Speaking during the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2014 in the Seanad today, Sinn Fein Senator Kathryn Reilly urged the government to use the opportunity created by the higher than expected PRSI in the Department of Social Protection to reverse some of the most cruel social welfare cuts.
“During her three years as a Labour Party Deputy Leader, a member of Cabinet and a Minister €1.5 billion was cut from the Social Protection Budget.
“That’s €1.5 billion that was taken from the pockets of the elderly, the disabled, children and carers. It’s also €1.5 billion that was drained from local economies costing us quality jobs, decent pay and conditions. There was an opportunity with this Bill to deliver the beginning of the stimulus that was needed. A stimulus that Sinn Féin has long argued is needed. But this Bill fails to do that.
“We are half way through the year and the department’s PRSI yield is already over €100 million greater than was anticipated by Budget 2014. There is now scope to seize the opportunity to use this Bill to provide some relief to those who have been pummelled by austerity. This Bill could be used to restore the €325 Respite Care Grant to over 85,000 people who are caring for a relative with a serious illness or disability that was cut in Budget 2013.
“The removal of the references to An Post as the named service provider for social welfare payments could have devastating implications for the survival of local post offices across this state. We have already seen so many post offices close. In my own county of Cavan, this has been common.
“The removal of An Post’s status creates the possibility of a multi-national company or bank acquiring the contract for social welfare payments in the place of post offices. The fundamental point here is that they provide an essential social service to communities; especially rural communities. The highest bidder for contract should not be the one who profits. This would not be in the best interests of payment recipients or the wider community.
“The Grant Thornton report highlighted how up to 557 out of 1,150 Post Offices could close if the social welfare contract was removed from An Post. The resulting impact would make the lives of those in rural communities, like in my own, incredibly difficult.”