TD talks about her time in prison as Dáil passes social welfare legislation

Payments for working while incarcerated a reflection of welfare wage paid to carers

Speaking to the Dáil of her experience in prison, Deputy Bríd Smith said: ‘I didn’t commit a crime, it was a civil action in case anyone thinks I’m a robber.’ File photograph: Collins

Speaking to the Dáil of her experience in prison, Deputy Bríd Smith said: ‘I didn’t commit a crime, it was a civil action in case anyone thinks I’m a robber.’ File photograph: Collins

 

An opposition TD has spoken about her time in prison as the Dáil passed the social welfare legislation that gives effect to the provisions and payment increases announced in the budget.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith told the House about her incarceration as she backed an amendment accepted by Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty, calling for a report to be produced within six months on restrictions faced by carers seeking employment.

Ms Smith said it was a technical point but when she was in prison 15 years ago for political activity many prisoners worked there.

“I didn’t commit a crime, it was a civil action in case anyone thinks I’m a robber.”

She said everyone got a €2 allowance every day but those who worked got an extra €2. Someone she knew who worked in the prison kitchen was now taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights that he was entitled to the minimum wage for performing that work on behalf of the State in the prison to prepare and serve meals.

Ms Smith said that technically a carer could argue the same point, that they should be paid the minimum wage, when the reality was that they received less than €2 an hour for performing work on behalf of the State, that saved it billions.

But she said the amendment, introduced by Sinn Féin’s social protection spokesman John Brady, merely called for a review of restrictions on carers who are limited to working 15 hours a week outside the 35 hours care they are required to provide to receive the payment. Mr Brady said it impacted on the increasing number of young people acting as family carers because they could only study for 15 hours a week.

Ms Smith said it had an impact on the life of a carer who reached a certain age after the person being cared for died. “People’s lives are being left almost empty because they cannot access the labour market. The proposed report would be a very useful and insightful one on the lives of the women who, in the main, do the caring.”

The Minister said the State greatly valued the work carers did, “not just those who get an income support from us but all of those who do it for absolutely nothing other than the love of their family member”.

Ms Doherty said they had given increases for the past three or four years to the carer’s allowance.

She said the conditions for this came were the least onerous of all the ones issued by the State but it was difficult to administer. She said the review would specifically concentrate on financial hardship.

The legislation, the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill now goes to the Seanad.