Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 735 No. 2

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Question again proposed: “That section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  I am prepared to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt in this regard on the basis that it has the potential to encourage new jobs, albeit at lower rates of pay. I hope it will encourage people off State assistance etc. Bearing in mind what has been said by other contributors before lunch, should the fears of these speakers materialise or if hard evidence crystalises, how does the Minister envisage the Department responding? Is she happy in the knowledge that existing employment law, for example, will safeguard the Minister and the State against malpractice by employers who may seek to take advantage of the figure of €356, down from €390 or thereabouts. There would be a PRSI and wage saving, which would have a detrimental effect on employees and those whom we strive to assist in that regard.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  We heard a number of important contributions from Deputies this morning airing concerns that the reduction in an employer’s PRSI to half of what it is currently would lead to employers reducing employment or wages. I stated this morning there are two balancing measures in this legislation; one is the restoration of the minimum wage which, in effect, raises it by €1 per hour to €8.65, and the second is the reduction of 50% in an employer’s PRSI for the period to the end of 2013.

[260]The purpose of these is not simply to offer a significant financial incentive to employers to expand employment. It is also to encourage employers to retain existing jobs. A number of Deputies were concerned that there is no evidence concerning job creation or were sceptical about jobs growth. The incentive for an employer to reduce earnings to avail of the reduced PRSI rate would not be as great as Deputy Ó Snodaigh suggested. In the example he gave the incentive would be slightly over €2 per week rather than €27 per week, as he suggested.

In my experience of employers, the vast majority are very decent and anxious to retain staff. They would show much loyalty to staff and although they may face very difficult financial conditions, that would not mean they are unmindful of the equally difficult financial positions of employees. Some employers may be unscrupulous but the majority are very decent and aware of their committed employees’ financial position.

The evidence internationally suggests that in the tourism sector Ireland has lost ground in traditional markets such as the UK, partly because of currency differentials. The number of UK visitors is substantially lower than was the case several years ago. Offering employers an incentive by reducing PRSI costs for a limited period is not a guarantee that the industry will be turned around but it is potentially an important element in making the product more competitive to tourists, particularly those coming from the UK.

Similarly, the reduction in VAT levels for products related to the tourism and hairdressing sectors is an important incentive which will help to retain employment in areas where employers are operating on a knife-edge because of other cost issues. Many of the new jobs in international technology companies are highly skilled and the reduction in employer’s PRSI does not apply to them. This initiative is focused on employers who are struggling to maintain jobs and the incentives will help to ensure existing jobs are retained and expand employment levels. We will be monitoring what happens as a result of the incentive, which is due to end at the end of 2013. I am optimistic that we will see improvements in the attractiveness and competitiveness of Ireland from a tourism perspective.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Earlier I spoke about the gap in terms of encouraging employers. I agree with the Minister that not all employers are greedy or disrespect their workers. Many employers have built up loyalty to their staff by taking account of their interests but I refer to those who pay rates that are at or around the minimum wage. There is a strong incentive to reduce wages or maintain them at low levels given that the difference between the two rates of PRSI, which was previously 2.3%, is now 6.5%. In the past, the paperwork alone might not have justified changing pay rates but the gap is now substantial. As I compiled these figures myself, they may not be completely accurate but I assure the Minister the difference is greater than €2 per week.

If this measure was intended to give a once-off stimulus to employers over a period of six months, a graduated change in the rates beginning at the level proposed by the Government could have been justified. Instead, however, a rate of 3.9% will be applied for a period of three years, unless the Government offers a further extension of the lower rate. I guarantee that the business class will be pressuring the Government to retain the rate beyond 2013 and they will use the same excuse that changes could lead to job losses. Everybody is always under pressure and people must cut their cloth to measure. The costs that could more effectively be addressed in order to assist small businesses include fuel, electricity and production. Employers’ PRSI contributions are not as large as they should be at a time when high unemployment levels are creating a strain on the public purse. The Exchequer is being further strained by reductions in the contributions expected from employers. A substantial number of people who are on low wages will be affected by this measure. Perhaps the Minister can provide figures for the precise [261]number but I would estimate that approximately 200,000 people would fall into this category. The effect on the public purse of the decrease in employer contribution will be significant.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  In terms of the employer job PRSI incentive scheme, which has been available for some time, as of 10 June 2011 applications were received from 480 employers in respect of 708 employees, 313 employers were awarded exemptions in respect of 429 employers and 157 employers had claims rejected in respect of 215 employees. The numbers involved in the existing scheme are relatively low. Deputy Ó Snodaigh suggested earlier that the 50% reduction offered in this scheme makes it more attractive but we can only speculate about this because there is no evidence to suggest that responsible employers will reduce wages as a consequence of this arrangement.

Alongside the fact that the minimum wage is increasing by €1, this is an attempt as part of other elements of the jobs incentive package, such as the reduction in VAT, to provide a stimulus for employment retention and creation. If each of the thousands of small firms in the country took on an extra employee, that would produce a significant outcome for employment. However, in the current economic situation maintaining staff is challenging in itself for small and medium sized enterprises. This measure is targeted at specific sectors where the beneficial effects of job retention and creation will be spread throughout the country.

  4 o’clock

The Government has put forward the initiative as part of the programme for Government. We wish to encourage employers, through the initiative, to both retain and hopefully increase employment. I recognise that this is not a panacea for all the cost issues faced by employers. The jobs initiative is about targeted interventions. The measure is targeted, in particular when one considers that there is a countervailing measure in terms of employees’ pay, which is the restoration of the minimum wage, being introduced at the same time.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 3:

The amendment relates to the previous section so I will not say too much about it. The purpose is to ensure that the intention of section 3 would apply to new jobs only. We debated the issue and I took note of what the Minister said, namely, that part of the measure is a retention package. I will not delay too long on the point, but if it is a retention package it cannot be an incentive. For it to be an incentive it must be substantial and make a major difference. When I argued that it would create a significant difference in terms of being an incentive to reduce wages or change work conditions the Minister said there is no proof of that. The fact that an employer can retain jobs means there is a financial incentive involved in the change. No one is denying that times are challenging for employers but it is also very challenging for employees. I will not press the amendment. If we had more time I would have elaborated further on my proposal and the mechanism to ensure that at the very least if we are introducing a change to employer’s PRSI contributions it would be tied only to the creation of new jobs. That would be an incentive to create new jobs rather than relating to existing jobs and being an incentive to undermine the conditions of existing employees.

[262]Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Could the Acting Chairman clarify which amendments have been ruled out of order?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Ciarán Lynch): Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  That will be the next item on the agenda.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Could I ask for clarification on the amendment? Is it the case that neither the Government nor anyone else has a clue as to how many jobs the reduction in employer’s PRSI will create? Is it like the removal of the €3 tax for travellers which is supposed to do marvels for the tourism industry? One of the problems we have in trying to get to grips with what the effect of Government policy will be with regard to the disastrous unemployment levels is that we have no indication from the Government nor, apparently, from any agencies on which the Government will depend for information, on the impact of the proposals. That is what I have gathered from what the Minister said. I do not know if that is the truth of the situation.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The jobs incentive is a stimulus package which offers incentives to employers to both retain staff and take on extra staff. I cannot offer evidence to Deputy Higgins in advance of the measures coming into effect. What will happen after 1 July is that the minimum wage will be reinstated and employers will have a reduction of 50% in the rate of PRSI for people earning €356 per week or less. In addition, there will be reductions in the rate of VAT, particularly geared towards tourism and personal services sectors such as hairdressing.

Economic evidence nationally and internationally indicates that when one has a reduction in costs, particularly in industries where high costs have perhaps deterred customers from using the services of those industries such as British tourists returning to this country in the kind of numbers in which they used to visit, one can expect a stimulus effect in two areas, the first being an increase in the retention of the number of employees, as many unemployment difficulties relate to losing long-standing jobs in areas such as the bar trade where many different things are happening and the tourism sector, hotels and personal services such as hairdressing. The second is that the lower rate of VAT is being introduced in those particular areas of activity.

I cannot offer the Deputy evidence in advance of the measures taking effect but in the context of the amendment tabled by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, which he now intends to withdraw, we will make evidence available through the medium of parliamentary questions and similar mechanisms as the schemes go into operation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 5:

[263]The purpose of the amendment is to seek a report from the Minister in 12 months on the impact of the operation, the number of new jobs created, the wage trends during the period with particular attention to the wage reductions down to the level of €356, and the number of complaints being made on job displacement such as the ending of contracts and people being rehired on a less favourable contract. Employees may come under pressure from certain unscrupulous employers to reduce their wages so that they can make savings in PRSI.

The amendment that was ruled out of order had a similar effect. It related to the proposals under the jobs initiative that so many jobs would be created. We all wish jobs to be created and we want people back in employment under the best terms and conditions. We also wish companies well so that employers can feel confident that they are operating in a proper climate. As legislators we need to be mindful always of the impact of any legislation we pass. As I have continually stated in the House, it was suggested in the White Paper, Regulating Better, which was produced a number of years ago and dealt with how we do our business in terms of legislation and so on, that a regulatory impact analysis should be carried out for every Bill. I have gone further and stated that every Bill should also state its impact in terms of addressing poverty. We want to make sure the Bill we are discussing here will not create a downward trend in the wages of those who are currently around the €356 per week mark. We should have some indication within a year of whether the Bill is having the effect that is desired by the Government and whether it has resulted in any new jobs. It would be no harm for the Minister, if she so wished, to add information on the number of jobs that have been retained in that period specifically due to these measures rather than because of any growth in the economy.

That was the intention of the two amendments that deal with this area. Given that amendment No. 5 involves no charge on the Exchequer, it does not have the effect of negating the Bill, which was the reason No. 4 was ruled out of order for being contrary to the spirit of the Bill. Amendment No. 5 would provide for something that could be done; it could later be decided, at the relevant committee or in the House, whether it had had an effect. It might also inform us, at a later date, of the long-term trend in employers’ PRSI, giving us the opportunity of reshaping it if required. That was the intention of the amendment, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for the positive proposals he has made. I do not propose to accept the amendments because of the nature of the Bill and the way they are phrased. However, I accept the principle that the Deputy and other Deputies have set out, that we should have regular assessments of the results of various initiatives. The reduction in employers’ PRSI, as set out in the Bill, is to continue until the end of 2013. It is a fairly costly investment by the Government to support the retention of employment and the expansion of new employment. Through the media of committee discussions and parliamentary questions, I will be more than happy to report back to the Deputy and other Deputies the progress of this measure.

With regard to the effect of the measure on the cost of labour to employers, calculations done by the staff of my Department indicate that the saving to the employer will be a maximum of about €9.73 per week, or about €500 in a full year. It is not some enormous bonanza for employers. It is a small, targeted measure for particular sectors of the economy, alongside the reduction in the lower rate of VAT, which is an important measure, and the reinstatement of the national minimum wage.

I will be happy to return to Deputies in some months’ time when we have information on how the measure is being received. Various international organisations, and in fact many organisations in Ireland, such as the ESRI and various universities, are moving to what is called evidence-based policy, in which one tries to show the actual impact of measures over a period [264]of time. This is, in economic terms, part of a stimulus programme. Stimulus programmes are helpful in moving countries out of the kind of recession we are experiencing and into stabilisation and growth. As such, I hope this measure will produce a positive impact. One of the difficulties for the economy is that, partly because we are in a structural adjustment programme being administered by the IMF and the troika and partly because of the enormous collapse of the building and construction industry and the fall in Government revenues, the possibility of stimulus based on Government support is much more limited than I would like. Those Deputies who follow people such as Joseph Stiglitz will know that providing stimulus is important in terms of giving space to employers and helping to restore confidence in the economy. That is the intention of the measures that are contained in the Bill. They are important measures and I am confident we will obtain a response.

I mentioned the UK market previously. We recently had the important visit of the Queen of England to this country and this, along with the visit of the US President, has resulted in a lot of positive publicity for the country. Thus, we have some grounds for optimism, although, as I have said before, improving the economy, in the context of the size of the collapse in the construction sector, is a marathon and not a sprint. I hope these measures will retain jobs and begin to get the economy moving again.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I welcome the Minister’s commitment to answering the key points I have included in the amendment through parliamentary questions or committee discussions, if the committee so wishes. Maybe in future we should insert such a commitment in writing in legislation such as this to provide a guarantee that changes will be reviewed, even if only on a once-off basis rather than continuously — not every Act needs to be reviewed every year. I welcome this. If we had had a longer time to prepare for Committee Stage we could have come up with a wording that would have been acceptable to the Minister for inclusion in the Bill. As I am conscious of the time and the big issues that need to be discussed in the next few sections, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, “That section 4 stand part of the Bill”, put and declared carried.

Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Nílim chun mórán ama a chaitheamh ar seo.

Why is the Minister bothering to introduce a section to discontinue the dependent parent pension scheme for new applicants? I know there are only a small number of people availing of this scheme, but in some cases it was the most suitable remedy for people who found themselves in the tragic situation of losing a son or daughter to an occupational disease or for other work-related reasons. Why remove this allowance which may be of use to people who find themselves in such difficult circumstances?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The dependent parent’s pension scheme is payable to the parent of a person who dies as a result of an occupational accident, provided that the parent has been wholly or mainly maintained by the deceased person. There are only a small number of cases of this payment. After a long and exhaustive search by the Department, the total number of such payments being made came to five. There is no record of an application for this pension [265]being made since 1987. Since then other schemes have emerged which are available to people in such circumstances.

Given the development of the various supports available under the social welfare system over the years, it is unlikely that a parent who may have qualified as being a dependant under the scheme when it was originally introduced in 1967 would not be eligible in their own right for some other form of social welfare support. In the circumstances, the scheme is considered no longer relevant in the current social welfare package of schemes. Taking into account the very small number of people claiming the pension and the alternative income support schemes provided by the Department, it is considered reasonable to discontinue the scheme. The dependent parent’s pension will continue to be paid to existing recipients for the duration of their claim.

Question put and declared carried.

Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Section 6, dealing with the State pension transition, is the first of the sections dealing with the raising of the State pension age. The Minister claims the logic to such a move is because people are living longer. However, in the case of the State pension transition I question this logic. The timeframe for the changes to the age also leave much to be desired.

Over the next several years that this measure will be introduced, many people will finish employment when they reach 65 years of age. As they will not be able to apply for the State pension until reaching 66 years, does the Minister believe they will have to go on jobseeker’s benefit for a year? Is there any move to assist employees and employers to renegotiate their employment contracts to reflect the new age for this pension?

No account seems to have been taken of the problems that could arise with the introduction of this measure between 2014 and 2021. When a person qualifies for the State pension transition, he or she can also apply for the fuel allowance. From 2014, this will not be possible. A person could be retired at 65 years of age but on jobseeker’s benefit to make up the year until he or she qualified for the State pension. This will exempt him or her from qualifying for the fuel allowance. Losing an allowance of €640 will have serious effects on older people’s incomes.

These measures rob people of their entitlements. When they started work, they were told they were entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labour when they reached 65 years of age. That includes the fruits of their contributions to the PRSI system.

This is a retrograde step. In other jurisdictions, there was a much longer lead-in time for such pension provision changes. Our nearest neighbour introduced a similar change to the pension age at 66 years but it had a 17-year lead-in time.

Many groups have been surprised at how fast these changes to State pension provisions are being made and how the Government, particularly the Labour Party, has capitulated on them. Last year, when raising the age was first proposed, the Minister’s party colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, then Labour Party spokesperson on social welfare, said it should be abandoned because it was entirely unreasonable. SIPTU’s leader, Mr. Jack O’Connor, described it as an assault on State pension provision. The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament opposes this measure, insisting any increase should be voluntary and promising to fight the Government’s plans. The Older and Bolder campaign favours flexibility with individual choice of staying on in employment being allowed.

[266]Age Action has warned of the potential poverty traps that may be created by these measures. For example, losing the fuel allowance will mean a reduction of €640 a year in an older person’s income. The Minister referred to the benefits of retrofitting houses to assist in tackling fuel poverty. While such a programme may have some benefits, it does not address the shortfall that will be experienced by many older people. Will all houses be retrofitted by 2014 when this measure comes into effect?

Another benefit that will be affected by this measure is the household benefits package. Again, this is a more substantial benefit, which is based on the contributions people in employment make during their working lives, and it would also be lost. There would be no hope of those to whom I refer benefiting from either of these two benefits.

I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to reconsider what she is doing. In particular, she should re-examine the position with regard to the date of 2014 which has been selected in respect of the discontinuation of the transition relating to the State pension.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  This proposal on the part of the Government to raise the pension age initially to 66 and then on to 67 and 68 is reactionary, regressive, crude, cruel and heartless. It flies in the face of 150 years of history of the working class and the labour and trade union movements. In times much harsher than those we are currently experiencing, brave men and women made enormous sacrifices in respect of combating the length of the working day, the working week, the working year and the working life. The sacrifices these people made ensured that we would enjoy more civilised norms than those which applied to the eras in which they lived.

According to the Government proposal contained in section 6, in a mere 30 months time — namely, January 2014 — approximately 11,000 people who are looking forward to transition retirement payments on the basis of having made their contributions and worked all their lives will not be able to retire at 65 and will instead be obliged to remain in work for another full year until they reach the age of 66. Further provision is made to increase the age to 67 and 68 and this could affect up to 50,000 people in the future.

We must ask who will be affected by these measures. Primarily, it will be low-paid workers. Those who are on private pensions will not be in the same position. Naturally, the bankers and other very wealthy individuals who have massive pension funds will not be affected at all. Those in the national media state that their role is to inform. In that context, I do not know why they have not informed the people with regard to these changes. In my view, those changes represent the thin end of the wedge and constitute an extremely serious development.

What is proposed would be a massive imposition and hardship on workers in difficult employments. Will construction workers, for example, be expected to remain on building sites until they reach the age of 68? What will be the position with regard to women who clean industrial and other facilities in order to make ends meet? What is the Government’s stance in respect of such people?

Until recently and for a number of good reasons the trend was to move in the opposite direction and try to reduce the retirement age for those who wished to retire. I am very strongly in favour of any worker who wants to remain in employment past retirement age being allowed to do so. However, I have no difficulty with those who might wish to leave paid employment and lead a different type of life where they might pursue leisure or other unpaid interests. I am of the view that provision should be made for such people.

Young people are intimately affected by what is proposed here. There has been a massive reaction to similar proposals throughout Europe. In France, Spain and other countries there [267]have been huge mobilisations of workers both young and old. Young people understand that if their older counterparts do not vacate their jobs, then there will be fewer jobs for them. This is particularly relevant in the context of the current and disastrous economic circumstances that obtain.

