing the Christmas bonus is that the people who receive it never benefited in the first place from the ten years of boom this country experienced. Being on long-term social welfare payments, regardless of what they were, meant one’s income was fixed. The people who did not benefit from the type of excesses we saw in this country are now being hit with probably the meanest cut of all.

The argument is made that this is a discretionary payment. Why, therefore, would somebody be so upset when it is gone? When Fianna Fáil was in Opposition it had a slogan, which resonated with the entire country, that cuts affect the old, the sick and the poor. I do not blame this Minister entirely for what has happened. The social welfare budget did not drop out of the sky; it is part of the package the Minister for Finance put together. It was a little rich of him today to tell Members of the Opposition that we are living in a bubble. There was a bubble all right, and I would not like to say where it was. It was not outside of anyone’s body, but inside. It was also a little rich of him today to criticise the Opposition for not knowing what is happening in the country. We have been trying to tell him for the past two years what has been happening.

The old were the first to be hit, through the medical card. That issue was half resolved. The poor are now being hit, as are people who are sick or who have a disability. However, I must pay tribute to the Minister. It was proposed in one of the budgets — there have been three in quick succession — that people with a disability would not receive disability allowance until they were 18 years old, as opposed to the current position where they receive it at 16 years of age. When the hard facts were pointed out to the Minister, she reversed the decision. I pay tribute to her for that. I now ask her to seriously examine this particular measure and reverse it.

All Members are canvassing at present. In the free time we have we usually find ourselves on somebody’s doorstep. Some mornings ago I was doing that and spoke to a woman whose husband has been ill for many years. She asked about the Christmas bonus. I told her we would do our best to have the decision reversed. I asked her what she does with the Christmas bonus. She told me that in November, when the bonus is paid, she usually has the children’s clothes put aside and she pays for them with the bonus. As soon as that is done, she said, she starts on the other things for Christmas.

We can talk all we like about the notion that social welfare is discretionary and not a right. One can argue that it is insurance or contribution based. I happen to believe that if we intend to look after people who do not have the financial wherewithal to look after themselves, it should be a right. However, that is a different argument. Nevertheless, how does one lower the expectations of children? How does one tell children that one cannot afford a toy this year, without shattering the illusion of Christmas? It is an illusion, but it is a nice illusion and one [777]that we have built up and encouraged. It is one of the few nice times during the year from which children benefit. How does one shatter that illusion for children? How does one start lowering their expectations?

There are all sorts of arguments and one hears them every day. This Government might seem to be floundering around in some type of unreality but it has done some things very deliberately which worry me. It started with setting the public sector against the private sector. That was a very deliberate campaign which bore fruit. We will see the consequences of it in the next few years. It has now set about dividing the workers from the people who depend on the State. One can hear it rippling everywhere. That worries me even more. We will all pay for that type of division eventually because it divides society. It boxes people away, which worries me. We should never allow that to happen.

One can say that people on very limited incomes should manage their money better. However, I have never seen the poor at sales. The reason one does not see the poor at sales is that they do not have enough money to go to them. They never have enough to set aside money to build up a lump sum so they can go to the sales and pick up the bargains the rest of us get. The people on social welfare about whom I worry more than others, as I have said to the Minister previously, are the people who are by themselves, the lone parents or single people living alone. They are the people who suffer most from a decision such as this. All the research shows that lone parents and people with children are most likely to fall into poverty. They are the people who need this bonus more than anybody else.

I have praised the Minister for reversing the decision on disability allowance. I now urge her to re-examine this decision. We hear she is enjoying huge success in the elimination of fraud. She should have another look at the budget and see if it is possible to reinstate this once-off annual payment on which so many people have come to rely. It is not as if this is something new. It is something that people on limited incomes factor into their budgets every year. Removing it will cause enormous hardship.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  I thank the Deputies who have contributed to this debate, both last night and today. Members on all sides of the House are genuinely concerned about the impact the cancellation of the Christmas bonus payment will have on all long-term social welfare recipients, especially those persons who are unemployed and pensioners. The Government shares that concern and as the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, outlined in her speech last night, this was a difficult decision to make and one which would not have been made but for the current economic climate.

