Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011: Report and Final Stages

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 735 No. 3

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Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 1:

I wish to withdraw the amendment.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I wish to protest about the way this legislation is being dealt with. It is unacceptable that we have just voted on the Second Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill and we are immediately onto Report Stage. Having glanced at the national newspapers this morning, tens of thousands of workers will learn for the first time about these serious changes to their pension rights in two and a half years’ time and at a further remove for other measures. It would have been right, proper and necessary to have a break after concluding Second Stage for a discussion to take place outside the Dáil so that workers can debate and discuss the merits and mainly demerits of what is proposed for them.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  The House made the decision this morning and we must move on with the amendments. We cannot open the debate again.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I accept that but it is proper to draw attention to the fact that many Members on the backbenches have now received feedback from their constituents and would have voted in a different way. The Minister should have separated the restoration of the national minimum wage and other issues she mentioned, which could have been expedited quickly, so we could have a separate mechanism for dealing with the pension situation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I move amendment No. 2:

As discussed on Committee Stage, this amendment attempts to change the provisions of section 3 to ensure, despite my opposition to the reduction in PRSI for two and a half years, that a caveat is inserted to the effect that this will only happen in the case of new jobs. This measure means there is encouragement for employers to create new jobs and that, given the current climate, there is some benefit to them in doing so. That there is a trade-off between the minimum wage increase proposed in this Bill and the decrease in employers PRSI sets a dangerous precedent for trading off workers’ pay against existing contributions to a State social welfare fund. I expressed my concern on Committee Stage that there will be a reduction in the pot available to pay for the unemployed people in our society, who number nearly 500,000 on the live register. They are dependent on social welfare payments and this instrument reduces the employers’ contribution to the fund.

Part of my reasoning for the new jobs provision is to discourage employers from what unscrupulous employers will do, namely, reduce the wages and working hours of employees to ensure the employers receive a benefit. The change is substantial in comparison to what existed [617]in the past. There are two rates of employers PRSI, 10.5% and 7.8%. The differences are minor at the moment so there is no major incentive for employers to reduce the wages of employees. In this instance, reducing the rate to 3.9% means there is an incentive for employers to do so not only because there is less PRSI to pay, but because they have lower wages to pay.

The sum of €356 is above the minimum wage. Those working 40 hours on the minimum wage come out with €346 so this is encouragement for employers to create new jobs below this figure. Even with the amendment I propose, there is a concern that any new jobs will be created at the lowest level. That is not what we should encourage people to do. We should be trying to create sustainable jobs of value that pay well to ensure people are taken out of poverty. In this instance, the encouragement shown to employers to reduce wages will end up costing the taxpayer more money. If an employer reduces wages from €390 to €356, some families will avail of the family income supplement, which is an additional charge on the Exchequer that has not been taken into account. I welcome the change to the minimum wage but it should be a stand-alone measure rather than a trade-off. Changes to the PRSI system should be dealt with in a separate Bill.

The Minister said this was one of the mechanisms to enhance job creation opportunities and to retain jobs, but the Government could have done much more to retain jobs. Employees wages were not the key problem in retaining jobs; most of it concerns the cost of utilities such as electricity and transport and rent costs. In most surveys of low-pay industries, these elements are further up the list. I urge the Minister not to proceed with this or to ensure, at the very least, that these provisions apply only to new jobs. The other amendments, which were ruled out of order, were related to this and suggested reports to the Dáil on the number of jobs created and that this section would lapse if the target was not reached. They were reasonable amendments but were ruled out of order because they represent a charge on the Exchequer.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  The point made by Deputy Ó Snodaigh is very good. It would be a good idea to apply it to new jobs only. It is not easy to reduce an employee’s rate per hour but employers can reduce hours to get the employee’s earnings under €356. I am not sure how this will work. If someone is earning €1 above the minimum wage but is only given 33 or 34 hours, the person will earn under €356. Will the employer qualify for the PRSI reduction benefit in that case? If so, it would be great temptation to give the worker fewer hours. There will be more cases of this than a reduction in wages. It is a matter that should be addressed.

