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Social Welfare Bill a despicable piece of legislation – Ó Snodaigh

10 December, 2009 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Sinn Féin Social and Family Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has described the Social Welfare Bill as a despicable piece of legislation. Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Snodaigh called on young people to stand up to the Government and fight back.

He said:

“This is a despicable piece of legislation. Quite simply, it attacks the incomes of the most vulnerable – those the Minister for Finance claims the government is trying to protect. Widows, the disabled and carers are targeted for cuts as are lone parents. Particularly savage cuts are declared at the young unemployed.

“Rather than declaring war on poverty, this legislation gives effect to the government’s war on the poor. People affected by these cuts are also bearing the brunt of range of other cuts that will further inbed inequality in our society – cuts to funding for educational disadvantage, drugs task forces, community support services, and family resource centers will all contribute the hardships felt by a certain section of society.

“Minister Lenihan spoke of how we need to regain our optimism – but today as the impact of this budget sinks in many families, parents and young people are plunged into despair. They see no future. No choices. No ways out. The blight of emigration looms once more over many communities – particularly in the west.

“Minister Mary Hanafin’s concluded her speech today by saying that after the cuts ‘social welfare recipients are therefore still better off in real terms.’

“Please tell that to our thousands of young people coming out of education and training facing a future of unemployment and then the prospect of cuts of between €50 and €100 a week in their weekly income.

“People have another option and that is fighting back. It is especially a time for young people to make their voices heard. Don’t take this from the government which is throwing your future away. Take a stand. Fight back. They have calculated that you won’t. They think you wont vote – they hope you will emigrate. Prove them wrong.

“I fervently oppose this Bill and all that it proposes.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s speech follows:
Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2009

This is a despicable piece of legislation. Quite simply, it attacks the incomes of the most vulnerable – those the Minister for Finance claims the government is trying to protect. Widows, the disabled and carers are targeted for cuts as are lone parents. Particularly savage cuts are declared at the young unemployed.

Sinn Féin rejects in its entirety the thinking behind this bill: That the economic crisis can be addressed in large part by cutting the incomes on those who have the least rather than those who will remain comfortable at the very top. Token gestures of cuts to Ministers and the Taoiseach’s salaries are laughable when put into the context of how on the flipside, cuts are going to impact people on 100 or 150 euros a week. Earlier on Newstalk Mary Hanafin referred to a 10 euro cut as minimal in the greater scheme of things. A 10 euro cut can mean the difference between having a meal or not. Such a reference in itself highlights the complete disconnect and disparity between what is being experienced by those in government and the regular normal worker or unemployed person in our country. It is arrogant, out of touch and nothing short of an insult to those struggling with the little they have to get by on. Also the €8 reduction in most social welfare payments will make a huge difference to the household budgets of many people who are struggling to get by.

It is a brutal budget for the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners, the low paid workers in both private and public sectors, the disabled, the carers and the families or young couples struggling with massive mortgages to pay. Those are the real people who are being hit. A salary of over 150,000 can take a cut. What I and so many can’t abide is the injustice in expecting people who are most at risk to bear the burden of this economic crisis. We are told consistently that we must all play our part. That we must all row in. That collectively we will get out of this mess if only we would all just change our mindframe, get positive, grit our teeth and dig deep. It is unethical to tell the people most at risk in society to take responsibility for the hideously irresponsible decisions and enormous careless risks made by this government in the past. What part did a single mother, a carer, a voluntary worker play in this financial disaster? The government would have us believe that the economic crisis in this country was brought about solely by global banking eventualities beyond their control. The conditions for the succeeding property crash were created right here by you and your government. The irresponsible manner in which the taxpayers money was squandered and the obscenity of telling the nation that we were “awash with money” has brought us to this doomsday scenario. The decision to not safeguard services or not invest sufficiently in hospitals and schools was made here. And now the people feeling the effects of these bad decisions are also being told they must tighten their belts and exist on even less than in the past. It’s not fair and it’s not good enough. The vast majority of people are not unreasonable. They know we are suffering hard times and that difficult decisions need to be made. There is little dispute over that. The fury on the streets stems from the seriously unbalanced way in which the proportion of the picking up of the tab is being weighted. People are outraged by the government’s hypocrisy and gaul in telling us that this is a case of collateral damage. It is not. And everyone knows it.

People are also furious that without any consideration of alternative proposals, the government remains steadfast in protecting the wealthy, the banks and developers. This budget is void of vision and this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill reaffirms that.