In the context of very tough decisions having to be made across the whole range of Government expenditure, the provision of €21.3 billion for social welfare services in 2009 — 20% more than the amount spent in 2008 — is a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable and providing income support to the increasing number of people who are losing their jobs. In the past decade there have been significant increases in welfare payments, with child benefit increasing from €44 to €166 per month; the State contributory pension increasing from €113 to €230 per week and the rate of jobseeker’s allowance being raised from €93 to €204 per week.

The Government regrets that social welfare cuts had to be made but it was simply not possible to avoid them. Savings must be made in some areas of social welfare expenditure in order to keep the welfare budget at a level the State can afford this year and to absorb the additional expenditure on social welfare payments resulting from the sharp rise in unemployment. Cuts in social welfare have been kept to a minimum at just €300 million in the context of a 2009 budget of €21.3 billion.

[778]In deciding where to achieve the savings in welfare expenditure there were no easy options and everything had to be considered, including a general cut in all weekly social welfare payment rates which the Government avoided. In fact, as recently as January 2009 weekly welfare rates were increased by the 3% plus provided for in the budget of October last at a time when 2.5% inflation was predicted for 2009. As Deputies are aware, the forecast has changed significantly with a drop of 4% in the consumer price index now expected for this year.

The payment of a full Christmas bonus in 2009 would cost an estimated €223 million. We appreciate that the decision not to pay a Christmas bonus in 2009 will be difficult for people even if it has been possible to give more than eight months' notice to those affected, but we genuinely believe that savings in other areas of welfare expenditure could have caused greater hardship. The alternative of cutting all weekly payments would have a much greater effect on households.

In response to the Private Members’ proposition that the required savings could be made through further fraud control and restriction on interest relief on rental property, the Minister confirmed in her speech last night that control measures are also being intensified to reduce the incidence of social welfare fraud and to effect savings. Those control activities will continue to be prioritised. Furthermore, the Minister for Finance provided in the supplementary budget for the restriction of interest relief for rental properties this year. In other words, it has been necessary to adopt a wide range of measures to address our unprecedented fiscal crisis. It is simply wrong to suggest that the cancellation of the Christmas bonus could readily have been avoided simply by taking other measures.

The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, indicated on budget day and again last night that if there is a financial windfall or additional savings then the bonus will be the first payment to be restored. What the Minister said is on record. I wish to conclude by assuring the House that the Government will reconsider the payment of the Christmas bonus as soon as we are out of the current economic situation. In the meantime we will do our very best to continue to help people who are under financial pressure.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I wish to share my time with Deputy Gilmore.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  I thank my colleague, Deputy Shortall, for bringing this motion to the House and for her speech in the House last night that analysed the reasons for the Christmas bonus in the first instance and the case for its continuation in the interests of fairness and justice.

How we treat our old and sick and the poor among us is a measure of our worth as a society. If we are to be judged by this Fianna Fáil proposal to withdraw the Christmas bonus we will be judged very harshly. Not since Ernest Blythe took the shilling off the old age pensioners has such a mean and lousy, uncaring and miserable proposal come from an Irish Government. The Minister puts Scrooge in the ha’penny place and she will go down in history as the one who stole Christmas from the poor. The Minister’s proposal is base, low, vile, cruel, nasty, dismal, shabby, unkind, wretched and niggardly. The Minister is despicable for bringing forward her rotten proposal. She should be ashamed of herself. But of course never having experienced a day’s poverty in her life and cosseted from such by her upper middle class lifestyle she has neither sympathy for nor empathy with the poor. She is poorly equipped to run the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I find that comment offensive.

[779]Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The poor need a champion and the Minister simply does not fit that bill.

The Christmas bonus is a recognition of the additional costs that arise during the festive season and it is intended to allow those of our citizens who cannot afford those costs to take part in the Christmas festival like everyone else. It is a recognition of their worth to the rest of us. It removes some of the stress and worry that is characteristic of poverty. It allows a little sweetness and light to enter people’s lives. Now the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, and the new Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, propose to put out that light and withdraw any possibility of sweetness at Christmas. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Who are the people who will be adversely affected by this Fianna Fáil proposal? Who are the people the Fianna Fáil Party in government has selected for special brutal treatment? Who has Fianna Fáil decided are best able to fund the developers and the bankers’ excesses? They include old age pensioners, disabled people, the long-term unemployed, the blind, widows and carers, single parents and others. Is Fianna Fáil seriously saying those citizens who are worthy of our care and support should pay for the bloody bankers by having their Christmas abolished? Again I say, shame on Fianna Fáil.

