VETERAN Fianna Fáil poll-topper Willie O’Dea has complained at being allowed only a four-minute speaking slot so far in the 33rd Dáil — while launching an attack on his own Government.
He made the comment as he expressed bitter disappointment that there has been no increase in basic social welfare rates for the second year in a row, saying it was causing the erosion of purchasing power for the poor.
“Inflation for those on social welfare who can only purchase the basic necessities of life far exceeds headline inflation,” he said.
Mr O’Dea said he was confining himself to speaking from one page on the Social Welfare Bill because of the shortness of time allowed. “Two years have gone by now without any increase in basic social welfare for those who can only purchase the bare necessities of life.”
The headline inflation figures include the cost of yachts and top-of-the-range cars which the poor will never be purchasing, he said, but studies carried out by a number of organisations show that inflation in the area of basic purchases had increased by 5-6pc over the past two years.
“Allowing the purchasing power of social welfare payments to fall does not constitute protection of social welfare rates, and it does appear to make a mockery of the commitment by Government to move to a level necessary to make ends meet,” he said.
“Experience has shown that the weakest in society get left further behind unless welfare increases keep up. Since 2016, average weekly earnings have increased by 16pc – exactly double the rate of social welfare increase.
“The inevitable consequences of this are growing poverty and widening inequality. In Ireland, almost 700,000 people are living on incomes below the poverty line and child poverty rates are amongst the highest in the OECD,” Mr O’Dea said. “We cannot afford to create a permanent and expanding underclass in this country. If we do, we will have within our society a growing army of people who will remain shackled in poverty indefinitely.
“The long-term consequences for Irish society and Irish politics will be profound, far-reaching and not for the good.”