Party leaders clash in Dáil over welfare cuts

ANGRY clashes between political leaders in the Dáil has prompted accusations the Government does not care about the poor and vulnerable.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was forced to defend the choices made in last week’s budget that will see €8.60 taken off standard social welfare payments.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the blind, the disabled and carers should be exempt.

He said he did not want to make a general point on welfare savings but these specific groups were not large and needed protection.

These were means-tested payments, he said, so it was already established they were of low enough incomes to justify additional supports.

“The Taoiseach and I have been in houses and have seen people with dementia and incontinence and we have noted the pressure on those who look after these people on a full-time basis.

“These carers save the state an average of €40,000 each, which amounts to hundreds of millions of euro every year, yet the response of the Government has been to take €8.60 off each of them,” he said.

And in a forceful outburst he said the banks were now being bailed out at the expense of poor people.

“The Government has pumped billions of euro into a black hole of banks and has allowed people with pensions of over €100,000 to walk away untouched,” he said.

But Mr Cowen said he was not for turning on where the cuts would be made.

And in an angry salvo he said the opposition was hypocritical to agree to the extent of the cuts before the budget but dispute the choices made. He said it would be “unfair and callous” to tell welfare recipients money could be saved in other areas.

“What amuses me in this House is the opposition saying, ‘Yes, of course, it should be €4 billion’ and ‘Yes, we will be responsible and we will make sure that we come forward with the expenditure cuts’ and when it comes to the crunch saying, ‘No, not that way’ and ‘Think up some other way’.

“All we are hearing is the populist notions that there is some simple way of this country getting out of trouble. There is not. It requires the Government to have a bit of gumption and determination to do it and that is what we are prepared to do,” he said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore also quizzed the Taoiseach on what would be the effect of the budget on the most vulnerable. He asked why the Government had broken with convention and not produced a Poverty Proofing statement to analyse if the measure would create additional poverty.

And when the Taoiseach said no analysis was required Mr Gilmore said this was indicative of a Government which did not care.

“The Taoiseach’s answer today confirms that the Government has not given a second thought to what will be the impact of its budgetary measures on the lives of people in receipt of social welfare payments or in respect of cuts to the earnings of low paid people.

“The Government does not give a curse for people who are poor or in receipt of low pay,” he said.

Later on the Taoiseach said the Government did not see the need to poverty proof the budget because this was usually only done when taxes were changed.

He said as this was a welfare cut it was a matter Minister Mary Hanafin had dealt with.


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