I come from a Fianna Fáil family and background and I am very aware of the old ethos of that extended family. I recall being told of Mr. Blythe taking the shilling from the old age pensioners and the attendant message that the weakest in our society must be protected. That then was the Fianna Fáil ethos. My late father would turn in his grave if he knew how far the party had shifted from that earlier and honourable position.

The abolition of the Christmas bonus is a benchmark. It is a crossing of the line. It is a point of no return for Fianna Fáil. Those on whom it depended to put it in this House will hear their message. Fianna Fáil has abandoned them and they will pay back Fianna Fáil in kind. There are many decent, honourable men and women representing Fianna Fáil in this House. I know from talking to them that this proposal is the opposite to all in which they believe. It cuts across the ethos of fairness and justice that they hold dear as well, and which they seek to uphold as Members of this House. I appeal to them to stand by their principles, to reject this rotten, mean proposal by either voting against the proposal and for the Labour proposition that the Christmas bonus be reinstated or if that is a bridge too far, to abstain when the vote is called.

The Government proposal to abolish the Christmas bonus for welfare recipients will adversely and severely affect approximately 1 million citizens. The money saved will be used to bail out the rotten banks and the building speculators who are long-time friends of Fianna Fáil. Welfare recipients did not cause the problems we now face and why should they pay to bail out those who caused the problem?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  In concluding the debate, I thank all Members who contributed to the debate on this Labour Party motion. I thank especially Deputy Shortall for introducing the motion to the House.

In a way the Christmas bonus is a bit of a misnomer. It is not a bonus, it is a payment that pensioners, people on disability payments, and people who are on social welfare payments have now come to expect will be paid to them at Christmas time. It has been paid in one form or another since 1980. The Government treats the payment as if it were some kind of Christmas present from Fianna Fáil. It is treated in much the same way as some kind of national lottery grant. There is a grand announcement every year from the Minister for Social and Family Affairs — formerly the Minister for Social Welfare — that the Christmas payment will be made. It may well be that later in 2009, depending on the state of the finances, a Fianna Fáil [780]Minister, acting as some kind of latter-day Santa Claus, will announce that the payment is to be partially reinstated, or reinstated for some of its former recipients, in some way that would cynically seek to make political gains on the issue.

Either the Government is absolutely determined that the bonus will not be paid in 2009 or it is announcing its abolition so its payment will be all the sweeter when a Fianna Fáil Minister announces its reinstatement in some shape or form. The reality is that the payment is one that pensioners, people on disability allowances and social welfare payments have come to expect. It is the payment grandparents use to buy presents for their grandchildren. It is the payment used by people on social welfare to ensure there is some degree of festive cheer at Christmas among families and in households that are not well off.

The consequence of the removal of the payment is that those on low incomes and social welfare payments who are living in poverty will turn to where they turned in the past in times of financial difficulty, that is, to moneylenders. The only two groups who had reason to cheer as a result of the budget announced by the Government two weeks ago were moneylenders and property developers. Property developers’ vacant properties and unfinished housing estates and developments will now be taken off their hands by “an bord bail out”, the new agency the Government intends to establish. Moneylenders must envisage considerable opportunities for themselves to rifle and exploit again those in poor circumstances. We have already seen the reports of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the consequences of moneylending and its resurgence in the climate in which we find ourselves.

The Minister seeks to justify the abolition of the payment on grounds of cost. Deputy Shortall addressed that issue very comprehensively last night by pointing out that the cost is not as great as is being protested by Ministers. The payment is always spent and is not pocketed by the people who receive it. When it is made, it is spent in the retail sector within a matter of days or weeks. It is used to buy the Christmas presents for children and other family members. Straight away, therefore, there is a return to the State in the form of VAT. This return will not accrue if the payment is abolished. Since the payment is spent in the retail sector, it will go into the pay packets of those who work in retail businesses, from which the State will recoup another portion of the payment in the form of income tax, PRSI and income levies. What is not recouped in the form of income tax and VAT will be used in turn by businesses to help them pay the rates they owe to local authorities. The reality is that the bulk of the Christmas payment will be returned to the State if it is made. This has not been considered in the calculation.

