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Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics


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On Saturday 11th May, Labour Intercultural held an event on the Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics. This event came about when Remba Osengo, a member of the Labour Party in DunLaoghaire approached the group to organise a conference where ethnic minority community leaders could engage with the party and it’s public representatives.

Speaking at the event Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton noted the changes in her own constituency, Dublin West, over the past twenty years. She emphasised how Ireland has only a small fraction of time to adapt to a multi-ethnic population compared to countries such as Britain giving the examples of the UK and Germany where the process happened ‘over a 50-60 year period’.

The minister said there was room for improvement, but Ireland had done relatively well in absorbing the many new arrivals from different countries since the Celtic Tiger period. “Twenty years ago Ireland was very homogeneous,” she told the audience largely composed of ethnic community representatives.

Professor Bryan Fanning from UCD addressing the event said that members of ethnic minorities who wanted to stand for public office should root themselves in their local community. He added that people did not have to be full citizens to stand in local elections, and there have been some successes in that arena, such as Nigerian-born Rotimi Adebari, who became mayor of Portlaoise in 2007.

“Maybe they [members of minorities] need to be more vociferous in what they are asking for,” Professor Fanning said. He said Ireland was an interesting contrast in that it had “a society that is very diverse, and polity that is very monocultural.”

Dublin MEP Emer Costello, noted the number of new citizens since the the government had come into office and encouraged them to register to vote and to use their vote in referendums and elections. She said that

Dr Jaroslaw Plachecki, lecturer in social sciences at Dublin City University and editor of the Irish Polish Society Review, told the gathering that his experience of young Polish people in Ireland was that they knew practically nothing about the political process.

Also Speaking at the event was Solicitor Michelle Lee, who informed the audience of the employment law situation for immigrants.

Labour Intercultural will be holding similar events in the future and working with the elected representatives in the Labour Party to ensure that the issues of ethnic minorities are highlighted.

By Karen McCormack (Co-Chair 087 293 2828)

via Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics | Labour Blog | The Labour Party.

Workers should fund their own retirement – OECD


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A major review of Irish pensions has recommended that workers should be obliged to contribute to pension schemes to fund their retirement.

The OECD Review of the Irish Pension System says that the best options would be either a universal basic pension or a means-tested basic pension.

These schemes would be complemented by mandatory private schemes, or “auto- enrolment” into additional pension schemes.

Over 900,000 workers have no provision for old age other than the State pension.

The OECD also recommends raising the retirement age to reflect the fact that people are living longer.

It calls for means-testing of pension related benefits like free travel and the household package.

The OECD highlights what it calls unequal treatment between public and private sector workers – with Government employees far more likely to enjoy defined benefit or guaranteed pensions.

It recommends that a cheaper public service pension scheme introduced last year for new recruits to the public service should be applied to some serving Government employees in order to secure savings sooner.

The new scheme, based on career averaging, will not deliver savings for decades when this year’s recruits begin to retire.

The OECD also recommends that any new scheme for private sector workers should be extended to the public service, while it urges legislation to improve protection for workers in defined benefit pension schemes in difficulty.

At present retired pensioners get first call on the remaining assets of the scheme, and this can leave scheme members who have not yet retired at a disproportionate loss.

It says the priority for pensioners already receiving their pensions should be eliminated.

The OECD urges caution about investing pension funds in domestic infrastructure projects, adding that supporting economic growth should not be used as an excuse to impose low returns on pension fund members.

It also states that the funding standard for pensions should be revised.

The report found that while Irish pensioners were in a comparatively good position compared to other age groups and international experience, the country’s pension framework faces challenges of sustainability.

However, it points out that there is a “misalignment” between the tax reliefs which incentivise pension saving by high earners, and the policy aim of promoting increased pension coverage for the lower paid.

The OECD also found that charges for small occupational and personal pensions were expensive.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said that her aim was to ensure that all older people have a safe secure retirement, adding that the sooner the system was reformed, the better.

However, she added that she was mindful of the economic crisis, and that would inform her strategy.

