Tuesday, 24 April 2012
The Government announced over a year ago that it planned to review the domiciliary care allowance in order to reduce costs. Since then there has been a relentless assault on children with special needs and the domiciliary care allowance and this is unacceptable and wrong in my view. As a result of the reviews to date, nearly 50% of children with autism and with serious special needs have lost their payments. There seems to be a deliberate premeditated pattern of focusing on children with autism and removing their domiciliary care allowance. I doubt if there is a Deputy in this House who has not encountered parents of children with special needs, and, in particular, parents of children with autism, who have lost the domiciliary care allowance. I refer to a most insulting comment contained in the letter which has been received by parents which states: "The needs of your child are no greater than the need of any average six year-old." Parents of children with autism and with special needs generally regard this statement, which emanates from the Minister for Social Protection and the Department, as incomprehensible. It betrays a lack of any idea of what issues and challenges are faced by a child with autism in his or her life. These challenges are multiple. For some reason, these children have been targeted in this review of the domiciliary care allowance. When this cut is combined with the cut in the family income supplement and in the carer's allowance, I assure the Taoiseach this is having a devastating impact on the families concerned. Will the Taoiseach initiate a root and branch change to the manner in which the domiciliary care allowances are being reviewed throughout the length and breadth of the country?
I assure Deputy Martin that I can empathise with every parent in the country who has a challenge and a changed set of priorities once it becomes obvious to them that a child born to them or under their care has a particular set of problems. As Deputy Martin is well aware, the vocabulary changes entirely and also the entire emphasis of a family changes in respect of what might be the best possible support base for each individual child. The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Social Protection has commissioned a report into the domiciliary care allowance. In light of that report, the Minister, no more than anyone else, is always anxious to have the best possible support put in place for every child. It would be wonderful to be able to assume we had unlimited funds to deal exclusively-----
-----with the range of problems that affect children. I know from my own experience that parents of children who are deemed to be on the autistic spectrum can face a range of difficulties, some of which create significant challenges. However, some children progress very well and I refer to young people who have been categorised as autistic and who have graduated from third level colleges. It is therefore a case of continuously looking at what is in the best interests of each child. I take the Deputy's point about having a root and branch analysis of the domiciliary care allowance, which has grown over the years to broad proportions. I will certainly communicate what the Deputy has said to the Minister for Social Protection who is anxious to have allowances that are most effective in the interests of those they serve, as well as for their parents. I do not disagree with the Deputy's point about the need for an ongoing assessment of the nature, scale and effective quality of these kind of allowances.
The Taoiseach has missed the point completely. The issue is not about the review of payments at the age of 16 that the Minister has initiated. I am talking about children as young as four to eight years of age whose domiciliary allowances are being taken from them because of desk-top reviews. I met the parents concerned outside the gates of Leinster House this morning and I have also met them in my constituency. They say there have been no face-to-face meetings with medical personnel or other specialists. I have seen reports of individual children with consultants and specialists on autism which identify the range of challenges they face. The Taoiseach is out of touch with these issues. The Minister has refused to meet with the parents concerned. They said again this morning that they have met no Government Ministers despite requests.
They were due to meet the Minister for Social Protection but 20 minutes beforehand they were advised that the meeting would not go ahead. I am not talking about a review, I want a change of policy. Since this system moved from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Protection it is clear there is a deliberate policy afoot to target children with autism by removing their domiciliary care allowance entitlement.
It is having a devastating impact on families who up to now have used that money for therapeutic interventions, including occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and a range of other special needs therapies. Why is it that the cuts the Taoiseach has initiated are hitting the most vulnerable in our society above and beyond anybody else? It is not just me who is saying so, independent commentators are also saying it. We have had enough empathy and all this vague talk of reviews.
Deputy Martin is quite well aware that a review or evaluation of any entitlement either brings change or a continuation of the status quo. I reject his charge that the Minister for Social Protection and the Government are targeting autistic children.
The chorus is very strong today. I reject that charge. As the Deputy is well aware, there is an evaluation process for every entitlement. If he is talking about a review of the evaluation process, that is always taken into account.
That is fine. I meet others around the country regularly but I did not meet that group today. I have no objection to receiving that material from the Deputy and we will respond to it. I want the Deputy to understand, however, that I do not at all accept the question of deliberately targeting autistic children. Over many years, there has been an evaluation process for every entitlement or allowance given. I would be happy to ask the Minister for Social Protection to respond to the correspondence the Deputy has been given.
It is the straightest answer I ever got. I also understand that the Taoiseach's birthday wish is to be the Taoiseach who regains Irish sovereignty. Yet the austerity treaty he is supporting means handing away more and more sovereignty to unelected officials in Europe. Tá an conradh seo lochtach, tá a fhios ag an Taoiseach sin. Baineann sé go hiomlán le austerity agus is léir nach bhfuil maitheas ar bith sa chonradh do na daoine. As the Taoiseach will know, that is the view of more and more opinion makers in this State and across the European Union. There is nothing in the treaty to stimulate growth or job creation. When the current bailout programme ends, and if the treaty goes through, it will mean a further €6 billion worth of austerity for Irish citizens. It will mean more cuts to front line education and community services, as well as more stealth taxes like the household charge, septic tank charges and water charges.