In our motion, as in our pre-budget statement, we set out a number of areas in which the Government could have raised revenue had it so wished and had it been minded to consider those individuals in our economy and society who are in a better position to pay. There are ways in which revenue can be raised, including by way of closing off tax reliefs and shelters. I do not propose to detail them now but it is interesting to note that the Government, instead of identifying them, looked to those who are poorest in society, as it did in the previous budget, to pay the cost of the profligacy of the past decade. The first people to be targeted were pensioners, followed by special needs children. Then pensioners were targeted again in addition to people on disability payments in receipt of the Christmas payment.

We will vote on this motion in a few moments. Let me address a number of Members of the House on how they will vote. I ask Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry directly to vote with us on this motion. We all understand the way politics works and that the two Deputies signed up in June 2007 to support the Government in the course of the life of this Dáil. I know both would want to honour that agreement with the Government. We have never seen the content of the agreement but I am certain, from knowing both Deputies, that they never signed up to an [781]agreement with the Government to support taking the Christmas payment from old age pensioners and those on disability allowances. It would not dishonour them in this House to vote against a measure to which they never signed up to support and do not, in honour, have to support now. They are not bound by whatever agreement they made with the Government to support the measure today. If they support it, they cannot go back to their constituencies and say they were voting in order to honour an agreement they made with the Government. There is no such agreement. I challenge both Deputies to show any Member of the House where they made an agreement stating they would vote with the Government to take the Christmas payment off old age pensioners and those on disability allowances.

Deputy Mary White, deputy leader of the Green Party, stood on the plinth on the night of the budget and said there were green fingerprints all over the budget. The only green fingerprints I can see all over it are those of the fingers that are picking the pockets of the poorest people in this country by depriving them of the Christmas payment. Are those the green fingerprints Deputy White told the people were all over the budget?

I studied the programme for Government and saw the agreement to which the Green Party signed up in June 2007. Nowhere in that agreement is there any statement that the Green Party would support the taking away of the Christmas payment from pensioners and others in need thereof. There is nothing in the programme for Government that commits the Green Party to supporting the measure. The only reason it would support the measure today is to stay in office. They only reason its members will end up going through the lobby or voting in favour of it today is if they feel it does not matter and that the people who are on pensions and disability payments can be sacrificed. These recipients can go away with green finger-marks on their backs because they have been let down by people who are more interested in saving their own seats at Cabinet and associated privileges.

  1 o’clock

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, often gives us short pious homilies when he appears on “Six One News” to justify things he will not do in Cabinet but tells us all we must do them after he has made decisions on them. He should appear on “Six One News” again to tell the pensioners, those who are on disability payments and the poorest people in the country why the Green Party supports taking the Christmas payment from them.

This is the moment when Members must vote on this issue and there is no escaping. There is no justification for them going back to their constituencies or their parties to offer some kind of political explanation as to why they did it. There is no political or moral justification for voting in favour of taking the Christmas payment from the poorest people in the country.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 65.

Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Ahern, Dermot. Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael.
Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel. Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry.
Information on Chris Andrews  Zoom on Chris Andrews  Andrews, Chris. Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán.
Information on Bobby Aylward  Zoom on Bobby Aylward  Aylward, Bobby. Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Brady, Cyprian.
Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny. Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Browne, John.
Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  Byrne, Thomas. Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara.
Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat. Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall.
Information on Margaret Conlon  Zoom on Margaret Conlon  Conlon, Margaret. Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  Connick, Seán.
Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary. Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John.
Information on Ciaran Cuffe  Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe  Cuffe, Ciarán. Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin.
Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John. Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  Dempsey, Noel.
Information on Jimmy Devins  Zoom on Jimmy Devins  Devins, Jimmy. Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy.
Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Fahey, Frank. Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finneran, Michael.
Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Michael. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Seán.
Information on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Zoom on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Flynn, Beverley. Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Gogarty, Paul. Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel.
Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary. Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Harney, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter.
Information on Brendan Kenneally  Zoom on Brendan Kenneally  Kenneally, Brendan. Information on Michael Kennedy  Zoom on Michael Kennedy  Kennedy, Michael.
Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus. Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P.
Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Kitt, Tom. Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Lenihan, Brian.
Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor. Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  McEllistrim, Thomas.
Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  McGrath, Mattie. Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael.
Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Mansergh, Martin. Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Martin, Micheál.
Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Moloney, John. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael. Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M.J.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  O’Brien, Darragh.
Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie. Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie.
Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  O’Hanlon, Rory. Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  O’Rourke, Mary.
Information on Christy O'Sullivan  Zoom on Christy O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Christy. Information on Peter Power  Zoom on Peter Power  Power, Peter.
Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán. Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Roche, Dick.
Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor. Information on Eamon Scanlon  Zoom on Eamon Scanlon  Scanlon, Eamon.
Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel. Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary.
Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  White, Mary Alexandra. Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.



