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Dáil to begin debating Budget's changes to social welfare system

The Social Welfare Bill, which gives legal effect to cuts to the respite care grant and other changes, will be debated this week.

Joan Burton has conceded that some of the Budget measures are undesirable, but necessary to reduce spending at the Department of Social Protection.
Joan Burton has conceded that some of the Budget measures are undesirable, but necessary to reduce spending at the Department of Social Protection.
Image: http://www.thejournal.ie/sinn-fein-motion-no-confidence-707882-Dec2012/

THE DÁIL will this evening begin its consideration of a draft Bill which will give legal effect to the social welfare changes and cuts proposed in last week’s Budget.

General debate on the Social Welfare Bill will take place this evening and tomorrow, with votes on individual sections of the Bill and proposed opposition amendments due tomorrow.

Backbench lobbying to have various provisions of the Bill taken out – including the proposed cut to the annual Respite Care Grant for carers, to be cut from €1700 to €1375 – is continuing in the meantime.

Parliamentary rules mean that when the Bill reaches ‘committee stage’, where proposed amendments are considered and voted upon, TDs have to formally approve the inclusion of each ‘section’.

Fianna Fáil has pledged to force a vote on the inclusion of various controversial measures – meaning Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers will be forced to vote in favour of including the cuts to respite care grants, an increase in PRSI contributions, cuts to child benefit and shortening the payment of jobseeker’s benefit.

Both Fine Gael and Labour rules dictate that any member who votes against the party’s policies in the Dáil or Seanad are automatically stripped of the party whip, and are ejected from their parliamentary parties.

Among the other provisions in the Bill is a clause which would give the Revenue Commissioners the right to reduce welfare payments by up to 15 per cent in cases where it needs to recover an overpayment from a recipient.

The Government has proposed the measures in order to cut spending at the Department of Social Protection, which administers the payments. Spending at the Department will fall from €14.3 billion in 2012 to an estimated €13.3 billion for 2013.

The Oireachtas schedule for the week will see the Dáil complete its scrutiny of the Social Welfare Bill by Friday, meaning progression of the Bill will be out of TDs’ hands when they return to their constituencies for the weekend.

Debate on the Bill will begin at about 6pm this evening, and continue until 10pm, with a 90-minute interruption from 7:30pm to debate Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government.

Read: Carers to protest at Dáil today over cuts to grant

More: Oireachtas agenda: Welfare cuts, HSE bailout and the Seanad’s birthday

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Gavan Reilly

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