Ms Burton said she intends to bring proposals to Cabinet soon.

via Workers should fund their own retirement – OECD – RTÉ News.

via Workers should fund their own retirement – OECD – RTÉ News.

Labour, Crisis and Heaves – what happens next


The Labour party is in the midst of an internal storm. A storm the leadership is trying to control. We are not used to such events in the Labour party, associating them more with their partner FG and even more with the heyday of FF. However, heaves are not easy to organise or execute, just ask Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar. It’s a game that requires huge political tact.

So the first thing to ask is why are Labour in this position? That’s simple, firstly they over promised at the election, the buck for that stops with the leader. Secondly, the perception is that Labour are being rolled over by FG. Eamon Gilmore has done himself no favours by being so determined to always show a united front with End Kenny. Distance and the odd falling out can destabilise governments but it is much better for your leadership.

The next question to ask is how serious are the rumours of a possible heave? They are pretty serious. I said at the start of the year that Eamon Gilmore was in a spot of bother and things have got worse since that. Labour are losing far too many personnel. The grassroots are feeling sidelined and angry. Now, we all know that in the normal course of events party grassroots don’t make the big decisions, however, once they start to get agitated they have enormous power as TDs feel the pressure and start to listen to people they are close to on the ground about the implications for their seat. All of those who have walked out of Labour parliamentary party are gone unless the leader changes. The only way to heal a rift is to move on from it and to do that, a leader must be changed. This is even true when a heave occurs. An FF leader never lost a heave vote. It’s what happed after that caused problems. Equally I have always maintained had Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar and others not agreed to return to the FG front bench and held their nerve, Enda Kenny would not be Taoiseach today.

Labour are starting to realise that the only way they can convince people they are going to change and get tougher is if they start with a new face and perhaps also remove some others at cabinet. Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin will be most certainly in the firing line.

Now, back up the horse, because all is not lost for Eamon Gilmore. He is rumoured to be talking to TDs. That’s a wise move, he needs to know what he’s dealing with then he needs a strategy. The first stage of this would be to try calm fears, and avoid an all out vote against him. Heaves are useless and get no where unless one of your front bench moves to support it. Gilmore can rest assured that he has strong support from his ‘old boys’ he has one weak link, Joan Burton. He needs to stop Joan making any attempts in the short term and just buy some time.

Joan has her own issues. She knows there are limits to what Labour can achieve. If she were to take over then she would certainly be expected to take a tougher line with FG and be far less chummy with them. That’s fine, she also knows that FG are desperate to remain in power and avoid an election so she could get a few big wins on that basis, but it would require brinkmanship and that will weaken the government. In reality such a strategy may start to halt the Labour decline, even gain them a few points but it wont be huge (a few points could be at least 10 seats saved though). However it’s unlikely the government would last full term, she would be looking at an election in 12 -18 months. Timing would be everything. She may well prefer if Gilmore could remain for another year and she could face such a strategy and timescale from next year. However, the opportunity may be presenting itself in the coming months. Timing is everything in such a strategy. This helps Gilmore as he may be able to keep Joan onside for the next while.

That’s valuable breathing space but then he needs to figure out how to use it. He needs to talk to Enda. The chummy façade needs to stop. FG need to realise that they are better off with Gilmore than whomever might replace him, therefore they need to find an issue that they can publicly disagree on, let it carry on, argue, and then allow Eamon a decisive victory that will shore up his support. It may hurt FG but its better than the alternative and if FG are really smart then they can surely find an issue that they know they can afford to lose on but matters to Labour.

That would allow Eamon Gilmore escape from his current predicament, but he’s on the ropes right now and there are a lot of ‘Ifs’ in that strategy. Those in Labour hoping for change need to be far more organised and need to know who they support. No matter how you look at it, Eamon Gilmore is now only Leader at the behest of Joan Burton, she can decide to loyally follow him until its too late (a bit like Micheál Martin did with Cowen) or she can ensure he is removed now and give Labour a fighting chance of showing a new image. The question is does she want the job? Such heaves require a certain steel, an ability to stand by what you do and accept the repercussions, they can even end your career. It needs enormous conviction. All sides will be tested in the months ahead

Labour, Crisis and Heaves – what happens next.

