Minister rejects Labour cut of €4.5bn


MINISTER FOR Social Protection Eamon Ó Cuív attacked Labour’s economic policies during the debate on the Social Welfare Bill.

Mr Ó Cuív said they had to start on the premise that €6 billion had to be taken out. Fine Gael, he noted, agreed, but Labour believed the figure should be €4.5 billion.

“My belief is that if we had taken out €4.5 billion this year, the State’s finances would have become unsustainable. We would not have been able to borrow money, and the consequence would have been much more extreme than what we have had to do here.”

Mr Ó Cuív said “as someone who cares” he believed the €6 billion adjustment had to be made. A failure to secure an estimated €100 million by not reducing a wide range of payments would pose the challenge of where the money would be found.

“It is as simple as that. When all the figures are stacked up, they must come to €6 billion.”

The Bill passed all stages with comfortable majorities – 80 to 76 and 80 to 75 – in two votes called by the Opposition.

Independent TDs Michael Lowry, Jackie Healy-Rae and Joe Behan, who had voted for Tuesday’s Budget, also supported the Government yesterday.

Paul Gogarty (Green Party) said he had a funny feeling that, no more than Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael would not support imposing an extra tax on pensioners so that other welfare payments would not be cut. That was the nub of the issue.

Catherine Byrne (FG) said Taoiseach Brian Cowen had said he was very sorry for the state of the country.

“Sorry is not good enough. It is not good enough now, and it will not be good enough for the people of this country.”

She accused the Government of pouring salt on the wounds of people by its “really mean” decision to cut the blind pension.

Only 1,472 people were in receipt of that pension, costing a total of €600,000, which was less than the expenditure on Ministers’ pay, she said.

Sean Sherlock (Labour) questioned why the Government had created a further disincentive for anybody to take up a carer’s allowance when the net impact could be to force more people into nursing homes.

“There is a social economy and we need to take a more lateral view by regarding care-givers as people who are making an active contribution and who should get a due reward for it to avoid forcing people into nursing homes because of the disincentive,” he said.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (SF) said the Bill should be amended to ensure that the social welfare cuts would have to be approved again by the Dáil after a general election.

“The Budget, and the savage cuts included in it, has been brought forward by a Government without the support of the people,” he said.

“It is the final insult from a Government that has brought the State to its knees.”