Today is the Taoiseach's birthday and I understand that it is also the Tánaiste's birthday.
The leaders of that Republic proclaimed "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies". So how does the Taoiseach square the principles of the Proclamation with the treaty, which will put control of Irish destinies into the hands of unelected officials in the European Court of Justice and the European Commission?
I recognise that my emergence into the world occurred on the same April date when, in 1916, those who emerged from the ruins of the GPO declared the Proclamation as the country took its first fledgling steps towards economic and political independence. I remind Deputy Adams that the first article of this treaty says its purpose is to bring about stability and growth. I do not share Deputy Adams's view on this at all.
On many occasions in the coming weeks, Deputy Adams and I will be in close proximity to each other in terms of arguing for and against this treaty. I will be asking Deputy Adams about the consequences of the vote he is proposing. He has not spelled out for anybody where this country will get its investment from or how public services will be paid for. Deputy Adams's proposition would be a slap in the face for Irish workers.
Week after week, I see strong lines of investment coming into this country. They are coming here because the companies and plants that decide to invest in Ireland have confidence in our country.
They also have confidence in our workforce and people generally. They recognise that, even with the underlying Eurostat figures, this country is heading in the right direction. I am happy that Europe has responded to, amongst others, this Government's promptings for an agenda of growth, jobs, investment and career opportunities. That is where we want to be.
On 31 May, the electorate must be fully informed about what this treaty actually does and what it is not about. When they make their decision, they will be voting on the future of our country. It is our decision alone; it has nothing to do with the elections in the Netherlands, regional elections in Germany, Serbia or Greece, or the outcome of the second round of the French presidential election. This is Ireland's decision alone. We cannot prevent this fiscal treaty from moving forward. Some 25 EU countries have signed on for it and will all ratify it. We choose to do so by referendum. The Government and others who support the referendum, will see to it that the people are given the fullest information about the critical decision they must make.
As I have stated on many occasions, on 1 January next year the train for Europe's future leaves the station.
We want to be on that train with a level and stream of confidence. Every worker I meet in plants throughout the country understands the value of a job and of keeping the level of confidence very high and is prepared to vote for that future. It is not only about the Government; it is about the country and those who come behind us. When Deputy Adams asks his next question, perhaps he might tell me on my birthday-----
-----where Sinn Féin will get the money to run services and how it proposes to continue this level of confidence for foreign investment? Deputy Adams has not answered this question and the reason he has not done so is because he is unable to do so.
The thing about today is that I get to ask the questions and the Taoiseach gets to avoid them. The train is leaving but it is going in the wrong direction. I would like the Government to defend austerity and argue why it is right for us because the Government does not do so. It dodges it all the time.
What is very interesting is that this is entirely appropriate for a right-wing conservative party such as Fine Gael which supports privatisation, cuts in public services, the race to the bottom and further dominance of the free market.
I cannot let the Taoiseach's birthday pass without paying credit to his greatest achievement, which is to get the Labour Party leadership to agree to this agenda. In Brussels, Labour Party MEPs voted against measures that are now part of the austerity treaty. One described austerity as a recipe for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Another, Mr. Proinsias De Rossa-----
Fáilte romhat. Breithlá sona duit. Will he tell us how he got the Labour Party leadership to support an agenda that will mean more cuts, more stealth taxes, will do nothing to tackle the jobs crisis and is giving away our sovereignty?
I will tell the Tánaiste of Deputy Adams's good wishes to him also. For a long time I have been a proponent of the argument that the agenda of Europe needs to focus on investment, growth, jobs and career opportunities. As I stated, I am very glad Europe has responded to my promptings on behalf of the Government and the people and the promptings of other Prime Ministers to do the same. The next meeting will deal with youth unemployment and the June meeting will deal with small and medium enterprises.
The fact of the matter is that we are borrowing €16,000 million and there is only one source for it which has set down conditions for the money. We cannot continue not dealing with this problem. Deputy Adams seems to ignore this. Whether one has troika analysis or not we must deal with the problem here, and this is about good housekeeping and putting in place rules, conditions and regulations that will not allow in future the type of activity we had the past. We are not going back there. We want to see, and I am sure Deputy Adams does also even from his political perspective, that we run our affairs properly and in order like any household in the country and where we are spending much more than we are taking in we have a problem. In this sense the treaty is not an end to prosperity in itself; it is but one mechanism on the path to dealing with a return to growth of the European economies and the capacity of other economies to purchase. We export 80% of what we produce. In that sense the condition is that we must sort out our own problems ourselves.
Long before this referendum became a reality the Government set out its view that we should legislate for good rules, proper housekeeping and good discipline here that would not allow this to happen again.
I meet companies such as PayPal, Eli Lilly, Baxter and Microsoft who invest here week after week. Last week, Mylan Corporation had €500 million on the line for jobs in Baldoyle and Galway. They invest because they have confidence in our country and people and we want to keep this confidence very strong.
