Coalition wins Seanad welfare vote
While the Social Welfare Bill passed the second stage vote in the Seanad, six independent Taoiseach-nominated senators voted against the legislation tonight.
The senators indicated they had “difficulties” on some aspects of the Bill would vote in unison on the matter.
The group consisting of Martin McAleese, Fiach MacConghail, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Mary Ann O’Brien and Katherine Zappone and Jillian Van Turnhout would "not hinder" the passage of the Bill today, Ms Turnhout said. However after the vote Mr MacConghail said on Twitter that the group changed its mind and voted against the Bill. The second stage of the Social Welfare Bill passed the Seanad 34 votes to 22.
At committee stage tomorrow the senators will give their individual views, listen carefully and reflect on that basis to “decide how we will vote”, Ms Van Turnhout said. The senators have difficulties with some aspects of the bill and have proposed three amendments, Ms Van Turnhout said during the second stage debate today.
Amendments proposed by the group of senators are on the cut to the “inequitable”, respite care grant, to provide a cushion for low income families whose child benefit is being cut and a minimum threshold for repaying social welfare overpayments.
“The game is now on and the ball is in play” independent senator David Norris said in response to the move by the group of independent Taoiseach’s nominees.“For once” the Seanad could do what it was established to do, he said. It could not defeat the Government but could ask it to go back and reconsider it over 90 days, he said.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton warned senators that voting against the bill (sending it back to the Dáil for 90 days) would lose €124 million in the Social Welfare budget which would have to be made up in the following 9 months.
Ms Burton said she will publish the Mangan report publish a report on child and family income supports from the expert advisory group on tax and social welfare iat the end of January with the Government’s permission. The report would contain hard choices, including taxing child benefit, she said.
The coalition has a slim majority in the Seanad with 31 of the House’s 60 members.
However one potentially rebellious Labour Senator, John Whelan said he would vote for the Bill because it was “not his function to destabilise the Government”. Mr Whelan apologised on behalf of the party for “failing to keep a solemn promise on child benefit”.
“We promised to protect the most vulnerable” but failed the test, Mr Whelan said.
Mr Whelan said it would be “pointless” to play into the hand of a “grossly irresponsible opposition” and he intended to “continue to champion change as a committed Labour senator”.
Another reluctant Labour senator was Marie Moloney who said she was supporting the Bill with a “heavy heart” as she needed to be working from the inside. But said means testing needed to be put in place for Children’s allowance .
Supporting the Bill Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said that Minister Burton’s hand were “tied”. The programme for government needed to be renegotiated as “some promises are unsustainable”.
Senator Katherine Zappone said making a few changes to the budget would “not unravel the whole thing” she urged the Government to make changes or risk leaving “ a rusted legacy”
Fianna Fail Senator Darragh O’Brien said his party would be opposing “each section of the Bill”. Mr O’Brien said he would not stand over a 20 per cent cut to the respite grant allowance.
Independent senator John Crown said the respite grant cut was "not well thought through" and he would have to vote against the Bill.