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Speaking in the Dáil this evening on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government Martin Ferris TD said;

“It seems that this government is intent on hitting those least well off with an array of cuts from directly taking money out of household income through charges, but also impoverishing communities through cuts in a range of public provisions from transport to libraries to Garda stations, schools and the health service.”

Full text of Deputy Ferris’ speech follows: Check against delivery


There are many grounds for having no confidence in this government, and more so after last week’s budget.

It would also appear to be the case that confidence is weakening even among the government’s own backbenchers so it will be interesting to see in what way they vote on the Social Welfare Bill.

There is understandable unease among Labour TDs in particular regarding cuts such as that to respite care allowance. The pressure on Labour from across the community may hopefully result in a climb down on that particular cut but of course while that would be welcome it would only represent a minor victory in relation to the overall anti-social nature of the budgetary cutbacks.

That is why this motion expresses a lack of confidence in the entire performance of the government and not just in regard to particular individual issues.

Along with all other sectors of the community, farmers were also negatively impacted by the Budget. Among the areas where the axe fell were the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, the sheep grassland payment and the suckler cow welfare scheme. Along with the cut to Farm Assist and a reduction in VAT relief many farmers will suffer a further significant drop in income on top of what has already been a bad year in terms of market income.

The change in the disregard for accountable income and for children for farmers Farm Assist will mean reductions of over €40 per week for some farm families who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet.

There are around 11,000 farmers currently in receipt of the payment so we are talking about quite a large number of people who will be impacted by this cut. In my own county alone there are over 800 on Farm Assist, and over a hundred more in West Limerick.

So it is not the case, as has been suggested by some that this represents a minor cut affecting very few people. The actual amount of money involved – at over €5 million in a full year according to the Minister, but potentially three times that according to others, may not seem significant but the individual losses will mean that thousands of farmers and their children will have a harder time than they already are attaining the basic necessities.

And of course for such families in rural communities, particularly in the west where around 70% of recipients live, this cut comes on top not only of the other farming cuts but on top of the cuts inflicted on the rest of the community.

It seems that this government is intent on hitting those least well off with an array of cuts from directly taking money out of household income through charges, but also impoverishing communities through cuts in a range of public provisions from transport to libraries to Garda stations, schools and the health service.

And all for what we might ask when many people from across the political and economic spectrum are stating that the massive bank debt wedded to the state’s own debt will never be able to be paid anyway.

Is that sufficient grounds for beggaring the country? My party thinks not and that is why we are asking the House to support our motion of no confidence.

ENDS

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Commenting on the announcement that the health service is to recruit up to 1,000 graduate nurses and midwives next year at lower pay rates, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“While we would welcome the recruitment of up to 1,000 nurses and midwives next year, these graduates are deserving of existing rates of pay and existing terms of employment. Similar experiences in the education sector has led to much resentment.

“These young graduates are not yellow-pack trainees and any attempt to treat them as anything other than equal should be resisted.” ENDS

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Speaking during the debate on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government this evening Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said;

“Fine Gael have shown the arrogance of those who believe that their rightful place is in office and that citizens have a duty to obey them. They are clearly imbued with the bullish attitude of their Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, whose Family Home Tax is a throwback to the days of landlord rule, the bailiff and the battering ram. And the Labour Party is clinging desperately to the Fine Gael juggernaut as it runs over the very people who elected Labour in the belief they would protect them.

“Shame on you - all of you.

“This Government should go and go now.”

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:


Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson

“I spent half an hour outside the gates of Leinster House today with parents of disabled children who are having their respite services removed…It is very clear that these parents are under terrible pressure. Due to a penny wise, pound foolish HSE initiative, which the Minister approves, they will lose their respite care. Parents who are getting on in years cannot cope without it and will give up, much and all as it will hurt them to do so, and these children will end up in full-time care, costing the State many multiples of the money required to provide respite care.”

Ceann Comhairle, these are not my words.

These are the words of Deputy James Reilly, Fine Gael Health Spokesperson, in this chamber on 7 July 2010. This is the Minister who, with his Cabinet colleagues in Budget 2013, has cut the respite care grant, in one of the meanest attacks on the vulnerable in many years.

Minister Reilly is also the Minister who is trebling prescription charges for medical card holders. The quote I have cited was from the debate on Mary Harney’s Bill to impose prescription charges. In that debate Deputy Reilly also stated:

“The Bill is vehemently opposed by the Opposition with good reason. It will be aimed at the most vulnerable, sickest and weakest in our society…. Anything that discourages people from taking their medicine results in them falling ill, developing complications and having to attend hospital, often being admitted. A single day in hospital more than wipes out the cost of drug treatment for an entire year for the vast majority of people. These might be savings in theory but, as has so often happened previously, they might transpire not to be savings at all…This 50 cent charge might not appear to be much to the Minister or me, but it is for many low income families. International research shows that any disincentive for people to take medicines should be avoided, as certain patients will inevitably end up in hospital….”

Every word of that is as true today as it was on 7 July 2010. Yet Minister Reilly has increased the charge from 50 cent per item to €1.50 and increased the monthly maximum to €19.50, as well as upping the Drugs Payment Scheme limit to €144.

A Minister and a Government that repeatedly trumpet their belief in the crucial role of primary care in our health system have undermined primary care with this rise in drugs charges for patients.