The proposal before the House is regressive and reactionary in nature. In addition, people are unaware of what is involved and it would not, therefore, be democratic to pursue this proposal. People in Blanchardstown, Clonmel, Blackpool, etc., are not aware of what is intended. They should be made so aware and this matter should be debated. In such circumstances, I ask the Minister to withdraw the proposal.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  I also request that the Minister remove section 6, which will end, from 2014, the transition year between the ages of 65 and 66 during which the State pension becomes available and enters into effect. This is an extremely regressive step and it is one of the meanest cuts contained in the legislation. As I recall, it was first recommended in Colm McCarthy’s an bord snip nua report. I quoted Mr. McCarthy earlier in the debate but the Minister may have misheard what I said. In the Irish Examiner of 7 July 2009, Mr. McCarthy stated: “If people used to snuff it at 70 and they’ve now decided to snuff it at 80, or 85 or 90, then something’s got to give.” In my view, this approach informed Mr. McCarthy’s intervention via an bord snip nua. As far as he is concerned, as people grow older they should be obliged to work for longer.

Does the Minister agree with or share Mr. McCarthy’s views? If she does not share them, why is she proceeding with the proposals contained in section 6? The Study of Health and Retirement in Europe, SHARE, does a great deal of research in respect of OECD statistics, benefits, etc. In 2008 it made the point that, as a percentage of GDP, old age benefits in Ireland are only 2.5%. The figure for the US is double that and for Australia it is five times greater. We are way behind in the context of old age benefits expressed as a percentage of GDP.

The average age of retirement among OECD countries is 65 to 66 years. As Deputy Higgins stated, the recent trend was to try to reduce this. As we move towards the 2050s, people who are employed in sectors where back-breaking or labour intensive work is involved will be obliged to work for longer. I refer to those who load materials onto trucks, nurses and nurses aides who work in hospitals and so on. People want an end to such work rather than seeing those who engage in it being obliged to remain in employment for an additional two to three years as they approach retirement. Anybody who reaches the age of 49 this year faces the prospect of working for an additional three years from 2028 onwards.

As already stated, what is proposed is extremely regressive. It is unbelievable that a Labour Minister is sponsoring this proposal. I ask the Minister to withdraw the section because there is no basis for it. As Deputy Higgins and other speakers stated, people across the world are fighting to retain current retirement ages and to improve their conditions rather than extending the period during which they will be expected to work.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  I differ from previous speakers in that I understand the methodology of this proposal. I recognise the improvements in working and living conditions, the various support systems of which workers can avail and the increased longevity of the population in the last number of years. However, like Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I seek clarification on one point. Those who are contracted to work until 65 years will be caught in a gap in the intervening period until they qualify for the old age pension and will have to go on jobseeker’s payment. Can the Minister assure the House, and those people, that all allowances applicable to those who now qualify for pension at 65 will be available to people aged 65 who must go onto job seeker’s benefit? That is the assurance we want. I have no problem supporting the thrust of what the Minister is saying.

[268]Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  I would like to reiterate some of the points already made. I take the Minister’s point about people living longer, being healthier and wanting to work beyond the current pension age. We all agree that someone who wants to work, is able to work and has a contribution to make should be free to do so. However, there are worlds of difference between types of employment. I saw my late father continuing as a construction worker in his early 60s when it was not viable for him. However, he was neither sick nor entitled to draw a pension. I saw the impact of a lifetime of manual work and the toll it takes on someone’s body. There is a clear distinction between different kinds of work.

Has the Minister looked at this issue in a holistic way? A large number of people are unemployed. Younger people usually have greater commitments, such as mortgages, which tend to be almost paid off when one reaches retirement age. Retraining initiatives designed to keep people from becoming long-term unemployed cost money. Jobseekers benefits for people aged 66 will cost money. It would be far better to have people retiring from jobs at 65 and to have those jobs coming back to people who are at an earlier stage in their work life where financial commitments are higher. The obligations on the State, in terms of supports for mortgage or retraining would be lower. A holistic approach is needed for this.

This is a wrong decision. It is a blunt instrument, in that it places an obligation. I support people who want to work beyond 65 years. I would be bored silly if I did not work and would not want someone to tell me I had to finish work at 65. Many people are like me. However, this is a very retrograde decision. It is blunt and places an obligation. It does not look at working life as a whole and may end up costing the State money.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  These are important policy changes. Deputy Murphy has just referred to them. In this country, happily, more people are living to pension age and longer in retirement. The period for which an average pension will be paid will be greater than at present. That is a happy fact for Irish people and for older people. However, it has implications for how we structure pensions. It has significant cost implications for the future of State pension provision. For this reason, the discussions on this matter started in 2007 and were published in the national pensions framework in March 2010.

Even before the economic crash people were thinking about the sustainability of pension liability in Ireland. We all contribute to each other’s State pensions through the tax and PRSI we pay during our working lives. The State must be able to ensure that it can continue to sustain pension payments and balance adequacy and affordability. A number of fundamental principles need to be emphasised, specifically that people need to participate in the workforce for longer and to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement. We must provide for dignity for people and adequacy of payment in retirement. That is why facilitating an older working age was raised in a number of documents over the years during the height of the Celtic tiger period, including the Green Paper on pensions that was published in 2007. The precise details for which we are now legislating were announced when the national pensions framework was published in March 2010.

This is not just an issue for Ireland. About half of OECD countries are in the process of increasing pension ages or have already legislated for future increases. However, the OECD has noted that in most cases the projected increase in life expectancy is such that it will outstrip prospective pension age increases. Recently, the OECD published country specific recommendations by the EU Commission that draw attention to the need for many EU countries to increase their retirement age.

That fundamental increase arises from demographic changes. The changes happened at the same time as this enormous crisis in the Irish economy and in the economies of other European [269]and non-European OECD member countries. People are living longer. By 2050, there will be fewer than two people of working age per older person, compared to six people of working age today. This is a bonus of improvements in health and living conditions and is to be welcomed. However, there are significant associated pension costs for the State. The number of older people is increasing. At present, 11% of the population is over 65 and we expect this to increase to between 22% and 26% between 2050 and 2060. The percentage of older people will more than double.

In contrast, over the same period the proportion of the population who are of working age is expected to decline from approximately 68% to 58%. Life expectancy is increasing. In the mid-1990s, life expectancy for men was 73 years and for women it was 78.5 years. For men and women born in 2041, it will be 86.5 years and 88.3 years respectively. State expenditure on pensions will increase from 5.5% of GDP in 2008 to almost 15% by 2050.

With regard to the statistics quoted by Deputy Collins, the reason some countries spend a higher percentage of their GDP on pensions is that they have a higher level of older people in their populations. At the moment we are blessed that we have a relatively younger population compared with many other countries, but the demographics are changing. The Irish population is ageing, not at a rate that is as fast as in some European countries, but it is still increasing. We need to take account of that issue and address it.

Deputy Higgins suggested this was not an issue for people with private pensions or public sector pensions. There are more than 100,000 workers in defined benefit schemes and not all of them are the kinds of well-off people he seems to think they are. They include people who work on the production line in Cadbury and in places like Irish Distillers and Guinness. Quite ordinary working people are in pension schemes. The fortunes of those pension schemes have been heavily affected by the various collapses and calamities that have happened in the international markets given how those pensions are invested. While that is an issue for another day, I would not like Deputy Higgins to imply that everything in the garden is rosy for people with private pensions. As Minister dealing with social welfare, I only wish that was so. I have enormous concerns for the sustainability of private pension schemes, but that is not what we are discussing now.

We need to ensure that State support for pensions is equitable and sustainable and, therefore, as provided for in this legislation and as discussed for more than ten years in this House and other seminars and discussions, White Papers, pension frameworks and so on, the State pension age will be standardised at 66 in 2014. It will increase to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028.

References were made to the agreement with the IMF, EU and ECB. This commitment, which was given by the Government before the IMF came into this country and published in a pensions framework in March 2010, had nothing, as such, to do with the IMF deal. It is to do with the demographic changes in our population. However, given that this arrangement had been outlined by the previous Government in March 2010, it was an element included in the IMF programme for Ireland and it is a commitment entered into by the Government at the time of bringing the IMF into this country. One of the critical objectives for the Government and certainly for me as a politician is to see the country return to financial sovereignty and full financial independence. This is one of the elements included in the programme. We should proceed with this reform even though I accept it is a reform many people in this House find difficult.

The expenditure in 2010 on pensions for older people was just under €6 billion — a very extensive commitment by the State which is paid for by people of working age and in work when they contribute their taxes and PRSI. Owing to the change in demographics, we need a series of reforms on pension age. These reforms have been discussed at length for almost a [270]decade. I accept, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, that not many people were aware of this but it has been discussed at great length and all of the parties with an interest in these issues have been consulted and invited to be involved in the discussions.

People who are no longer in work during the transition year will be in position to apply for a social welfare payment and will qualify under the normal qualification requirements for the payment. I accept what Deputy Catherine Murphy said and I made reference to it earlier. I have family members who never wanted to retire even though they worked in building and construction. We had to try to persuade them to stop working in it because there are people who genuinely enjoy working. Many people who worked on jobs initiatives in community centres find it heartbreaking at times that they have to retire at 65 when they would like to stay on for another year or more. This particularly applies to widows or widowers. During the recent general election campaign I encountered such people in my constituency. Deputy Higgins mentioned Blanchardstown and I am sure during the campaign he met people who wanted to stay on. I certainly received a significant number of representations from people who wanted to remain in schemes such as the jobs initiative. Working patterns and life patterns are changing. For the most part people are in better health and are more engaged and interested in remaining active as organisations such as Older and Bolder constantly explain. They project a positive image of older people being much more active than might have been the case ten or 20 years ago for people in the same age category, which is all positive.

Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Cowen mentioned the issue of fuel allowances. By the time these changes happen, the fuel poverty advisory group will have reported and, as I said earlier when answering parliamentary questions, we will seriously consider insulating the homes of older people — and those of everybody else — in order to reduce the requirements for expenditure on fuel. As part of the jobs initiative, the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, has introduced a targeted scheme to improve the quality of insulation in homes, which is particularly important in old local authority estates. The Minister is anxious that local authority accommodation, particularly houses built in the 1970s and 1980s, should be insulated to a much higher standard. Many people who bought their houses have been doing that themselves, but in many estates houses, which are still being rented by the original tenants, leave much to be desired in terms of quality of windows and general insulation. I hope that by the time these changes come through we will see a significant improvement in the insulation of houses and particularly those of older people.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I have not heard anything to dissuade my opposition to the changes proposed in the section. People who normally at 65 would receive the State transition pension will now be forced to receive jobseeker’s allowance, jobseeker’s benefit or a supplementary welfare allowance depending on their circumstances.

  5 o’clock

The difference between what they would receive weekly if in receipt of a State transition pension and what they would receive weekly if in receipt of the jobseeker’s allowance is €42. That is a substantial weekly drop. The State transition pension is €230 and the jobseeker’s allowance is €188. In addition, there is a fuel allowance of €20 for 32 weeks. Only a small number of people aged 65 would be entitled to the household benefits package, which amounts to another €20 approximately. This is a substantial amount of money taken from the pocket of people who have planned their lives based on a retirement age of 65 or those bound by a contract that precludes them from working beyond the age of 65. There is quite a number in the latter category. People whose contracts are to expire at the age of 65 will be thrown onto the dole queues.

To avail of the jobseeker’s benefit or allowance, one must be seeking work actively. Therefore, 65 year olds must seek work actively for a year. Anyone who is 56 at present and who is [271]bound by a contract stipulating he must finish work at 65 will end up on the dole for two years but still will not qualify for the fuel allowance. Pensioners are being affected substantially.

It is not a question of the age profile because it is virtually impossible to make 50-year predictions on the pensioner-worker ratio and the State’s ability to afford pensions. There are too many volatile factors to be considered in that regard, including the levels of employment and migration, birth trends and economic growth. The Minister and others have thrown out predictions based on these. Having said that, it is important to be prudent. If the State cannot afford to pay pensions it promised to pay, it should deal with this through the taxation system rather than by continually expanding the age of retirement. If in a number of years a study concludes women are living until 89 or 90 years on average, must we continually extend the working age? One must consider the effect on people in particular types of employment, especially more manual employment. Irrespective of life expectancy, it must be borne in mind that people become more fragile as they get older. Therefore, their ability to carry out quite demanding manual tasks reduces. While people are managing to live longer, this does not necessarily mean they are living longer in good health. I am thankful that medical developments worldwide are allowing people to live longer, but sometimes they are living longer in illness. This needs to be borne in mind.

There has been a debate on the pension framework. It is sometimes very difficult to get those who will be directly affected to take a proper interest. We noticed this when trying to encourage people to take greater heed of their future pension requirements. We have not had a proper debate on how to change the system to allow people to work beyond the compulsory retirement age, if they choose to do so. Most of the commentary I have read suggests people want to work longer if they feel well enough at the time in question. Many others want to enjoy the fruits of their labour and have time to enjoy their time left. If we start to change the age at which people will be entitled to the pension, they will be forced into fuel poverty, as I mentioned. More people will be put into positions that we noted when canvassing in February. I presume the Minister, as did I, saw quite a number of elderly people sitting in the dark, afraid to switch on the light because they could not afford their bills. There are many people living in extreme poverty and many of those are older people.

I welcome the proposals on insulation and the fact the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, is to examine local authorities. It is a living disgrace that the State, through local authorities, is providing people with substandard accommodation. It has always been doing so. Many senior citizens’ complexes that were due for demolition have not been demolished. People are living in damp bedsits that are virtually impossible to heat because they have single-glazed windows. The one call I got during a recent break was from a constituent inquiring about a Dublin City Council grant to upgrade his single-glazed windows. The grant is not available. Although people are trying to improve the stock of the local authority, rather than their own houses, they cannot avail of any grants. This is ridiculous. We need to fix the problems that exist without creating more.

What is being proposed is a retrograde step; other mechanisms could have been considered. We must remember that the jobseeker’s payments are below the poverty line. Therefore, anybody voting for this Bill is voting to condemn swathes of older people to poverty from the age of 65, and from the age of 66 in future.

There are a number of related issues that must be considered. Again, a short period applies. From 2012, the number of contributions required to qualify for the contributory pension is to double. Many are aware of this. Some people have not been able to make the necessary contributions and will not be able to do so because they are to finish work at 65. They will not receive a contributory pension but a non-contributory pension. This is an added kick to them.

[272]I have tried my best to highlight to various interest groups the issues that arise. As soon as I got a copy of this Bill and the explanatory memorandum, I circulated them to various groups who raised with me the issue of pensions. The media have been very quiet on pensions, which is regrettable. If they had not been, we might have had a more informed public debate and there might have been a better debate in the House. Saying so is not a slight on the Members present but I find it very strange that, of the 166 Members, only a handful are discussing the fact that, through the raising of the pension eligibility age, pensions are to be cut by the equivalent of 16%. That, in itself, is scandalous.

Members stated during Question Time that there were different responses in other countries. In France there was absolute mayhem and in Slovenia and other countries there were referenda. When a substantial change was being made, there was a public debate in that the public as a whole was involved rather than just key interested parties.

It is a pity we have not had that debate or the opportunity to invite representatives of pensioners, the trade union movement and others to come before a committee to make presentations.

Another issue we have not mentioned to date is the fact that if we extend the pension age to 66, 67 and then 68 we are keeping people in employment for an additional three years. That means there will be fewer jobs at the other end of the age scale because people will remain in jobs that would otherwise become available for young and perhaps not so young unemployed people. That has not been a factor in the debate to date. This is a step towards preventing employment opportunities for young people who could then pay their contributions to the pensions of those people who would retire at age 65 in this instance but 66 and 67 thereafter.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Minister does not persuade with her arguments. I said earlier that the idea of anybody wishing to stay on working should be embraced. A certain cohort of people take that option and it is the best for them but it should be voluntary at the age when people should have a free decision on whether they wish to continue to work in paid employment or retire and take a pension. In the past year approximately 11,000 people would have gone on to transition payments. That was their decision but this is a slap in the face to the approximately 11,000 people who will be denied that choice when they reach the age of 65 beginning in January 2014.

The argument is used throughout the European Union and repeated by the Minister that people living longer means that workers should work longer, in other words, work until they drop. The reality is that if this brutal measure, projecting forward to when people would have to work until they were 67 or 68, were enacted and continued to be enacted, thousands of people will die before they reach the retirement age of 68. That is a brutalisation of society by any standards. It is a perverse policy.

A pension is a portion of the wealth created in society that is committed to people who have finished their working lives. This is the crux of the problem. Is society capable of creating sufficient wealth to meet the needs of everybody? That could be the case if production was organised for the benefit of society and if the distribution of that wealth was just and equal. However, therein lies the problem with European capitalism currently and the fact that tens of millions of workers in Europe are either unemployed or underemployed and are denied an opportunity of creating the wealth that could go to creating a better society, including keeping people in a happy and comfortable position in retirement.

Even in this country it relates to the way the wealth is distributed. There is huge inequality in wealth distribution in our society which this Government is reinforcing rather than tackling. [273] It is reinforcing it further by bringing in reactionary and regressive measures such as the one before the House. We on the left challenge that approach.

On a broader global scale, tragically, tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of people are hungry and living in poverty not because our globe could not produce enough to satisfy the genuine needs of everybody but because of the way production and distribution are organised by global capitalism. That is the issue and therefore I do not accept the argument being made in this instance.

The other issue to which the Minister referred also concerns a lesser number of workers having to create the wealth, taxes etc., for an increasing number of pensioners. That relates to the argument made earlier. Lesser numbers of workers with technique, technology and know-how could create far more wealth if the structures were changed.

I remember, as might the Minister because we are about the same age, that in the 1960s and the early 1970s there were regular features and articles in the media that the big question facing workers in future decades was what to do with all the leisure time they will have because of the increase in the use of technology and technique just coming in at that time. It was a good point to discuss at the time but the reality is that workers are under more pressure than ever because technology and so on have been manipulated to ensure a maldistribution of the extra wealth created and a prevention of the amount of wealth that could be created if it was released and used for the benefit of society rather than for the private profit diktats of the current system.

The Minister’s argument, with regard to this country in particular, about the demographic factors forcing this measure upon the Government does not hold. The number of births and the birth rate has gone up considerably in the past 20 years or more. For example, in 1990, according to the Central Statistics Office, there were 53,000 births here. In 2007 that figure had increased by 18,000 to 71,000. People did live longer but only 3,000 people lived longer in 2007; there were 3,000 fewer deaths. In 1991, there were 52,700 births and by 2008 that figure had increased to 75,000, an increase of more than 23,000. Similarly, I could compare 1992 with the last year for which I have figures, which is 2009 when there were nearly 75,000 births. There has been a substantial increase, therefore.