Níl
Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Allen, Bernard. Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Barrett, Seán.
Information on Joe Behan  Zoom on Joe Behan  Behan, Joe. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Burke, Ulick.
Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan. Information on Catherine Byrne  Zoom on Catherine Byrne  Byrne, Catherine.
Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe. Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Clune, Deirdre.
Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul. Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel J.
Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe. Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour.
Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael. Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda.
Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  D’Arcy, Michael. Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy.
Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Doyle, Andrew. Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J.
Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  English, Damien. Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn.
Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank. Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin.
Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles. Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence.
Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon. Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian.
Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Hayes, Tom. Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Higgins, Michael D.
Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan. Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul.
Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán. Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen.
Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe.
Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz. Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Morgan, Arthur.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Noonan, Michael. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus. Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Jim.
Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John. Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian.
Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Quinn, Ruairí.
Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat. Information on Dr James Reilly  Zoom on Dr James Reilly  Reilly, James.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Sheahan, Tom.
Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  Sheehan, P.J. Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Seán.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet.
Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  Upton, Mary.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

[783]The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 67.

Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Ahern, Dermot. Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael.
Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel. Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry.
Information on Chris Andrews  Zoom on Chris Andrews  Andrews, Chris. Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán.
Information on Bobby Aylward  Zoom on Bobby Aylward  Aylward, Bobby. Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Brady, Cyprian.
Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny. Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Browne, John.
Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  Byrne, Thomas. Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara.
Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat. Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall.
Information on Margaret Conlon  Zoom on Margaret Conlon  Conlon, Margaret. Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  Connick, Seán.
Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary. Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John.
Information on Ciaran Cuffe  Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe  Cuffe, Ciarán. Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin.
Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John. Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  Dempsey, Noel.
Information on Jimmy Devins  Zoom on Jimmy Devins  Devins, Jimmy. Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy.
Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Fahey, Frank. Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finneran, Michael.
Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Michael. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Seán.
Information on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Zoom on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Flynn, Beverley. Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Gogarty, Paul. Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel.
Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary. Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Harney, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter.
Information on Brendan Kenneally  Zoom on Brendan Kenneally  Kenneally, Brendan. Information on Michael Kennedy  Zoom on Michael Kennedy  Kennedy, Michael.
Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus. Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P.
Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Kitt, Tom. Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Lenihan, Brian.
Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor. Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  McEllistrim, Thomas.
Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  McGrath, Mattie. Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael.
Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Mansergh, Martin. Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Martin, Micheál.
Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Moloney, John. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael. Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M.J.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  O’Brien, Darragh.
Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie. Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie.
Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  O’Hanlon, Rory. Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  O’Rourke, Mary.
Information on Christy O'Sullivan  Zoom on Christy O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Christy. Information on Peter Power  Zoom on Peter Power  Power, Peter.
Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán. Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Roche, Dick.
Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor. Information on Eamon Scanlon  Zoom on Eamon Scanlon  Scanlon, Eamon.
Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel. Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary.
Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  White, Mary Alexandra. Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.



Níl
Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Allen, Bernard. Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Barrett, Seán.
Information on Joe Behan  Zoom on Joe Behan  Behan, Joe. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Burke, Ulick.
Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan. Information on Catherine Byrne  Zoom on Catherine Byrne  Byrne, Catherine.
Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe. Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Clune, Deirdre.
Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul. Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel J.
Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe. Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon.
Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour. Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael.
Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda. Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  D’Arcy, Michael.
Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy. Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Doyle, Andrew.
Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J. Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  English, Damien.
Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn. Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank.
Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin. Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles.
Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence. Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon.
Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian. Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Hayes, Tom.
Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Higgins, Michael D. Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  Hogan, Phil.
Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan. Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul.
Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán. Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen.
Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe.
Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz. Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Morgan, Arthur.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Noonan, Michael. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus. Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Jim.
Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John. Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian.
Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Quinn, Ruairí.
Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat. Information on Dr James Reilly  Zoom on Dr James Reilly  Reilly, James.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Sheahan, Tom.
Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  Sheehan, P.J. Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Seán.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet.
Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  Upton, Mary.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.

Question declared carried.


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