Last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, in a radio interview, claimed that the Labour Party did not commit to the reversal of the prescription charges. Not true. In Labour’s ‘Plan for Fair Health Care’ published on 8 February 2011 it is stated:

“Medical card holders qualified for free drugs until this Government introduced a 50 cent per item prescription charge in 2010. Labour in Government will remove this charge. Medical card holders' free drugs cover will remain funded by the state from overall tax revenue. The State will also transfer this funding into the Primary Care Insurance Fund.”

This was less than two years ago. Last Wednesday Labour’s commitment was blatantly broken. And the words of Labour Party Health spokesperson, Jan O’Sullivan in the Dáil on 7 July 2010 in the debate on prescription charges are still true:

“The people who will be affected by it are the poor and the sick and they are not the people who should have charges imposed on them because of the drastic situation in our public finances. They are the very opposite of those who should have to pay. The Bill copper-fastens the inequalities in our society.”

I pointed out in that debate that when Government representatives were challenged their main argument was that it was a charge of only 50 cents per item and a €10 per month maximum. I said that was pure deception because the Bill empowered the Minister at any time in the future to make regulations to vary the charges. I said we knew this Minister and future Ministers would increase the prescription charges for medical card holders and I predicted that would happen if the Bill was passed. Deputy Reilly agreed with me. He said:

“It is clear that once the Minister gets this charge under the door, it will continue to increase. Is the Minister prepared to give an undertaking to the House that it will not happen?”

Of course Minister Harney never gave any such undertaking. But I little thought that within such a short time I would be standing here protesting at the imposition of a trebling of this very prescription charge by the Fine Gael and Labour Government which, in opposition, had promised to abolish it.

I have gone into detail on this one aspect of the budget because it illustrates clearly that not only is this government grossly unfair, it is also grossly dishonest. Minister Pat Rabbitte let the mask slip on the ‘Week in Politics’ last Sunday when asked if he had not violated Labour’s election commitment – ‘Protect Child Benefit – Vote Labour’.

“Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election” replied Minister Rabbitte.

And the dishonesty of this Government was summed up in another phrase of Deputy Rabbitte: “When the facts change I change my mind.”

The people are expected to believe that the economic facts changed fundamentally and magically between 24 February last year, the day before the General Election, and 26 February, when Fine Gael and Labour emerged as the parties of Government.

The people are expected to believe that when Labour and Fine Gael took office they found the economic situation much worse than they had ever believed, even though in opposition they had identified the depth of the economic crisis. Nonetheless they tried to hoodwink the electorate with promises they had no intention of keeping.

We in Sinn Féin warned that this would be the outcome because on economic fundamentals Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil were at one then and they are still at one now. That was shown when they stood together in support of the EU Austerity Treaty.

Budget 2013 has shredded whatever confidence there was in this government among the mass of people in this State.

Fine Gael have shown the arrogance of those who believe that their rightful place is in office and that citizens have a duty to obey them. They are clearly imbued with the bullish attitude of their Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, whose Family Home Tax is a throwback to the days of landlord rule, the bailiff and the battering ram. And the Labour Party is clinging desperately to the Fine Gael juggernaut as it runs over the very people who elected Labour in the belief they would protect them.

Shame on you – all of you.

This Government should go and go now.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD this evening called for the Farm Assist Scheme to be maintained. Last week’s Budget announced changes to the scheme which would mean losses of over €40 for some farm families. Deputy Ferris earlier met with farmer representatives who were protesting at the Department of Agriculture over the cuts.

Deputy Ferris said: “Within the farming community the Farm Assist Scheme plays a vital role in providing some measure of protection for struggling farm households. There are around 11,000 farmers on the scheme and around 70% of them are in western counties where low income farm households can also avail of the threatened Disadvantaged Area Scheme which likewise contributes a small but essential element to family farm incomes.

“In my own county alone there are over 800 farmers on Farm Assist and more than 100 in West Limerick. A small farmer on modest income with children can currently receive over €80 per week. That is the difference for many struggling families between being able to keep their heads above water and ending up in a really bad situation.

“It is therefore vital that the scheme is maintained as it is as the proposed cuts would consign people in an already difficult situation to one that will be much worse.”

ENDS

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Opening the debate on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government this evening the party’s Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty said budget 2013 marks the total betrayal of the election promises of this Fine Gael and Labour government.

Speaking during the debate Deputy Doherty outlined the reality of the respite care grant for carers he has spoken to and met personally describing their situation as the human face of this Fine Gael and Labour budget.

Below is the full text of Deputy Doherty’s speech:

SF No Confidence PMB – 11.12.12 - Pearse Doherty

“The motion tabled by Sinn Féin tonight is very simple.

“It says that this house has no confidence in the government because Fine Gael and Labour have failed in their obligations to make political decisions and choices that benefit the citizens of this state.

“When this Government was formed there was enormous hope and expectation that things were going to be different.

“In the months that followed the formation of the coalition that hope has slowly been dashed.

“As Fine Gael and Labour started to break their election promises and programme for government commitments one by one, public confidence in the Government started to ebb away.

“But what the Government did last Wednesday has opened the floodgates of deep disappointment and burning anger.

“Today, across the state, people of all political persuasions and none have lost confidence in this Government.

“Sinn Féin’s motion tonight is simply an echo of the frustration and disillusionment felt by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people across the state.

