Wednesday, 7 December 2011
As I said yesterday, the proposed cut in the payment to young people with disabilities is callous and unnecessary. To single out this group for such a cut is truly a retrograde step. The Taoiseach's attempted explanations yesterday did not add up as young people with disabilities will have their incomes dramatically reduced - some to the tune of €111 a week - no matter how much he tried to camouflage it. Yesterday he tried to muddy the waters and hide the reality of the cut to be made.
The targeting of young people with disabilities not only represents another broken promise, it is also deeply cynical and a fundamental breach of faith because when asked by Miriam O'Callaghan during the general election debate on "Prime Time" what the number one social issue he would pursue if elected was, the Tánaiste said he thought it would be looking after people with disabilities, that the first group the Labour Party in government would address, in terms of equality and providing decent supports, would be people with disabilities. He said that, as a country, we had to make this the priority. He was quickly followed in that debate by the Taoiseach who said that aim was very laudable and that he shared it. In his first opportunity to turn these words into action, the Taoiseach chose to take a massive amount - €111 to €88 a week - from young people with disabilities. He is also beginning to shut the door on educational opportunities by cutting the third level disability fund by 20%. This will not be forgotten. The decision to target young people with disabilities should be reversed as it is callous and cold. Government backbenchers know this is true.
As a result of the budgetary strategy to be pursued, the Taoiseach deliberately adopted an approach of finding cuts which were deeply unfair and carefully targeting smaller benefits relied on by vulnerable groups in society.
Yesterday the Taoiseach was adamant that there would be no change and the Minister for Social Protection sat alongside him to give him the rationale behind this approach. Will he confirm that the very strong signal which emanated from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, last night-----
It is against the background of the country having to borrow almost €60 billion at exorbitant interest rates that we have been left in the position in which we find ourselves. That is a challenge with which we must deal. When I answered Deputy Micheál Martin's question yesterday, I gave him the facts, as outlined in the budget. This measure is part of the troika agreement that the disability sector be looked at.
It is part of and a requirement of the IMF-EU memorandum of understanding. The IMF acknowledged that this issue would be very difficult. It is posing enormous difficulties for and exerting pressure on a particular segment of young people. It does not affect anyone currently in receipt f disability benefit. It is in respect of children who will reach the age of 16 years on and after 1 January. That cohort is affected. Yesterday Deputy Ray Butler brought to my attention - I do not know if he is in the House-----
-----because his child had a particular difficulty. I telephoned him and his point was that his child wished to receive the allowance. Given the nature of the problem, his lifespan is undetermined, no more than for of any of us. This is a case on which the Government has listened to people in particular circumstances involving very sensitive issues. The Minister for Social Protection has asked the chairperson of the working group dealing with taxation and social welfare issues, Ms Ita Mangan, to look at the circumstances in which we find ourselves and report back to Government very quickly. This means that somebody who will be 16 years of age on 1 or 2 January will continue to be dealt with under the current system, in other words, he or she will continue to draw his or her disability allowance as heretofore pending a review of the issue by the chairperson of the working group dealing with taxation and social welfare issues. I have given this as an example of a Government that listens and is prepared to act where people point out that things are very serious.
With the greatest of respect, it is time for the Taoiseach to stop blaming everyone for decisions he is taking. The Taoiseach's answer this morning lacks credibility and is pathetic. This decision in respect of young people with disabilities has nothing to do with the troika.
This cut was a sneaky, cowardly attempt to get something in through the back door in the hope that people would not notice. When we raised this matter yesterday, the Government tried to muddy the water and would not come clean about what it was doing. Forget about appointing people to review the issue. The Government should do the honourable thing, accept it is a mistake and reverse it.
We all know the reality of the implications of this cut. The honourable thing to do would be to reverse it. Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House that we will not proceed with the cut in the rate of payments to young people with disabilities? We all know of individual cases. The Government should have known what they were before it took this decision.
Before the Taoiseach replies, I wish to address Members. If they check with the House's communications section and my office, they will see that the number of complaints being received about the behaviour and shouting during these sessions is incredible.
Members might believe that they are gaining political kudos, but they are losing. Will they please give people an opportunity to ask a question and to have it answered? There will always be a little bit of banter, but shouting and roaring are out of order.
I want Deputy Martin to understand that, as leader of the Government I accept responsibility on behalf of the Government for the budget. Unlike his good self, every member of this Cabinet will accept responsibility for his or her portfolio. Deputy Martin had that opportunity-----
I will just state the facts. She produced a report, which was fine. That report and its import were put into the memorandum of understanding. Therefore, it is a requirement to have discussions with the troika about that element, which the troika itself admitted would be difficult.
