Shortall says respite cuts 'hard-hearted'


Former Labour minister of State Róisín Shortall called on the Government to stop saying the budget was fair and that it had “protected the vulnerable”.

Speaking during a debate on the respite care cuts in the Social Welfare Bill, Ms Shortall described that cut as “hard-hearted and reprehensible”.

The debate was in advance of a vote which saw Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney vote against the Bill.

Minister for Social Welfare Joan Burton again defended the cut, and said the cost of paying the carer’s payment, the half-carer’s payment and the respite care grant had risen by €20 million a week because the State was paying more carers.

“I accept that the grant is used and spent in a variety of ways, usually for the benefit of the person being cared for.” However, there were requests for more money “in every part of the social welfare budget”.

Former Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten criticised the Farm Assist changes, which he said would cost more than the €5 million saving envisaged.

He suggested the €50 million saving in child benefit could have been made through anti-fraud measures and addressing the issue of non-resident children.

Ms Shortall said the Government “had options”.

The Dublin North West TD, who resigned over the primary healthcare controversy, said the Government could have given effect to the aspiration of protecting the vulnerable but “they chose instead to leave those in the protected sectors, namely those who are much better off, alone”.

€160,000 a year

She repeated her attack on Government salaries, and said the 12 or 15 people who drew up the budget were all in receipt of a minimum of €160,000 a year. They could have dealt with the pensions regime this year, saving €250 million with no need for the social welfare cuts.

Ms Shortall said too often the respite care grant was seen as an optional extra for families who were struggling.

Earlier, during heated exchanges at Opposition leaders’ questions, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was accused of making “liars’’ of his Ministers, TDs, Senators and himself by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

“The Government is rushing through social welfare legislation today to introduce cuts which in real terms and in real time will cause real hardship to real families, real children and real women,’’ she said.

When Leas Cheann Comhairle Michael Kitt said the word “lie’’ could not be used, Ms McDonald said she would substitute the words “untruth’’, “porky pie’’ or “Pinocchio’’.

Mr Gilmore said it took some brass neck for Sinn Féin to complain about basic social welfare rates. The rate in the North, where Sinn Féin was in power, was €87 a week. “This Government does not accept that somebody should be asked to live on less than €188 a week.’’

Election promises

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte had recently said that making election promises to be broken was “the kind of thing you tend to do during an election campaign’’. Labour had knowingly deceived the people. Mr Martin said Labour Senator John Whelan put it succinctly when he said he had been made “a liar of by the budget cuts to child benefits’’.

Mr Gilmore accused Fianna Fáil of having a hard neck, adding that the party’s legacy was to bring in the IMF. The Government’s legacy would be to get rid of the IMF.

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