“It is a reflection of the anger of ordinary people who are asking themselves why Fine Gael and Labour lied to them. Why the parties now in government made pre-election promises on child benefit and property tax only to break those promises within months of taking office.

“Pre-election promises may mean little to politicians like Pat Rabbitte or his colleagues in cabinet. But for voters they are the reason why they chose one candidate over another or one party over another.

“For almost a week now my offices in Leinster House and Donegal have been inundated with calls from angry and upset people; not just constituents of mine, but people from all across the state.

“Some of them want to vent their anger; some want to explain the human impact this budget will have on their lives; all of them feel that this government has let them down.

“Budget 2013 marks the total betrayal of the election promises of this Fine Gael and Labour government.

“I could give countless examples of why TDs from both sides of the house should vote no confidence in this government.

“Tonight I will focus on just three – the cut to the carers respite grant, the cut to child benefit and the family home tax.

“Last Wednesday a woman from Co Sligo rang. She was in tears.

“As a blind pensioner who lives alone in a rural area her telephone and broadband are her lifelines to the outside world. They are not a luxury. They are vital for her to live.

“She said that if the cuts to the telephone allowance went ahead she could not afford her phone and internet service.

“She would be cut off, isolated, her quality of life destroyed.

“This is the human face of this Fine Gael and Labour budget.

“Today I had the great privilege of talking to the carers who gathered in front of the Dáil calling for the reversal of the Carers Respite Grant. They are all remarkable people.

“Each of them told a different story of how this cut would impact on them and the loved ones they care for.

“As the protest came to an end and after many hours of carers standing in the freezing cold I invited a couple of them to come in and warm themselves with a cup of tea before they headed home.

“One of the women was Caroline from Dublin. She told me her own personal story. Caroline in wheelchair bound. She lives with a debilitating and progressive disease. Yet she is a woman with remarkable strength and courage.

“I initially thought that Caroline was the person being cared for. But in fact Caroline was the carer. She lives alone with her 75 year old mother who suffers with Parkinson’s disease and is a diabetic.

“Caroline administers her mother’s dialysis at home. She talked about the challenges she has being wheelchair bound, getting her mother out of bed, wash and shower and dress her.

“While she started telling the story with the kind of humour that comes naturally to a daughter talking about caring for her mother, quickly her eyes welled up and she broke into tears.

“She asked why the government valued her so little. She said that she hated the way this government made her feel about herself.

“Caroline is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week carer. Her mother could not function without her support.

“And every day she has the strength and courage to carry out the countless invisible tasks of a carer so that her mother can live with dignity.

“This is the human face of Budget 2013. This is the real consequence of Fine Gael and Labours proposal to cut the respite care grant.

“And for every cut to a vital support there is a story like Caroline’s.

“This is what Fine Gael and Labour are doing to the people they promised to protect. This is a budget that attacks carers, the sick, older people, children and families.

“It is a budget that will increase financial hardship and poverty for tens of thousands of families.

“The cuts to child benefit, the cuts to the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and the taxing of maternity benefit are all anti-child measures.

“During the general election campaign Eamon Gilmore said there would be no cuts to child benefit under his watch, that it was a red line issue.

“I don’t need to explain to anyone in the Labour Party the impact that this will have on children and families.

“You know only too well. It is why you made this issue a central part of your election campaign.

“How do you expect those families who are going to be affected by this cut, particularly those who voted for you on the basis of this promise, to have any confidence in you?

“And then there is the Family Home Tax. The government claim it is a property tax but that just isn’t true. It is a tax on the family home.

“170,000 families are in serious mortgage distress. Hundreds of thousands more are in negative equity. Tens of thousands paid huge sums in stamp duty at the height of the boom. 1.8 million households have less that €100 per month after paying essential bills.

“Fine Gael and Labour campaigned on a promise to assist those who are struggling to pay their mortgages, to ease their burden.

“And what have you done? You have slapped a tax on their family home on top of all the other stealth taxes and charges contained in the budget.

“The Government could have introduced a wealth tax; making those with the most pay the most.

“They could have cut the lavish pay of politicians, senior civil servants and bankers.

“They could have introduced emergency legislation to claw back the massive pensions to the bankers and cabinet Ministers who wrecked the economy.

“But no - Fine Gael and Labour chose to hit carers, the sick, children and families. They chose to behave just like Fianna Fail.

“And these are just three of the reasons why the public has lost confidence in this government.

“They have lost confidence because you made a choice, to make ordinary people pay for the bad decisions, the failed policies and the stroke politics of Fianna Fail and their crooked banker and developer friends.

“This is what Budget 2013 is about. There is no doubt that Fine Gael and Labour have broken their contract with the people. They have ridden roughshod over their election promises.

“They have torn to shreds their programme for government commitments. They have destroyed the hopes and expectations of the entire population.

“This is the reason why Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government tonight.

“Not because you do not have our support, but because you have lost the support of the people.

“I urge the House to support this motion.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin T.D., has criticised Health Minister James Reilly’s refusal, this evening, to clarify the details of new restrictions on medical cards for 2013.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“Following on from last Wednesday’s Budget 2013 announcement, Minister Reilly, in a subsequent press briefing, indicated that savings in the area of medical card costs would be made next year through the introduction of further restrictions on medical card eligibility.