Deputy Joe Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  This is a good proposal as we are trying to incentivise employers to take on more people. There has been much criticism from employers that the cost of labour is very high, and that argument is being used in another potential battle on the mechanisms to set wages in areas where the trade union movement is not that strong and joint labour committees, registered employment agreements and employment regulation orders are in effect. There is a considerable concession being made to employers in the reduction of PRSI, and the onus must now be put on employers to see how they respond. This is an incentivisation measure that will lead to employer costs being reduced. It shows the Government is serious about the issue but employers are expected to respond.

The concern expressed by Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Wallace should be taken on board and there should be clear mechanisms to supervise and ensure there is no abuse of what is being proposed here. This is not in any way a mechanism for employers to get around employing people or reducing hours or wages. It seeks to ensure more people are taken off the live register. If it is not effective in doing that, the measure should be discontinued.

With regard to Deputy Higgins’s comments, it is also another reason we should get this legislation through as quickly as possible. It is due to come into operation on 2 July, along with a [618]host of other worthwhile measures. The reinstatement of a higher minimum wage is a desirable addition, as well as the 0.6% pension levy and PRSI reduction we are speaking about. There is also the national internship scheme.

All of these are geared towards the one purpose of getting people off the live register, getting the country moving and restarting the retail sector. All of this can be combined with the tourism incentives introduced in the Finance (No. 2) Bill. Under the present stringent conditions arising from what was introduced by the last Government in the form of the EU-IMF bailout, it is difficult to put a substantial stimulus package in place but this is a good list of proposals.

The purpose of this measure is to create jobs and I expect new jobs will be created as it is not a question of just bolstering old jobs. Will the Minister suggest how her Department will keep an eye on the operation of this proposal to ensure it fulfils the intended objective?

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  With the legislation before us it is very important to heed Deputy Martin’s point about eliminating the “Punch and Judy” element of Irish politics. We should be serious about our intent. I heard the concerns of Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Wallace and understand the legitimacy of their comments. What we are discussing is the creation of employment and incentivising the jobs market. Some 14.5% of our men and women are unemployed, and the vast majority want to have a job. We know these people. Are we seriously arguing in this House, under the guide of political ideology, that we are not in favour of employment, that we do not want to give people hope on a Friday that they could go to work on a Monday? Deputy Wallace is an employer and knows well what it is like in the jobs market.

Within 100 days in this much-vaunted term we have had a jobs budget and there is a Bill before us which is incentivising employment, rewarding entrepreneurs and employers and allowing people to go to work. The issue of activation measures has been raised but we have that in this package. Deputy Costello is right in saying we must encourage employers but if the abuse which Deputy Wallace warned of becomes apparent, we should revisit the issue. I hope the Minister will comment on that. If we are to abandon all hope for the sake of ideology, we may as well give up and bring in Fidel Castro and Gadaffi and let them run the country.

Our people are crying out for hope and jobs. We all know these people in our families and communities. The Bill does not discriminate against the people who can get a job but we are looking after those who need the assistance of the Department of Social Protection. These people are the lower paid or even on the minimum wage. This Bill is restoring the minimum wage to the people who most require the help of the Government. The Members opposite in Fianna Fáil abandoned those people.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  The Deputy should stop.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I appreciate that Deputy Cowen is feeling uncomfortable and if I were him, I would be too after the legacy of 14 years.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  I have listened to the Deputy for too long.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Look at the legacy left by the Deputy’s party. He can lecture me all he likes but he should speak to the people to discover the reality.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  In fairness to Deputy Cowen, he was not here.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  He was not but his party was in the Dáil. Deputy Cowen is flying the flag for that party now but we are flying the flag for the people.

[619]Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  The Deputy will be here for a long time.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Please God I will be.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  The Deputies should speak to the amendment.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I am speaking to the section.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  What amendment is being discussed?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  It is amendment No. 3.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I am speaking to the amendment before the House. The Deputy can follow the clár; I will give him a FÁS course afterwards.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  There is hope for FÁS.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Look at the job the last Government made of FÁS.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  We are getting away from the amendment.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  We have strayed well away. It is important that those who want to be populist and preach to the Fourth Estate would say if they are against the jobs initiative, a reduction in employers’ PRSI and restoration of the minimum wage.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Red lines.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  There are no red lines in this Government. There are no blue lines either.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  It was the Deputy’s comment.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  We are acting in the interests of the people and we govern for all the people rather than just a section. The Minister is being courageous, as we can see from what she said. I am digressing slightly from the amendment. The Minister has been very strong and clear in her approach and we should support and admire such courageousness. Those opposite should put away their political swords and listen because that is what the people want us to do. They want us to govern and give them hope and opportunity. That is what the Bill is about. It is not about scoring political points but it is about telling the 14.5% of people who are unemployed that there is a chance to create jobs. As Deputy Costello noted, if there is a temptation for employers to abuse the system, we should change the system to make it work.