As was mentioned earlier, today outside the Dáil the parents of special needs children who have had domiciliary care allowances cut were protesting as were lone parents who are threatened with a cut in the one parent family payment when their children reach the age of seven and who believe it will drive them out of work. More generally, these protests are part of a growing revolt throughout Europe against the failed policies of austerity and cuts. In recent weeks we have seen massive demonstrations and strikes against austerity in Spain, Italy and Portugal. Now in France, Austria and the Netherlands governments are being rejected by the people because of their attempts to impose the failed and disastrous policy of austerity.
The latest EUROSTAT purchasing managers index figures show bond yields increasing in Spain and Italy with stock markets panicking. All of this indicates the agenda of austerity is not working and is strangling the European economy with debt. Against this background why, for heaven's sake, is the Government promoting a treaty that will demand, in order to meet its targets, even more cuts and austerity being imposed on the people of the country? If the Dutch economy, which is one of the strongest economies in Europe, is unwilling and unable to impose EU austerity targets and cuts, how on earth can our traumatised and damaged economy sustain the level of cuts and austerity that would be required to meet the targets of the fiscal treaty?
Will the Taoiseach inform the House and the public how much precisely in terms of cuts will be required to meet the targets of the fiscal treaty if we exit the troika programme in 2015? Estimates suggest it will require €6 billion at least to meet the deficit targets and in the region of €4.5 billion annually for a decade or more to reach the debt to GDP ratio targets. This level of cuts will destroy our economy and society. If the Taoiseach disagrees with this, will he tell us how much in cuts will be necessary to meet the targets if we endorse the treaty?
He seems to assume the only role and responsibility of government is to involve itself in this. We have made the point on many occasions that the big difference here will be growth and economic development. This is why the Government set out to retain the structure of the business models we have put in place with no increase in income tax and no increased taxes on jobs and work and an action plan that is now being implemented with 270 proposals to open the gates for business and small business to get on the road for employment, retention of employees and increasing productivity and exports.
On my recent visit to China almost 100 companies were in the business of signing contracts for exports which will mean jobs in this country. As I said to Deputy Adams, while there are difficulties in every country in Europe, since last April I have been pointing out that the road to the future is a balance between good housekeeping which we must do here ourselves and having the single market grow to its potential. This means being more competitive, cutting costs and shaving excess where it exists. This is evident in the decisions of the Government to increase research, innovation and development funds so opportunities for careers and jobs can take place. I invite Deputy Boyd Barrett to listen to the voices of workers throughout the country who are in the position now, who can see their companies and firms beginning to grow and who can see these opportunities. Every country will always have political difficulties and Prime Minister Rutte explained at Council meetings on a number of occasions the difficulty he has had in holding together a coalition government of a number of parties. This is our decision here, where there is a stable Government focused on the priority of its people of dealing with our public financial problem-----
-----and making jobs and opportunities a real priority. The minority parties in the Netherlands may well decide to form another Government. The Queen has asked the Prime Minister to look at that. If not, and it has to hold an election, that is its decision. Regardless of what the French, German regional or Greek voters do, our people have to make their decision on 31 May. I must ask - it is my privilege to do so - for their authorisation to ratify this treaty, which sends out a message around the world of continued confidence in this country and our people, which is something on which Deputy Boyd Barrett should reflect in his constituency where there are many people employed in good jobs who do not want to see anything damage the level of confidence there.
That is the point. Is there no recognition on the Taoiseach's part, as there is across Europe, that the austerity agenda is not working? It is crippling growth. The latest EUROSTAT figures indicate that the debt crisis has returned with a vengeance. I specifically asked the Taoiseach if he could clarify for the House and the public what cuts will be necessary from 2015 onwards when we have exited the troika programme in order to meet the targets and requirements of the fiscal treaty, which requires us to cut our debt in half which, in turn, will require €4.5 billion in cuts annually for approximately 20 years and approximately €5 billion to €6 billion in cuts to meet the deficit targets after 2015. If those figures are not correct, can the Taoiseach give us the correct ones? Surely, the Taoiseach is not going to tell us that more brutal cuts and austerity will not be needed from 2015 onwards, which agenda is destroying the European economy.
It is perfectly obvious to everyone that 440,000 people on the live register, of which approximately 130,000 may be working part time, is far too many. The Government has set out its programme and plan to deal with that. Last week, we published the firstly quarterly report of the Government's action plan to improve the atmosphere in the environment in which jobs and opportunities can take place.
The Deputy's figures project a view that Government is only about austerity and cutting back. As I stated earlier to Deputy Boyd Barrett, we must deal with our problems because no one else will deal with them for us. The economic growth and agenda set by Government is based on creating jobs and job opportunities. If the Deputy cannot acknowledge that Paypal, Eli Lilly, Microsoft, HP, Baxter, Allergan and many other companies are making serious investments in this country, resulting in the creation of a serious number of jobs, then he is living on a different planet.
At the other end of the scale, Government is stimulating the indigenous economy by having an action plan that is focused on jobs as a priority. The best news the Deputy will ever hear is that someone in his esteemed constituency has been offered employment. That is what we want. It is what we are about. I reject completely-----