Burton defends welfare changes during Bill debate

 

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton defended the Social Welfare Bill as it was debated in the Dail tonight.

Ms Burton said she understood the disquiet felt by those protected. However a large number of social welfare payments had been preserved, she said.

Respite payments for carers were still ahead of 2006 levels while child benefit payments were higher than the UK, she said.

Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh urged Labour Party backbenchers to examine their consciences, see if they had any “backbone” left and vote against the Budget.

It was not too late to reverse the cut to the respite grant, Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection Willie O’Dea said.

“The Government is fully aware how deeply unfair this cut is,” said Mr O’Dea.

“The various excuses offered by Government ministers over the last few days for cutting the grant are wholly unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

Earlier today around 200 people protested outside the Dáil to demand the cut to the carer's respite grant be reversed.

The grant was reduced by €325 per annum in last week's Budget.

The protest came ahead of tonight's Dáil debate on the Social Welfare Bill and key votes on the Budget tomorrow.

The Bill will give effect to cuts such as those in child benefit and respite care.

Among the TDs in attendance at the protest today were Willie O'Dea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Joan Collins and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

Earlier, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar ruled out any rowback on the decision to cut the carer’s respite grant.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Varadkar said the alternative to cutting the grant was across the board cuts to social welfare and increases in income tax.

"We’ve one more tough budget to go...

I don’t see any point in tweaking something one year and impose it next year. The alternative is across the board cuts to sodial welfare and increases in income taxes. Cutting dole, cutting pension, increasing taxes," he said.

Mr Varadkar insisted no Budget decisions “were made easily”

"It’s extremely difficult. There are a lot of hard cases, that’s why it’s so hard. It’s not an easy decision to make. I know people think politicians live in a bubble but that’s not the case. 2000 people in my constituency will be affected. [These decisions are] made with a heavy heart."

"The Government does acknowledge the very important role that carers play. They work really hard for their benefits and they deserve the benefits that they get. And that’s why we have protected a huge amount of what they receive - the carer’s benefit, carers allowance, half carers payment and the DCA is protected too," he said.

"[However] We did have to make some savings in this area. There’s about €800 million that goes in supports to carers every year and the welfare bill is nearly 40 per cent of spending so we did have to make some savings. Payments are still as high as they were in 2007, the height of the boom, and since then incomes are back to where they were in 2003 and taxes are back to where they were in 2001."

The possibility of any Coalition defection on the budget receded further yesterday as backbench TDs and Senators from both parties said they were resigned to the budget going through in its entirety without amendments.

Ahead of the commencement the Dáil debate today, a representative group of the 25 or so TDs from Labour and Fine Gael who were most unhappy with the budget conceded they could not convince the Government to revisit any of the more controversial cuts or taxes. Both parties said yesterday they expected all their parliamentarians to hold the Government line.

This came after a succession of Ministers, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, had over the weekend asserted there would be no rowback or U-turn on any budget measure. The latest comment was made by Fine Gael Minister of State Ciarán Cannon who yesterday said there would be no changes to the €325 cut in the respite carers’ grant.

Labour chairman Colm Keaveney, who has been an outspoken critic of the budget, issued a long statement yesterday that hinted he would support the Government in the budget and then lobby for changes to lessen the impact of some of the more controversial cuts and taxes.

Mr Keaveney, a TD for Galway East, said he hoped the Government would reconsider some of the measures in the light of widespread negative public reaction.

Ann Phelan, a Labour Deputy for Carlow-Kilkenny, also said she had been “rattled” by the budget and its harsher measures. “We are getting flak [in the constituency]. I am not very happy with child benefit.” While there would be no change she would like to see the changes in private pensions introduced earlier.

Joanna Tuffy of Dublin Mid West said she was unhappy but would vote with the Government. She also criticised Labour’s failure to push USC changes through.

‘Ashamed’

Former Labour candidate and Progressive Democrat TD Mae Sexton has said she is “ashamed”to have stood for the party in the wake of what she said was a reprehensible budget. “They have sold their collective souls for the 40 pieces of silver and have demonstrated themselves to be without moral fibre,” the former TD from Longford has written in a letter to The Irish Times.

Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan said it was “a very difficult budget and a very difficult weekend” for Fine Gael TDs because of unpopular cuts including respite grants. However, he said he really did not see an alternative.

Joe McHugh, the Fine Gael TD who first raised concerns about respite care, conceded there would be no changes but said he would try to convince Ministers to protect services like respite care in future.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.