Holy Communion grants axed for 2013
Burton claims decision has backing of Catholic priests and says it's not an attack on women
Last year the Government paid out more than €1.5 million in communion and confirmation grants. Photograph: Getty Images
Families will not receive Government grants to assist with the cost of Holy Communions this year, the Department of Social Protection has confirmed.
The department made the decision following a review which recommended exceptional needs payments should be paid in cases of financial need, and not for particular occasions, including confirmations.
"For 2013 it is recommended that payment of the allowance specifically in respect of religious ceremonies will cease," it said.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said she feels she has the backing of Catholic priests in her decision to axe the allowance.
Last year the department cut the allowance in a move which Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said was intended to limit "lavish" expenditure.
In 2011 the Government paid more than €3.4 million in communion and confirmation grants to over 14,000 families, while in 2012 payments were cut back to €1.5 million for 12,500 families.
According to the department, the supplementary welfare allowance allows for payments "to help meet essential, once-off and unforeseen expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income". There is no automatic entitlement to the payments and those who qualify are normally in receipt of a social welfare or HSE payment.
Although the department expects weekly social welfare payments would cover normal clothing needs it said in exceptional circumstances support is available under the scheme for adult clothing and child clothing.
In 2013 to date, 570 claims at a cost of approximately €56,000 have been paid under the child clothing category.
The Minister for Social Protection said she felt she has the backing of Catholic priests for the move.
The Minister, who was visiting Killarney, defended the cut, on the grounds it was unfair to working families who were not entitled to the allowance.
Ms Burton denied women would be driven into the arms of loan sharks to ensure their children’s day out was as good as those of others. There were plenty of beautiful garments available "at very attractive prices", she said.
The Minister defended the axing of the grant on the basis of fairness, and denied it was yet another cut targeting women.
Asked if the cut was solely for economic reasons and if it could be perceived as another anti-Catholic measure by the Goverment, Ms Burton said she was happy to say "quite a number of parish priests at local level" had come out and said they wanted people to celebrate Holy Communion in a way that's meaningful, and concentrate on the religious significance of the ceremony.
The payments could be up to €300 and were unheard of in some parts of the country and were mostly in urban areas, and particularly in Dublin, she said. People in areas such as Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim had never heard of the grant.
"Money was tight" and it was unfair that this allowance existed and was not available to people at work who were paying a lot of tax and PRSI and particularly those in low paid jobs.
Asked whether the cut could be perceived as yet another cut targeting women by her Government and if people would not simply be driven to loan sharks, Ms Burton said:
"There are absolutely beautiful Holy Communion Clothes available at very attractive prices. You don't need a very expensive dress to celebrate Holy Communion."
There was "a strong feeling coming from the staff" - community welfare officers - that money was not being spent in the best way possible, following a review, she said.
Exceptional needs payments should be paid in cases of financial need, and it would be for individual families apply for payments for children's clothing.
The budget for special needs payments - covering such matters as clothing in times of flooding - was €50 million this year, the Minister explained.
A senior official accompanying Ms Burton from the department said: "It's not recommended we cover religious ceremonies this year." The Society of St Vincent de Paul said it was too early to ascertain whether the cut would have a significant impact because families often defer other bills to cover Communion costs.
“We appreciate the desire for families to make it a special day for the children but our advice is to keep a modest approach... always look at limiting the costs,” a spokesman for the organisation said.
“Certainly avoid money lenders,” he added.