Waterford TD John Deasy accused Shane McEntee, the junior agriculture minister, of “stigmatising” young people who desperately wanted to work but in most cases were being forced to emigrate.
Mr Deasy told the Irish Examiner he had seen thousands of young people emigrate and could now hold clinics in Perth, Australia, because so many of his constituents lived there.
Mr McEntee told a Sunday newspaper that “no young person should be handed money to do nothing” and they should be forced to enter a work scheme before claiming the dole.
“I see young lads queuing for the dole on Thursday and then walking out of the off-licence with a slab of beer,” he said.
“I’m not saying that’s what all young people are doing, but definitely some of them. I think we’re developing a serious, social problem here. We need to go back to the basic principle of getting paid for doing work, whatever type of work that might be.”
Mr Deasy told the Dáil’s public accounts committee yesterday that it was a “dangerous thing” to get into “pitting people who work and don’t work against each other”.
“One particular junior minister made comments over the weekend that were polarising. I think a lot of people in Fine Gael were upset by the comments. Personally, I regard them as moronic.”
Mr Deasy later confirmed he had been referring to Mr McEntee: “His comments were moronic and I think he should clarify what he meant.
“People under 21 get just €100 a week in jobseeker’s allowance. The jobless figures are horrific. Young people want to work and his comments stigmatise them.
“There are 15,000 unemployed people in Waterford and thousands of young people have left. I could hold my constituency clinics every week in Perth.”
The committee heard that €92.4m in welfare overpayments were made last year. There was no breakdown of the portion that was down to fraud or simply down to error.
This is an increase on the €83.4m in overpayments in 2010 and €66.8m in 2009.
A breakdown of those figures shows that in 2010, just €25.9m was down to fraud, €42.2m was down to customer error, while €5.2m was down to the department’s error.
In 2009, €20.7m of the €66.8m was down to fraud, while €31.5m was down to customer error, and €3.9m was down to departmental error.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said that despite these figures, the impression had been given by the department that, all over, spending is down to fraud.
Labour TD Derek Nolan said the level of fraud was being over-emphasised, and that this “creates an impression, wrongly, among the public that the department is being taken for a ride”.