Emotive Social Welfare Bill passes second stage
Seanad:The controversial Social Welfare Bill passed the second stage by 34 votes to 22.
Indepdendent members indicated that they would vote against the measure, but potential Government rebels John Whelan and James Heffernan signalled their support, which could prove pivotal.
Mr Whelan apologised to his constituents for failing to abide by pre-election pledges to protect child benefit payments. He added that as a Labour Senator it was not his function to seek to recklessly destabilise the Government.
“To vote down the Bill would in my considered opinion lead to such instabiliy which could be dangerous for our country.”
Several Labour members welcomed Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s undertaking to examine the taxing of child benefit payments.
James Heffernan (Lab) said he hoped that child benefit payments would not go to those who went skiing in the Pyrenees. He would back the Bill as long as it supported those most in need.
The Government won the initial vote on the Bill as Labour members expected to rebel against the measure supported it.
Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) strongly criticised Rónán Mullen (Ind) for linking the killing of schoolchildren in Connecticut with the issue of abortion in this country.
Mr Mullen had earlier said he found it entirely appropriate that the House would join in solidarity with the youngsters who had died in the recent shooting rampage, adding: “Let’s be sincere about that and let us not slip into a double-think where we forget a whole category of children in our own country.”
The Government had serious decisions to make on the abortion question, he said.
He found it very troubling that Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald had appeared to show no concern for unborn children.
Susan O’Keeffe (Lab) described Mr Mullen’s comments as “disgraceful”.
He went on to condemn comments by the UN rapporteur on the right to health. “How dare he call Ireland’s maternal care into question and make comparisons with India, when India, sadly, is a death trap for women in terms of maternal care.”
Ms O’Keeffe accused the NUI Senator of using the Connecticut victims to make a disgraceful case.
Mr Mullen said he thought it was in order for him to criticise what various people said.
Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch had asked if women were being put in a position where they would have to feign insanity to do what they believed was the right thing. This had been contradicted by Ms Fitzgerald who had stated that it made no sense to brand women as untrustworthy.
Mr Cummins said he did not think the deaths of the American children and the situation on abortion here should have been mentioned in the same breath. “We deserve more than that kind of thing.” Mr Mullen replied: “It shows how casually the Government thinks about unborn children, right now.”