Taoiseach signals U-turn over disability cut

Thu, Dec 8, 2011, 00:00

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has “paused” one of the controversial cuts in disability payments announced in the budget.

In an apparent U-turn, Mr Kenny said the proposal to increase the age of entitlement to disability benefit from 16 to 18 would not now be included in the Social Welfare Bill to be debated today and tomorrow.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil the original cut was a measure that was “part of the troika agreement that the disability sector be looked at”.

The IMF “acknowledged that this issue would be very difficult. It is posing enormous difficulties for, and exerting pressure on, a particular segment of young people.”

He told the Dáil the measure for young people would be “paused” pending the outcome of a review by the commission on taxation and welfare. He said Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton “has asked the chairwoman of the working group dealing with the taxation of social welfare, Ita Mangan, to look at this circumstance we now find ourselves in and to report back to Government very quickly”.

Mr Kenny said “this is a case where Government has actually listened to people who have brought out particular circumstances surrounding very sensitive issues”.

But Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Government “should have listened to people before” announcing cuts.

“This cut was a sneaky, cowardly attempt to get something in through the back door in the hope that people would not notice.”

He said the Taoiseach should acknowledge it as a mistake and admit “it’s wrong” and he said to Mr Kenny: “Don’t try to do a smokescreen.”

Mr Martin said “the Government should do the honourable thing, accept it is a mistake, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t have happened and just reverse it”.

The proposed cut in the payment to young people with disabilities “is callous and unnecessary” and a “truly retrograde step” he said.

Asked about the cuts in payments to 18- to 24-year-olds Mr Kenny said “they are not affected. That continues on as it is.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the cut for 16- to 18-year-olds with disabilities was explained by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan “who said the Minister for Social Protection targeted these cuts because she believed the young people involved to be ‘wayward’ ”.

He called on the Taoiseach to “forget about reviews. Something is either right or wrong and you have acknowledged that this cut is wrong.”

Mr Adams also said other cuts, including the fuel allowance and the phasing out of other payments, should be reversed.

The Louth TD said the Taoiseach should instruct the Minister to “restore all of this necessary funding”.

Mr Kenny said, however, “I will not instruct” the Minister until such time as the chairwoman of the advisory group on social welfare and taxation has reviewed the issue.

The Taoiseach said “the Government does not get everything right all of the time. There is an issue of great sensitivity which we are reviewing on the basis of the number of children affected.”

Speaking in Irish, Mr Adams accused the Government of being “slíbhíní” [sleeveens] and said to the Taoiseach: “You have already acknowledged that this is a mistake. The best way to rectify a mistake is to say you got it wrong, that this is a Government which listens and is going to put matters right.”

Mr Kenny said the measure had been signed off at Cabinet. He had spoken to the father of one child who would be affected. “The Government has heard about the sensitive cases and reacted to them in a budget of €3,800 million. We will address the issue.”