Dáil Éireann - Volume 392 - 08 November, 1989
Adjournment Debate. - EC Beef Distribution.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Mervyn Taylor gave me notice of his intention to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of the distribution of free EC beef in relation to social welfare recipients.
Mr. Taylor Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor: I should like to express my appreciation to you for having given me the opportunity of raising this important matter. I should mention that I propose to share my time with Deputy Ferris.
A quantity of EC beef has been made available to this country and it is apparent that the Minister has devised a selective basis for its distribution which leaves thousands of needy families without the possibility of getting any of that beef. People in receipt of an invalidity pension are excluded from any entitlement to a share of this beef. This also applies to people in receipt of a disabled person's allowance under the regulations made by the Minister. Why does the Minister not provide an allocation from Government sources to ensure that every person in receipt of social welfare gets an entitlement of this very modest allowance of four kilos of beef spread over two weeks in the run-up to Christmas?
This is an indication of the heart and mind of the Government. Who do they choose to exclude from the scheme? The invalids and the disabled are the categories the Government singled out to be excluded from an allocation of beef at a time when they would have us believe that the economy is on the upturn and that Government revenues, income tax receipts, capital gains tax and VAT are also increasing. However, the very modest amount required to avoid this divisiveness to social welfare recipients is in operation.
Although the scheme has only started I have already heard pathetic, sad stories of people who had heard about the allocation of beef and who went to the St. Vincent de Paul, who — in Dublin at any rate — have been given the responsibility for distributing it. One man told me that he has been unable to work for the last 15 years as he suffers from a serious liver complaint and asthma. His wife has had a series of three strokes in as many years and their total income is £74.10 per week. They thought they would be entitled to the bounty from the EC and the Minister and that they would get an allocation from this miserable four kilos of beef.  They went to the centre but were told to consult their local TD as, unfortunately, they were not eligible.
We pride ourselves on being one of the major beef producing countries in the world but we know that there are many families in need who cannot afford to buy that product. In today's Irish Independent the attitude of one woman from Ringsend seemed to sum up the feelings of most. She said that she had never had to take free meat before, that she was embarrassed at doing so but that as everyone in the house was out of work it would be a treat to have a roast. However, if her husband is an invalid or disabled, that family, for some strange reason, will be singled out by the Minister and will not get an allocation.
I know that the amount of beef made available to the Minister is fixed and limited. However, when a generous allocation is made from the EC, the Government should ensure that no-one in receipt of social welfare will be deprived of an allocation. They should make up the difference so that nobody is disappointed.
We export vast quantities of beef to Iraq and we have been talking about that in the House recently. Those exports amount to millions of pounds, they were sent years ago and the country has not yet been paid for them. Indeed, the Minister guaranteed these exports and it is strange that we can support millions of pounds worth of beef on credit to Iraq and yet be waiting for payment for it when at home the poor are denied the opportunity of having beef on the table once or twice coming up to Christmas.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: I wish to thank Deputy Taylor for allowing me to comment on this because although it is the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture and Food to provide this product, we had hoped that the main beneficiaries would have been those in receipt of social welfare or people who were physically or mentally disabled or sick. As persons in receipt of a disabled person's maintenance allowance are already means tested they should not have been  excluded from this scheme. Those on invalidity pensions could benefit medically from this product.
Everybody talks about the mountains of beef, so there is no problem about the quantity available. There is no problem regarding the expense because the Government have the product at first cost. We should avail of every opportunity within the Community Directive — using non-Government agencies and statutory bodies to get full information — to ensure that every category identified by Deputy Taylor should be specifically included in the allocation of beef. Our request is not unreasonable and if it is not granted it will create an anomaly and — in the light of what was said about the export of meat to Iraq — it will create an impression here that although our poor are hungry we can still support multinationals and others who export meat with a guaranteed price for it. It will be a tragedy if the Minister does not respond positively to the reasonable request from Deputy Taylor.
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy) Michael O'Kennedy
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy): I am pleased to have this opportunity to highlight the EC free food scheme, which is at present under way and which involves very many people around the country giving of their time and effort on a completely voluntary basis.
The scheme is designed to allow member states provide food from intervention stocks to charitable organisations for distribution to the most deprived persons in the Community. Each member state is allocated an annual budget with which to buy food from intervention. As Minister for Agriculture and Food I have been one of the strongest supporters of this scheme and was, in fact, instrumental in ensuring that allocation between member states is based on relative prosperity as well as population levels. This, of course, ensures that we in Ireland get our due share of the available funding. I have decided that in our case, this should be used to provide prime quality beef free of charge from our intervention stock.
Given the limitation on the quantity  of beef available it has, of course, been necessary to restrict eligibility to those in greatest need. In 1988 it was decided, following consultation with the Department of Social Welfare, to concentrate on serving the needs of people on long-term unemployment assistance who were also eligible for the fuel allowance. As a result some 50,000 people benefited under the scheme last year.
I succeeded this year in obtaining some additional funding for Ireland for the 1989 scheme. This has allowed us to expand the scheme this year to include all those on long-term unemployment assistance — about 120,000 people in all, more than twice the numbers who qualified last year. About 800 tonnes of beef will be distributed over a fortnight to those eligible, in 2 kg. portions per week. The distribution commenced on Monday last. All the evidence available to me suggests that the scheme is operating smoothly.
I wish to offer my sincere thanks to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which is arranging for distribution of the beef to eligible beneficiaries. This has obviously involved an enormous effort by society members, all of whom, of course, are giving of their time on a voluntary basis. I wish also to record my appreciation to those meat processors who processed the beef into family sized quantities, free of charge, and to Molloy and Sherry Limited for their generous assistance with transportation.
This combined voluntary effort has ensured that again this year a significant proportion of welfare beneficiaries — much more than last year — will receive a meaningful quantity of prime quality beef. That this has, once more, been so smoothly arranged is, I think, a great tribute to all involved. The fact that beneficiaries are more than doubled this year is an indication of the Government's concern that the benefits of the free food scheme are enjoyed by as many as possible. I will be seeking to ensure that the scheme can continue to be improved in future years.
But I should emphasise that the money  available is strictly limited. This year's allocation — although increased compared to last year — amounted to just £3 million and compares very favourably, in relative terms, with the amounts available in other member states. I was able to arrange to have money or food that was not being used by other member states under this scheme transferred to Ireland for the needy purposes concerned. We are very anxious that as many as possible benefit, hence this year's extension of the eligible categories. But the numbers qualifying must necessarily be limited if beneficiaries are to obtain a meaningful quantity. Therefore, we endeavour to concentrate on those in greatest need after consultation with the Department of Social Welfare and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. My advice is that the categories selected meet that criterion. Of course I am prepared to review the categories in the future but, unless there is a very substantial increase in funding — which is not at present in prospect — any extension would have to be very limited.
I do not claim that the Department of Agriculture and Food or I, as Minister, have a specific qualification in this area. Our job is to have this free food made available, then to consult with those who advise us as to priorities. I will transmit the views expressed in the House to those who advise us. But my function is to provide as much beef as possible for the most needy categories, not to determine who falls into those needy categories. I am satisfied that more than double the amount that was provided last year is certainly moving in the right direction. I will endeavour to have that trend continued.
An Cheann Comhairle An Cheann Comhairle
An Cheann Comhairle: We come to the second debate on the Adjournment this evening. Deputy Fennell gave me notice of her intention to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of the removal of a neurological paediatrician from Beaumont and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, and the effect on the services.
Dáil Éireann 392 Adjournment Debate. EC Beef Distribution.