A Green Party Minister has suggested social welfare payments should be linked to the cost of living in Ireland, ahead of next month's budget.
Minister Joe O'Brien believes a fairer system could see welfare and pension rates benchmarked against the average industrial wage or the cost of living.
The Junior Minister for Social Protection suggested it may be a better system than having Governments sporadically increase rates when the money is available.
It comes as a bidding war has emerged over how much pension rates should increase in next month's budget.
While some Fine Gael TDs told their parliamentary party meeting pension payments should rise by €10 a week, last night Fianna Fáil's John McGuinness went one further.
He told the Dáil pensioners should have the weekly payment raised by €20 this year - and be promised the same rise in Budget 2023 and Budget 2024.
The backbencher said it would be needed for older people to cope with inflation and the impact of climate measures on the cost of heating a home.
Department of Finance briefing documents say giving all pensioners a €5 a week rise in the State payment would cost €175m over a full year.
For context pre-budget papers from the Department of Finance said a €5 increase for all pensioners would cost €175m a year. So roughly €700m each year to do what McGuinness suggests https://t.co/3aWPjXr0Ub
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) September 30, 2021
Minister Joe O'Brien however is taking a longer-term view.
He believes ultimately the political bargaining each year may not be the best way to do business.
At the same time, the Minister says social welfare rates at the moment are too low – suggesting the rate of jobseekers and other payments should increase from the current €203 a week to €245.
The Minister accepts this isn't going to happen in Budget 2022, but he is focused on a longer-term plan he admits would cost billions to implement.
“We are not going to get to it in one step or two steps or maybe even three steps,” he said.
“But I think that is how we need to be thinking – particularly if we are interested in alleviating poverty.”
While the Green Party Minister may have expected a fight with his senior colleague in the Department of Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, Fine Gael appears to be warming to some of his ideas.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have both given support to a rise in pension and social welfare rates in 2022.
While Mr Varadkar has also backed moving to a living wage in the coming years.
But separating political promises from real and lasting system change is the challenge facing Minister O'Brien.
2019 figures - the last available - showed 5% of people in Ireland live in consistent poverty, with the figure much higher in certain groups like children and disabled people.
Mr O'Brien wants to reduce this to 2% by the end of this Governmental term. A laudable but difficult task in the face of the short-term political promises, which are rife at budget time.
As some in Government clamour to out-do each other to throw goodies at the electorate, it is refreshing to know some ministers are thinking about long term measures that could be far more impactful.
Whether he will be listened to is another question entirely.