Transgender woman to sue over birth certificate delay


Dr Lydia Foy, the transgender woman who won a landmark High Court case for gender recognition in 2007, has issued new proceedings against the State as she remains unable to get a birth certificate indicating she is a woman.

Dr Foy, supported by the Free Legal Advice Centres, served the plenary summons against the Minister for Social Protection, Ireland and the Attorney General on the Chief State Solicitor on Monday

“I think it’s beyond belief that the State still hasn’t changed the law,” said Dr Foy at her home in Athy, Co Kildare, yesterday.

“You’d imagine they’d have dived in to fix this up. Not a huge number of people would be affected and it’s a matter of human rights.”

The High Court ruled in October 2007 that Irish law was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for refusing to recognise the acquired gender of transgender people.

The State moved to appeal to the Supreme Court but withdrew this in June 2010.

Since then successive Governments have promised to introduce legislation to allow transgender people to get new birth certificates.

Gender identity

Dr Foy was registered as Donal Mark Foy at birth. She married and had two daughters, but struggled with her gender, attempting suicide and spending time in psychiatric care.

She was diagnosed with gender identity disorder by doctors in Britain.

She and her then wife separated in 1991 and she underwent gender realignment surgery in Britain in 1992. She was to lose her job as a dentist as well as access to her daughters following the surgery.

In March 1993 she applied for a new birth certificate reflecting her female identity, was refused and began legal proceedings in 1997.

Though the High Court initially ruled against her in 2002 it made its groundbreaking ruling in her favour five years later.

Ireland is now the only state in Europe still in breach of the Convention on Human Rights on the issue.

Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, said on a number of occasions legislation was a “priority”. Last September she promised its publication “within weeks”.

A spokeswoman for the department said the “formal opinion of the Attorney General was received . . . in December 2012 and is currently under consideration”.

The continued refusal by the State to recognise who she is is “very much a source of distress,” says Dr Foy. “It’s a constant insult. I’ve been very alone, very badly treated along the way.”

Recognition

Winning the recognition that can only come with a birth certificate that accurately reflects who she is has only become more important.

“Losing my family and my job seemed the worst, most important issues in the past. But I see everything flows from your identity. Being accepted for who I am is the most important thing. I would like to see this wrong put right as quickly and with as much dignity as possible.”

via Clerical Whispers.

via Clerical Whispers.

Appeal to Government to protect Free Travel Scheme


Active Retirement Ireland is urging the Government to protect the Free Travel Scheme in next week’s Budget.

However, former Labour Party TD Mary Upton has said that a small charge should be levied on longer journeys around the country.

Ms Upton also said the scheme must be protected from abuse by a small number of people using counterfeit cards.

Over 1.1 million people are eligible for the scheme, most of them aged 66 and over.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said the cost of the scheme to the taxpayer has risen by two-thirds over the past decade and now stands at €76 million a year.

Ministers Joan Burton and Leo Varadkar ordered a review of the scheme a number of months ago.

Active Retirement Ireland�says any curtailment would damage the health and well-being of older people.

In a statement, CEO Maureen Kavanagh said members are fearful that if free travel is cut, their links to the outside world would be severed.

She noted that it has become popular “in certain sectors to depict older people as well-off individuals” who can easily shoulder more cuts.

She underlined that many older people are extremely vulnerable, and at real risk of social isolation.

As well as pensioners and partners travelling with them, recipients of Disability and Carer’s Allowance and of Invalidity Pension are eligible.

The spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said the scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services.

These include road, rail and ferry services provided by semi-state companies as well as services provided by over 90 private transport operators.

She said the majority of these private contractors operate in rural areas.

via Appeal to Government to protect Free Travel Scheme – RTÉ News.

via Appeal to Government to protect Free Travel Scheme – RTÉ News.

