[Sinn Fein]

27th February 2003

Axing of physical Education grants highlights mean-spirited and short-sighted nature of government

As a means of highlighting what he described as the ``mean-spirited, short-sighted and piecemeal approach'' of the Government in relation to Social Welfare provisions Sinn Fein Dáil group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD brought attention to the axing of the Physical Education and Sports Grant Scheme for Schools during the debate on the Social Welfare Bill today. Deputy Ó Caoláin also said it was a ``damning indictment of successive governments that poverty is still so widespread in Irish society''. He said:

``The decision of the Minister for Education to axe the Physical Education and Sports Grant Scheme for Schools typifies the mean-spirited, short-sighted and piecemeal approach of this Government when it comes to social provision. This is a mere ¤2.5 million allocated to primary schools to help buy sports equipment - ¤635 to ordinary schools and ¤1,270 to disadvantaged schools. It's now gone and primary schools will be without even this pittance to encourage children to enjoy sports and physical exercise. I wonder how many in-flight jacuzzis would ¤2.5 million buy?

``This is a relatively small cut in the overall context. But what is the effect? The schools that are in more prosperous areas will hardly notice the difference. But the more disadvantaged the school the worse the effect will be. Poorer children will lose out. Those lucky enough to come from more prosperous communities will be cushioned. And this typifies the Government's approach across the whole range of social provision.

``The bad planning, the lack of proper priorities, the piecemeal approach is certainly very clear in this Social Welfare Bill. It is a damning indictment of successive governments - but of this one in particular - that poverty is still so widespread in Irish society after a long period of unprecedented economic prosperity. Now the economy has slowed down, we are into another era of cutbacks and who is carrying the burden again - the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable.

``The Members opposite never tire of boasting of their supposed achievements and the Minister and her colleagues can rhyme off statistics showing the succession of increases in social welfare payments over the past five years. But they do not put these increases in context. They do not mention the rise in the cost of living, especially in the past year. They do not mention the fact that it is people dependent on social welfare who have the worst housing conditions, who are on the massive local authority housing waiting lists, who languish on hospital waiting lists, who pay the price for failure to invest in public transport and who have the worst health and the lowest life expectancy. These are realities and the statistics from all the agencies from Combat Poverty to St. Vincent de Paul to a range of Government departments will prove the case.

``The bottom line in this Social Welfare Bill is the derisory ¤6 per week rise in the Minimum Rate of social welfare. This is what the Government backbenchers have been boasting about all this week. Less than a euro a day for the most disadvantaged people. This increase has already been wiped out by rises in the cost of living, much of it due to costs imposed by this government in its Budget. Given the increasing cost of living there should have been, at the absolute minimum, an increase to ¤130 per week for the lowest social welfare weekly rates. The increase in this Bill is an insult. I ask the Minister for Social Welfare as I asked the Minister for Finance `How is anyone expected to live with dignity on ¤124 per week?'``

Deputy Ó Caoláin concluded by saying that ``people are again being forced into poverty traps'' by government policies.ENDS

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