TD wants more food aid for hungry pupils
Almost 300,000 children in Ireland suffer some level of poverty and increasing numbers arrive at school hungry, Independent TD John Halligan has told the Dáil.
The Waterford TD appealed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to establish a national programme of emergency food aid for school children. Expressing his shock that 270,000 children suffer some level of poverty, Mr Halligan said the increase in poverty “has brought the problem of hungry schoolchildren to critical levels”.
He told the Dáil that school principals were bringing in food to feed pupils who hadn’t had any breakfast. And teachers were reporting an increase in the number of children unable to concentrate and an “exceptional rise . . . in the number of pupils who have difficulties with literacy and numeracy”.
Mr Halligan described the Department of Social Protection’s meals programme as providing a good service but said it was addressing only a fraction of the problem and he appealed for an extension of the breakfast club scheme, while asking Mr Kenny also to consider providing food to after-school homework clubs.
But the Taoiseach said €37 million was being spent annually on the meals programme for 200,000 children and some of the food was being dumped untouched, which he described as immoral. But he agreed they should consider extending the breakfast club scheme.
Mr Kenny said, “We must also seek to discover whether major food brands might become involved”. The Taoiseach said there was a need for restructuring and the fact that €37 million was being spent this year showed it was an issue of concern to the Government. It required constant monitoring and discussion with school principals, he said.
Mr Halligan said: “It does not require constant monitoring, it requires immediate action.” He asked Mr Kenny if he was aware that people were going to soup kitchens to get food to give to their children.
Mr Halligan, who has repeatedly raised issues of increasing poverty in the State, appealed to the Taoiseach to meet school principals who had been on national radio talking about the problem, to discuss the issue and to deal with the crisis in schools. But Mr Kenny ruled out doing so.
He said resources needed to be used properly and that he would discuss the issue with the Minister for Education.
Mr Kenny said it was a case of “being able to have a flexible scheme to cater for where this arises” and to deal with it in a sensitive manner that did not raise further social barriers for children.