Burton complains about ‘staggering’ €3bn cost of illness and disability payments –


 

 

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has complained that one in six of people of working age are getting an illness or disability payment at a cost of over €3bn per year.

She said that the figures were “staggering” and “pretty incredible” – as she defended her plans to get employers to contribute more to the sick pay bill.

Ms Burton said that there were now 300,000 people in total receiving either illness benefit or disability allowance – which represents 16 per cent of the working age population. And she said that this number had increased by 100,000 people over the past decade when the country was at the most prosperous point in its history.

“How did Fianna Fail manage to put an extra 100,000 people on some sort of illness or disability payment? Because these are staggering figures,” she said.

She was speaking in the Dail as Fianna Fail brought a motion calling on her to halt her “job-destroying statutory sick pay scheme”. Currently, the state pays the cost of sick leave for workers who are absent for more than three days. But Ms Burton is now planning to get employers to cover the cost of up to month’s sick leave taken by their workers to save up to €89m from the annual €847m illness bill. She told the Dail that Ireland required employers to contribute far less to sick pay than in other European countries.

Fianna Fail enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said his party was going to warn businesses about this new “Burton Burden”.

“This new cost burden will be seen as a tax on jobs and will have most effect on smaller, more vulnerable employers, operating in low-margin businesses,” he said.

Mr Calleary said that even a member of Ms Burton’s own party, Labour Senator John Whelan, had warned that her changes could push many small and medium enterprises “over the edge”.

Ms Burton had to withdraw her plan to change the sick pay system before last year’s Budget after strong opposition from Jobs Minister Richard Bruton. Several Fine Gael TDs have again warned that it will lead to increased costs for businesses and job losses.

via Burton complains about ‘staggering’ €3bn cost of illness and disability payments – National News – Independent.ie.

via Burton complains about ‘staggering’ €3bn cost of illness and disability payments – National News – Independent.ie.

Ireland’s first ever public transgender rally to take place today


Supporters of TEA

Up to 300 people are expected to attend Ireland’s first public transgender rally outside the Dáil later today.

Activists want to raise awareness that being transgender is still classified as a mental disorder, and not an identity as they believe.

A spokesperson for one of the group’s involved, Trans Education and Advocacy, told TheJournal.ie that the the people attending the Rally for Recognition will be urging politicians to introduce inclusive and respectful Gender Recognition legislation that will not enshrine pathologisation of trans identities into Irish law.

A report by a government advisory committee passed to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton recently outlined recommendations for legislation to allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate but only if they fulfil the medical criteria of a Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis or present evidence of reassignment surgery.

If pushed through, the move would set Ireland two steps back from international best practice on what has been described as a human rights issue.

“Currently many countries are fighting to remove that clause from their gender recognition legislation but Ireland is considering putting it in,” said Leslie Sherlock. “As it is, Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to get gender recognition laws.

“The identity of trans people is really problematic and we see it as a human rights issue.

It is like being gay, which is not an illness or a mental disorder. That is why we are fighting for its depathologisation.

“We would argue that although it can still be a medical condition, it is not a mental illness.”

Argentina has been cited as a country to emulate when it comes to transgender issues.

In the South American nation, trans people can change the gender marker on their birth certificate by simply signing an affidavit.

“That is all that should be required,” remarked Sherlock. “There is enough stigma attached to the identity without having more enforced by the State’s unnecessary legal hoops.”

There should also be a separation of the legal and medical issues, according to TEA.

Organiser Cat McIlroy added,“Although the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities have experienced significant progress in Irish legal and social spheres, trans people have been left behind.

Our main goal is to provide a space for trans people and allies to be visible and engage in action that will empower them to speak out about the right of trans people to be recognised without pathologisation or further delay by the Irish State.

Today’s demonstration, due to begin at 2.30pm, has been organised to mark International Day of Action for Trans Depathologisation. Activists from across Europe will be in attendance at the event coincides with the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) annual conference which is taking place in Dublin.

via Ireland’s first ever public transgender rally to take place today.

via Ireland’s first ever public transgender rally to take place today.