Will we put a value on work and a job or will we create a welfare code that will exist indefinitely, with all of us paying for it? I would rather have people working and making a decisive contribution, which is what the Minister is trying to achieve.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Deputies Higgins and Ó Snodaigh have continuously bemoaned in today’s debate the fact that the cut in the minimum wage has been reinstated, arguing that it would be better to have it done at another time. This morning there was the absurd suggestion that we wait three days, three weeks or three months for the Irish language translation, which would hold up the reinstatement of the cut in the minimum wage. That is unacceptable and ridiculous. Either the Deputies are for the reinstatement of the cut in the minimum wage or for some reason unknown to the rest of us, they are not for it and are looking for devices to oppose it.

[620]Similarly, over the course of last night’s debate absurd objections were raised to the most modest of proposals to reduce the level of fraud in the social welfare system. I acknowledged the concerns raised by Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Wallace in regard to unscrupulous employers and I undertook to keep the operation of this part of the Bill under close supervision.

I have committed the social inclusion section of my Department to evaluating the impact on those on low incomes of proposals to reform the JLCs. I respect Deputy Wallace’s point of view given his experience as an employer and in the construction industry but the majority of employers do not want to cut the wages of their staff. The reinstatement of the minimum wage protects those on the lowest incomes and that is why it is important to include it.

  1 o’clock

I do not accept the specious argument that we should postpone this package. It provides for the reinstatement of the minimum wage and a national internship scheme which gives people the opportunity to build up work experience. Employers will be allowed to make significant savings on their PRSI contributions until the end of 2013. I do not accept the suggestion that the scheme should be confined to new employees because our focus is on retaining jobs as well as generating additional employment. The jobs incentive package includes a decrease in the lower rate of VAT for tourism related industries with the intention of generating activity and employment.

I acknowledge the concerns expressed by Deputies Wallace, Ó Snodaigh and Costello in regard to exploitation of employees. The data collected by my Department from the reduction in the minimum wage indicates that the numbers involved were relatively small. We will continue to monitor the matter closely but our discussion on delaying the restoration of the minimum wage was at times absurd. What is wrong with the Deputies opposite that they want to delay dealing with the interests they are supposed to defend in order to get an aistriúcháin?

Three sections in the Bill deal with the curtailment of fraud. I found some of last night’s contributions on the subject of fraud to be off the wall. We cannot maintain taxpayer confidence in our social welfare system if, as Deputies suggested last night, we back off on cases of fraud and overpayment. We should be realistic about this because we are in a difficult situation. The Government’s task is to get people back to work and the country back on its feet so that we can wave goodbye to the IMF. The previous Government signed us up to weekly, monthly and quarterly reports to that institution but this package is designed to stimulate the economy. I would of course like to see more in the package but we have to make a start somewhere. Certain Deputies would prefer to postpone action until the rainy season comes in the autumn.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  On a point of order, I am not sure which amendment was being addressed by the Minister.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  We are on amendment No. 3.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I was addressing the same amendment as the one in which Deputy Higgins called for a delay in reinstating the minimum wage.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Minister was going completely off the wall with a diversionary tactic.

Deputy Arthur Spring: Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  That is not fair.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Withdraw that.

[621]Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  We noted that the restoration of the minimum wage could have already been done through the Dáil.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  How?

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  It could have been done in an hour——

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  It could not.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  ——by bringing a separate measure but the Government wanted to bring in the reactionary and regressive measure of increasing the pension age under a flag of convenience so that the Minister could hammer those Opposition Members who oppose it by pretending——

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Is that the amendment?

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  ——to say we are also opposing the restoration of the minimum wage. Her intentions are obvious and we should move on.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  I call Deputy Wallace.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  On a point of order——

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

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  It is the Deputy who introduced the argument that the minimum wage should not have been addressed in this Bill. I repeat my opinion that he is far off the mark in trying to find specious arguments for not reinstating the minimum wage.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Rubbish.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  He wants to find specious arguments.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  I must stop the Minister. We already had this debate.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Who believes that?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Last night his colleague was attacking measures to reduce fraud.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  We already had this debate. I call Deputy Wallace.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  As the minimum wage in the construction industry is €14.50, this measure will not have an impact. However, the catering industry will be affected.

