Social welfare Bill passes in Dáil by 74 votes to 46

Legality of cut to under-26 jobseeker’s allowance questioned

Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh demanded TDs walk through the Yes and No lobbies for clarity on who had voted each way.
Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh demanded TDs walk through the Yes and No lobbies for clarity on who had voted each way. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 18:25

The Dáil has passed the controversial Social Welfare and Pensions Bill by 74 votes to 46 after Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh demanded TDs walk through the Yes and No lobbies for clarity on who had voted each way.

The earlier electronic vote to pass the Bill, which gives effect to cuts announced in the budget, was comfortably won by the Government in a 78 votes to 46 division.

Mr Ó Snodaigh called the walk-through vote because he said the legislation went against the programme for government.

No opposition amendments were accepted to the 22-page Bill, which abolishes the bereavement grant and cuts a number of welfare entitlements, including maternity benefit and invalidity pension as well as jobseeker’s payment for those under 26.

There were a number of heated exchanges during the two-day discussion on the Bill and a walkthrough vote was called for during the section of the Bill on cutting the under-26 payment.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly demanded TDs walk through the lobbies because of the “serious and blatantly discriminatory nature” of the amendment.

Independent Catherine Murphy questioned the legality of the measure, given what she described as its discriminatory nature on age grounds.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton defended the move, however, and said it was not her ambition to have people on social welfare.

“My ambition is to have people working,” she said adding that 14,000 people would be affected by the measure in the next year.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said the move would drive some young people into homelessness. Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said the problem was depicted “as a lack of ambition among the young and not a lack of opportunity and that there are plenty of jobs and training places”.

He said there was a shortage of education and training places. He noted there were 32 applicants for every job vacancy, and asked what would happen to the other 31. “If there are genuinely no jobs for people, how will cutting social welfare create those jobs?”

The Opposition criticised the lack of time given to the debate, but Ms Burton said she had offered to sit later today and to sit next week.

The Dáil goes into recess for the bank holiday week and returns on Tuesday, November 5th.

Fine Gael members of the Reform Alliance, Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh and Billy Timmins, voted for the Bill.

Ms Creighton abstained on a number of issues including the cut to maternity benefit. She had introduced an amendment calling for the cut to benefit to be deferred until September next year or alternatively April next year.

The cut comes in in January 2014 and Ms Creighton said it would mean “existing pregnant women are now essentially being unfairly targeted. I fear that a large swathe of women who planned their pregnancies on an economic basis will lose €800 because of the operational date of this legislation.”