Enda Kenny threatens banks on mortgage debt forgiveness for homeowners –


TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has warned he is unhappy with the pace at which the banks are engaging in debt forgiveness with homeowners in mortgage distress.

Mr Kenny threatened to bring in new laws to force the banks hands if the Financial Regulator asked for extra powers.

The Taoiseach also said homeowners would have the use of a Personal Insolvency Bill soon.

He said if the banks did not engage with customers, then homeowners would have legislation behind them to allow debt forgiveness and writedowns.

“It’s not a case of standing by while this boils over,” he said.

Mr Kenny said the banks had been called into the high-powered Economic Management Council and told “in plain English” that they had to speed up the pace of debt forgiveness.

The Taoiseach came under pressure in the wake of one of the most senior regulators in the Central Bank criticised the banks’ attitude to the mortgage crisis.

Dealing with the banks is like dealing with troublesome teenagers, the Central Bank’s director of bank supervision Fiona Muldoon said.

She said banks were in denial about the extent of the mortgage crisis, and were refusing to come up with realistic solutions.

Earlier, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton claimed banks were keeping the cash given to them by the taxpayer for loans, rather than lending to businesses and families.

Ms Burton said the banks were given money to boost their balance sheets and allow them to lend.

“Banks are conserving their capital, rather than lending to business and housebuyers,” she said on RTE‘s Today with Pat Kenny.

She also once again hinted at a cut in child benefit payments.

The minister said she was “going to do my best” to protect basic weekly social welfare payments, such as the pension and dole.

But she again failed to say child benefit won’t be cut in the Budget.

Ms Burton said she wanted to take a look at the services available for children.

The minister spoke about school meals schemes and book loans, but appeared to rule out giving food vouchers instead of cash.

She said she preferred the taxation model for child benefit, but this wasn’t possible, and was also examining a top-up system for low income families.

“This has to take place over a number of years,” she said.

“What we need to do is the best thing that brings the best outputs to those in poverty,” she added.

An in-house group in the Department of Social Protection has recommended a cut to the €140 monthly child benefit payment of €40, with top payments for families living in poverty.

via Enda Kenny threatens banks on mortgage debt forgiveness for homeowners – National News – Independent.ie.

via Enda Kenny threatens banks on mortgage debt forgiveness for homeowners – National News – Independent.ie.

Unemployed will have to sign contract to get dole payment


UNEMPLOYED people will have to sign a “contract” before they can get their dole payments in a radical shake-up of the social welfare system.

It is the first time that people seeking jobseekers payments will have to undergo such a process.

Previously it was a matter of supplying basic personal details such as name, age and PPS number to get a payment.

Under the “social contract”, they will have to co-operate with social welfare staff to develop a “Personal Progression Plan” to help them secure training or employment.

They will also have to attend all scheduled meetings and provide all the requested information about their job history and education level.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton’s department said that people who fail to live up to their commitments under the contract will have their payments reduced and ultimately cut off.

The new system for helping unemployed people is designed to improve the training and job opportunities available to them. Rather than being left to drift into long term unemployment, they will be expected under their contract to engage with social welfare staff to improve their chances of getting a job.

The new system, known as Intreo, is in place in just four of the state’s social welfare offices at the moment – Sligo town, Parnell Street in Dublin, the Square in Tallaght and Arklow in Wicklow.

It is due to be rolled out in all social welfare offices by 2014.

via Unemployed will have to sign contract to get dole payment – National News – Independent.ie.

via Unemployed will have to sign contract to get dole payment – National News – Independent.ie.

Editorial comment

Maybe this is just another way  to message the figures .

It also raises the question of how legal is a one sided contract?

PRSI budget increase proposed in return for welfare safety net –


SELF-EMPLOYED people will face a large PRSI hike in the budget in return for enjoying the safety net of social welfare benefits if the Government adopts a proposal from an expert group.

The self-employed pay social insurance contributions at 4 per cent in order to be eligible for their limited entitlements, while employers and employees together pay 14.75 per cent, enabling employees to obtain a greater range of benefits.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will be advised to raise the PRSI contribution of self-employed people by the advisory group on tax and social welfare, with an increase from 4 per cent to 17.3 per cent among the options expected to be presented.