We have had a good debate last night and today. Deputies Higgins and Ó Snodaigh should be complimented for being in the House. Only a handful of the 166 Members elected to the Dáil were present for the debate. At least we are prepared to debate even if we do not agree on everything. When it is over we will be able to agree we have had a good debate on the Bill and the Minister has made herself available to respond to our arguments. She should not criticise us for disagreeing. We are interested in debating the Bill but, unfortunately, there are not enough of us.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I tabled this amendment in an effort to be constructive. I can also be destructive, as some people will be aware. Being constructive involves changing the Bill to the betterment of everyone. The Minister took my arguments on the minimum wage and [622]the Irish language out of context but I would prefer to deal with that outside the House because I prefer to address the amendment in the limited time available to me on Report Stage.

The change in PRSI is tied to the reversion of the cut in the minimum wage. We tabled an amendment to that effect to the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 because the reduction was originally provided for in another Finance Bill. There was no delay on our part. The measure could have been implemented in the first week of the new Dáil because it was not necessary to tie it to anything. The Government tied it to the changes in PRSI introduced in this Bill. That is where the delay lies. It is not of my making or of anyone else. The Irish language is a different matter altogether. Given the change, I do not suggest that we delay.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Is the Deputy aware that he has two minutes? He will have another opportunity to contribute. He should conclude.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I am concluding. It is a counter-measure. The public purse will be worse off because of it at a time when we want the public purse to be able to pay those on social welfare as the money is being reduced.

I made the argument about employers and the temptation that may exist. I hope I am wrong. I acknowledged last night that the Minister said she would come back to the House on the matter. I welcomed that, which is why I will not delay on the amendment.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for his remarks. I did not introduce the minimum wage into the debate. It was another Deputy who did and I felt it appropriate to respond to the point. In addressing the amendment, both Deputy Ó Snodaigh and Deputy Wallace made important and significant contributions. I will undertake to monitor the situation referred to by both Deputies because it is an important point. Many employers are good employers and their first objective is not about reducing the wages of staff, but I recognise that there is a risk attached to the measure.

However, we must get some measures going, which is what the Bill is about, such as the reinstatement of the reduction in the minimum wage, a reduction in employer’s PRSI being offered to employers to retain existing employment and to increase employment and the parallel reduction in the lower rate of VAT specifically directed at tourism and a number of personal services areas that, hopefully, will help to retain and generate jobs, not only in the employment centres such as cities but particularly in dispersed rural and tourism areas. We must start somewhere. The Bill is a start and I hope Deputies will accept it in that spirit.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I will not press the amendment in order to move on to other issues.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 3 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  We will proceed to amendment No. 4.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Given the commitment from the Minister I will withdraw it.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, not moved.

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

[623]

The amendment relates to fraud, as raised by the Minister in the previous contribution. I reject the suggestions that I condone fraud under the social welfare code in any way. I repeat what I said yesterday. I have been a Member of the Dáil since 2002, and I have continuously encouraged the Department of Social Protection to increase the number of social welfare inspectors to target those who are involved in fraud and to pursue them through the courts if necessary. I do not think I can go beyond that. The concern of most Deputies and of most member of the public is to ensure that the social welfare code is fully protected.

That said, the change to the current practice is in danger of straying beyond the norm because it specifies that in the event of someone being involved in fraud that not only the fraudulent part of the claim is affected but also that part to which they are or were entitled. This means that for those who are involved in fraud, the concealment of facts or making misleading statements would also be affected by a significant change.

It is very difficult to retrospectively deny someone his or her entitlements. That is my concern. If a person was entitled to part of a claim but he or she was also making a fraudulent claim then one should go after him or her for the amount that was being fraudulently claimed. Such a person should be penalised as well by the imposition of fines on top of that, but to retrospectively deny a person what he or she is rightfully entitled to is a step too far.

