Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 25 September 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection
Pre-Budget Discussion: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection
The first response I would make to the Chairman is that a couple of years ago we started a programme to try to extend equal benefits to those who are self-employed as to those who are employed. That was started, as the Chairman will be aware, with the invalidity pension and the extension of the treatment benefits last year. It is not something that will be equalised in one, two or even three budgets. It is a work in progress and we anticipate continuing to do that until there is parity of esteem, whether one is employed or self-employed, and the State recognises a self-employed person on equal terms.
The Chairman is correct that habitual residency is a governing rule for many of our schemes. Maybe it causes issues. The case the Chairman highlighted is probably a perfect case in point. There are other issues for returning emigrants, for example, getting a driving licence. It is like hens' teeth for them to get motor insurance having been out of the State for more than 30 days. Accessing some of the schemes we have put in place for first-time buyers does not apply to them unless they have been here for the past number of years. There are a couple of anomalies and they probably need to be addressed in the future because we want our Irish people back. The circumstances the Chairman described of that young lady coming home are sad but we do want our Irish people back in the country, not only for their skills and their qualifications but because of the empathy and solidarity we feel as an Irish nation. That is one of these areas where a number of Departments will have to come together to address the issues and there will be financial implications in the future. I will bring that message to Cabinet.
On the pensions, I just got lucky. I merely happened to be the person in the Department when the opportunity arose to fix it but there is not one of us here who did not receive representations. It was in the main elderly women - my mother would kill me for saying "elderly". These older women who were in the throes of retiring after 2002 were in every one of the constituency offices giving out about the changes that were made in 2012 and how they were directly impacted. That is why it was the right thing for us all to do and why it was easy for me to go outside the Dáil. I remember the day they were protesting. Deputy Bríd Smith was slagging me because she thought no Minister ever came out previously in the middle of a protest. This protest was not against me. It was against something that was done in 2012. We all recognised it was wrong. We all collectively fixed it. It is done now, thankfully, and hopefully, we will not ever have to do it again. In any case, I thank the Chairman for the compliment.