Unlike the previous speaker, I have a criticism of the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin and I would also like to make a few points to the Minister.
The Sinn Féin amendment is extraordinary and that party is like a two-headed beast, with one head in this part of the island critical of what is going on with regard to social welfare payments and constantly seeking a reversal of cuts made by the previous Administration and proposed by the current one and the other, which is involved in Government in the North, reducing public spending between 2011 and 2015 by £4 billion stg and current spending by 8%. While the head in this part of the island is totally opposed to the introduction of rates, the head in the North is increasing household rates, affecting the most vulnerable. The head up North is also imposing cuts in the social housing budget. I find it difficult to stomach the Sinn Féin amendment to this motion, which is critical of what is happening here. Would Sinn Féin, if head of the Irish Government, seek to reduce the widow’s pension of €188 to £100 stg or its equivalent of €118? I find Sinn Féin’s amendment, which criticises the Fianna Fáil motion, cynical.
I compliment the Minister on the information I received from her in response to a parliamentary question in regard to the jobs initiative and JobBridge scheme. I also welcome that her Department is checking out people applying for places on these schemes. As mentioned by the previous speaker, we need to come up with ways of reducing the overall social welfare budget. One such way is to get people back to work. The jobs initiative announced earlier this year is being worked through. As mentioned by Deputy Phelan, approximately 2,200 people have already taken up internships. I was delighted to hear by e-mail this week from a person whom I helped get an internship that he has taken up a full-time position and that the company for which he is working is to take on an additional ten people. I welcome that there are currently more than 2,500 companies involved in the scheme.
I welcome also that the Department of Social Protection is seeking tenders for evaluation of the JobBridge scheme, an initiative of the Minister which came to my attention by way of the e-tender list. This will ensure money is being well spent. Evaluation of the scheme will involve assessment of the impact of the scheme on the unemployed so as to inform future policy development in this area. I welcome that initiative and hope it will be introduced in respect of other schemes and programmes in this area.
I welcome that evaluation of the JobBridge scheme will be undertaken by an external body. Often people from outside the Civil Service have a different perspective and viewpoint on issues. People at the lower level of the Civil Service who have direct contact with social welfare recipients often have knowledge of people actively engaged in social welfare fraud. It is important they are brought into the fold and that the information they may have is utilised. People at management level are often too far removed from the contact zone and as such have no idea of what is going on.
I welcome the Minister’s initiatives in this area and look forward to working with her into the future. I again thank her for the information provided to me by way of response to parliamentary questions.