Tragically, a number of those have been forced out of this country because of the disastrous crisis. There is also the factor that the youth who should and could be creating the wealth to sustain pensioners in a reasonable standard of living have no future here. In view of these factors the argument for this country made by the Minister does stand up to scrutiny. The reality is that our pensioners, like our youth and workers, are being sacrificed to the diktats of the European financial markets, the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank. The interests of the private bankers and speculators of Europe will be protected and their profits may not be encroached upon at the expense of our people, including those people arriving at an age in their lives when they should be able to make a decision that they want to finish their working life of paid employment and go on to a period of leisure. They are being denied that at the behest of this Government, carrying on the reactionary policies of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party before them, at the diktats of the European financial markets. That is the reality. The Minister is putting the interests of the sharks and vampire banks in the European financial markets before the interests of our people, and sacrificing the interests of our people and the welfare of those of advancing years to protect these financial interests. That is shameful and it is reactionary.

Let us take the tens of billions of euro that will be committed to paying off the gambling debts of the European speculators and contrast that with the amounts necessary to sustain our pensions at 65, or even to reduce that age. We can see that the Government has shamefully [274]decided to defend these massive financial gamblers at the expense of our people who are growing old. The Minister has not addressed the human dimension of this. I hope that by 2021 or 2028 we will have been able to change society substantially from the diseased system that we have at the moment, to a system where we can unlock the wealth and the means of creating wealth, and allow those in a position to create wealth to work instead of being in enforced idleness. Therefore, I hope that these reactionary measures will be reversed, assuming they are passed.

What about the human dimension to this? Think about the idea of keeping a man on construction sites until he is 68 years of age. Anyone who worked on construction sites — even some of the Deputies who came from more privileged backgrounds did so in their student days — knows how tough and wearing it is. The idea that a man should have to do this every day in the rigours of winter is quite shameful. Women in our constituency and in other constituencies have to tear themselves from their beds at four or five o’clock in the morning to go into factories or offices and clean them. They might be looking forward to going onto a State pension, but they are now condemned to do it until they are 68. That is quite shameful. Even as a statement of humanity, this Government should have said “No” to this particular measure from the bureaucrats in the EU and the IMF. It is reactionary and shameful from every point of view and I am absolutely opposed to it.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Nothing the Minister has said about this Bill has convinced me not to oppose it. It is a mean cut, particularly in section 6.

I do not understand the logic of this. The Minister has stated that the debate started in 2008, and was based on the fact that——

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  It started between 1994 and 1997, when we brought in a homemaker’s credits so that women who stayed at home caring got recognition.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  So in 1994 we were talking about raising the pension age to 68.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I will go through this in a minute. It has been a debate in Irish society for almost 20 years.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  The point is that it is being discussed now and there has not been any real debate, because I have not heard much about it in the past 20 years. The Minister specifically stated that the debate began in earnest in 2008 under the last Government, under advice from those economists linked into the Celtic tiger idea and the trade unions linked into partnership. The debate started at a time when there was plenty of employment. If it began at a time of plenty employment while there was still a serious problem financing our pensions, then this is not adequate on that basis. We should be extending the retirement age another five or six years, given the current state of the economy. If the Government, economists and trade union officials knew that we were facing into a devastating recession, then this is just about making people work longer and we will be coming back to this in five years because we will not have the resources to pay pensions again. There is a general feeling among people that we will not be out of this recession for at least ten or 15 years, so that is one reason I object to this measure. It should be taken out of the Bill.

If we had a society that was based on democratic socialism and on the idea of putting profits back into what is needed, our pensions could be retained. Instead, we are facing the outcome of this Bill. If the raising of the retirement age was not mandatory, then there would be a different debate in the Dáil. The fact that it is mandatory is the issue. I know plenty of people in my old job in An Post who have voluntarily stayed on longer or who came back to work, [275]but the majority of men and women in An Post want to get out when they are 65 and earlier. We cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to this.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  In the Minister’s answer in respect of the transition period to 2014 for the fuel allowance, she stated that she hoped that the retrofit programme announced in the jobs initiative would have borne fruit and that very few people would need to avail of it. Has she considered the situation with local authorities? They have schemes for housing adaptation grants and housing aid for the elderly and they have often proved to be very successful, but they are now under great strain. Waiting lists of two to three years are now the norm across the country. In times when local authorities could raise funds through development charges and so on, they had funds which would be matched by the Government at a multiple of three to four. That is no longer the case and it is now being said that local authorities may raise funds by means of utility charges, water charges and so on. The amount they might raise from these charges might not compare favourably with the moneys raised previously to provide those housing grants. Would it not be more practicable for funding from the jobs initiative to be put towards that area? These charges had a double edged return, because they were benefiting the construction industry and so on and the housing adaptation grants would have included retrofitting anyway. She should consider this in light the of the statement by the Minister for Finance that she is on track and that there may be funding available in the 2012 budget for increased provision in that area.

To get back to the transitional period in 2014, especially for those contracted to work to 65 years of age, can the Minister give a commitment — I do not expect her to give it today — they will receive the same allowances, initiatives or State supports available to those who currently reach pension age at 66? As Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, to think of somebody seeking the jobseeker’s allowance at 65 years of age is unfortunate given that he or she will have worked indoors or outdoors all his or her life.

Contrary to what has been said by others, I recognise that while everything is not fantastic, there have been huge improvements in working conditions, support systems and living conditions. People are living longer as demographics etc indicate. I support the theory of increasing the pension age. The Minister should not get me wrong in that regard but I want to ensure that now the decision is being taken, provision is made for those caught in the transitional period.

This has been debated over the past 15 to 20 years and we are now at the stage where it will come into effect. Those who are contracted to the age of 65 will be caught in the transitional period. Will the Minister give a commitment, if not today, in the near future, that all allowances, supports and payments available to those who currently reach retirement age at 66 will apply to those who reach retirement age at 65 years of age in the transitional period, especially in 2014? I do not expect the same commitment to be given to people in 2021, 2028 etc.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I spoke earlier on this issue of forcing people to work later in life and I do not want to go over what I said in regard to farm workers, labourers and so on. Interestingly, I spoke to someone from Waterford on the telephone about an hour ago, a supporter of mine who works in a hotel. The lady has worked in the hotel for 32 years. She is 60 years of age and had hoped to retire in the past number of years but her husband was made unemployed. Her job description is to clean so many rooms. As the Minister may know, this is how hotels work.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I worked in hotels.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I know. The Minister will know how difficult and stressful it can be. In the Celtic tiger years, apparently all the hotels were full and the staff had to work the longest [276]hours and the hardest. This lady said she has to clean so many rooms in her eight or ten hour shift. She may work Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Sunday. She described the work as back-breaking and that when she goes home, she is not in a position to do much more cleaning or otherwise because of how hard this work is. I do not believe the Minister has grasped that many people do not realise this change is about to happen. This lady was absolutely appalled to think she will have to work for another year doing this type of work. That is the point I made earlier.

I accept the Minister has been dealt a bad hand — I used that expression on a number of occasions — by the crowd in front of me and that we must find money somewhere. The Labour Party election manifesto referred to making people’s quality of life better, dignity in living and a better way forward. I congratulated the Minister when she was in opposition on how she stood up for those less well off in society. I appeal to her to take into consideration this lady about whom I spoke, labourers on building sites about whom Deputy Higgins spoke and small farmers who go out at 5 a.m. and do back-breaking work until sunset. Will she take into consideration the many thousands of these people? She cannot seriously say these people want to work one extra hour, not to mention one extra year.

I do not know how the system works in the Dáil because I am new to it but surely the Minister who is a member of the Labour Party and who supports quality of life, dignity in living and a better way forward for working people does not believe this is a better way forward for the many thousands of people who will have to work these crucifying hours and who do not want to do so.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank all the Deputies who contributed. It is important to say that from the early 1990s, there has been a continuous debate about how to structure pensions so everybody at work, and not only particularly wealthy people, who contribute through tax and social insurance pay for their own pensions and those of others when they come to retire. Happily, people are living longer, which is a great advance, but it means we must structure pensions in a way that it is possible to pay for them within a reasonable framework.

I draw Deputies’ attention to something positive that has developed but which is a cost for which we, as a society, must account. Back in 1994, when I worked in this Department, one of the improvements for which I and people in other political parties were responsible was the introduction of the notion of homemaker’s credits so people who had to, and wanted to, spend time at home caring for children under 12 years of age or for people with a disability would not be ruled out of having pension coverage. We have built up a system of entitlements to credits, and rightly so. That has been ongoing since 1994 and has been revamped and improved at different points over the years.

In 1997 legislation was passed, to which Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred, on the structure of contributions which is due to take effect in the next few years and which will mean that ultimately over a long period of time we will move to looking at the total contributions somebody makes over his or her working life in order to determine the kind of pension he or she will get.

These changes in the pension system have been ongoing for the past 20 years and all parties and people of no political party in this House have been involved at different times in these discussions. Specifically, changes in regard to pension age and demographics have been discussed in Green Papers, White Papers and frameworks during the 2000s. All of the parties interested and all the groups working with older people have been very involved in these discussions. As I said earlier, the submissions made can be viewed on the national pensions framework website. There was open and detailed discussion.

[277]The core point is that we must find a way where the kind of pension structure we want to create is sustainable and which people in work must contribute to and pay for. People who are not in work because, for instance, they are looking after young children or people with a disability must get due recognition in the pension framework and system for the contributions they make to society. However, there is an increase in the number of people who are ageing. It is a happy position for Ireland that people are living longer and that they are healthier when they are older. Of course, some people face serious and disabling illnesses, often from a very young stage in life, and there are structures within the social welfare system to take account of that. Happily, however, the majority of older people are living for longer and are living more active and healthy lives.

There are people who have specific difficulties arising from specific occupations. Deputy Halligan referred to people in manual occupations where the work is very hard, but Deputy Higgins also said that computers were making people’s working lives harder. I have worked in many different jobs in the course of my working life and my impression was that although automation and computers might not have led to a decrease in the amount of paper we are using, as was promised, in many industries I hope the Deputy will acknowledge that there has been significant improvement in conditions and safety at work, particularly due to the work of the labour and trade union movement. There are many areas where that needs to be improved but there has been a significant improvement in working conditions in this country. I do not believe computers have made working conditions harder. In fact, they have contributed to automation and in many employments they have made people’s working situation easier.

The proposals in this Bill were signalled as far back as 2007 and were set out in detail by the previous Government in March 2010. They were included by that Government in the framework for the IMF, the European Union and the ECB. This is part of a change in pension provisions and requirements not just in this country but in other European countries. One of the proposals, which I discussed earlier today with Deputy Ó Snodaigh, is that auto-enrolment for pensions will begin to be rolled out sometime in 2014, depending on economic conditions. If we can get more people back to work, achieve growth in the economy and a better system of contribution by more people for pension provision at an earlier stage in their working lives, we will be able to rebalance pension provision in this country. I very much hope we will be in a position to do that.

As Deputy Higgins might be aware, it is proposed in the programme for Government that the pension position of politicians, for example, should be trimmed and reduced. I did a huge amount of work on pension reliefs to set out in detail how much they cost this society in terms of tax expenditures, and these reliefs will be significantly reduced over the years of the programme for Government. There is a commitment to limit those reliefs by a significant amount over the term of that programme. A number of very significant reforms have been under way for some time and all of the different organisations involved with pensions and pension provisions have been able to discuss and make submissions on them.

Deputy Cowen had a query about transitional entitlements such as fuel allowances and so forth. Frankly, I cannot make a commitment about what the situation will be in 2014. However, if there are special needs, people at present clearly have an entitlement to make applications under the social welfare system. I will reiterate my view, nevertheless, about what is really important for many older people, particularly those in local authority housing. Deputy Ó Snodaigh alluded to this and I strongly agree with much of what he said. We have houses that were built in the 1970s and 1980s in which the system and standard of insulation is far below what is acceptable. We could make people’s lives more comfortable and healthier, particularly in the case of older people, if we had a system of retrofitting those houses.

[278]The ESB has announced a number of proposals whereby it will be possible to get insulation work carried out on older properties which could be paid for over a period of time through regular deductions. Local authorities could also do that. Many people would be happy to contribute an extra modest sum of money per week to get their windows done, for example. My colleague, Deputy Willie Penrose, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing is extremely anxious to proceed on such issues. In the context of the current economic crisis it is a challenge to get such programmes up and running but it is something that will ultimately probably do far more than direct fuel allowances for the comfort and lifestyle of many people, particularly older people who have been, and still are, tenants of local authority houses built in the early 1970s. While bits and pieces of work have been carried out on those houses by various local authorities, in some cases windows have not been replaced or the replacement windows of ten or 15 years ago were only single glazed. That is an important issue we must address. I cannot give the Deputy an absolute commitment as to how these matters will stand in 2014. I can only offer my own views based on my detailed knowledge.

I believe I have addressed most of the issues raised by the Deputies.

Question put.

The Committee divided: Tá, 109; Níl, 25.

Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
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Níl
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

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

  6 o’clock

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  It is a pity those amendments were ruled out of order. I understand some of the logic behind the action but as I indicated earlier in the debate, it is difficult for Members of the Opposition in that we cannot make changes, even if progressive amendments are involved, because there would be a charge to the Exchequer. Any change to a Bill dealing with social welfare or finance in general would incur a charge to the Exchequer. Committee Stage exists in order to raise issues outside a specific amendment. We can usually submit the amendment again on Report Stage and have it ruled out of order but on Committee Stage we can tease out some of the issues.

One of the amendments deals with fuel allowance and the need to address the issue. Amendment No. 7 sought to ensure that those people of pensionable age, even given the changes suggested, should enjoy fuel allowance. In this case the relevant part of the Bill is section 6 but [280]the amendments were stuck into section 7 for some reason. We are debating the issue out of context as a result.

I will deal with section 7, which includes the substantial change to pension age. It deviates from the current regime enjoyed by most people whereupon reaching 66, they receive a contributory or non-contributory pension, depending on contributions. I mentioned earlier the change which will affect a number of people relating to contributions and I will return to that. The Minister proposes to move the age at which people would be entitled to a non-contributory or contributory pension to 67 from 66 in 2021. From 2028 the applicable age would be 68.

Without going through all the points raised when we discussed the ending of the State transition pension, I remind the House that when the proposals were first made in this House in March 2010, the Minister’s party colleague, Deputy Shortall, while accepting the principle of raising the age, condemned the timeframe imposed. She called the timeframe unreasonable. I have mentioned the positions of SIPTU, Older and Bolder, Age Action Ireland and others. We must be very careful because people will be caught in a poverty trap and there is nothing in the legislation to deal with the problem. If there is a contract that people finish work at 65 and are unemployed for a year or two, they will be able to enjoy some other type of social welfare allowance. I mentioned people who would be entitled to jobseeker’s benefit, if they had enough contributions, jobseeker’s allowance or supplementary welfare allowances.

I also mentioned that there is a substantial drop in comparison to previous allowances. With people forced to go on jobseeker’s payments instead of a contributory pension, there is currently a difference of €42 per week. I also mentioned the entitlement to fuel allowance, and this is where the change happens. The household benefits package gives €160 for a television licence, €26 per month for a telephone allowance and other amounts for electricity, for example. The package amounts to between €800 and €900 per year, which means that anybody who becomes unemployed at the age of 65 or 66 years will not receive these benefits. If the Minister is intent on proceeding with these changes, she will need to provide a safety net for those who would otherwise have benefited for the remaining one or two years. People who are older than 65 and living alone or with somebody who is dependent on social welfare should be entitled to fuel allowance. We do not know whether these proposals will have been implemented by 2021 but we can give further consideration to fuel allowances at that stage. As it stands, the fuel allowance is vital given our climate and the likelihood of continued increases in the price of fuels.

There has been a substantial increase in complaints about age discrimination against people in their 50s and 60s who seek employment. Deputy Higgins noted that last year 11,000 people qualified for the State transition pension and that number is likely to increase. Under the rules that apply to jobseeker’s allowance and benefit, recipients must be actively seeking work but what incentives are on offer for employers to hire those aged 50 or older? A significant proportion of the people on the live register are those who have worked for 20 or 30 years and are now faced with the prospect of being unemployed for the remainder of their lives. They will certainly find it difficult to compete against younger people who may have better computer skills.

There are consequences when our social welfare code is changed, particularly when it involves the pension age, and we need to ensure nobody suffers unduly. I am opposed to the change in the pension age in any event because it should not be mandatory to retire at the age of 66 and if an individual wishes to continue working, he or she should be allowed to work a decreasing number of hours. At present, young people entering the workforce can only work a certain number of hours per week. The same could apply at the tail end of an individual’s working life to ensure employers do not force him or her to work a 70 or 80 hour week. There [281]is nothing to prevent that at present, other than the retirement age cut-off. A considerable number of people would love to continue contributing to the State through some type of paid employment.

By increasing the pension age to 66, the Minister is removing the element of choice which would have made the Bill more palatable to many of the people who have written to me. One of the e-mails I received was from a public servant who was concerned about the increase for pension entitlement, which he regarded as age discrimination. He did not see why people have to work until the age of 65 when the retirement age in France and elsewhere is much lower. As a public sector worker, he felt he had a contractual expectation regarding his retirement age and entitlements from his employer and the State. Being forced to retire at the age of 65 appeared to him to contradict the rule preventing him from retiring until he turns 66. He did not want to be forced out of his job at the age of 65, especially if he will also be denied his old age pension entitlements, and he found it insulting and demeaning to be faced with the prospect of relying on the jobseeker’s allowance for a manufactured interim period between leaving work and reaching retirement age.