“At this evening’s meeting of the Oireachtas Select Sub-Committee on Health, convened to discuss the Minister’s supplementary Budget of €360m, I sought clarification on the Minister’s plans. Despite repeated efforts, the Minister blatantly refused to provide any further information, instead claiming that the details would be contained in the HSE National Service Plan 2013, to be published in January.

“The Ministers failure to provide clarity will leave many medical card holders in fear of failing to meet the new criteria, and in fear of losing their medical cards. The Minister should outline his proposals immediately.” ENDS

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Hypocrisy to suggest that Labour Party not responsible for budget

Speaking tonight in the Dáil on the Social Welfare Bill, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on social protection, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, was scathing in his criticism of the Labour Party and its minister for social protection, Joan Burton TD.

He pointed to Labour hypocrisy in trying to suggest that it had nothing to do with his budget:
“Labour backbenchers and hacks have been trying to put it out there that this is all Noonan’s fault and that their own precious Minister has been fighting the good fight.

“Well I have been debating social welfare issues with the Labour Party minister in this chamber on a near monthly basis, since she took up office and not an opportunity goes by that she doesn’t allude to her opinion that financial supports for carers are too generous and that the disabled aren’t really disabled.

“Anyone who recalls Minister Noonan’s treatment of Brigid McCole has come to expect callousness and inhumanity from him. But the public would have expected more from the Labour minister Joan Burton because she has spoken in the past of the value of social welfare to families and to the wider economy. The public will not make the same mistake again.”

Full text of speech below. Please check against delivery.
The Labour Party’s Joan Burton speaking about Child Benefit in December 2009 when Fianna Fáil were preparing to cut it:
“The Irish tax code is a funny thing. It can recognise, and has recognised, Pino Harris and his yacht Christina O. It recognises stallions at stud. It also recognises high-achieving sportsmen, heritage properties, writers and artists. However, it does not recognise children, the cost of raising a child and the burden that places on the incomes of parents who are taxpayers.
A person or couple who work and have a child pay the same amount of tax as an individual or couple with no dependent children.
Child benefit is keeping many families afloat.
Child benefit is keeping bread on the table. It is paying the food bills of a significant number of families who have had a massive reduction in their income.
Child benefit is, has been and will continue for a long time to be mainly an issue for mná na hÉireann and their children. That is why it is so vulnerable.”
Fast forward and what did she do once she got into government? She took advantage of this vulnerability. Sure it’s only women and children. It’s only Mná na hÉireann. She cut the child benefit two years running. With the backing of her party colleagues she is bursting the life raft of households with children, she is taking bread off the tables of children.
The Labour Party’s pre-election posters and promises to protect child benefit and low income families have been quoted ad nauseum. These promises with which they bought the election and indeed the promises contained in the Programme for Government to protect the vulnerable have now been broken ad nauseum.
Fine Gael’s Michael Ring speaking about carers in 2010 when Fianna Fáil were cutting financial support to carers:
“It is outrageous that the Government has targeted the carers in this budget. The carers are those who work for their social welfare payment and I am disappointed that the Minister and the Government could not have excluded the carers as these people need help more than anybody.
Fine Gael believes we should support carers. It makes sense that carers are supported in the work they do because they save the taxpayer money in the long run. If carers are not supported they will experience physical, financial and emotional hardship and eventual burnout. The result of this is that the cared-for person will end up in expensive hospital or nursing homes and the State will have to pick up that tab.”
Fast forward and what are Fine Gael doing, along with their Labour party colleagues, in government? Cutting support for these same carers. Cutting the Respite Care Grant.
What have Fine Gael and the Labour Party got to say for themselves today? How do they attempt to justify these u-turns? How do they attempt to justify this electoral fraud?
Well according to Minister Pat Rabitte, Labour Party election promises were made to be broken. And Fine Gael Minister Shane MacEntee doesn’t know what the carers are complaining about it all– sure “you could stay in a top hotel for €700 a week. People just have to get on with it”. – As if in the government’s opinion carers have been living it up in five star luxury at the expense of the state all these years!
Labour backbenchers and hacks have been trying to put it out there that this is all Noonan’s fault and that their own precious Minister has been fighting the good fight. Well I have been debating social welfare issues with the Labour Party Minister in this chamber on a near monthly basis since she took up office and not an opportunity goes by that she doesn’t allude to her opinion that financial supports for carers are too generous and that the disabled aren’t really disabled.
Anyone who recalls Minister Noonan’s treatment of Brigid McCole has come to expect callousness and inhumanity from him. But the public would have expected more from the Labour Minister Joan Burton because she has spoken in the past of the value of social welfare to families and to the wider economy. The public will not make the same mistake again.
What is the verdict on the Budget and the Social Welfare Bill before us? My words clearly fall on deaf ears with this Minister so I’ll borrow the words of some of her own party colleagues.
Roisín Shorthall said “Budget 2013 is an assault on families – as unfair as any we have seen in recent years. By continuing to protect the wealthy, it proves that as long as Fine Gael ideology dominates the Government, ordinary people will suffer.”
Labour Party Chairman Colm Keaveney pointing to the “cumulative effect on working families” of the child benefit cut and PRSI changes he called aspects of the Budget “regressive”. He said “We had choices in the Budget and in certain areas we didn’t make the correct choices.”
Well Shorthall, Keaveny and the rest will have an opportunity to demonstrate when the votes are taken on this Bill whether they are people of integrity who mean what they say or whether they are merely paying lip service to save their electoral behinds.
[Eric Byrne in my own constituency last night said “its not over until the fat lady sings.” Was he giving false hope to carers Minister or are you the lady to hwom he referred and are you going to start singing?].
And what is the public’s response to the Budget and this Social Welfare Bill? I’ll now quote from a small selection of the many emails that I received from Mná na hEireann in the wake of the Budget last week -
“Devasted here after listening to the budget , I have twins in pre school. I still only have 10 hrs a week as a home help so if you do the maths over half my wages goes on child care , not including how expensive it is to clothe two at one time . I also have a son in primary school and i dread next September with 3 uniforms , tracksuits shoes and books to fork out for ...I dont know how to cut my cloth any more ..Please help women like me keep our head above water.”
“the little people are screwed yet again totally disillusioned with this country I'm a mother of 2 sets of twins never looked for anything from this country very hard to envisage us staying here it's impossible as time goes on it's just hit after hit. So disappointed.”

