Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Speaking on social welfare rates in Dáil Éireann

Watch Aodhán's speech here:

Aodhán: I appreciate the sentiments in the motion. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention my uncle, Micheál Ó Ríordáin, whom I buried earlier. He was proud of my achievement in being elected to the House in February. He had campaigned with me since my first election. I reflected earlier as we sat in the church about the life chance he had been given by this Republic. He moved out of the tenement house in which he was brought up to a corporation estate in the 1940s. The Republic owes a life chance to every child, regardless of who they are, where they are from, their religion, the colour of their skin or the income bracket of their parents.

It keeps me awake at night - I am sure this is shared by others - that if we do nothing in the next number of years we will take away the life chance from our children because they had the misfortune to be born over the past few years or in the coming years. We need to change the language we use to describe the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. I find it offensive that people constantly state that people who are unemployed are costing the Exchequer €20,000 a year and they are a supposed drain on the social protection budget. This is a societal cost, not an economic cost. The impact losing a job and being unable to go to work has on an individual and, by extension, on his or her children is immeasurable. It should not be measured in economic units.

I am proud to be a member of the Government because of the some of the initiatives we have taken. The reversal of the cut in the national minimum wage was not easy and it has not resulted in a huge change but we said we would do it. We are determined to defend the Croke Park agreement because it defends the rights of low paid public servants. Many Members have different views on the joint labour committee system but when we were targeted by representatives of the conservative Catholic right who suggested that members of my party and other parties were in some way anti-Catholic, I wish they had been so vociferous when we protected the rights of those who worked on a Sunday, the traditional day of rest, because they had to work to put bread on the table for their children, and ensured they would be compensated for giving up their Sundays. Commentators on the conservative Catholic right were silent on that issue, which has had more of an impact on the family unit than any of the other stuff they go on with. Poverty has the biggest impact on the family and I wish they would realise that.

I appreciate the motion and I welcome the opportunity to discuss matters relating to children. We are trying to correct the mistakes made in respect of our economy. There is only one chance to be a child. Unlike my uncle, Michéal, and my father, many children do not get the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The social welfare system does not, in many respects, act as an enabler. In many circumstances, it almost acts as a cage. Everyone knows a cage will protect one from the wolves. However, it does not enable a person or set him free. In the context of what we are trying to deliver in respect of the education budget, one of the things of which I am extremely proud is the literacy strategy. We are determined to push that strategy forward because if one cannot read, one cannot play a full role in society.

People must take the totality of what the Government is doing into account when discussing the possibility of maximising children's potential. As already stated, people only get one chance at childhood. It is not a person's fault if he or she happens to be born in the middle of an economic crisis. That fact must be taken into consideration when discussing the concerns raised in the motion. I wish that every child could have the opportunity to grasp the life chances of which my uncle, Michéal, managed to avail, to live the kind of life he lived and to maximise their potential. This is why I hope that next week we will be able to stand up and be proud of the direction the Government proposes to take.