Cutting social welfare will further deflate the economy. Earlier today on News Talk even Eddie Hobbes declared that the government’s decision on cuts in Social Welfare would bare long term catastrophic effects to the economy. With further deflation, more jobs will be lost. More people will be unemployed. The social welfare bill will increase. But for this government, the penny has still not dropped.

Fr Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland said without social welfare payments, 43 per cent of Ireland’s population WOULD BE in poverty. This notion that a decrease in social welfare payments will get people back to work is a nonsense at a time when there are no jobs to be found and no credible alternative employment schemes being offered in proportion to the number of people needing them.

Rather than declaring war on poverty, this legislation gives effect to the government’s war on the poor. People affected by these cuts are also bearing the brunt of range of other cuts that will further inbed inequality in our society – cuts to funding for educational disadvantage, drugs task forces, community support services, and family resource centers will all contribute the hardships felt by a certain section of society.

Minister Lenihan spoke of how we need to regain our optimism – but today as the impact of this budget sinks in many families, parents and young people are plunged into despair. They see no future. No choices. No ways out. The blight of emigration looms once more over many communities – particularly in the west. In Dublin and in my own constituency unemployment is rampant. There are 20,363 young people under 25 out of work in Dublin right now. 1 in 4 young people are out of work nationally. What was announced yesterday did very little to get them back to work and into training or education. Minister Lennihan continues to admonish the nation that “anger is not a policy”. Let me remind him that neither is arrogance and disrespect.

Minister Mary Hannafin’s concluding remarks in her speech today went like this: “We have ensured that cuts in weekly rates for those aged under 66 are lower than the decreases in prices over the past year or so and that welfare recipients are therefore still better off in real terms.”

Please tell that to our thousands of young people coming out of education and training facing a future of unemployment and then the prospect of cuts of between €50 and €100 a week in their weekly income. The National Youth Council of Ireland said today and I quote, “ In our view emigration was the only incentive offered to young people in the Budget yesterday. That is bad for young people, their families, their communities, but also a loss for our country……. In our view young people can be key players in the drive to revive and renew our country. The response to date has been totally inadequate, we have a crisis in youth unemployment-it has trebled in 3 years. We welcomed the announcement of the Work Place Programme in April, if even at 2,000 places it was a modest start. Yet 6 months later only 129 people have been placed by the scheme, this is unacceptable.” End quote. What we will begin to see is a repeat of the 80’s Brain drain. There are over subscriptions in colleges, courses and training schemes.

If people in this country are now better off in “real terms” then why are St. Vincent de Paul receiving in excess of 500 phonecalls a day? The organization has come out and said that reduction in the adult social welfare rate is very bad news. That it compounded with the loss of the Christmas Bonus will force people in to debt and inevitably money lending. The seriousness of this fact can not be emphasized enough. And Sinn Fein has been pointing this out at nauseum and it has fallen on deaf ears. After Christmas you will witness the disastrous effects. You are out of touch and have no idea how the people you have targeted struggle every day to survive.

If long-term or visionary thinking underpinned this budget the young would not be targeted as they are.

Young working class people will suffer most from this budget. That is a certainty and this Bill cements that. More and more young people will be alienated from the political system and from society. The social costs of this will be felt for years into the future. They will remember the €1 million golden handshake to former FAS general secretary Roddy Molloy when they search hopelessly for a job on the notice board in their local FAS offices and work out how to live on €100. Young people who grew up during the celtic tiger era and despite being educated in dilapidated unsafe school buildings have achieved educational excellence have had the carpet pulled from under them.

Despair and disillusionment will push people into addictions. This is a fact.

Should this Budget go through, you will have created a new lost generation. A generation who will leave the country and whose skills and enthusiasm and ability will be lost. They could be rebuilding the economy of this country rather than leaving it.

The way to reduce the Social Welfare Budget is not by making cuts. It is by making job creation a priority. Our party has outlined ideas around how this can be done in our pre-budget submission where central to our Submission is the need for economic stimulus to protect and create jobs. We have come up with strategies, you have ignored them.

People have another option and that is fighting back. It is especially a time for young people to make their voices heard. Don’t take this from the government which is throwing your future away. Take a stand. Fight back. They have calculated that you won’t. They think you wont vote – they hope you will emigrate. Prove them wrong.

I fervently oppose this Bill and all that it proposes.

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