That is not to undermine the social welfare code in any way. It does not put any restrictions on social welfare inspectors. It is the current practice. The problem is that as a society we have not done enough to ensure a full recovery of fraudulent social welfare claims or any other claims. The proposal is a step too far. If there was enough time to examine the Bill properly and to get the view of legal practitioners concerns might be expressed. The Bill is rushed and like all rushed legislation there is a danger that we will go too far or that the proper protections will not be put in place. In such circumstances we are straying into bad legislation which will then fall in the event of a court challenge. That is a possibility in this case.

In the short time since the Bill was published a number of submissions have been made on it. The measure was identified by both the FLAC group and the INOU as an area of concern. They were also concerned at the short period for the intended passage of the Bill, as I am.

I might be out of order. Perhaps I am reading it wrong but given my opposition to social welfare fraud I gave some time to scrutinise the Bill to ensure I was not out of line in this instance with my expressed view. If I am, then that is my fault but it is also a result of rushing through legislation where we do not have adequate time to examine.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  As was the case last night I wish the Minister to reaffirm her commitment that those who claim funds inadvertently would not be adversely affected. I refer, for example, to a claim for a lone parent’s allowance of €250 rather than a family income supplement of €200. If it was an inadvertent act on the part of the claimant then the remittance would only be the difference between the two rather than the entire amount. That is all I have to say on the matter. I hope the Minister can reaffirm, as she did last night, that it is the case. I do not seek that the section would be deleted, as insinuated yesterday.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The key aspect of fraud prevention and control in this case is to ensure that appropriate sanctions are applied in instances for social welfare fraud. The emphasis is on fraud — wilful false statements, concealment and wrongful claiming — not on someone making a mistake. It is important to state that. Where social welfare fraud has been detected, effective debt recovery is an integral part of the deterrent approach. It creates a climate where the word goes out that if people defraud social welfare the money will be recovered.

[624]In response to Deputy Cowen’s point, I asked departmental officials to examine the distinction between fraud and an accidental omission or mistake which was not intended to be fraudulent, which is what he is referring to. For example, a person may apply for jobseeker’s allowance and be entitled to the payment because he or she is genuinely seeking employment, but may subsequently commence employment and fail to notify the Department of the change in circumstances. He or she must sign a declaration each month stating that he or she is unemployed and entitled to the payment. In that case, the full overpayment would be claimed, correctly, because the person is signing on for jobseeker’s allowance and working at the same time, as was shown in the TV3 programme. That is not acceptable, and the word must go out. That is what fraud is.

In another example that happens occasionally, a person applies for a one-parent family payment and has a genuine entitlement to the payment, but subsequently gets married abroad and, after returning to Ireland, continues to claim one-parent family payment. That is, she fails to tell my Department——

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  He or she?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  ——of the change in circumstances. She continues to sign a yearly annual review form stating that she is not married when in fact she has married. In that case, again, the full overpayment would be claimed back from that person. I do not think anybody in the House should disagree with this if we are to maintain the integrity of the social welfare system.

In another case similar to that raised by Deputy Cowen, a person applied for jobseeker’s allowance and mentioned on the claim form that he or she intended to take a course of education in the near future, but it subsequently came to light via a student data match that the person had commenced the course of education. When the case was examined, it was decided that this was not fraud. The person’s possible underlying entitlement to back-to-education allowance was examined, and this would have been offset if there was an entitlement. There is a distinction between making wilful, fraudulent misstatements in claiming benefits and having a change in circumstances. If somebody’s circumstances are in a state of change and the full facts are not transmitted to the Department immediately, that would fall under the circumstances mentioned by Deputy Cowen. I have asked the Department to consider a number of examples, and I have given the Deputies three. There are probably more we could go through. It is an important area.

