Employment and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has admitted she couldn’t live on the dole.

Speaking to an audience at the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed’s headquarters, she said she was determined to make sure the social welfare system is as fair as possible.

She said she would do this “whilst recognising that people who are on fixed incomes, they’re not living the life of Riley”.

“I don’t know where people get the view that people who are living on welfare are living the life of Riley because, Jaysus, I couldn’t live on €198 a week, and that’s being honest,” she said.

It recently emerged that Ms Doherty, who earns €157,000, will have to pay back an allowance of almost €16,000 that she received last year following advice from the Attorney General.

It was paid when she was chief whip. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s decision to pay the allowance was found to have no legal basis.

Ms Doherty held her first meeting on the Budget with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe yesterday and said she would prioritise 113,000 children who are living in poverty for spending.

“It’s my job to make sure that the recovering economy reaches everybody’s household, not just the taxpayer,” she said. “And I’m going to do my very, very level best. So I’m going to do my very best to make sure that I live up to my responsibilities to all of the people that you serve on a daily and weekly basis and I’ll do my very best not to let you down,” she said.

She said it was her department’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with dignity and respect and get back to a situation where they can look after themselves, whether they have a disability, illness, or had the “bloody bad luck” of losing their job.

“I was bought up that way by two very working-class people, union people, and I have never forgotten it,” she said. “And I will never forget it. It’s going to be enshrined in everything that I do, for whatever length of time that I’m lucky enough to serve as the Minister for Social Protection and Employment.”

She said she was still “beaming” after getting the job.

She claimed “different elements of the State” look down on others and that needs to be “blown out of the water”.