By J. P. Anderson:
MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney referred to the high social welfare rates in the Republic when pressed to say if the Government planned to reduce them.
She insisted that recent remarks by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan centred on the need for incentives to work, and she hoped that every member of the House would support them.
“We have one of the highest rates in Europe of social welfare benefits for old or unemployed people,’’ Ms Harney added.
She claimed that contrary to the view put forward by Dublin South Fine Gael candidate, George Lee, an unemployed married man receives €339 per week and not €204. Addressing the Fine Gael benches, she said: “Were members to at least get the facts right, they might have appropriate debates in the chamber.’’ Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan said the amount depended in some cases on whether the person was self-employed beforehand and the Minister should know that.
Earlier, Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan challenged the Minister to say if the Government intended introducing another budget, or a social welfare bill, when the Dáil resumed after the elections.
“Is it the Government’s policy that the social welfare budget should be cut?’’ he added.
Labour’s Michael D Higgins said that Mr Lenihan had remarked that large social welfare provisions could be a disincentive to work and was a difficult issue to tackle.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the implications of the Minister’s statement yesterday constituted a promise to have a change in social welfare policy,’’ Mr Higgins added.
“The only way this can be achieved is by way of a supplementary social welfare bill.’’
It was significant, he added, and that the Minister for Finance was only three weeks ago suggesting Ireland had a magnificent social welfare system that protected the poor.
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey remarked: “Does Deputy Higgins remember the £1.50 increase in the old-age pension when Labour was in government?’’ He said that Labour had not done much for the old-age pension.
Fine Gael’s Michael Ring said that Fianna Fáil had taken medical cards off old-age pensioners.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said the Dáil had not been given clarity on the Government’s social welfare policy.
Mr Dempsey challenged Dr Reilly to say where Fine Gael would get the additional €2.5 billion required.
“The only way Fine Gael could have got it was by cutting the rates of social welfare,’’ he added.
Dr Reilly replied: “Was it not Deputy Dempsey who asked what was €50 million in the overall scheme of things?’’
(Editor’s note: If Minister Harney was not so keen in past years to import ‘yellow pack workers’ instead of training young native Irish people to take up available jobs then she would have less of a problem now dealing with the burden of ‘social welfare payments’. The real ‘disincentive’ to work for many young Irish people is ‘low wages, poor working conditions and the high cost of living.
Ms Harney wishes to see a return to the situation that existed in this country in 1913 and to that end she seeks to impoverish and demean working class people, their families and communities to suit an employer group wishing for a return to a situation of compelling people to work for a pittance ‘insufficient’ to meet their needs and the needs of their families. The other important thing is that the work must be there before unemployed people can accept or reject each job offer on its merits).