This frustration might not be expressed as clearly as that of the pensioners who took to our streets but that may change once people realise the full impact, which equates to a 16% cut in pension entitlements. It is a retrograde step because people of that age should be encouraged to enjoy themselves as much as possible. They have contributed hugely and it is not as if they are getting a pension out of the goodness of the Government’s heart. A pension is essentially a pot that has been built up over the years by the worker’s contributions. If one gives a shopkeeper a sum of money, one is entitled to receive what one purchases. In this case, pensioners are entitled to receive what they contributed over their working lives. I urge the Minister to reconsider this section given that the poverty traps created elsewhere in this Bill are not being addressed. The measure is also contrary to the promises made to those who have worked all their lives.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Birth and death rates are the two primary figures used to arrive at population levels between census years. We have been experiencing a baby boom which, judging by reports from maternity hospitals, appears to be continuing. One issue that must also be factored in is emigration. It is a younger cohort of people who emigrate. We have had a history of emigration so there are things we can assume from previous waves of emigration in the 1950s and the 1980s. After a certain number of years people do not come back. Essentially, that has an impact on our demographics as well. The reason people emigrated in the past is the reason they are emigrating now, namely, a lack of opportunity. According to the Minister, demographics underlie the dynamic that is driving the Bill in terms of the ratio of people at work paying for people who are on a pension. If a large number of people emigrate because we are not creating jobs and we are retaining people in the workforce for longer, we are not assisting that demographic. I do not believe that has been factored into the Minister’s calculations.

There is a different cost for welfare for people at a younger age, for example, because there are child dependents and possibly mortgage interest supplement. It is more expensive at that point. I do not know whether calculations have been made of the average cost for particular age segments of the population which could provide information in that regard. It would probably be less expensive to pay someone on a pension than it would be to pay welfare to someone in his or her 30s with a couple of kids and a mortgage. That issue must be examined before an initiative such as this is considered. My primary point is that it should be considered on a voluntary basis.

[282]I fully accept there is a pension time bomb. A whole raft of things must be done to address that. It is not exclusively about looking at the State pension but about how people contribute towards a pension over their lifetime. It will be the next big explosion unless it is addressed in a comprehensive way. This measure is a piecemeal way of approaching it, without considering other measures. There is a world of difference between someone who is doing manual work and someone doing non-manual work when one reaches the age of retirement. Sometimes the body just gives up before that. It is all very well to say people are healthier and living longer but that does not apply universally. I do not believe that has been taken into consideration. Far too many questions have not been answered for us to take such a significant step as proposed in the section.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  In a short vote a majority in Dáil Éireann has disposed of the right of workers to opt for retirement after a lifetime of work at 65 years of age. It is a shameful decision. I regret that more of the Deputies who came into the Chamber to vote for that, and who will probably come back to vote again to increase the pension age to 67 and 68, did not remain to engage in the debate. I would like to hear their rationale for supporting this reactionary and regressive measure. In particular, I would like to hear the Deputies of the Labour Party, many of whom were supported by trade unions and received trade union subscriptions, and who have grotesquely betrayed the membership of the trade union movement whose funds supported them in the general election on 25 February. The least the Labour Party Deputies could do is come to the Chamber and justify themselves before the working class here, and as members of a party set up by the great socialists, James Connolly and Jim Larkin, who struggled all their lives to improve the welfare of workers and against backsliding by employers and the system itself. The Labour Party they set up is unrecognisable from the Labour Party today but some of those Deputies still claim the mantle of Connolly and Larkin. They should come and explain themselves to the working class people.

The Minister did not engage with the arguments in opposition to the demographic debate nor the idea that not enough wealth could be created if we continue to allow people to retire at 65 or 66, or earlier which should be the case. As I pointed out, the demographics show that in each of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 a total of 18,000, 23,000 and 23,000 more people were born than in the 1997 to 1999 period. People live longer but the number living longer was only 3,000 in the three years of 2007, 2008 and 2009 compared to, for example, 1997, 1998 and 1999. We have a potential 20,000 extra workers compared to only an extra 3,000 more people living longer. Therefore, that is not an argument the Government can use, unless it has accommodated itself to the idea that the scandal of tens of thousands of young people being forced out of this country every year in enforced emigration will continue. I presume the Government would say that its policies will reverse that trend. The Minister must engage more acutely with us on the demographic argument as it applies to the Republic of Ireland.

The Minister correctly mentioned the difficulties of private sector workers who have paid all their lives into private pension schemes. One must ask why there is such a monumental crisis for so many workers, and why workers have seen their lifetime contributions, or expectations in any case, wiped out. It is because we are dominated by a financial system that is more like a casino in Monte Carlo than a rational way of organising society. It beggars belief that we believe we live in a civilised society when the contributions workers make from their sweat and lifelong contribution are rolling around on stock exchanges and financial markets as if they were on roulette tables. What an absolutely crazy way to set out to allegedly provide for workers in their retirement. Rather than going along with that system and taking it as read, which the establishment of the European Union and of this society does, it should be chal[283]lenged. Instead of questioning the insanity, injustice and immorality of the system, what we have is hedge fund operators — faceless, unaccountable, unelected individuals in banks and boardrooms — gambling with funds. Rather than allowing that to dictate the ability of workers to retire with a decent pension, let us call for and work towards a different kind of system.

During the two years I spent in the European Parliament, I was lectured almost weekly by the President of the Commission and the president of this, that and the other — there are a lot of presidents in the European Union — about what a great zone of democracy it was. This is the same establishment that routinely falls on its face in front of what I call the dictatorship of the financial markets. The Government is no different. It is time we called upon the media, especially publicly-owned media such as RTE, to challenge and question this. Instead of listening to the question “Will this satisfy the markets?” being asked of economists and others on “Morning Ireland” after every new Government cut or attack on workers, we should hear the question “Who are these markets, and who elected them to this pre-eminent, god-like position in our society?” Working people’s lives and their ability to retire at a decent age are now dependent on gamblers in the financial system in Europe. This is the debate that should be engaged in. We should not just roll over and accept the status quo, hitting the living standards, pensions and retirement age of workers.

We should consider what could be achieved by our society using technology if it was organised in a different way. Of course we all welcome labour-saving devices; unfortunately, however, many elements of modern technology are used by employers to increase pressure and stress in the working lives of employees. However, released from the strictures of the financial markets, technology could be used to create — with the workers, who are the source of added value — sufficient wealth to allow our people to retire at a reasonable age and in reasonable comfort.

Another point that has not been mentioned by the Minister is the effect, on a human level, of workers being forced to stay in employment until they are 68. Life expectancy is not the same as fitness to work, particularly, as I mentioned earlier, in an arduous job. It is one thing for a Teachta Dála to come in here and work until an advanced age, although I am not saying Teachtaí Dála do not work hard, but it is a different kind of employment. What about a nurse or teacher, not to mention even more strenuous manual jobs? The nurse of the future, according to the Government, will be forced to stay at the coalface for 47 years. What about teachers? Anybody who has stood in a classroom for decades, especially in a difficult area, knows exactly the toll it takes. This is regressive and reactionary through and through. The Government should acknowledge the regressive nature of this provision. I call on the Minister to recognise it for the regressive and reactionary measure it is, from both an economic and a human point of view, and to withdraw it, even at this stage.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  This section has been debated already, but I would like to expand on a few points that were made earlier. It amazes me that, as a social democrat, the Minister for Social Protection can put this to the Dáil, when it is the essence of social democracy to advance the cause of workers rather than pulling back the advances made by them over the past number of years. I am in the same generation as many people in the Visitors’ Gallery and elsewhere in this country — the generation of 18 year olds who started work in 1978 and 1979. It is this generation onwards that will be affected by the extension in the age at which the State pension is paid. They are the workers who will be looking at two or three extra years of work. It is an absolute disgrace. These are the people who lived through the recession of the 1980s, along with the period of high prices and high mortgage interest, and stayed here when many people were forced to emigrate. Now we are back to the same situation. What we are getting from the [284]Minister, as a so-called social democrat, is more of the same austerity measures imposed by the IMF and the EU.

The Minister says this measure has been talked about for nearly 20 years, from 1994 onwards, but why is it so important, all of a sudden, that it be introduced? It is because the IMF and the EU are telling us to do so. There should be a decent debate in society. All the discussion has taken place in smoky back rooms with the trade union leaders, partnership members and so on, in an entirely different situation from the one we are facing now. The Minister did not address the point, although I raised it previously, that this was being discussed in 2008 when we were at the height of the Celtic tiger boom and before we hit the recession. At that time we had 4% or 5% unemployment, but now, when we have a quarter of a million unemployed, the provision to extend the age of eligibility for the State pension to 68 is being introduced. This is obviously the start of a process in which the age of eligibility will be raised again in two or three years’ time because the State, based on the arguments the Minister is putting forward, cannot sustain the State pension even for a reduced number of workers over the next few years.

This provision is mandatory rather than voluntary. There are plenty of people who do want to continue working; they enjoy the work they do. It depends on the type of work one does, whether it is office work, more labour-intensive work, or night work. Night workers include nurses in the public sector, and a vast range of cleaners. All these people work terrible hours and will be dependent on the State pension, but their conditions are only going to get worse over the next few years. Under the Croke Park agreement, they will be working longer and for less money, and their conditions will not have the same level of protection. They will be expected to work extra hours and different types of hours. The nature of work will change over the next number of years. It is people in their late 40s and 50s who will be affected by this. It is scandalous, and the Minister should be ashamed of herself.

I support the points made by my colleagues. This is not a Private Members’ motion tabled by the Opposition, which the Government might not be interested in debating. It is an amendment to the Government’s Bill. It is an absolute scandal that the Minister’s colleagues are not here supporting her on this Bill. Their role in the Dáil should be questioned.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  I am somewhat bemused and wondering if someone can set me straight on what benefits arise from raising the pension age. Unless I have missed something, there is not an unlimited amount of work available with many young people looking for work. I am also sure there will be many over 65s in the coming years who would love to retire which could provide work opportunities for our young people. What savings will be made by raising the State pension age? Those who may be forced to wait for their State pension entitlements could end up on some other social welfare benefit or forced to take a job, thus preventing a younger person from getting it.

There would be some economic argument for this measure if there were unlimited amounts of work available. Unless I am missing something, there is not. On the day he was elected, the Taoiseach said up to 2,000 people were set to leave the country every week. In other words, he was saying, “I am only the Taoiseach. What can I do about it? Up to 2,000 people will leave no matter what the Government does.” With 2,000 people leaving every week, the Government is now going to force people close to retirement to work longer. Will the Minister for Social Protection explain the rationale behind this?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh is correctly concerned about age discrimination. This Bill reflects the reality that older people, in general, enjoy better health and greater longevity than they did in the past.

[285]Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  It is obvious the Minister never worked as a blocklayer.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  This is a blessing and bonus. It is important that people are allowed to work longer, if they so wish. The Government will examine providing for those who wish to postpone drawing down their State pension arrangements to enable them to receive an actuarially increased benefit. This is the case with several pension benefits structures in Ireland and Europe.

Ireland’s demographics, like those in other European countries, are changing. For the past 20 years, there have been ongoing discussions in Leinster House about how to evolve and develop pension arrangements that will be affordable for the State and can be contributed to by people during their working lives.

Deputy Luke Flanagan is correct that due to the financial crash, more people are out of work. It is the Government’s job to get people back to work, put the country on a sound economic footing and regain economic sovereignty and independence. I regret the latter is under the temporary control of the IMF. I proposed measures on the floor of the House which would have averted much of the crash. I also identified the several billion euro spent by the former Government every year in tax breaks for those with enormous pension funds. Members will recall the case of Mr. Fingleton, who ended his working life with a pension fund of €20 million, most of which had been tax-breaked by the State. Even those who dream of winning the national lottery would not dream of the figures in some of these pension funds.

This is a complex reform which involves extending the notion of people’s working lives and right to work, which many people want. Deputy Joe Higgins will know from our constituency that the number of people who have been on schemes aimed at older people, such as job initiatives, have wanted to stay on for an extra year. My colleague, the Minister without Portfolio, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will introduce measures to change entitlements to allow people to stay on working in the public service.

Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the matter of emigration. People will live abroad to gain experience, one that was popular during the Celtic tiger. Many Members, including me, have lived abroad. Even Deputy Luke Flanagan worked abroad at various times in his career.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  I had no choice in the matter.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Fortunately, we were able to return. Working abroad can be a good and valuable experience. Many people who have developed businesses and entrepreneurship have gained experience from living abroad. While savings will be made if young people who were in receipt of social welfare benefits emigrate, it also means we are losing people who believe the country’s outlook is not as positive as it once was. The best way to ensure future pension provision, whether it is private, public or State schemes, is to bring back economic recovery and restore employment. By doing so, we can then improve and increase benefits again. However, we cannot do this unless we turn the economy around. It must be remembered that the unfortunate consequences of a construction bubble, like that which Ireland experienced, are long term. They also tend to be more complex than most other types of economic recession.

Deputy Joe Higgins’s use of statistics on the large increase in the number of births, a welcome development, and the increase of 3,000 older people per annum living longer, bears out my point on dependency. Children, until they are 18 years of age, will be dependent on the State for education provision, public and social services. An increase in the birth rate, while welcome in the long term, means in the short term an increase in costs for the State. This, coupled with an increase in pensioners, means the cost falls on the smaller group in the middle, those of [286]working age. In 2010, 495,000 people of pension age received some form of a State pension, a large percentage of the population. Irish society has an imbalance in its dependency rates due to longevity and, as Deputy Higgins correctly stated, the welcome increase in the birth rate.

Deputy Higgins advocates the introduction of a different system. As Deputy Joan Collins stated, I am a social democrat. In that context, I am of the view that we require a mixed economy — incorporating strong public and private sectors — because under such a model we can create employment and provide for social security and for social services in the areas of, for example, health and education in a balanced, progressive and democratic way. That is the essence of social democracy.

Deputy Higgins suggested that the fault in respect of this matter lies with market capitalism. In my opinion it lies with some of the unregulated activities that occur in stock exchanges throughout the world, including those in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. One of the issues that arises for workers and their representatives and for people who perhaps — as Deputy Higgins professes to — admire James Connolly and Jim Larkin is to inquire about how their savings are to be used. Are these people saving in order to allow others to play the markets with their money or are they saving for their retirement in a safe and cautious way, with less dramatic returns but with more security in the context of their funds being available to them when they reach retirement age? The question which people in the labour movement must pose relates to how we can create structures which protect the pensions and pay and conditions of workers and which — even in the face of changing demographics — provide individuals with an assurance that they will be able to live with a degree of comfort and dignity when they reach old age.

  7 o’clock

Deputy Higgins has not presented to the Dáil well thoughtout proposals regarding how an alternative system would actually operate and on how we would move to such a system if it were established. Much of what is happening on the part of the banks in the context of market failure was caused by lack of both regulation and oversight. Much of the harm experienced in this country was brought about by tax expenditures which assisted in further expanding the construction bubble. It was also caused by greedy banks and speculators feeding off each other. In some instances problems were created by European and other banks lending into the Irish system at the height of the bubble. Coming off the bubble has been a painful and difficult experience for almost every man, woman and child in this country. It has been particularly traumatic for ordinary, middle class people. However, we will turn matters around when we get the country back to work and when the economy begins to expand again.

The Bill is concerned with providing a stimulus and presenting people with opportunities in the context of the internship scheme and the reduction in employers’ PRSI. Other measures contained in the jobs initiative programme provide for reductions in the lower rate of VAT, particularly with regard to employment-rich sectors such as tourism. Deputy Higgins may choose to scoff at or be rather critical about the measures to which I refer but I am of the view that it is better to put forward positive proposals. I would be interested in discovering the kind of measures he would advocate and perhaps he will advise us in that regard.

The Deputy is correct with regard to the position relating to demographics. The demographics relating to both births and life expectancy are rising, which is very welcome. As a society, we must decide how to make the kind of provision required in respect of younger people and children. We must also decide on the type of provision which Members on all sides would wish to see being made in respect of older people in their retirement.

[287]Deputy Higgins referred to a nurse working for 47 years. I do not understand from where he is coming in respect of this matter. As he is probably aware, nurses are obliged to complete a four-year degree and training programme. The indication is that by 2028 the retirement age will have risen by one year in respect of the transition year and by two further years to 68. I do not quite know from where the Deputy obtained the figure he quoted. However, I do not accept it. Perhaps he might indicate from where it originated.

Deputy Joan Collins referred to social democracy. If the Deputy wishes to put forward better proposals than those advocated by social democrats — namely, a mixed economy which incorporates strong private and public sectors and a fair, equitable and not over-burdensome taxation system, particularly for those on middle incomes — then I would be interested in hearing what she has to say.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh again raised the issue of the fuel allowance. I have made reference to this matter on at least five occasions today. The best way out of fuel poverty is to provide, over a period, for a first-class system of insulation. Under such a system, people’s homes can be weatherproofed and we can thereby reduce the loss of heat.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  The Government could allow us to continue to cut turf.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  It is critical that people’s homes should be insulated in order that the amount of fuel they are obliged to use will be reduced to a dramatic extent.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  There would then not be a need to cut as much turf.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Other countries have had great success in doing what I am advocating. Programmes to insulate people’s homes provide high levels of employment, particularly for those who have experience in construction. A programme of this nature would provide an ideal way to get people who have lost their jobs in the construction sector back to work. That is why I commend the proposals of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, in respect of retrofitting. The Government will pursue this matter very actively during its term in office.

Question put.

The Committee divided: Tá, 105; Níl, 23.

Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P. Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan.
Information on Ray Butler  Zoom on Ray Butler  Butler, Ray. Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  Byrne, Eric. Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara.
Information on Ciaran Cannon  Zoom on Ciaran Cannon  Cannon, Ciarán. Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe.
Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  Coffey, Paudie. Information on Michael Conaghan  Zoom on Michael Conaghan  Conaghan, Michael.
Information on Sean Conlan  Zoom on Sean Conlan  Conlan, Seán. Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul J.
Information on Ciara Conway  Zoom on Ciara Conway  Conway, Ciara. Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel.
Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Cowen, Barry. Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda.
Information on Jim Daly  Zoom on Jim Daly  Daly, Jim. Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John.
Information on Patrick Deering  Zoom on Patrick Deering  Deering, Pat. Information on Regina Doherty  Zoom on Regina Doherty  Doherty, Regina.
Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  Dowds, Robert. 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 Alan Farrell  Zoom on Alan Farrell  Farrell, Alan. Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank.
Information on Anne Ferris  Zoom on Anne Ferris  Ferris, Anne. Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Fitzgerald, Frances.
Information on Peter Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Peter. Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles.
Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Sean.
Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon. Information on Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  Griffin, Brendan.
Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  Hannigan, Dominic. Information on Noel Harrington  Zoom on Noel Harrington  Harrington, Noel.
Information on Simon Harris  Zoom on Simon Harris  Harris, Simon. Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian.
Information on Martin Heydon  Zoom on Martin Heydon  Heydon, Martin. Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  Hogan, Phil.
Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan. Information on Heather Humphreys  Zoom on Heather Humphreys  Humphreys, Heather.
Information on Kevin Humphreys  Zoom on Kevin Humphreys  Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Derek Keating  Zoom on Derek Keating  Keating, Derek.
Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Keaveney, Colm. Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  Kelly, Alan.
Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda. Information on Seán Kenny  Zoom on Seán Kenny  Kenny, Seán.
Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus. Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P.
Information on Seán Kyne  Zoom on Seán Kyne  Kyne, Seán. Information on Anthony Lawlor  Zoom on Anthony Lawlor  Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán. Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen.
Information on John Lyons  Zoom on John Lyons  Lyons, John. Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  McCarthy, Michael.
Information on Charlie McConalogue  Zoom on Charlie McConalogue  McConalogue, Charlie. Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky.
Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael. Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe.
Information on Tony McLoughlin  Zoom on Tony McLoughlin  McLoughlin, Tony. Information on Michael McNamara  Zoom on Michael McNamara  McNamara, Michael.
Information on Eamonn Maloney  Zoom on Eamonn Maloney  Maloney, Eamonn. Information on Peter Mathews  Zoom on Peter Mathews  Mathews, Peter.
Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Mitchell, Olivia. Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
Information on Michelle Mulherin  Zoom on Michelle Mulherin  Mulherin, Michelle. Information on Dara Murphy  Zoom on Dara Murphy  Murphy, Dara.
Information on Eoghan Murphy  Zoom on Eoghan Murphy  Murphy, Eoghan. Information on Gerald Nash  Zoom on Gerald Nash  Nash, Gerald.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Derek Nolan  Zoom on Derek Nolan  Nolan, Derek. Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran. Information on Patrick O'Donovan  Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Patrick.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John.
Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  O’Reilly, Joe. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Ann Phelan  Zoom on Ann Phelan  Phelan, Ann.
Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul. 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 Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Ryan, Brendan.
Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Shatter, Alan. Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Sean.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan.
Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  Spring, Arthur. Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet.
Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David. Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Timmins, Billy.
Information on Robert Troy  Zoom on Robert Troy  Troy, Robert. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Liam Twomey  Zoom on Liam Twomey  Twomey, Liam. Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack.
Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.  


Níl
Information on Gerry Adams  Zoom on Gerry Adams  Adams, Gerry. Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Collins, Joan.
Information on Michael Colreavy  Zoom on Michael Colreavy  Colreavy, Michael. Information on Pearse Doherty  Zoom on Pearse Doherty  Doherty, Pearse.
Information on Stephen Donnelly  Zoom on Stephen Donnelly  Donnelly, Stephen. Information on Dessie Ellis  Zoom on Dessie Ellis  Ellis, Dessie.
Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’. Information on Tom Fleming  Zoom on Tom Fleming  Fleming, Tom.
Information on Michael Healy-Rae  Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae  Healy-Rae, Michael. Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Higgins, Joe.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Mary Lou McDonald  Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald  McDonald, Mary Lou.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  McGrath, Mattie.
Information on Sandra McLellan  Zoom on Sandra McLellan  McLellan, Sandra. Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Murphy, Catherine.
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 Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  O’Brien, Jonathan. Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Maureen.
Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Ross, Shane. Information on Brian Stanley  Zoom on Brian Stanley  Stanley, Brian.
Information on Peadar Tóibín  Zoom on Peadar Tóibín  Tóibín, Peadar.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy.

Question declared carried.

Question proposed: “That section 8 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I wish to hear what the Minister has to say on the section.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The purpose of section 8 is to clarify the position arising from the enactment of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. One of the measures included in the Bill, which we have not debated extensively because [289]everybody strongly agrees with it, is the introduction of parallel entitlements and changes in the social welfare system for those who enter a civil partnership arrangement following the enactment of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. We have a series of changes in the social welfare code to cater for the introduction of civil partnership in the Bill and most Deputies would welcome civil partnership, including, I assume, Deputy Higgins. The main impact for social welfare customers is that from 1 January 2011 the social welfare code has recognised all same-sex cohabiting couples, not just those who opt to register a civil partnership. This is necessary from an equality perspective as the social welfare code already recognises opposite-sex cohabiting couples.

One of the legislative amendments required to give effect to the recognition of civil partnerships in the case of recipients of the pre-retirement allowance was inadvertently given the same legislative reference as an existing provision of the scheme. To clarify the position, section 8 re-enacts the civil partnership amendment under a new legislative reference and reaffirms the existing provisions of the scheme. The existing provision related to a standard condition that applies to means-tested social assistance payments in general where both partners of a couple claim a social assistance payment in their own right. For example where one partner of a couple claims pre-retirement allowance and the other one claims another social assistance payment, such as jobseeker’s allowance, the total amount to the couple is limited to the appropriate married rate, which has been a standard provision in social welfare for a long period. It is half of the amount that would be payable if only one partner of the couple claimed and received an increase for the other person as a qualified adult. It simply extends the structure of recognising cohabiting and married couples of opposite sexes to people in same-sex relationships.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I thank the Minister for that clarification. We strongly support civil partnership and the civil and human rights of same-sex partners. I am slightly conflicted because the substance of the section is to limit the amount of welfare somebody gets. However, in any case, I will not make a meal of it and will withdraw my opposition to the section.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  The Minister has indicated her intention to ask the Chair to direct that the Clerk make a correction under Standing Order 140. The correction is as follows:

Question proposed: “That section 9 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  This section just clarifies the operation of the revised qualifying criteria for the payment. The change made last year introduced a restriction on entitlement for families where the youngest child reaches 14 years. It was a major change, which at the time I said was regressive without activation measures or the change in the economic climate. It meant that young single families would be penalised upon the youngest child reaching 14 or in the case of a child with a disability 16. I will not oppose the section because it clarifies and does not change the effect of the retrograde step. I am just pointing out that this came about as a result of the change introduced last year. There are questions to be asked about this. It will be interesting to see how it is worked out. The parent is entitled to the payment if the youngest child is under 14. Pre-employment training, activation measures and supports must be in place [290]so people will not be penalised. I refer not only to the allowance in question under the social welfare code. It is vital for the State, as it plans to make progress and emerge from the recession, that all the measures to which I refer be put in place. There is an insufficient number of training opportunities, job vacancies, and re-education and back-to-education courses. I urge the Government to take the opportunity presented by this Bill to clarify the exact number of jobs and training opportunities that will be available. A figure of 5,000 or 10,000 is nothing when one considers the scale of unemployment.

When we were discussing the logic of the lone-parent family payment, it was stated that it acted as a disincentive to going back to work. The vast majority of single parents I know who are in receipt of social welfare payments would love the opportunity to go back to work. Studies show that the vast majority of payments end when one’s child is seven, eight or nine, at which time an opportunity may present itself to enter full-time employment. This was in the past when there was work available. At present, however, work is not available and people will become increasingly dependent on social welfare unless the Oireachtas offers leadership and puts in place schemes such as community employment schemes and accelerates the two schemes to which I have referred.

Deputy Wallace asked the Minister for Social Protection about Tús during Question Time. There are major concerns over Tús and other schemes in my area because there is no accompanying training allowance. There is no additionality; the payment is a straight payment. The employer does not have an additional budget from the State to help the person taking up a position to further his education. Proper account is not taken of the fact that people must travel to and from work. This is also the case in respect of single parents. If they were to avail of Tús opportunities or the internship, there would be no additionality to ensure they could benefit fully. While I have had these concerns since last year, or perhaps earlier this year, having made my clarifications, I will not oppose the section.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  I share some of the Deputy’s concerns. We all know of young mothers, and perhaps mothers who are not so young, whose only income is the lone-parent allowance. They may be in receipt of rent allowance and in various schemes. We all know that the disincentive is not just related to the payment itself. There are many steps that can be taken to address the problems of lone parents. Most lone parents are very anxious to improve their circumstances, as the Deputy would accept. Most women, when their children enter secondary school, are anxious to re-enter the workforce, possibly after having availed of various schemes prior to that.

Many steps need to be taken but, unfortunately, we are in very straitened circumstances. Steps are being taken, however. For instance, there is a range of education and training opportunities available through the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Education and Skills and FÁS for lone parents to improve their qualifications and skills base. There are currently 65 facilitators in the Department working around the country. They can be contacted through the Department’s local officers. Facilitators work with customers to help them to identify appropriate training or development programmes. They also work in close co-operation with other service providers, including FÁS, the VEC and the local community and voluntary sectors.

The back-to-education scheme presents a second-chance education opportunity programme designed to encourage and facilitate unemployed people, lone parents and persons with disabilities to improve their skills and qualifications with a view to returning to the workforce. For the past year or two, most of us have made the point that there is never a better opportunity to up-skill and further one’s education than in a time of recession. One finds that many more [291]people stay on in education because they are as conscious as we are that there are very few job opportunities. It is different when one is not 18, and possibly 30 or 31, at which age one has life experience. This is of value in itself and many regard it as such.

Courses covered under the back-to-education scheme range from second level courses to third level courses. Persons who are awarded a back-to-education allowance receive a standard weekly payment equivalent to the relevant social welfare payment prior to participation. An annual cost-of-education allowance of €500 is also payable.

The back-to-education scheme currently assists some 3,220 people who are in receipt of lone-parent family payments out of a total of some 20,800 participants. Expenditure on the scheme amounted to €179.8 million in 2010. A further €198.83 million was allocated for it in 2011.

Currently, all lone parents who present at FÁS employment services are provided with one-to-one guidance interviews with an employment services officer. Lone parents are advised on suitable labour market opportunities, such as current job vacancies and suitable training or employment programme places, and they may be referred to other FÁS supports. There is, therefore, a substantial number of supports for lone parents. Most young women would appreciate any help they could get in finding work.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 10 agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Deputy Cowen’s amendment was ruled out of order as it imposes a charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 11 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  May I make a comment on my amendment?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Yes.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  The Bill itself imposes a charge on the Exchequer because it allows the universal social charge to be deductible when assessing family income supplement. While the Government is ruling out a charge in respect of the amendment, it is imposing one itself in the Bill. The legislation is introducing a cut to jobseeker’s assistance through the back door by not allowing the universal social charge to be deducted in the means testing for the payments. It may result, for example, in a cut of approximately €12 per week for families in receipt of jobseeker’s assistance. The cut is carefully hidden. There is no explicit mention of it in the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill spells out clearly that the universal social charge, USC, is deductible when means testing for family income supplement but what it does not state is that it is not deductible in other cases. That is in spite of the decision made by the former Minister earlier this year to allow for the deduction of the USC.

Those on this side of the House cannot amend the Bill in this way as it is seen to be a charge on the State but the Government has introduced the Bill and there is a charge on certain individuals and certain families. How are they to redress what amounts to a possible cut of €12 for families on jobseeker’s allowance? I ask the Minister to comment on the issue. Will she bring forward such an amendment if we cannot?

[292]Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  I was going to say it is like Leinster rugby but it is not; in Munster I would be in the front row.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  The Minister of State would know more about Munster rugby.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  On the ruling out of order of the amendment, I assume the Deputy realises that anything that imposes a charge on the Exchequer cannot be accepted.

The provisions contained in section 11 provide for the disregard of the USC when assessing entitlement to family income supplement and for the deletion of the reference to the now defunct health contribution in regard to the assessment for rent and mortgage interest supplement. Accordingly, they provide for the arrangements which have applied since the introduction of the USC on 1 January last year.

Any loss of benefits to claimants would have applied from 1 January 2011 and are not being brought about by the provisions in this Bill. I am informed that the previous Government did not make a decision to allow the USC to be deductible when determining entitlement to a wide range of social assistance payments such as jobseeker’s allowance. It should be noted in that regard that allowing the USC as a deduction would increase social welfare expenditure as the impact of the USC on some individuals would have been compensated through higher welfare entitlements and that no provision for such increased expenditure was made.

I also note that provision for the existing disregard of certain deductions such as social insurance contributions and superannuation contributions is provided for by way of regulation and that provision for the deduction of the USC from the means test has been made by way of amendment to the relevant regulations. No such amendments were made in the period from the beginning of January to the formation of the new Government. The Government is committed in its programme to review the operation of the USC and that review can include any means testing issues that arise. It was a measure introduced by the previous Government but this Government is committed to reviewing it.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  The old health levy was deductible. Is that not correct?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Yes. The difficulty was created by the Deputy’s own party in government. When the then Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, announced that we would move to a universal social charge implied that it would be within the structure of being similar to a universal social contribution. In the event, when the then Minister for Finance introduced his legislation it was a universal social charge and as the former Minister, Mary Harney, stated on the night of the budget — I questioned her at length at the time, as did Deputy Ó Snodaigh — this is a tax. Because it is a tax it does not interact with the social welfare system in the way that something which is contribution based would do. The essence of the social insurance system is that it is contribution based whereas the universal social charge has the word “social” in its title but it is actually a tax.

What we are doing in this legislation is providing for it in regard to family income supplement because family income supplement is specifically designed to help low paid families at work. My predecessor, the former Minister for Social Protection, had it within his remit to take the actions the Deputy is now suggesting, namely, to amend it by regulation.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  We are talking about this Dáil.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  As I understand it the Minister presented a memorandum to the former Government. I understand the outcome of that was that there were to be discussions between him and the then Minister for Finance but in the event nothing got changed or amended. I am [293]introducing this amendment today in regard to family income supplement to ensure that in the case of low paid families in work in particular the USC is taken into account.

Regarding the further elements of the amendment, it is not possible at this time to extend it because of the cost factors involved but also, as the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, stated, the intention of the Government in the programme for Government is to review the universal social charge.

In addition, I am establishing a commission on the interaction of social welfare and taxation which will be announced in the next week or so and one of the issues to be considered by that commission is the complications around employment traps, particularly for families on low income, and issues like rent supplement.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  We are dealing with this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. As a representative of my party and an elected representative to this Dáil I am charged with the responsibility of examining this Bill and recommending amendments where appropriate and where possible. I am not interested in rehashing what happened eight or ten months ago. I was not elected to talk about what happened then. I am simply saying that the Minister is the Minister for Social Protection, and I commend her on the USC being deductible in the context of family income supplement, but why can it not be done in regard to jobseeker’s allowance? Why will she not go further in that regard? The Minister said she questioned the Ministers involved in this area some months ago. If it is the case that this measure is in the context of the 2012 budget and that she cannot make a recommendation such as this because it would impose a charge on the State that is fair enough. If it is the case that it will mean that certain families will have their income reduced by €12 that is fair enough if it represents a saving for the Minister’s Department and to the Exchequer. All I am saying is that it is a saving I do not agree with, commend or support. If the Minister wants to reiterate the fact in regard to social welfare rates, that is her prerogative. That is her responsibility and her decision. If that is the case, so be it but she should put it on the record to ensure we clearly understand it.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The point I was making is that it is the construction of the universal social charge by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in Government that is the crux of the problem. The universal social charge is defined in the legislation as a tax. It is not a contribution even though, understandably, when the former Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, first mentioned it in December 2009 in the context of budget 2010, he described it as the development of what would be called a universal social contribution.

Some Deputies may recall that the ESRI did some work on the impact of such a universal social contribution. There was a favourable response to that idea because it would have meant a rebalancing of the social welfare structures and, in the longer term, would have been a way of examining the benefits self-employed people were entitled to from the system by virtue of their contributions. However, in the Minister’s announcement in last December’s budget, it was no longer a universal social contribution. It had become a universal social charge. When the details of the budget were announced, several Deputies in this House raised the issue that same night, including myself, Deputy Shortall and Deputy Ó Snodaigh. The then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, took much of the debate on the financial resolution because it concerned the abolition of the health levy and the other levies. The health levy exempted people with incomes of under €26,000 per annum, widows, people with a medical card and a few other categories, but the universal social charge changed all of that. The old health levy disappeared, as did the categories of people who were specifically exempted from it.

This particular bowl of spaghetti would take an awful lot of unscrambling, and it could only be unscrambled in the form of a budget. The effect of the universal social charge is very simple, [294]but to do what the Deputy is suggesting would not be possible as a budgetary measure in the context of this Bill. I have treated it for FIS purposes. The former Minister did not do that. The Bill came in from 2011 and I am now including it in the calculations of FIS, because it is a tax and it should be dealt with for FIS purposes. This will ensure that the incentive for low-paid families at work is not decreased or narrowed. I sought to do that in this Bill. As the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch said, the Government is committed in the programme for Government to reviewing the universal social charge. The measure in respect of FIS is as far as I can go in the context of this Bill.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  If it has not been fully examined and an alternative means of bringing in funding is not found by the time of the budget, will the Government look at what I am proposing for the budget itself? If it is to be a tax, can it be dealt with by the Minister for Finance in his presentation to the Dáil? This can then guarantee that the income will not be deduced, as I said earlier.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The next budget is primarily a matter for the Minister for Finance, and I will draw his attention to what the Deputy has said. Providing for the FIS arrangement in respect of the universal social charge is as far as I can go within the parameters of this Bill.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  That is fine. I take the Minister’s answer at face value. I expect she will impress upon the Minister for Finance the need to go that bit further in his legislation so the budget can counteract what has evolved because of this. I take at face value the commitments that were given before that might not have been honoured. If the Minister is doing that now, I commend her for it. I was not here to press her on that in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  There seems to be a bit of confusion among some of the NGOs about the purposes of this section. FLAC and the INOU both raised concerns about this in submissions. In the briefing we received from the officials on the Bill, they explained the purpose of this. Sometimes it is hard to glean the exact intention behind a legislative provision. Rather than raising their concerns, I will briefly quote recommendations from both NGOs.

The FLAC submission stated the following:

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed stated the following about section 12:

The INOU recommends the following:

I have no major problem with ensuring that all claimants across the board supply the same information, be they existing claimants or new claimants. However, it is also imperative that the people handling the information and dealing with the claimant are doing so in a proper fashion. Far too often we hear complaints about certain officials. In the main, everybody is very courteous and some claimants can occasionally be obstructive in their own right and do themselves no favours. However, when dealing with people who are in dire straits, there should be an element of courtesy and this should extend to the information being provided and supplied. Whoever is presenting himself or herself for any kind of social welfare payment should have access to the best information possible, and he or she can be provided with a mechanism to get off social protection as quickly as possible and onto some kind of training appropriate to the person’s needs and to the employment opportunities that are presenting themselves at the time or in the near future.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  On Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s point, FLAC has a great deal of experience dealing with people where something has been drafted in such a way that it has produced problems. We want to avoid that kind of situation because we will end up with appeals and it becomes expensive to administer, apart from the fact it would single out particular groups.

I am sure the Minister has had the benefit of the FLAC submission. How does she evaluate the points it made in regard to the different types of information and how it might be handled? Does she believe there is a possibility that it would lead to some discriminatory practices?