“I am fully aware that as a country we have an awful mess that we have to clean up but I am totally honest when I say that most families that I know use child benefit to pay essential bills each month. Why does the government not go after the wealthy in this country as they seem to not be struggling as much as us ordinary people. In fact I can never remember a time during the boom when I or anyone I know had money to throw around, it may have been a boom but I honestly think this was only for a small few.”

“Today is a grim day for us mothers. All that shower of thieving gets are short of doing is either dropping poor or middle class families off at the major ports in Ireland and sending us away on coffin ships!! It's a disgrace!!”

“as a disabled person I don't know if I will be able to keep up my regular medication because of the increases, and how can I get to the doctor when I can't afford road tax as it is!! Cuts in the household benefits package will cripple me, I'm already seeking help from SVP, what do I do now??”

“I don't think the current powers realise the amount of people in their 30's that are taking their life's because they can't survive in this country! I hit rock bottom myself in September and driving my car into a wall was the only way out I could think of, thankfully I thought about my children and the fact that they would be left parent less if I was gone, but what can I offer them, in a country that's anti mothers and anti-children, the only option is to leave.”
I’ll deal with as many of the specifics of the Bill as the guillotine imposed by government allows during Committee Stage. Suffice to say at this stage that myself and my party colleagues are opposed to almost every single section of this Bill.
The Bill cuts core social welfare payments and rates. It cuts the respite care grant, child benefit and jobseekers benefit. It increases PRSI contributions for the low paid and for self-employed people with very very low incomes.
I have tabled amendments aimed at removing all of these cuts from the Bill.
I have also tabled amendments that would both save and raise money for the Department of Social Protection. I have shown yet again that the Minister has options. She has real choices. She does not have to target carers, children or those on low incomes.
I have tabled amendments providing for a temporary social welfare amnesty which would give rise to a one off control saving hike of €55 million. And I have tabled an amendment providing for a third rate of employers PRSI contribution on earnings exceeding €100,000. This measures which is limited to those employers who can afford to pay it would raise €91.5 million.
In addition to these savings which are internal to the Minister own departmental budget my party produced a detailed and costed alternative budget which clearly shows that every cut to social welfare contained in this Bill could have been avoided.
Fianna Fáil’s record
Fianna Fáil have been all over the media, ringing their hands and pretending opposition to these cuts. But lets look at what they actually proposed in their own pre-budget submission. And lets look at what they actually did in government.
There was a world of difference between Fianna Fáil’s pre-budget proposals and my own party’s alternative budget.
In terms of social welfare the only proposal that Fianna Fáil actually detailed and costed is a fresh cut.
Despite the growing evidence that the last round of rent supplement cuts are causing homelessness Fianna Fáil propose to save €25 million by cutting the scheme further. They proposed to do this by hiking the individual contribution yet again.
Beyond this they proposed to reduce social welfare spending by €200 million with unspecified additional control savings and activation. This was a ‘back of a beer mat’ proposal. There was no breakdown, no creative new control idea and activation measures designed to get people working actually cost money.
In stark contrast to the Fianna Fáil document my party’s Social Protection proposals were detailed and costed.
We had spelt out how we would have saved €67 million with a one-off amnesty and by recouping welfare paid from employers found guilty of wrongful dismissal. We have demonstrated how the government could raise an additional €91.5 million from those employers that can demonstrably afford to pay higher PRSI.
And we had committed to spend an additional€32 million increasing the earnings disregard for lone parents which provides a route out of poverty and welfare dependency, €51 million increasing the annual fuel allowance payment by €120 and €12.5 million restoring the cuts made by this government to Community Employment Scheme training and materials budgets.
Current government same as last
1. FF cut the weekly working age payment rates twice.
2. FF abolished the Xmas Bonus
3. FF cut child benefit across the board. LAB/FG provided for cuts to child benefit for later children and abolished the grants for multiple births that were payable at birth, 4 and 12 years old
4. FF announced the end of the smokeless zone fuel allowance top-up, Lab/FG implemented it. LAB/FG cut the fuel allowance by 6 weeks or €120.
5. In Budget 2012 Lab/FG introduced tax on illness benefit from day 1. The first 6 weeks used to be exempt. From Jan 2009 (i.e. under FF) illness benefit was limited to 2 years max for a person with 260 paid contributions and 1 year for someone with between 104 and 260 contributions. Illness benefit had been available indefinitely up til then.
6. The treatment benefit scheme was cut by FF in Budget 2010 and again by LAB/FG in Budget 2012.
7. Lab/FG cut the redundancy rebate for employers from 60% to 15%
8. In 2009 FF cut rent supplement by 8% and reduced the maximum rent caps. In Budget 2012 LAB/FG cut rent supplement further hiking the individual contribution required and reducing the max rent caps.
9. In budget 2012 Lab/FG abolished concurrent payments (lone parents and people with disabilities now effectively excluded from CE).

