Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Séamus Brennan (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
This issue has been the subject of many reviews over the years. More recently, it was discussed under the partnership talks. The distilled wisdom of all the parties involved, at review level among employers, employees and, in so far as I can ascertain, farmers, is that while the system is not perfect and leaves people out of the loop, there is a solution by way of making formal arrangements so that the spouse becomes a business partner.
I will listen carefully to the farmer bodies in particular if they have another approach to the problem. However, all the reviews and the partnership talks have fallen back on the solution that is available, namely, formal relationships between partners as one might expect in any business. That would allow them into the contribution net.
I commented earlier on the availability of voluntary contributions. Access to that scheme required a minimum number of 260 paid contributions and I can foresee some difficulty in that area for these people. I understand the issue and I am sympathetic. It has been reviewed many times. Nobody in the Department has produced an easy solution to the problem. However, there is an answer for anyone who is doing this work, namely, to enter a type of formal business relationship. I am not sure that it has to be an extensive high-powered business relationship. A partnership of some type might meet the requirements. Nonetheless, I will take account of what the Deputy said.