I confirm to Deputy Martin this morning that a child who reaches the age of 16 years on 1 January will continue with the current system as applies and that the chairperson of the working group on taxation and social protection has confirmed that the Minister for Social Protection will review this position. This measure in the budget is now paused because we have quite a deal of very sensitive factual circumstances being brought forward-----
I agree with a section of the Fine Gael manifesto. It reads: "In any Republic the people are supposed to be supreme. Judged by that standard Ireland today is a Republic in name only." The Government's budget shows this to be 100% the truth. We can have a genuine republic if we acknowledge that the word "citizens" includes citizens with disabilities, women, the elderly, the sick and the poor. This cut in the allowance for 16-18 year old citizens with disabilities was explained by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who stated that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, targeted these cuts because she believed the young people involved to be "wayward". This rationale was advanced by the Minister last night.
The Taoiseach has only addressed one section of cuts. Other cuts include those to the allowance for 18-22 year old citizens, which will fall by €88 to just €100, and the allowance for those aged 22 to 24 years will decrease to €144.
The Government has indicated the withdrawal of funding to people with disabilities. This is the self-advocacy group. Will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister, Deputy Burton, to abandon these and other dreadful cuts? Forget about reviews. Something is right or wrong and the Taoiseach has acknowledged that this cut is wrong. The cut in the fuel allowance will have a severe impact and is also wrong.
The phasing out of additional payments is also wrong. In keeping with what the Taoiseach has just stated, will he instruct the Minister to restore all of this necessary funding? He should be clear and tell the people watching this programme that we cherish and value these citizens, that we are sorry for having done this and that we will restore their entitlements.
Deputy Adams did not mention the fact that, in this Republic, which we are trying to rebuild after the messes of the last decade and a half, yesterday's decision takes 330,000 people out of the universal social charge, the income tax position remains as was and people have their wages and can decide to spend them. We have already reversed the minimum wage reduction, which is in the interests of lower paid people.
I will answer the Deputy's question. I will not instruct the Minister for Social Protection until such time as Ms Ita Mangan, the chairperson of the advisory group on social welfare and taxation, reviews this position in so far as domiciliary care is concerned. This affects children under the age of 16 years. It is that cohort, which is very specific and sensitive, that is at the centre of this.
This Government produced a budget yesterday to take out €3.8 billion. This is a sensitive issue with a known number of children. The Government has agreed that this should be reviewed by the chairperson of the advisory group in the knowledge that it is sensitive and is a cause of concern to parents and to the young people affected. I do not look for any credit and never would in politics, but it is an indication that Government does not get everything right all of the time. There is an issue of great sensitivity which we are reviewing on the basis of the number of children affected.
The Taoiseach did not answer the question; he tried to divert attention away from the core issue and misquoted people affected. It is not about children under 16 years of age, although that will be the case if this measure goes through; it is about children under 18 years of age who are affected. Níl a fhios agam cad a dhéanfaidh an Rialtas as seo amach faoi cheisteanna móra mar seo. Rialtas é seo a dhéanann ionsaí orthu siúd atá leochaileach. Tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach gur sin an fhírinne. Is slíbhíní iad lucht an Rialtais. Níl focal Béarla oiriúnach ach an focal Gaeilge, slíbhín. Is slíbhíní iad.
Rinne siad iarracht an dallamullóg a chur ar dhaoine----
-----ach ní féidir leo é sin a dhéanamh ar feadh i bhfad. The Taoiseach will not get away with this. He has already acknowledged that this is a mistake; the best way to rectify a mistake is to say he has got it wrong, that this is a Government which listens and is going to put matters right. He has not done this, even though he has had the opportunity to do so. The Bill is to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow and on Friday. Let it be corrected then and let us not stop at this sector. It should apply to all of the cuts made for vulnerable citizens, particularly those with disabilities. There is no point in narrowing it down to this one section because there has been uproar. Of course, they should receive their full entitlements, but what about the others whose entitlements have been cut? These cuts should also be reversed and I ask the Taoiseach to take the opportunity to put matters right when the Bill is being debated.
Cuireann sé isteach go mór orm nuair a thosaíonn an Teachta Adams, mar cheannaire a pháirtí, ag caint faoi slíbhíní. An dtuigeann sé céard atá mé ag rá? Le blianta fada anuas nuair a cuireadh ceist air, mar uachtarán a pháirtí, ní raibh sé toilteanach freagra a thabhairt nó an fhírinne a rá.
Sin an sort slíbhíneachta a bhíodh ar siúl aige le fada an lá. Ná tagadh sé isteach anseo mar cheannaire a pháirtí agus slíbhín a thabhairt ar aon duine eile, idir bhaill de pháirtithe agus Teachtaí neamhspleácha.