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin T.D., has welcomed today’s full judgement by the Supreme Court on its ruling that Government publications during the Children’s Referendum breached the McKenna principles and were “not fair, equal, impartial or neutral”.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“This is a very significant judgement and is to be welcomed, upholding, as it does, the principles of fairness in referendum campaigns set by the McKenna judgement. The issue of government spending has been raised in previous referendum campaigns and has been a continuing cause of concern.

“Today’s judgement will provide clarity for future referenda. This will aid those who seek to ensure that the constitutional guarantee of fairness in the democratic process is maintained.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Assembly Commission at Stormont, Barry McElduff, have stated that Sinn Féin took the decision not to attend the Assembly Commission discussion today about extending the number of designated days for the flying of the union flag at Parliament Buildings as it could only have heightened division rather than promoted mutual respect.

Speaking today Mr McElduff said:

“We are in the middle of a very tense situation arising from the recent Belfast City Council decision on flags.

“What we need now is a careful reflection on all of this, including what parties understand by the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement relating to mutual respect and parity of esteem.

“The Agreement requires us to ensure that symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.

“The proposal for an Assembly Commission discussion today about extending the number of designated days for the flying of the union flag at Parliament Buildings could only have heightened division rather than promoted mutual respect.

“Sinn Féin’s decision today not to attend such a discussion was clearly the right one.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said he has been told by Desmond de Silva that loyalist attempts to kill him will be referred to when de Silva releases his ‘review’ into the Pat Finucane murder tomorrow.

The South Belfast MLA said:

 “I don’t expect any new revelations in my case as the British government has continued in their cover-up of collusion on this issue.

“Indeed de Silva never even contacted me during his so-called review other than to tell me he was going to refer to my case.

“I would only be satisfied if the full truth about the level of collusion that took place between the British state and loyalists death squads was to be revealed.

“The British government have obviously tried to gloss over the collusion that took place in the Pat Finucane murder with the de Silva report.

“I support the Finucane family in their demand for a public inquiry into Pat’s murder.

“It is only then the truth of the level of collusion in Pat’s killing and the incidents regarding myself will be revealed.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Cathal Ó hOisín,  has welcomed the undertaking by the Culture, Art and Leisure Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, to conserve wild salmon stocks.

Speaking today Mr Ó hÓisin said:

"The measure outlined today by the Culture, Arts and Minister to protect and conserve our wild salmon stocks is to be welcomed.

“Anglers have already been encouraged to take voluntary measures by the Department and both commercial and recreational anglers have taken proactive steps themselves in order to help preserve stocks throughout 2012.

“Further to this the measures outlined, including the bringing forward of legislation aimed at the cessation of commercial netting for wild salmon and the mandatory catch and release in DCAL waters will, it is hoped, help save an ever decreasing stock of wild salmon in our rivers.

“This can only be a beneficial move. The preserving of such stocks, in order to help them recover in the future, is essential and will in the long term benefit both the commercial and recreational aspects of the industry.”

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD has called on the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter to move swiftly to restore public confidence in the penalty points system following allegations from a garda whistle-blower that 50,000 penalty points cases were quashed by senior gardaí.

The Donegal North East TD raised the issue with the Minister in the Dáil today.

Minister Shatter gave an assurance to Deputy Mac Lochlainn that he will publish the report on the allegation being carried out by Assistant Garda Commissioner, John O' Mahony when completed.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn:

“These allegations are very serious and have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in the penalty points system. The internal garda report must be carried out as soon as possible.

“The minister must then move to reassure the public that the penalty points appeal system is fully accountable with a full paper trail and a rationale provided on a case by case basis when a superintendent quashes any points or potential points against a motorist.

“I welcome the confirmation by the minister that he will publish the Assistant Commissioner’s report but the public will demand action and accountability.

“Any failure to implement the law must be dealt with clearly or any suggestion that ‘VIPs’ can have their points waived must be clarified.

“In the meantime, any shoddy policing practices that are evident from the allegations must be ceased immediately.”

ENDS

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Deputy Michael Colreavy, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources has welcomed the release today of an EU study into broadband coverage. The study highlights that Ireland is significantly lagging in access to superfast broadband, especially in rural areas.

Speaking on the issue, Deputy Colreavy said:
“Currently only 36% of Irish homes have access to superfast broadband. All other EU member states have over 50% superfast broadband access. While 97% of the population have access to basic broadband, we are significantly behind other EU states in superfast broadband access. The EU has set a date of 2020 for 100% superfast broadband coverage. If the government is serious about job creation and development of rural areas, it must afford substantial time and investment to reach this target.

“Sinn Féin’s Jobs Plan document, released earlier this year, outlined a need for a €2.5billion investment in superfast broadband. The Jobs Plan argued that existing state enterprises such as the ESB, Bord Gáis and Coillte could be used to develop Ireland’s superfast broadband access. The extension of broadband access would not just benefit homes, but would also attract investment to rural areas.” ENDS

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Welcome for passing Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann has welcomed the passing of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse by the Assembly today.

