Cut for religious event payments

 

The average payment made to families by community welfare officers (CWOs) to spend on holy communion and confirmation outfits last year was over €300 in the greater Dublin area, figures just released show.

Some 5,616 "exceptional needs" payments of an average €303 were made to families in the old Eastern Health Board area in 2011, totalling €1.7 million.

The lowest average payment of €189 was made in the north east, to 1,334 families, totalling €0.25 million.

The figures emerged as part of a review of "exceptional needs" payments for religious occasion last year.

The review was, carried out by community welfare officers (CWOs) on their transfer from the health boards to the Department of Social Protection. It found €3.4 million was paid out last year for religious occasions - ie holy communion and confirmation outfits.

Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, announced today the maximum special needs payment for such occasions would be reduced to €110.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s News At One today, Ms Burton said an exceptional needs payment was intended for circumstances that could not have been foreseen.

Community welfare officers are now called social welfare officers. Ms Burton said they would retain their discretionary powers and where there was an unforeseen occasion or an emergency these would still be “attended to”.

While over 5,000 payments for holy communion and confirmation were made in Dublin last year, just 25 were made in the north western health board area covering counties Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim, where Ms Burton said there was not the same tradition as in eastern counties of having extravagant holy communions and confirmations.

In the south east, some 1,944 payments, averaging €213 were made last year, totalling €0.4 million. In the mid west, 1,546 payments of an average of €194 were made, totalling €0.3 million. In the north east 1,334 payments of an average of €189 totalling €0.25 million. In the south, there were 1,282 payments averaging €217, totalling €0.28 million.

In the west some 1,131 payments, averaging €219 totalled €0.25. In the midlands some 1,093 families were were awarded, averaging €196, totalling €0.21 million. In the northwest there were 25 payments of an average of €223 last year, giving a total of almost €6,000.

Ms Burton, explained the disparity in the size and number of payments saying there were different traditions in different areas and this went back to the old health board. “In the Dublin area the practice had grown up where the average payment was over €300.”

There was no need for extravagance at holy communions, she continued, pointing out the Society of St Vincent de Paul had pleaded with schools to discourage extravagant spending on these events.

The Department was still paying out €7.5 million for clothes in general, about €2 million for cots and buggies and about €4.5 million for furniture to families on social welfare in times of exceptional need.

Earlier today, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told the Dáil financial assistance for children making their holy communion and confirmation was being reviewed.

Mr Gilmore said the guidelines had not been reviewed since 1995 and that Ms Burton was changing them to reflect the current realities. “There are parts of the country where the application of the payments varies," he added.

Mr Gilmore said it was Ms Burton’s view, which he shared, that over the years there had been lavish expenditure in some cases associated with communions and confirmations.

The Tánaiste was replying to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the move was part of Ms Burton’s continuing crusade against families on low incomes.