This measure affects children under the age of 16 years. A person who reaches the age of 16 years receives disability benefit and this will continue to be the position from 1 January. This measure proposed in the budget which has been signed off on by the Cabinet is obviously one of great sensitivity and as such is now being paused. It will not be included in the social welfare Bill to be introduced this week because it is being reviewed by the chairperson of the advisory group on social welfare and taxation issues. This is appropriate in view of the fact that it is part of the requirements of the memorandum of understanding with the troika which admitted that it would be difficult to implement. There will be a review by that person which will come back to the Minister for Social Protection for consideration by the Government. The measures announced yesterday in the budget do not affect those aged between 16 and 24 years because they are in receipt of a disability benefit payment. The Government has heard about the sensitive cases and reacted to them in a budget of €3,800 million. We will address the issue. The chairperson of the advisory group is an eminent person from the perspectives of taxation and social protection issues. As I said, the measure will not be included in the Bill to be introduced by the Minister tomorrow.
Tomorrow the Taoiseach is due to head to Brussels for a meeting. If he comes back with a successful result, it will undoubtedly leave the budget in the shade and enable him to reverse the cuts to disability payments that have been the topic of debate during Leaders' Questions in the House. I want to ask him about the alarming reports that have surfaced today, that the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, is preparing a solution or proposal that will be a device to bypass the democratic wishes of the Irish people, the peoples and parliaments of Europe. The reports indicate that this device will enable a solution to be reached to the problem of the euro which will not be put to this House or any other European parliament next week, but which will simply be the subject of consultation with the European Parliament, despite the fact that this will involve a treaty change. If agreed, it will be agreed to by all 27 Heads of Government. I want the Taoiseach to reassure the House that he will not agree to such a scheme which would deny democracy to all the nations of Europe in a situation where an historic agreement is about to be struck.
President Van Rompuy was commissioned by the Heads of Government to produce a paper on a roadmap for the future, including the possibility of limited treaty change. He has tabled his paper which is separate from any proposals that may emerge from another leader or a group of countries. The EU 27 make decisions and the ratification process is about the treaty and treaty changes. The euro 17 have a different perspective on fiscal discipline, fiscal union and budgetary matters. The meeting will involve all 27 member states and the outcome is unpredictable. The President put forward a view in which very serious and significant changes could be made without providing for substantial treaty change. He also put forward a view on how, if there was to be substantial treaty change, articles would be changed and how matters would be dealt with. He has tabled a paper as he was asked to do and it will be the central point of discussion at the meeting. Individual countries will put forward their views on it. I would like to see a series of decisions made to provide economic confidence in the eurozone following the meeting. In other words, we should provide for a firewall to deal with any issues of contagion. A range of issues are included on how this might evolve. At the end of the meeting, we would rather not just have a list of issues leading to a possible roadmap further down the road, as we cannot predict what governments or parliaments might do where there is a minority or referendums might be necessary. That is all for discussion and the meeting could last longer than forecast. The Van Rompuy paper is on the table and it will be the central point of discussion. We need to see certainty in the eurozone in order that investors can look at it with confidence in considering their investments.
The question then is how do we have fiscal discipline within the eurozone or the European Union as a whole. There will be points of argument because some countries have very strong views about what they might be looking to extract from the concept of treaty change and how we might go about it. The Van Rompuy paper deals with two issues, one in respect of which we would need a treaty change and another in respect of which we would not.
I remind the House that President Van Rompuy is an unelected European bureaucrat who is devising a means of bypassing democratic assemblies. Perhaps the Taoiseach might answer for me two brief and specific questions. All 27 countries have had an input into this report. Will he tell me specifically what Ireland's input was? What is Ireland's position on the report? Second, the Taoiseach has the power of veto. Therefore, is he prepared to say no if this device is used to bypass democratic assemblies? Will he stand up for the right of the people and this Parliament to ratify or not ratify this historic agreement?
The Van Rompuy paper does not contain individual insertions from individual countries. Today I sent a letter to Mr. Van Rompuy setting out again the position as far as this country is concerned, which has been articulated by the Minister for Finance and officials in intensive discussions in recent weeks. When the Deputy reads the Van Rompuy paper, he will see that there are no insertions in it from any individual country, rather it is a presentation by the President on all of the discussions that have taken place.
Of course, I am proud and privileged to represent the people as Taoiseach at the discussions. Clearly, I am not the only one who has made a strong point about democratic legitimacy in our dealings with both the European Union and within the eurozone. I have often said the European Union was built on a union of equals, not on the perspectives of individual countries. It is a union of equals in which the views of everyone from the smaller countries such as Cyprus to the larger ones are equally important. It is important that the political leadership of the eurozone and preferably the 27 EU member states makes political decisions that will bring certainty to the economic position within the eurozone. I note the newly appointed Prime Minister of Italy has put through an austerity package in excess of €30 billion and that there is a new Prime Minister in Belgium. I hope the political leadership will focus on the crisis and make decisions that will bring certainty to it and the discussion about how we should deal with budgetary discipline and those countries that have stepped out of line which Ireland has not. This country has borrowed over €50 billion at interest rates of 5% and 6%; that is an issue I am interested in addressing and will do so at the Council meeting when I have the opportunity to contribute.