The bill enables the office of OFM/DFM to establish, resource and support the inquiry and compel witnesses to give evidence.

The west Belfast MLA said:

“Victims of abuse were robbed of their dignity, their self respect and their childhoods. Whether institutions or the state failed in their obligation of care to children is what this inquiry aims to reveal.

“The inquiry will give victims and survivors the chance to talk about their experiences and for their suffering to be acknowledged.

“It will make recommendations about an apology, a memorial and the requirement or desirability for redress to be provided by institutions and/or the Executive to meet the particular needs of victims.

“Words can not explain the dreadful ordeal these people went through as children so it was crucial that the Bill was passed and done so as soon as possible so that the process of finding the truth can continue.”

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Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy said that the way to cut through the latest census figures regarding the constitutional position of the North is to hold a border poll.

The Newry and Armagh MP said:

“It’s very clear is that there has been significant changes since the 2001 census both regarding identity and religious persuasion.

“There will be claims and counter-claims of what this represents when it comes to the constitutional position of the North and what the population are for or against.

“The way to have a definitive result for that question is to hold a border poll. The mechanisms within the Good Friday Agreement make allowance for that to happen.

“Nationalists and Republicans are confident about building a new future based on equality and we see a united Ireland as the best way of ensuring equality for all.

“We are confident in the rationale behind our arguments and of the absolute logic of Irish reunification.  If Unionists are confident in their own arguments for retaining the union then they will have nothing to fear with a border poll.”

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The attainment of pupils in our primary schools in reading and numeracy is higher than in any other English speaking country in the world according to an international report published today.

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has described the publication of the report as hugely significant.

For the first time, pupils in P6 (9-10 year olds) were assessed against their international counterparts as part of two studies - the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The results show that our primary school pupils are performing well above the international average in both literacy, where our pupils are ranked 5th out of 45 countries surveyed and numeracy, where they are ranked 6th out of 50 surveyed. In science, our pupils were ranked 21st, also scoring significantly above the international average.

Mr O’Dowd said: “The importance and significance of these findings cannot be underestimated. This is the first time we have measured our primary level schools against international standards and the results are truly impressive. In numeracy we rank just behind a group of high-performing pacific-rim countries, whilst in both reading and numeracy we are the highest-ranked English speaking region in the world.

“Indeed 19% of our children in reading and 24% in mathematics are performing at the advanced international benchmark – the highest level possible. This compares with international averages of 8% and 4% respectively.

“These statistics have shown the exceptional results our system is producing at primary level education. I would like to pay tribute to all who work in our system from the early years through primary education for their hard work and dedication. These statistics have shown the impact their work is having. Pupils, teachers, all school staff, leaders and governors should be justifiably proud today of what they are achieving.

“Indeed, this morning I wrote to the principals of all local primary schools to commend them on the excellent work they and their staff are doing on a daily basis and to thank them for the impact it is having.

“In many ways the statistics confirm what we already know from other sources. Our Key Stage Two outcomes show high attainment at primary level education and the recently published Chief Inspector’s report found that the overall effectiveness is good or better in 78% of primary schools inspected. The quality of leadership and management at all levels has improved and is now good or better in 78% of the schools inspected - up from 68% in the last reporting period. The report attributed the improvement to a ‘culture of self-evaluation’ and the middle management role in implementing and evaluating practice.

“It is clear that the characteristics of a good school are being embedded in our system: good teaching and good leadership with strong community engagement and a clear focus on the needs of the pupil. It is also clear that the policies we have been implementing in recent years are working and that our young people are reaping the benefits.”

This is the first time our system has been benchmarked against international standards at primary level. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has already shown us that our post-primary students at age 15 are at the international average in reading and mathematics and above the average in science.

The Minister continued: “It is clear that our policies are working well in early stages of a child’s education. Extra investment in early years services alongside the implementation of policies in recent years aimed at raising educational standards have had an impact on attainment. We know the barriers to children fulfilling their potential and we have policies in place to tackle them successfully.

“Standards are rising at all levels as recent GCSE and A-Level results show - this year, for example, the numbers achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C increased by 2.4 percentage points. I believe our next challenge is to quicken the pace of improvement in the post-primary sector. I want our young people to be entering the world of further and higher education and work with the same advantages with which they complete their primary education. We will be receiving the results of the next PISA survey at the end of next year and that will provide us with further information on how this work is progressing at post-primary level.

“The visit of representatives from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) early next year now has new significance. These independent experts will draw on all available information, including the statistics released today, to complete an in-depth review of our education system. They will seek to use international best practice to advise us on how to deliver educational improvements for all pupils.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “Today’s results are hugely significant. They provide us with evidence that our policies are working. I wish to consider these findings in more detail and I look forward to receiving the report from the OECD. The evidence we will then have will be crucial in taking action to build on the strong foundations in our system and ensure this high standard of educational attainment continues for the length of our children’s time at school.”

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Speaking today at Leinster House, Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams TD, said his party’s motion of no confidence in the government, to be tabled tonight, is a “reflection of the mood of the people”.

Addressing government TDs Teachta Adams said: “You weren’t elected to the Dáil to take money off carers; you weren’t sent to the Dáil to take money off child benefits; or to impose a tax on the family home or to take money off children and parents who need to get their children back to school with a decent pair of shoes. You weren’t sent to the Dáil to do any of those things. So don’t do it.”

