Independent TD Catherine Murphy told Social Protection Minister Joan Burton that her party’s “10-yard walk” from the opposition to government benches “seems to have fundamentally changed your view of the world” and “discredited politics along the way”.
The Kildare TD was speaking in the debate on the Social Welfare Bill, which gives effect to budget measures including a cut in dole payments to under-25s, a cut to maternity benefit, and the abolition of the bereavement grant and telephone allowance.
Ms Burton defended the cuts, saying she has protected the most vulnerable and maintained a “safety net” for those in difficulty.
Sinn Féin said that young people from broken families would suffer most from the bill because there was an “implicit assumption” in the decision to reduce dole payments to €100 for new entrants from 18 to 25, compared to the normal rate of €188, that parents would cover the cost of their children.
“This is not possible for many, either as a consequence of household financial realities or family breakdown,” said spokesman on social protection Aengus Ó Snodaigh. “The cut will inflict severe hardship and, in some cases, destitution on young people.”
Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea accused the Government of a “snide indifference” to young people and a “character-building” process that presents them as “too lazy and too shiftless to seek out opportunities”.
He said some Labour backbenchers “painted a picture of people lolling on couches watching flatscreen television seven nights a week” and “the clear implication is that those people have to be forced out”.
Socialist TD Joe Higgins compared Ms Burton to Britain’s Norman Tebbit, a Conservative minister who in the 1980s suggested people should get on their bikes and look for work.
“In this Government’s disgraceful attacks on the young unemployed, the minister for social protection is rapidly emerging as the Baroness Tebbit of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government,” he said.
Mr Ó Snodaigh said there was a “return to the dark ages” because cuts to maternity benefit, amounting to €34 a week would “exacerbate the financial pressure on women and force them back to work early”.
Mr O’Dea referenced George Orwell’s satire of Stalinism, Nineteen Eighty-Four, when he criticised the use of “doublespeak” or “newspeak”, when words spoken are the opposite of what they really mean.
Fine Gael Mayo TD John O’Mahony said concerns over medical cards should be addressed. Galway West Fine Gael TD Sean Kyne also called for “much clearer communication” from the HSE on the issue, “particularly to the elderly”.
The Social Welfare Bill will be voted on today.