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Like the other speakers, I would like to hear the Minister’s response to the issues raised by the FLAC submission.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank Deputies who raised the FLAC submission and would like to give them some background in regard to this. Section 241(1A) and (1B) of the Social Welfare Act, as inserted by section 9 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009, provided that new claimants of all social welfare payments could be required to provide a range of information for profiling and activation purposes.

If one reads section 12, the description refers to information to be supplied by claimants and beneficiaries for profiling and activation purposes. This relates fundamentally to getting information from people which will help identify where they could be assisted to perhaps get back into to education or to go into some kind of training or work experience. That is basically what is at the core of this.

The amendment proposed to section 12 of the Bill extends this requirement, which was introduced in legislation in 2009, to existing recipients of social welfare payments as well as new claimants. It also moves these provisions out of section 241, which relates to claims, into [296]a new section 244(a) which will be titled, information to be supplied by claimants and beneficiaries for profiling and activation purposes.

Profiling has been largely developed by the Department of Social Protection in conjunction with the expert assistance of the Economic and Social Research Institute. It uses a set of characteristics combined with coefficients reflecting their relative importance to calculate statistically the probability of an unemployed person finding work early or becoming long-term unemployed. The system, therefore, is designed to facilitate early targeted intervention for those people who need it most. It will also introduce greater efficiency and effectiveness in the deployment of resources.

When a 21 year old goes into a social welfare office to make a claim and he or she has never been in work, when one asks him or her about his or her profile and background, in particular education, one finds he or she left school at 14 or 15 years of age. It would not be surprising that most people in the current climate would suggest that one of the options for that person would be to pursue further education because all the evidence in regard to capacity to get work indicates that the better the level of the person’s general educational qualification, the stronger the chance he or she has of returning to employment.

A profiling system has been developed and is currently being tested in the Department’s Dún Laoghaire office. Once the pilot is completed, the new system will be rolled out across the country. It is intended to commence that process from the third quarter of this year. On a previous occasion, Deputy Boyd Barrett expressed concern that there was harassment. I asked the officials to check if, during the period of the pilot, anybody in the Dún Laoghaire office objected. There was one objection by somebody who apparently did not understand for what the information was meant but who did not proceed with the objection to information about his or her educational achievements and previous work experience being requested.

Collection of the characteristics associated with profiling for those already in receipt of a welfare payment will facilitate identification and delivery of appropriate activation interventions to be delivered and to reduce the duration of social welfare dependency. We all know there is dreadful unemployment currently and it is really hard to get a job but there are people who have been in the social welfare system for a long time and we must positively encourage them to get back into education and work. All the international and Irish studies show that if young men, in particular, end up unemployed for more than two years, the damage to their self-esteem, confidence and subsequent capacity to get and to stay in work is long term.

Shortly after I became Minister, I requested the ESRI to publish a study it had undertaken dating back to 2008-09 in regard to people under the NEAP programme to see how they faired with the interview structure and going into FÁS training. Some Deputies may have seen the study. It indicated that in some cases, if people did an inappropriate course to their particular situation, their chances of getting a job disimproved rather than improved. We all have much thinking to do because it is not acceptable that people would go on social welfare as a five year, ten year or two decade option. It is not good for them, their families or their children.

  8 o’clock

In regard to the FLAC suggestion that section 12(2) be deleted, I asked for the views of the Department’s legal adviser. Section 12(2) confers a power on the Minister to prescribe different types and forms of information to be furnished by different classes of claimants or beneficiaries. Any such power granted to the Minister will have to be exercised lawfully. As a matter of law, the Minister is prohibited from discriminating between categories of persons on arbitrary or capricious grounds. However, the Minister is entitled to differentiate between categories of persons as long as any such differentiation can be justified on an objectively reasonable legitimate basis. Treating people equally does not [297]equate to treating everyone in an identical manner. In the evident that any powers under section 12(2) are exercised in a discriminatory manner, such exercise would not withstand a challenge in the courts. There is no inherent legal difficulty with section 12(2) such as would require its deletion.

The staff of the Department have coped with an enormous expansion in the number of people seeking social assistance, in particular jobseeker’s benefit and other unemployment benefits. The staff of the Department, myself and everybody in this House are aware that people have become unemployed in the current recession who never expected to lose their jobs or lose their businesses and who did nothing to generate such an outcome.

The staff of the Department are extremely mindful of the requirement to treat people with courtesy, dignity and respect. That is borne out by most Deputies’ experience with the Department’s staff and by the experience of most claimants. Going to a social welfare office is a new experience for people who never expected to find themselves in that position and the vast bulk of staff in the Department treat people with courtesy and dignity despite the pressures they are under in the context of the number of claimants.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  With regard to the pilot project in Dún Laoghaire, is every claimant profiled?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  It is all the new claimants.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Does that add dramatically to the administration of the claim? If the pilot is passed, is it intended to extend it to other areas? Is it computer based?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Yes. The forms have been redesigned with the assistance of the ESRI. The pilot project is to ensure, first, the collection of information that is relevant to the purpose of this, which is to help people with education, training, work experience and so forth. The forms have been redesigned and the information is computerised. When we have the full outcome of the pilot project we expect to go live with the scheme. The general sense of the operation of the pilot to date is that the outcomes are quite satisfactory.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 13 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 9:

[298]This relates to the internship scheme. Any initiative such as this is welcome but, as I mentioned in the context of an earlier contribution relating to Tús, there must be an element of additionality when creating these schemes, even it if will be at a slight cost to the State, to ensure the full benefits of a scheme are gleaned by the participant. As in the case of the Tús scheme I have concerns that some employers might use this internship scheme to take on people to fill a vacancy, thus displacing somebody to be employed full-time.

That said, internship is a mechanism whereby people can learn, in situ, the benefits of a certain type of employment. While internships are not full-time employment and cannot guarantee all the terms and conditions that apply in a contracted job, the minor changes proposed in the amendment should be included. There should be some type of statement of terms and conditions and some type of protection to ensure an intern will not be wrongfully singled out or put in conditions not encountered by other employees in the place of employment. There must also be a statement that they are entitled to annual leave and a requirement for notice before being dismissed or let go. The people who undertake the internship will believe they will be in the position for a set period of time and that period should not be interfered with in any way other than through annual leave, unless something totally untoward occurs. There should be some type of notice system to ensure a person is not given their marching orders forthwith.

It is a provision to ensure there is no exploitation of interns and that no unscrupulous employers can use the system to delay bringing new jobs on stream because they can get a few months’ free work from an intern. It will also prevent them using the system to get a few months’ work free from somebody they have in mind for a job but they use the internship as a facility before fully employing them. There should be no displacement. I do not believe the vast majority of employers would use it in that way but there are always one or two unscrupulous employers and for that reason we should, if possible, put the required protections in place.

While there is no financial benefit under the scheme for an intern who takes up a place with an employer, a benefit from the employer could be encouraged, once it does not interfere with the jobseeker’s allowance or other allowance the intern receives. That is the case if an intern takes a place in this Parliament, for example. One is not encouraged or discouraged with regard to providing a benefit but if somebody has been of value to the employer, they should be encouraged to recognise that by paying some type of benefit or dividend to the person who has gleaned something from that placement. Hopefully it will be something useful that they can use in the marketplace in terms of an enhanced curriculum vitae after working for an employer for a period.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Usually internships are used by students to develop their curriculum vitae and to secure their qualifications. In my recollection it has never been used to take people off the dole. These people will not be regarded as employees except with regard to health and safety. The scheme is open to abuse by employers. As I continuously pointed out in the context of changes in the legislation relating to work practices in places such as the Davenport Hotel, employers immediately move in to use such changes to reduce the conditions and pay of their employees. These schemes are open to great abuse by employers. The people working under the schemes are not regarded as employees under the law and are open to abuse. These internships can be used instead of employing people. That is my serious concern. They have the potential to be abused as a cheap labour scheme.

I also cannot understand why a person who is only working for three days a week will not be able to claim social benefits for the remainder of the week. That is very strange given that [299]they would usually get those benefits under the jobseeker’s schemes. Are the people who undertake the internships removed from the live register, given that if they are interns they are not officially on jobseeker’s allowance? These are issues I am concerned about and I hope the Minister can respond to them.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I will respond to Deputy Joan Collins’s points first. The person who applies for and accepts an internship will get an internship for a six-month or nine-month period. While on the internship, the person will retain existing entitlements to jobseeker’s payments. My Department will pay an additional €50 per week for the duration of the internship. The issue of three days does not apply because the intern is receiving the social welfare jobseeker’s entitlement as well as receiving an additional sum from my Department. That is the core of this initiative. I advocated this initiative in opposition for three years.

Before I was a Dáil Deputy I worked in the Dublin Institute of Technology. A huge number of people emerge from education and training, having finished an apprenticeship, a degree or a masters, and the critical issue that faces them in this critical time of unemployment is that if they become unemployed they cannot get jobs because they do not have experience. They cannot get experience because they do not have jobs. They are in a catch-22. I am sure Deputy Joan Collins knows some fine young people who finished apprenticeships, degrees or masters but cannot make the transition to working and getting valuable work experience on their CVs. They cannot get their foot in the door of employment because they have no work experience. Would I prefer there were thousands of jobs available for these young people? Of course I would but they are not there at the moment.

Internships work particularly well in countries such as the United States and Germany. Deputy Joe Higgins was in the Chamber earlier and I am sure he is familiar with the situation in the European Parliament, Belgium and other European countries. Stagières gain extremely valuable work experience in stages that are often their passports to jobs. I have been working intensively on this, particularly with employers, with a view to private sector employers offering serious, high quality internships to those who have qualifications but lack work experience. It is important that as many employers as possible offer internship opportunities to as many people as possible so they can get a permanent job.

Deputy Collins should remember that the recession will end one day. Just as bubbles collapse, recessions end and when the recession ends — hopefully sooner rather than later — we do not want a series of people who have gone through various forms of education and training but were never able to get work experience. Their competitors will be new people finishing apprenticeships and degrees and those who were unable to be employed will be at a serious disadvantage when this dreadful recession comes to an end.

I understand and accept Deputy Collins is concerned that people should not be abused. A national steering committee is under the chairmanship of Mr. Martin Murphy, the managing director of Hewlett-Packard, and includes Mr. Seán O’Driscoll, the managing director of Glen Dimplex, and a number of other people from firms and industries. We also have indications of interest from IBEC, whose members profess an interest and which has been running internship schemes for a number of years. There is also interest from chambers of commerce. We want the uptake to be strong. The National Youth Council of Ireland has a representative on the steering committee and there is also a stakeholders group, including those interested in employment from the trade union or employer side, to ensure the issues arising from potential abuse are addressed.

This is not employment because it is an internship. It is intended to be valuable work experience for someone who cannot otherwise get that experience. It is intended to be something that can be listed on a CV when people look for employment. The level of interest from [300]applicants and employers interested in hosting internships means I am hopeful we can roll out a significant number of quality internships.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh referred to specifications and sets out a number of them in his amendment. The model developed is that the host organisation specifies what the internship is about and the career development of the person who comes in as an intern, meaning what the person will get from the internship. The intern will make a commitment to working at the internship and developing experience. There will be a reporting mechanism through the national employment and entitlement service. The employment services side of FÁS is joining the Department of Social Protection. This will be the first scheme operated by the new national employment and entitlement service. It will bring together units in the Department. We met at 7.15 a.m. I apologise to Deputies for leaving earlier. We meet every Wednesday from 7.15 a.m to 9.30 a.m to go through the details mentioned by Deputy Collins. It would be a concern if people were abused rather than getting a valuable experience, which is what this is about.

This scheme is available to the private sector, which we hope will take a strong interest in it, the public sector and the community and voluntary sector. Much interest has been expressed by these sectors. If the internship involves a connection with children or vulnerable or older people in the community and voluntary sector, the interns must undergo Garda vetting. This takes a period of time but there have been meetings with representatives from the Garda vetting unit to see how we can ensure delays are kept to a minimum. The scheme will be launched at the end of this month and will go live on the website on 1 July. After the initial launch in Dublin, we will roll out the scheme over the remainder of the year to Cork, Galway and Waterford. There is much positive interest in this. A significant number of people, including the civil servants in my Department and people who have been working in FÁS and are coming into the Department, have put much positive work into it. By the time of the launch I will be in a position to give Deputies details of the scheme.

There is a restriction on numbers to ensure that the kind of abuses which both Deputies were concerned about do not take place. If an employment has between one and ten employees, it can host one intern; if it has 11 to 20 employees, it can host two interns; and where there are 30 or more employees, it can host up to 20% as interns to a maximum of 200. If anybody here has employed an intern in their business or had interns working with them, he or she knows there must be a very clear plan of what the intern should do and experience. Time and effort must be put into organising an internship but in the long run it is very valuable and rewarding.

For example, in media industries in Ireland there has been a significant development of internships in recent years, with many of the interns receiving relatively little pay. Nevertheless, it is the way to break into the media. In the case of these internships people will receive jobseeker’s benefit and an additional top-up of up to €50 per week.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  The notion of internship is a good one but I am wary of it as there is a need for some form of control. A builder may take on an intern to teach him or her how to lay paving brick. One may think it is easy to lay paving brick but most people still cannot do it right after several years. If an employer is honest and teaches that person to lay paving brick, that will be beneficial, but a builder may use that intern to carry bricks to a person who lays them. That is different as the intern would be replacing somebody the builder would have had to pay as a labourer. Likewise, a person may get a job in a kitchen where a chef can teach that person to cook, which would be beneficial as an experience. However, an employer may have that intern chopping carrots and parsnips all the time, which means he or she is learning nothing but is replacing a paid employee.

[301]I am sure we agree that employers will vary so there will be employers who are straight and honest, treating the internship scheme as they should. However, unless there is some form of control there will be many employers abusing the system. The breakdown will probably be half and half. I have not thought it through and I am sure it would be very difficult to control the scheme but the Government must consider how to monitor the process. I suspect 50% of it will be abused if that is not done.

The building construction industry had a brilliant apprenticeship scheme for years but it died, mainly because it was used as a form of slave labour. If a man wanted to serve his time as a carpenter 30 years ago he would be attached to somebody who had just been given his papers as having served his five years as an apprentice. That is how people learned to be a carpenter over five years and the system worked really well, with a good flow of carpenters coming through the system all the time. Sadly, builders began to abuse the process and young people would not be left with a carpenter. A person may have been with a carpenter for three or four months before being told to work a cement mixer, using sand, gravel, cement and water to make concrete. That is manual labour.

I have spent 35 years on building sites and too often I saw the apprenticeship scheme badly abused by a builder. The scheme ended up dying a sad death because it was abused. It was a terrible pity because we ran out of tradesmen. In the boom between 2000 and 2006 one could not get a carpenter and one would be frightened by what we had to pay carpenters in order to get work done. That was because they were so scarce. We were lucky to have a flow of good workers from eastern Europe because if it had not existed, the scarcity would have been worse. One may argue that we would have been better if those workers had not arrived as we might not have built so much. It is a chicken and egg scenario.

If the internship programme is to work well, it must be monitored. If there is no control, 50% of it may work well but the other 50% will be abused. Those comments come from my experience.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  I thank the Minister for her reply. Her presentation was very enthusiastic but I am not convinced because of some of the reasons raised by Deputy Wallace. Internships are very specific and I know people who have gone from colleges in Germany to Brussels and Europe as part of their political studies. They may work there for six months before returning home to finish their studies. The basic requirement was to gain experience.

We are telling people to take up employment for six to nine months for approximately €240 per week. When the six to nine months are completed, as the Minister indicated, we will still be in recession, so those people will go for another internship for six to nine months. What Deputy Wallace described will happen more often than not. It would be different if we had very skilled people in certain areas with no work. They could get off the dole to try to develop skills or even get into another area of work. We are talking in a recession when employers will seek to cut left, right and centre.

The Minister indicated that a company with up to 1,000 employees can take on 200 internships. An employer could easily use those interns to replace a paid position rather than develop skills. I am not convinced by the scheme and I ask the Minister to remove the section because it does not make sense. It is more open to abuse than anything else.

The Minister spoke about community but that is being hammered and with so many cutbacks people are crying out for assistance. The sector is ideal for internships as community projects might bring in people to fill positions where people have left. There is a moratorium in the public sector so we are talking about internships. That is great because interns can do the work of somebody else who was let go. I do not agree with the scheme as it is the wrong way to [302]approach the issue. It is being done for the wrong reasons and internships should only be used for specific short-term reasons and certain areas. It should not be used for the position faced by the country now.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  I would take a fairly similar view to Deputy Wallace. Although in principle internships are a reasonably good idea which give on the job training, a strict regime and control is required to ensure the level of abuse is limited. There will always be abuse of that kind of system. In Germany the welfare system was used when the economy was flat to keep people at work so such people did not need to be upskilled. It was a good way to use the welfare system as people were ready to deploy as a trained work force when the opportunity arose. I am not averse to the idea of internships but the initiative will aggrieve those who come out of college and are not entitled to social welfare payments, particularly where they are just above the limits for any sort of payment. I understand it excludes people who are entitled to sign for credits even though they are in the same category as those who want to develop work experience. Is an initiative planned for this group?

I ask the Minister to clarify her intentions for the evaluation process. The evaluation could be completed quickly in order to weed out abuse at an early stage. This would assist jobs growth, which is important because people want to be in meaningful and paid employment rather than participating in schemes.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  We need a better plan for dealing with the economic crisis than hoping to get out of the recession. Hope will not do us any good and we need to plan rather than wish our problems away. Given the limited money left in the State on foot of the Government’s capitulation to Europe, would it not have been preferable to use the €50 being given to employers for a different purpose?

If an employer gets something for nothing, he or she will think the employees are not worth anything and will treat them the same. I am concerned about abuse because similar schemes with different names have been introduced over the years. A close relative of mine was involved in a scheme in the 1980s which was supposed to give her work experience as a secretary. The ideal scenario was that she would find further employment after her services were supplied to an employer for a period of six months, but it turned out that my relative was found to be more useful at hanging washing on a clothes line. One day before the six months concluded, she was informed that she was no good at hanging washing even though she was supposed to be doing secretarial work. She subsequently left the country because she was sick of the place and did not like the way everyone she knew was being treated. I would hate to see us going down that road again. This scheme has massive potential for abuse and it will have to be policed. I find it hard to see how that will be done. In theory, it is a good idea for getting people back to work but I am worried about the controls.