Commenting on the cut to the respite care grant Gerry Adams described it as “a despicable, obscene and nasty little cut and it should be reversed.”

Speaking outside the Dáil as carers gathered for a protest at the government’s cut to respite care grants the Sinn Féin leader said:

“There is deep anger and hurt out there and Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence is a reflection of the mood of the people.

“This isn’t about the possibility of one or two backbench government TDs jumping overboard. I see no evidence that any of the backbenchers plan to vote against the government. I do see serious party management by both government parties.

“Sinn Féin’s no confidence motion reflects the mood of anger and frustration among citizens across this state. There is no mandate for what the government is doing. Whatever contract it signed with the people at the last election, the government parties, and especially Labour have torn it up.

“Sinn Féin is taking a stand against the government’s austerity policies and strategy. And the party will also be putting amendments to the various dimensions of the government’s proposals which show that there is another way of dealing with the economic crisis, particularly around this despicable cut in respite care grants.

“That is a despicable, obscene and nasty little cut and it should be reversed.

“We are putting forward intelligent, doable, costed amendments to the government’s proposals. We did so before the budget and we will do so again this week.

“I have a message to every single Teachta Dalai. You weren’t elected to the Dáil to take money off carers; you weren’t sent to the Dáil to take money of child benefits; or to impose a tax on the family home or to take money off children and parents who need to get their children back to school with a decent pair of shoes. You weren’t sent to the Dáil to do any of those things. So don’t do it.”

ENDS

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Martina Anderson MEP (Sinn Féin) has protested the passing of a European Parliament vote ratifying EU- Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Martina Anderson said:

"I am disgusted that, despite the fact of constant assassinations and disappearances of among others, trade unionists and human rights activists and a complete lack of accountability on the part of the Colombian government, the powers that be in the European Union still saw fit to push this agreement through"

"The Colombian government has shown their complete disregard for human rights, and for the rights of trade unions. Allegations of state involvement in disappearances and violence are continuing without investigation and those perpetrating these horrific crimes continue to act with complete impunity.

"The expected progress in this area is negligible and I for one remain unconvinced of the will of the Colombian government to address these issues and make the necessary improvements on human and labour rights.

"Ratifying this agreement shows the European Parliament's complete disregard for the supposed fundamental human rights position adopted within the European Union."

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Sinn Féin Social Protect Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has put an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill which seeks to reverse the cut to the Respite Carers’ Allowance and to replace it with a Social Welfare Amnesty which he says would bring in €55million, more than double the saving made by the cut to carers’ allowances.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said there are savings to be made in social protection without hitting low and middle income earners.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said;

“Minister Burton has said that she did not want to cut the Respite Carers’ Allowance and she wouldn’t do it if someone could show her another way to make savings.

“Today I am putting an amendment to the bill to introduce the a social welfare amnesty that would save the state €55 million, more than double the cut to the Respite Carers’ Grant and I am calling on Minister Burton to withdraw this cut.

“I am also putting forward an amendment to introduce a higher rate of Employers’ PRSI on earnings over €100,000 at 15.75% which would raise €91.5 million.

“The government would have you believe that there were no alternatives to the cuts it has introduced but Sinn Féin has shown that there are alternatives and my amendments today are about trying to reverse the worst of the Minister Burton’s cuts including the Respite Carers’ Grant, Job Seekers’ Benefit, the Child Benefit cut and the targeting of the low paid with the PRSI measures.

“I will be pushing these amendments and calling votes on them all.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP, Martina Anderson commenting on the outcome of the UN climate change summit in Doha said:

“This summit has delivered a disappointing outcome and the EU and the wealthy nations of the world must share the culpability. The EU was quite blatant in its efforts to limit European industry climate protection targets. Despite the urgency, the EU did not raise its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to 30% or 40% by 2020. The current goal of 20% by 2020 has almost been already achieved.”

“The message Doha sends out to the world is: continue with business as usual! The extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the minimum goal for Doha, doesn’t change anything. The Kyoto Protocol addresses only 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is riddled with loopholes.

“The EU more or less ignored the demands from developing countries to push for a detailed roadmap for a much-needed global climate treaty by 2015 and for the middle and long-term financing for mitigation and adaptation. Instead, some countries pledged to provide about € 7 billion over the next two years. Given the pace of ice cap melting, this is just a drop in the ocean. Millions of people are threatened by the loss of drinking water, flooding, or even erosion of their coastlines.

"We know that Europe will not escape the impact of climate change. Now is the time to step up our global campaign for governments to show leadership by setting science-based targets to decarbonise our economies.

"Climate change if left unchecked will cause economic as well as environmental catastrophe. What was obvious in the run-up to the climate summit in Doha is now official: global warming will certainly exceed 2°C, most likely rising to 4°C or more.

"With the recent UN COP 18 Climate Talks failing to sanction more ambitious climate action, the wider global community is now tasked with trying to salvage some faith in the possibility of a safer and more equitable world.

"The inextricable link between climate change and food security seen from a human rights perspective marks one opportunity to address this gap, serving as a wake-up call to policy makers about the effects of the numerous and inter-twined systematic failures which are impacting on both climate change and food production at an ever-increasing and alarming rate.

"Climate change-induced droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are severely impacting on agricultural production, thus hiking up food prices."

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