There are three measures concerning fraud prevention, detection and reduction in this Bill. One is concerned with joint customs checkpoints with the Garda and social welfare inspectors, which is important. There are also measures dealing with the confiscation and recovery of cards. Finally, there are the measures under discussion. I do not understand the comments of some of the Deputies last night. I know that FLAC has made a case that this is equivalent to a court action on a fine, but the point is that we will not be able to stamp out fraud, which is undermining the integrity of the social welfare system, unless we send out a message that if a person is working and claiming jobseeker’s allowance, that is fraud. He or she is stealing money from old-age pensioners. Unlike during the Celtic tiger years, this matters. We do not have spare cash. Fraud reduces the pot of money available to legitimate claimants. The passage of sections 17 and 18 is important and I do not accept the amendment.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I concur with Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s comments and agree that we are rushing through this Bill. I accept that fraudulent behaviour should be dealt with and I have [625]no problem with that. However, we need clarity. I accept that there should be a penalty for a person who has defrauded the social welfare system, and the money that has been fraudulently taken from the system should be paid back. However, the Minister should clarify that the actual payment to which the person is entitled will not be affected. The reason for this is simple. I apologise if I am reading the provision wrong but, like Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I am not too clear on this. I do not agree with fraud in the system or with the person who fraudulently makes a claim or takes a payment. However, there is still a necessity for some sort of payment to that person if he or she is unemployed anyway — that is, if the fraud was not to do with claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Like most other Deputies, I have no problem with whatever fines are established, and the fact that money that is fraudulently taken from the system must be paid back, but I ask the Minister to ensure that the claim to which the person is actually entitled is not affected.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  I am sure the Minister will agree that there are many ways of dealing with different issues, and one does not always have to go down the same road. If a person does not agree with one on a certain course of action, it does not mean he or she is wrong or trying to be bad. There are many different ways of dealing with fraud; I cannot see how the Minister would disagree with that. On that basis, can the Minister make it clear to the House that she does not actually think any of us up here are in favour of fraud? She is giving the impression that we are in favour of fraud, which is wrong and unfair. Clearly there are certain things in this Bill that we could vote for, but we cannot because of the other things we disagree with.

If the Minister was running a restaurant, how would she serve up the food to people? Would she present them with the menu and tell them they had to eat everything on it or they would not get fed? It would not be a good way of running a business, would it?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I would not be running my restaurant for very long if the people at the back door were taking out food and bottles of wine.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  So we are in favour of fraud — is that what the Minister is saying?

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan  Zoom on Ann Phelan  She did not suggest that.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  What I said was that people in the Dáil must get real about the problem that fraud represents to the integrity of the social welfare system. There are three measures in this Bill that are aimed at reducing the level of fraud. The current system for recovery of fraud overpayments is slow. This measure will deal with the two examples I gave, including the case of a person claiming jobseeker’s allowance and working at the same time. The message must go out from the Department that we want the money back to pay old-age pensioners their pensions and we will get the money back. That is a perfectly reasonable statement to go out from the Department. If a person is getting jobseeker’s allowance, it means he or she is available for work; he or she should not already be working on the side. I do not think many people are defrauding the system at the moment. However, to return to the restaurant example, I can tell the Deputy that if one does not have a manager watching the stocks of food and, particularly, the bar, one’s profits will walk out the door. I have worked in the restaurant business and I know this. Deputy Wallace might concur with me. Cutting down on fraud is fundamentally important to protecting social welfare payments and the integrity of the system.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  If all the food is going to feed hungry bankers in Europe, there will not be anything left.

[626]Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I spoke about that last night.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Sorry, Deputies, the time is up.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, there are still two minutes left, and as the mover of the amendment——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  As it is now 1.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question——

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  There is still a minute left. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is out of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  ——in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: “That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 98; Níl, 30.

Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom. 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 Catherine Byrne  Zoom on Catherine Byrne  Byrne, Catherine.
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 Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall.
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 Marcella MarcellaCorcoran Kennedy  Zoom on Marcella MarcellaCorcoran Kennedy  Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella. Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon.
Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Cowen, Barry. 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 Paschal Donohoe  Zoom on Paschal Donohoe  Donohoe, Paschal. Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy.
Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  Dowds, Robert. 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 Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Sean.
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 Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul. Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy.
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, Sean.
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 Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael. Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John.
Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe. Information on Tony McLoughlin  Zoom on Tony McLoughlin  McLoughlin, Tony.
Information on Eamonn Maloney  Zoom on Eamonn Maloney  Maloney, Eamonn. Information on Peter Mathews  Zoom on Peter Mathews  Mathews, Peter.
Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael. 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 Ann Phelan  Zoom on Ann Phelan  Phelan, Ann. 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 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 Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  Boyd Barrett, Richard.
Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Collins, Joan. Information on Michael Colreavy  Zoom on Michael Colreavy  Colreavy, Michael.
Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Daly, Clare. 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 Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin. 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 John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  Halligan, John.
Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  Healy, Seamus. 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 Thomas Pringle  Zoom on Thomas Pringle  Pringle, Thomas.
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. 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.


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