Participants in the Tús scheme receive an additional €20 per week for working 19.5 hours. Why will people get €50 per week under the internship scheme? Is it because people on the Tús scheme are less worthy or a lesser sort of people? Why are they not entitled to an equal top-up given that it costs them just as much to live in this country?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The short answer is that Tús was specifically designed by my predecessor, Deputy Ó Cuív, as an expansion of the rural social scheme, which is popular in parts of the west.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Why did he change the name and confuse people?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The rural social scheme was confined to specifically rural——

[303]Acting Chairman (Deputy Thomas P. Broughan): Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  If I may interrupt the Minister, there are a couple of other speakers.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I apologise. I thought the Acting Chairman called me.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  The Minister previously noted the problem concerned people who had skills but could not access employment because they had insufficient experience. That is not my understanding of the problem. There are no jobs for these people because of the policies pursued by this Government and its predecessor.

She has not convinced me that safeguards are being built into the internship scheme to assist people in gaining employment while avoiding the danger of it becoming a cheap labour scheme. I fear it could facilitate a growth in unemployment by using the guise of training to put people into jobs that otherwise would be properly compensated. What will be done to ensure an adequate level of training and up-skilling is provided? How will staff resources be allocated from her Department and the companies concerned to oversee the scheme?

It is frightening that 20% of a company’s workforce could be employed as interns.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  That is a maximum figure.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  That does not mean it will not be reached. Who will monitor the scheme, how will it be evaluated and what is its timescale? Who decided that a company of 30 or more employees could take on 20% of its workforce as interns? What is the scientific rationale for that figure and what say will the rest of us be given in terms of changing the arrangement?

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Over the course of last weekend I had the opportunity to meet representatives of a number of small businesses and on Monday a presentation was made by the traders and chamber of commerce in my hometown. I rarely meet these individuals on other occasions. We discussed their obligations in terms of getting the economy up and running and the role they can play in the internship scheme. This is an opportunity to give hope to young people, particularly in parts of rural Ireland which are suffering the scourge of emigration. There are no jobs in these areas and we need to see growth. This initiative is aimed at stimulating a bottoming out of the collapse of the economy and getting people back to work. The employers I spoke to who were involved in retail businesses, confectionaries and coffee shops are delighted to be given opportunities to take on young graduates. They are prepared to take the risk in the belief of being in a position to retain an invaluable person if growth returns at the end of the cycle.

As a new philosophy, it is difficult for us to get our heads around it but we cannot afford the human cost of doing nothing. Deputy Luke “Ming” Flanagan will identify with me when I note that many of the Dublin Deputies do not understand the scourge of emigration in the same way as in rural Ireland. We see it in our schools, which children are leaving to follow their parents to America, our football teams and our communities. This experience is lost in the density of urban areas, where the scourge of unemployment can be hidden by the density of the population.

I am delighted to hear the Department will play a role in monitoring the scheme. The resort to third party procedures exists in the event of displacement. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the Department is resourced and monitors the situation and that we arm third party procedures in this country such as the Labour Relations Commission so as to ensure that displacement does not take place and people would not be pushed out the door in order to gain access to cheap labour.

[304]The payment of €50 is a great opportunity for people to supplement their income. I accept it is a risk. We are investing in people but the risk is worth it if we can get people back to work, especially young people who are crying out for experience. They want experience in this country not in New York. They want to play their part in getting the country back to work. We all want to see light at the end of the tunnel. Nobody has a unique right to have control of that argument. We all want people to get back into sustainable employment but we must start somewhere. The notion that we would do nothing is a huge risk——

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  The Government should create jobs.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  The economic notion held by the Opposition is that it can be done overnight. Not one credible solution has been offered towards the creation of a jobs strategy. Opposition Members pick at——

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  The Opposition’s approach is much more credible than the Government’s.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  The Opposition has not offered——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Thomas P. Broughan): Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Members should speak through the Chair.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  I welcome what the Minister is doing with very limited resources. We will get good value for money in penetrating the local economy, getting people back to work and giving light at the end of the tunnel to people who do not have hope. Those are the people who will have to leave this country taking their children with them. Emigration is devastating rural areas. This type of scheme has been broadly welcomed by communities. It is new and innovative. We are thinking outside of the box. We are doing the best we can in light of the limited resources available to us.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys  Zoom on Kevin Humphreys  I am sorry to have to disagree with my colleague, Deputy Keaveney, but the scourge of unemployment is noticeable in urban areas. On one road in my area, five young people have emigrated. On Friday of last week an elderly gentleman and his son came to my clinic. The man said there is nothing for his son but emigration. We are all feeling the pain across the country.

Young people have said to me that they want some way to help them keep their skills up to date. They want to grow, learn and to get experience. The internship provides an opportunity for that. It is innovative and has been broadly welcomed. We must be careful to monitor the situation. I take on board what people are saying but it is wrong to rubbish every positive proposal. We must try new mechanisms to keep young people in this country and keep their skills updated so that when the upturn comes they are in a position to take up jobs. I very much welcome the proposal for the internship programme.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  It has been an interesting debate. I learned a little more than I knew previously. It was interesting to hear interns being called internees. As far as I am aware there is only one internee and he was sitting behind me in the Chamber.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Did he not do well?

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Look where he is now.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Did he not do well? He served a very interesting internship. Like interns, internees have very few rights as well. The purpose of the amendment was to try [305]to ensure, even though it is specified in the legislation interns are not employees, that interns should still get as much protection as we can afford to give them so that the rights and conditions we have managed to secure over the years for employees are fully reflected for them. Such an arrangement would, hopefully, provide additional protection against any type of exploitation. The intention was not to introduce any type of restriction which would make the scheme unworkable.

The scheme has a purpose. The additional payment of €50 is welcome. I was not fully aware of that previously. However, I question the adequacy of it for a person travelling to work on a full-time basis and needing to get lunch every day. Many people would even give up €50 of the meagre jobseeker’s allowance if at the end of their internship they were guaranteed a job. I reiterate my call to impress upon employers if at all possible that they are not prevented from topping up the payment or offering a lump sum at the end of an internship to those interns who have played a positive role and have contributed to a business.

I support the call for people who are signing on for credits to also be allowed to avail of the opportunity to participate in the scheme as, often, they are the very ones who will emigrate because they cannot get jobseeker’s allowance because the household income is taken into account. Young people whose parents work are often the ones who will emigrate because they may have some money behind them. Some of them are students who have graduated from college. We must ensure that everyone in society who is on jobseeker’s benefit, whether they are signing for credit or a payment should be able to avail of the scheme. The social welfare trap that exists must be closed off. There are many such loopholes. I have spoken to the Minister about one or two others that are not relevant to the debate.

I accept that there should be an ongoing evaluation process to see whether an internship has been successful to ensure that we have a system that reflects the best possible practice so that one does not have abuse. Employers who abuse the system should be blacklisted from participation in the scheme. The message should go out strongly from the start that abuse will not be tolerated.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  To reassure Deputies, the host organisation which identifies a potential internship opportunity must nominate a suitable mentor from within the organisation, such as the HR department, if a company is large enough to have one, to oversee the process. Companies must apply to the national employment and entitlements service to have the internship recognised. They will have to make an application and describe the purpose of the internship, what it will be about and what it will contribute to the person’s learning and work experience in the course of the internship.

Individuals who are interested in taking up internships will apply to host organisations and the latter will make a selection subject to the eligibility criteria. In order to participate on the programme the host organisation and interns will have to sign a standard internship agreement before commencing the programme. We are trying to limit the paperwork so that it is not too top heavy in terms of administrative burden.

I agree with Deputies who are concerned about abuse that there must be a structure. Someone who is going to employ an intern must put some thought into what an intern will achieve and learn in terms of experience from the process. Throughout the internship there will be regular contact and a log summary will be provided of what career development has taken place in terms of the person’s learning experiences.

Deputy Wallace has experience both in training apprentices and as an employer. I accept there are employers who will abuse any situation but the response so far from employers has been extremely positive for the reasons Deputy Keaveney outlined which is that in many areas [306]people want to provide opportunities to young people who are stymied. International research by the most renowned academics on getting people back to work classifies the outcomes from internships in an entirely different manner to the outcomes from other work experience schemes. Internships have positive outcomes for people who take part in them, particularly if they are well designed. That is what we are working towards. We will be monitoring it carefully.

In the jobs initiative, we provided 6,000 places on FÁS specific skills training courses, an extra 3,000 places in the back to education scheme, an extra 1,000 post-leaving certificate places, 5,900 places on the third level springboard scheme and up to 5,000 places on the national internship scheme, which we were just talking about. People may say these are not the same as full-time permanent jobs, but we must start somewhere and give people opportunities. In particular, we must ensure the skills of those coming out of training at this time do not grow cold. Internationally, all of the academic literature shows that when properly done, high quality internships can produce a valuable experience for the people who do them.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Question, “That section 16 stand part of the Bill”, put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 17 stand part of the Bill.”

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I have one or two queries, although I have no problem with this section but rather with the next section. Section 17 states that “an officer of the Minister authorised by him or her for this purpose, or ... the Executive ... may, subject to the conditions and in the circumstances that shall be prescribed, defer, suspend, reduce or cancel repayment of any such amount”. When is it intended to prescribe the conditions or circumstances mentioned here?

The same subsection also mentions that the HSE may carry out this function in the case of supplementary welfare allowance. In September, when the community welfare officers are transferred to the Department of Social Protection, will this provision need to be changed to reflect the transfer of the function of distributing supplementary welfare allowance?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Community welfare officers will be transferring from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection, and those arrangements should be completed, as the Deputy mentioned, by the end of September. The position of community welfare officer will still exist even though, because people will have payments processed in their local offices, the need for supplementary payments should decrease over time, and community welfare officers will spend more time dealing with exceptional needs cases. That is certainly the intention. I do not think there will be any requirement for changes in the legislation in the short term. However, it is important the arrangements for recovering fraudulent social welfare overpayments are in place.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  My question relates to the repayment of amounts due. Section 17 states that when a person is required to repay a certain amount, the repayment may, subject to conditions, be deferred or suspended in circumstances that shall be prescribed. It states there will be conditions or circumstances under which the repayment can be reduced or suspended. Is it intended to prescribe these shortly after the legislation is passed, or is it an ongoing process depending on circumstances? It was not a question about community welfare officers themselves; it is just that the HSE is mentioned in the case of supplementary welfare allowance, and I am inquiring as to whether the Department should also be mentioned, so the phrase [307]would read “the Executive or the Department of Social Protection, in the case of supplementary welfare allowance”. I presume the supplementary welfare allowance budget will also transfer to the Department and away from the HSE.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  There is an amendment elsewhere in the Bill on that point. I will obtain a reference to the exact section for the Deputy.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 10:

This is an important change to the way the Department goes about recovering overpayments. The section deals with fraud, although it is not even fraud, as it states: “Repayment of amounts due arising from false or misleading statements or wilful concealment of facts.” To date, in the case of repayment of moneys owed or wrongly claimed by an individual, if the person is entitled to another payment, that payment is deducted from the overall amount. For example, in the case of a person who is in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance with an allowance for a child, but who actually has no child, the arrangement currently is that he or she pays back the amount given in respect of the child; however, after this change, the person will pay back everything from the start. The section states: “the amount to be repaid in such circumstances shall not be reduced by the amount of any other payment...to which the person would otherwise have been entitled in the period to which the overpayment relates”. There is a danger here. I am not saying the Department should not pursue the person for the amount obtained fraudulently; in any case, if there is a conscious fraud involved, the Department should be going to the courts, which I do not think it has done often enough. There are many cases in which there is overpayment due to a failure to disclose information. However, if the disclosure had not been made for two years, for example, the amount to be recovered by the Department would be so substantial that it would never be recoverable in the case of a person who was genuinely dependent on social welfare but should have been receiving a single payment only. Such a person is entitled, as soon as the fraud is discovered, to claim again for jobseeker’s allowance, but he or she would be subject to a charge and a fine as well as the repayment.

  9 o’clock

This could come to a substantial and daunting amount which may never be realisable.

We have to be realistic but the provisions in this section make no exceptions for cases where there may be an inability to pay or no possibility of ever recovering the moneys. While we need to tackle the level of social welfare fraud, we must ensure we do not pursue cases of overpayment on the part of the Department or, as has happened, cases where data on particular applications has not been recorded properly. I admit the Department has put in place much better systems to counter these problems. However, I know of 700 cases of rent assessment which were not dealt with by Dublin City Council for several years. Subsequently, each of the claimants received bills for arrears and notices to quit their council housing.

Similarly, it is unfair to request the repayment of €20,000 from someone who has been on social welfare for several years. If someone is entitled to a payment, even retrospectively, then they should receive it. This section, however, removes that entitlement as a punishment for wrongdoing, a step too far. FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres, and the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, INOU, have raised similar concerns as to how this section will operate. We need to be careful. There are times when there are misunderstandings between [308]officials and applicants. I would like to see a campaign similar to that of the Plain English group for some social welfare forms. With more communication between various Departments and community welfare officers, material requested of claimants should only have to be given once rather than several requests made for the same information from various sections.

I am not opposed to the Department claiming back and fining individuals involved in social welfare fraud. However, I am concerned that the provisions in this section may be taking it a step too far.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  I support Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s amendment. Whether intentionally or not, section 18 implies all overpayments are due to fraud. That is not always the case. The amendment’s proposal to insert the term “conscious fraud” is worthwhile. FLAC has made a submission to us about this section, going so far as to say the section “should be deleted as it has the potential to impose a punishment tantamount to a fine on the basis of a decision by a deciding officer rather than by due judicial process”. This amendment would overcome this problem.

For example, a person on a lone-parent allowance may not have intentionally given misleading information for a claim while, at the same time, being eligible for family income supplement. The difference between the two should be the amount repaid rather than the entire payment. I hope the Minister takes on board this well-meant amendment which addresses an issue which could be divisive and dangerous.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  These are the most punitive and draconian changes contained in the Bill. Many people have difficulties dealing with bureaucracy and filling out forms. If a person is suspected of fraud, he or she is entitled to due process and any due benefits. I know from my job that anyone suspected of fraud would be suspended with pay because no one can be left without access to money. Social welfare fraud is essentially a separate issue and should not be dealt with in this legislation. This section basically means a person is guilty before they can prove their innocence.

While there is an appeals process, the section will leave a person with no means of income pending their appeal. Recently the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, stated she receives a large number of complaints regarding the time it takes for social welfare benefits to begin and the time taken in determining appeals.

I hope the Minister will delete this section.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Our proposal to delete this section is preferable to Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s amendment because it is hard to define “conscious fraud”. The word “fraud” is bandied around too much in debates on social welfare legislation when we do not hear it too often in debates on white collar crime and the like. When this section is added to previous statements by the Minister of her intention to engage in lifestyle scrutiny of social welfare recipients, it sets the wrong tone for many of our citizens — unfortunately a growing number of them — in receipt of social welfare.

This section is too heavy-handed. In most cases where an error or overpayment has been made, it is often just an innocent mistake due to a lack of sufficient information submitted by the recipient or an erroneous application for a benefit when he or she could have availed of another one. To claim any problems with this section can be overcome by an appeals process is not good enough. There are backlogs in processing appeals already. Why would the Minister add to an already overburdened process when deciding officers have a discretionary role covered by statute? They are adequately equipped and trained to distinguish between someone [309]who is willfully playing the system and trying to defraud it and a person who makes a mistake. All we are asking is that the status quo be maintained and that the staff in question be allowed to do their job properly and be in a position to decide — in line with the training they have received and the experience they possess — if someone is playing the system or if he or she made a genuine mistake.

If a person is entitled to a payment from the State and if he or she has been overpaid in respect of another benefit, it is common sense to offset one against the other. The only way we can eliminate this anomaly from the legislation is by removing section 18 in its entirety. We will push the matter to a vote because the section must go, particularly in light of the problems to which it will give rise. I appeal to the Minister to remove the section or we will obliged to seek a division.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The sad reality is that social welfare fraud exists. Every euro lost through such fraud represents money taken from the purses and pockets of those who really need social welfare support. I am shocked that some Deputies appear to find the notion of social welfare fraud something which should just be condoned and almost endorsed. That is entirely unacceptable. We are in the middle of a serious economic crisis and, unfortunately, vast numbers of people are unable to find work. Many individuals are working on a part-time basis at present. The notion that defrauding the social welfare system is acceptable is entirely and utterly objectionable to me, as Minister.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  No one said it is acceptable.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  People who work hard for low wages and who pay PRSI are paying for the social welfare system. It should not be the case that others should be allowed to defraud that system.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Will the Minister indicate who said that should be the case?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The social welfare system is a social contract. The viability of that contract depends on ordinary people being confident that the system is not being milked, abused or scammed by a very small number of individuals. The number of those involved in social welfare fraud is not that great. Unfortunately, those people who are involved in such activity completely destroy the confidence of others in the validity of the system. Those who scam the taxation system do the same in respect of people’s confidence that said system is fair and above board. As everyone is aware, bankers have destroyed confidence in the banking system as a result of their activities.

Those who commit social welfare fraud are prosecuted. In view of the crisis in which the country finds itself, I would have hoped that the Deputy would respect those people who have worked for 30 or 40 years and who have contributed to the system. These individuals want a good social welfare system and they are prepared to pay their taxes and PRSI to ensure that there is such a system. They do not want others to take a soft ride on the basis of the tax and PRSI contributions they have made out of their hard-earned wages.

I invite the Deputy to reconsider this matter. Any level of fraud in the social welfare system, even if it is quite small, is significant. In the past two weeks, TV3 aired a programme relating to social welfare fraud. Five different individuals appeared on the programme — their faces were pixilated to disguise their identities and I presume their voices were distorted — and indicated that they had been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for up to four years. They took great pleasure in explaining to the interviewer the various ways in which they are milking the system and scamming the rest of us. Such behaviour is unacceptable. The level of fraud of [310]this nature is small but it is terribly significant in the context of people’s confidence in the social contract.

I do not make any apologies for seeking, in this Bill, additional and stronger powers to reduce the level of social welfare fraud. Such powers will increase the confidence of those who pay tax and PRSI in the system. I make similar remarks in respect of those who are scamming the taxation system and bankers. Whether it is in the areas of business, taxation or social welfare, this country cannot afford a culture of fraud wherein the cute individual always gets away with playing the system while ordinary people are obliged to make honest contributions. We need a culture change in this regard.

The references in the legislation are to fraudulent overpayments. Let us be clear: fraud means obtaining something to which one is not entitled. We are seeking, by means of this section, to ensure that there will not be a type of double benefit in respect of fraud.