Due to the recession, large numbers of previously self-employed people have attempted to access social welfare supports for the first time only to discover their entitlements are limited compared to those available to people who have been employed by others.

Self-employed people cannot access jobseeker’s benefit and illness cover, although they get the same State contributory pension provisions as employees.

Ms Burton asked the group to explore whether providing social insurance cover for self-employed people was “technically feasible and financially sustainable”. The group based its discussions on an actuarial review of the social insurance fund carried out by KPMG.

The review found that the annual rate of social insurance contribution required from the self-employed to cover the cost of the State contributory pension would be 15 per cent. Close to 16 per cent would be necessary if jobseekers benefit was included with the State contributory pension, while the figure rose to 17.3 per cent if invalidity pension was also factored in.

via PRSI budget increase proposed in return for welfare safety net – The Irish Times – Wed, Oct 10, 2012.

via PRSI budget increase proposed in return for welfare safety net – The Irish Times – Wed, Oct 10, 2012.

Advisers tell Burton to axe disability allowance for under-18’s


DISABILITY ALLOWANCE payments to under-18s will be ended in the budget if the Government adopts a proposal from the expert group that recommended reducing the rate of child benefit.

The Coalition was forced into a U-turn after last December’s budget when its plan to stop the practice of paying disability allowance directly to 16- and 17-year-olds met strong opposition from the parents of severely disabled children and Opposition parties.

The contentious proposal to increase the minimum qualifying age for the allowance from 16 to 18, while providing a compensatory payment for the teenager’s parent or guardian, is back on the agenda as Budget 2013 approaches.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said the EUEuropean Central BankInternational Monetary Fund troika has raised concerns about social welfare payments going straight to under-18s and said she was worried about young people losing the incentive to stay in education.

Ms Burton charged the expert advisory group on tax and social welfare with resolving such anomalies in the social welfare code. The group submitted its report on family income supports, including child benefit, to Ms Burton earlier this year. The Minister will receive the group’s work on State payments to the disabled shortly. The group will propose withholding disability allowance from 16 year olds who are new claimants while extending the domiciliary care allowance to the children’s carers. Currently, a domiciliary care allowance is paid to the parents of a child with a disability until the child is 16, after which the teenager goes on disability allowance in his or her own right.

The weekly maximum rate of disability allowance is €188. The domiciliary care allowance rate is €309.50 per month, although those in receipt of the payment may also qualify for carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance. A respite care grant of €1,700 a year can also be claimed and child benefit is not affected.

via Advisers tell Burton to axe disability allowance for under-18s – The Irish Times – Tue, Oct 09, 2012.

via Advisers tell Burton to axe disability allowance for under-18s – The Irish Times – Tue, Oct 09, 2012.

Budget 2013: Government denies child benefit to be slashed by €40 a month – The Budget, National News – Independent.ie


 

The  Government has denied any decision has been taken to slash child benefit by €40 a month.

Anti-poverty group Social Justice Ireland warned today that the advice to the Government to cut child benefit were unjust, unnecessary and unacceptable.

However, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald dismissed speculation that the cuts were a done deal.

She insisted no decisions on child benefit had been made and that discussions in Cabinet were ongoing.

A special advisory group appointed by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton recommended the cuts, which could save the department €200m a year.

A department spokesman said the minister was currently considering a report from the group.

“The aim of establishing this group was to harness expert opinion and experience in order to address a number of specific issues and make cost-effective proposals for improving employment incentives and achieving better poverty outcomes, particularly child poverty outcomes,” he added.

Sean Healy, director of Social Justice, an independent non-Government organisation, said there were many alternatives to slashing the benefits, such as targeting the wealthy and investing in

via Budget 2013: Government denies child benefit to be slashed by €40 a month – The Budget, National News – Independent.ie.

via Budget 2013: Government denies child benefit to be slashed by €40 a month – The Budget, National News – Independent.ie.

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