I respect a great deal of the work done by FLAC. However, it has alleged that section 18 has the potential to impose a punishment tantamount to a fine on the basis of a decision made by a deciding officer rather than by due judicial process. The preliminary view of the Department’s legal officer is that the proposed power prohibiting the offsetting of one social welfare payment against another would not be interpreted as the imposition of a fine in the sense alleged by FLAC. Following a finding of fraud, rather than having a fine imposed by a deciding officer my understanding is that the latter will be in a position to suspend other payments by the Department, presumably until such time as the money is repaid.

From first principles, it would seem somewhat irregular that a person could be found to have defrauded the social welfare system — and consequently be in debt to and be obliged to repay money to that system — while continuing to benefit from other benefits available under the same system. There is a credibility gap in respect of this matter. If, as one of the Deputies stated, an individual has dependent children, the Department would take such circumstances into account. However, the House must ensure that members of the public who pay tax and PRSI will have confidence that their contributions will be used to the benefit of those who require and who are entitled to the support offered by the social welfare system. I make no apologies for that.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I have not denied that social welfare fraud exists, nor have I ever condoned it. On various occasions I have taken the opportunity in this House to encourage the Department to use its existing powers and to train its staff to pursue those who defraud the system.

No one in this Chamber opposes the other measures in the Bill which are, I hope, designed to tackle some of the elements of fraud. I refer, for example, to section 13, which relates to members of the Garda Síochána and social welfare inspectors working together on checkpoints. Sections 14 and 15 relate to public service cards and the provisions they contain will be useful in tackling a type of fraud which may arise in the future.

Section 18 is quite specific in the context of what is intended. It is not the case that the Department is trying to recover just the money it is owed by those who commit fraud. It refers to “Repayment of amounts due arising from false or misleading statements or wilful concealment of facts.” Not all of this would equate to fraud in a court of law. Section 18 states that where a person is required to repay an amount of any payment, the amount to be repaid in such circumstances shall not be reduced by the amount of any other payment referred to in the section and which the person would otherwise have been entitled to.

[311]No one is denying that the Department should recover the full amount of a fraudulent claim or a fine that has been imposed. The section would mean an amount to be paid could not be reduced by taking into account the payment a person was entitled to. The Minister mentioned a period of four years. A person who was on jobseeker’s allowance for four years and received a fraudulent payment for the last two of those four years would have to repay a substantial amount of money. If the person was fraudulently claiming jobseeker’s allowance, he or she should have to pay it back in the same way as a person in a bank or any other institution who robbed or fraudulently obtained money and was found by a court to have done so would have to pay the money back. If a person is entitled to a certain part of the payment, he or she has that entitlement and it cannot be taken away, except by a court of law that has found fraud. Before an incident goes to court, a departmental inspector decides whether the person has misled the Department and wilfully concealed facts. If an inspector has found fraud and the amount is substantial the person concerned should be brought to court and charged with a criminal offence.

The culture will not change among that cohort of people unless they are made to feel the full extent of the law. I am concerned that this measure has not been discussed in sufficient detail and that the full advice regarding the effect of this change in legislation has not been gleaned. I thank FLAC for highlighting this issue. I had marked it down on the day we were briefed by departmental staff. My note in the margin highlights the words “demonstrably, knowingly defrauded”.

My preference is that the section should be opposed. If that is not going to happen, the words of my amendment should be inserted. A small caveat might prevent serious hardship being imposed on people who were not knowingly involved in fraud but who, for some reason or other, misled officials. They may not have been aware they were misleading officials. The problem may have arisen from the way they presented themselves or through a misunderstanding that could have been sorted out at an earlier stage.

Overpayment or fraud should be spotted as early as possible so that amounts of overpayment do not build up. This can cost the State large sums and the person involved cannot realistically pay the money back. There is no point in seeking the repayment of €20,000 or €30,000 from a person who has absolutely nothing. Circumstances must be taken into account. Every attempt should be made to recover money for the State but we must also be realistic about people’s circumstances. Mechanisms need to be found to recover money without undue hardship on families. There has been discretion in the past. Most officials have worked with people in these circumstances and the State has recovered large amounts of money over the years. That has meant there has not been as high a level of fraud as in other countries. The Department has been aware of it and has acted on an ongoing basis.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  I realise it is late and the Minister has been in the House for a long time. She may be a little tired and not listening to precisely what is being said on this side of the House. I have heard no one in the Chamber condoning fraud of any character. To imply that is disingenuous. Fraud, even only one occurrence, would not be condoned by anybody.

The point being made on this side of the House is that there is already a facility and power to deal with cases where fraud occurs. The Minister made the point that she is only referring to claims where a person got something he or she was not entitled to. None of us is saying people should keep such money. However, there are many reasons that an overpayment occurs. There need not be a wilful intent to withhold information. There may be a lack of understanding or an incompletely filled out form.

The Department has staff employed by the State who have a lifetime of experience in dealing with these cases. They are best placed to investigate these instances. Rather than adequately [312]staffing departmental offices and equipping staff, we have a ludicrous public sector recruitment embargo while those offices are struggling to keep up with the level of claims and to monitor form filling, applications and claims. The Government would be better served by lifting the employment embargo, adequately equipping departmental offices, increasing the numbers employed there and empowering them to do the job for which they already have a legislative basis.

Where someone is overpaid under one heading even though he or she may be entitled to a payment under a different heading, section 18 disallows the deciding officer from offsetting one against the other. No matter how one dresses that up, it amounts to a fine or penalty and the person is forced to repay more money than he or she owed. The Minister seems to imply that taxpayers and citizens see the root cause of the problems in our social welfare system as the recipients of social welfare. The Minister later contradicted herself by saying there is only a very small number of fraudulent claims, which is the case. The Minister should empower her people to deal with the small amount of fraud, based on existing legislation. She should not take money from people on the double and treble and force her staff to waste resources by being tied up in unnecessary appeals, which could be avoided if there were adequate resources on the front line.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  I agree with most of what Deputy Clare Daly said. I agree 100% with the Minister that we should not tolerate fraud. If there is fraud, the problem should be addressed.

I reiterate a point I made in the House last week. Interesting research was carried out in Britain in 2009 where it was discovered that between £1.5 billion and £2 billion was lost in welfare fraud. It was also found that tax evasion, tax loopholes and the use of offshore accounts had cost the Exchequer £80 billion, from the top end of business. Neither form of fraud should be tolerated. I know from experience that if workers collect dole while working and cheat the system, it is demoralising for guys who are in work. Likewise it is demoralising for the State to see the richest people in our society not carrying their fair share and cheating the system in a very sophisticated way.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Many of the things I was going to say have been said and I will not repeat them. The explanatory memorandum states: “Sections 17 and 18 provide that where a fraudulent social welfare overpayment occurs”. It does not state “proven” and the point is there needs to be due process. If somebody is suspected of fraud due process in court needs to be followed and in the meantime that person should continue to receive his or her social welfare benefit. As Deputy Clare Daly said the workers in that area are sufficiently experienced to understand where people are in their own lives.

A certain tone is being set by the Government and particularly in the Fine Gael ranks with the suggestion in newspapers over the weekend of deadbeat dads having to do national military service. Someone then came on radio to clarify that it was not national military service but national service. It has also been suggested that lone parents with more than three children should not get paid, which is similar to the provision the late Deputy, Brian Lenihan, introduced in the budget reducing child allowance for the third child. There is definitely a tone coming from the Government that the direction of the debate is going down to an attack on the lowest paid and those on social welfare. If that is the direction it is heading, the Government should beware because we will not tolerate it.

Section 13 extends the powers of social welfare inspectors to investigate employers, contractors and subcontractors who are found to be employing people. However, it does not suggest [313]that the businesses will be closed if they are suspected of employing people working in the black economy. This must be removed and due process regarding fraudulent claims should take place in the courts. If the person is found guilty then the money should be taken from him or her over a period.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  I wish to clarify that when I quoted the FLAC recommendation that the section be deleted, I was not necessarily supporting it. I was merely stating that without the relevant clarification that is the extreme change one might seek. If a person is in receipt of, for example, €250 when he or she should have been in receipt of €200, the Department can claim the €50 but it cannot claim the €250. Will the Minister confirm that will be the case? If that is the case, I have no difficulty with the section.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  There is another side to this argument. There are good and bad people in all walks of life. There are good and bad people signing on just as there are good and bad people working in the social welfare system. Will everybody be treated equally here? I deal with many people who tell me they have dealt with a bad social welfare official who neglected to advise them of their full entitlements and they did not hear of such entitlements until it was too late. When they subsequently went back to the person working in the office, they were advised they could not get back-pay as they should have known about it and applied for it, even though the official knew about it in the first place. If the Department is going to nail people for accidentally receiving overpayments, will we do anything to these people who do not advise claimants of their full entitlements? At times it is nearly as if they were handing out their own money and were on a bonus scheme for not advising people about entitlements. I get such reports from many people and I would like the Government to pursue those people also. If we are going to chase the small guy, we should also chase the big guy.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The staff of the Department of Social Protection receive a great deal of training and there is a culture of giving people advice, publishing a considerable amount of information on the Department website and making information available in particular through citizens’ information centres and MABS for people who are in difficulty with mortgages. Regarding citizens’ information structures, I was very happy recently to have launched a new system of advocates for people with a disability to ensure they get the relevant information on their entitlements in dealing with the social welfare system. If some of the people the Deputy has met have a bad experience, I will certainly convey that back to the Department, but the Department invests a great deal in training and information for people who wish to avail of social welfare support.

The core issue here is confidence in the social welfare system. There are a small number of modest measures in the Bill that address fraud with a view to limiting it and maintaining confidence in the social welfare contract. Someone who starts work at 18 and pays PRSI until he or she retires is entitled to feel confident that money goes to people who require that support. That is the political contract we have as a society. The number of people who make fraudulent claims is probably exaggerated. I saw the recent British reports to which Deputy Wallace alluded. However, they are none the less extremely important in undermining confidence in the system. There is a widespread belief that the black economy is back in business in a way that has not been seen since the 1980s.

Section 13 extends the powers of social welfare inspectors to investigate employers, contractors and subcontractors who are found to be employing people and to investigate those workers and provides for more practical arrangements where social welfare inspectors form part of multi-agency checkpoints with gardaí and customs officers. This has been done along the Border and regarding specific occupations from time to time. It is an important issue for the [314]Department, the Garda and Customs and Excise to send out a message that we are serious about preventing fraud.

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for the amendment in which he proposes to insert the term “obtained as a result of conscious fraud”. However, the substance of the amendment is already covered in section 18 and therefore I do not propose to accept the amendment. The provisions of section 18 need to be read in conjunction with section 17. Section 17 provides that where a person is required to repay any social welfare overpayment, the amount of that overpayment may be deferred, suspended, reduced or cancelled, subject to the conditions and circumstances specified in regulations. My Department is obliged to make every effort to recover the full amount of any overpayment that occurs. Depending on the particular circumstances of any case, arrangements may be put in place for that repayment of the overpayment to be a single payment, by way of regular repayments or by way of regular deductions from a weekly social welfare payment. In certain circumstances, for instance where an overpayment occurs following an administrative error on the part of my Department which the claimant could not reasonably have been expected to have noticed, the overpayment may be reduced or cancelled in order to be fair.

Section 18 refers to an overpayment that arises from the fraudulent claiming of a social welfare payment. I do not understand what difficulty Deputies could have with the proposal that a person should not be able to offset the amount to be repaid against potential social welfare benefits for which he or she might have qualified during the period to which the overpayment relates to prevent him or her from playing the system. It is quite a reasonable provision. Deputy Ó Snodaigh attempted to address it using slightly different wording, that is, by using the term “conscious fraud”. According to my legal advice, I am not sure that term would be the appropriate legal term. I am not a lawyer and I am relying on the legal advice I have received.

As Minister for Social Protection, I must reiterate the importance of prosecuting perpetrators of fraud. As I stated, we prosecute those responsible for fraud in respect of social welfare and taxation and we are able, as a society, to take action against actions of bankers that have resulted in enormous losses to the State. Business fraud, white collar crime and impunity are not acceptable, but neither is social welfare fraud. I want that message to go out as clearly as possible from this Chamber. I recommend section 18 to the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed: “That section 18 stand part of the Bill.”

Question put.

The Committee divided: Tá, 91; Níl, 27.

Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P. Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan.
Information on Ray Butler  Zoom on Ray Butler  Butler, Ray. Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  Byrne, Eric. Information on Ciaran Cannon  Zoom on Ciaran Cannon  Cannon, Ciarán.
Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe. Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  Coffey, Paudie.
Information on Michael Conaghan  Zoom on Michael Conaghan  Conaghan, Michael. Information on Sean Conlan  Zoom on Sean Conlan  Conlan, Seán.
Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul J. Information on Ciara Conway  Zoom on Ciara Conway  Conway, Ciara.
Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel. Information on Marcella MarcellaCorcoran Kennedy  Zoom on Marcella MarcellaCorcoran Kennedy  Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon. Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael.
Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda. Information on Jim Daly  Zoom on Jim Daly  Daly, Jim.
Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John. Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy.
Information on Patrick Deering  Zoom on Patrick Deering  Deering, Pat. Information on Regina Doherty  Zoom on Regina Doherty  Doherty, Regina.
Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  Dowds, Robert. Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Doyle, Andrew.
Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J. Information on Alan Farrell  Zoom on Alan Farrell  Farrell, Alan.
Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank. Information on Anne Ferris  Zoom on Anne Ferris  Ferris, Anne.
Information on Peter Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Peter. 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 Brendan Griffin  Zoom on Brendan Griffin  Griffin, Brendan. Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  Hannigan, Dominic.
Information on Noel Harrington  Zoom on Noel Harrington  Harrington, Noel. Information on Simon Harris  Zoom on Simon Harris  Harris, Simon.
Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian. Information on Martin Heydon  Zoom on Martin Heydon  Heydon, Martin.
Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan. Information on Heather Humphreys  Zoom on Heather Humphreys  Humphreys, Heather.
Information on Kevin Humphreys  Zoom on Kevin Humphreys  Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Derek Keating  Zoom on Derek Keating  Keating, Derek.
Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Keaveney, Colm. Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul.
Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  Kelly, Alan. Information on Seán Kenny  Zoom on Seán Kenny  Kenny, Seán.
Information on Seán Kyne  Zoom on Seán Kyne  Kyne, Seán. Information on Anthony Lawlor  Zoom on Anthony Lawlor  Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán. Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen.
Information on John Lyons  Zoom on John Lyons  Lyons, John. Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  McCarthy, Michael.
Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Tony McLoughlin  Zoom on Tony McLoughlin  McLoughlin, Tony. Information on Michael McNamara  Zoom on Michael McNamara  McNamara, Michael.
Information on Eamonn Maloney  Zoom on Eamonn Maloney  Maloney, Eamonn. Information on Peter Mathews  Zoom on Peter Mathews  Mathews, Peter.
Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Mitchell, Olivia. Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
Information on Michelle Mulherin  Zoom on Michelle Mulherin  Mulherin, Michelle. Information on Dara Murphy  Zoom on Dara Murphy  Murphy, Dara.
Information on Eoghan Murphy  Zoom on Eoghan Murphy  Murphy, Eoghan. Information on Gerald Nash  Zoom on Gerald Nash  Nash, Gerald.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Derek Nolan  Zoom on Derek Nolan  Nolan, Derek. Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran. Information on Patrick O'Donovan  Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Patrick.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Ann Phelan  Zoom on Ann Phelan  Phelan, Ann.
Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul. Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Ryan, Brendan.
Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Shatter, Alan. Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Sean.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  Spring, Arthur.
Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet. Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David.
Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Timmins, Billy. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Liam Twomey  Zoom on Liam Twomey  Twomey, Liam. Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack.
Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.  


Níl
Information on Gerry Adams  Zoom on Gerry Adams  Adams, Gerry. Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara.
Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Collins, Joan. Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall.
Information on Michael Colreavy  Zoom on Michael Colreavy  Colreavy, Michael. Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Cowen, Barry.
Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Daly, Clare. Information on Stephen Donnelly  Zoom on Stephen Donnelly  Donnelly, Stephen.
Information on Dessie Ellis  Zoom on Dessie Ellis  Ellis, Dessie. Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Higgins, Joe. Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Charlie McConalogue  Zoom on Charlie McConalogue  McConalogue, Charlie.
Information on Mary Lou McDonald  Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald  McDonald, Mary Lou. Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael.
Information on Sandra McLellan  Zoom on Sandra McLellan  McLellan, Sandra. Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Murphy, Catherine.
Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín. Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus. Information on Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  O’Brien, Jonathan.
Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Ross, Shane. Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan.
Information on Brian Stanley  Zoom on Brian Stanley  Stanley, Brian. Information on Peadar Tóibín  Zoom on Peadar Tóibín  Tóibín, Peadar.
Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  Wallace, Mick.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy.

Question declared carried.

Question proposed: "That section 19 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Could we hear the Minister on the section?

[316]Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  This is a provision that the Deputy might welcome. It is to provide that the domiciliary care allowance is not assessable as means for supplementary welfare allowance purposes. It is to benefit people who are in receipt of domiciliary care allowance. I recommend the section to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 11:

  10 o’clock

This amendment is to facilitate, hopefully in the near future, the franchise office in local authorities to use the PPS number to register electors. Currently, somebody must fill in a registration form and the registers are continuously out of date as a result of people moving house or whatever. If we facilitate in some way the use of an individual’s PPS number as our electoral number it would make for a much more accurate electoral register throughout the country. It will allow the staff on polling day to record people’s votes and ensure the register is as accurate as possible. It is only a mechanism; it does not mean this would happen overnight. It would merely facilitate a debate at some stage and might require an electoral amendment Bill to be proposed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am aware that other parties have considered this and there appears to be some agreement that we need to ensure that changes are brought about and that our electoral register system is brought into the new century, especially with the advent of new technology. It would be a reasonable change and would not add any additional costs at this stage to the State. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view on it but it would be even more interesting to hear what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would have to say about the system I propose.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  As it is 10 p.m., I ask Deputy Ó Snodaigh to move the adjournment.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Before we do that, what is the arrangement for Report Stage of this Bill and amendments to Report Stage?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Report Stage will be taken tomorrow and if there is time, amendments can be taken. It depends on how quickly we get through Committee Stage. There is a guillotine on this Bill tomorrow.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Oh dear. That has not been voted on yet.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  It was agreed today on the Order of Business.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Deputy Buttimer again.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Deputy is only back from Brussels.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  No proposal was voted today to guillotine this tomorrow.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  My understanding is that the Bill finishes tomorrow. It is a matter for the Whips.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  It is not a matter for the Whips. Our Whip is Deputy Murphy and she objects. It is a matter for the Dáil tomorrow morning.

[317]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  That is correct.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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