Burton questions reports Government plans to ‘muck around’ with child benefit

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald says no proposals to change way payment made

Frances Fitzgerald:   “What is on the table is the paternity leave legislation which Deputy Burton is a very strong supporter of.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Frances Fitzgerald: “What is on the table is the paternity leave legislation which Deputy Burton is a very strong supporter of.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Labour TD Joan Burton has claimed that women will be outraged if it is true the Government proposes to “muck around” with child benefit payment.

The former minister for social protection referred to media reports that her successor, Leo Varadkar, was considering changes that would mean child benefit would no longer be automatically paid to mothers rather than fathers.

She asked in the Dáil, “Is it true that the Government proposes to muck around with the payment of child benefit?”.

The payment, introduced in 1974 “has served this country and women and children in particular very well”, Ms Burton said.

She asked if the move was going to be part of the forthcoming legislation on paternity leave or would it be in the Social Welfare Bill.

She called on Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to “assure the House that the reports in the newspapers yesterday were wrong”.

Ms Fitzgerald told her “there are no proposals on the table to change the way child benefit is paid.

“What is on the table is the paternity leave legislation which Deputy Burton is a very strong supporter of,” she said.

Media reports said Mr Varadkar was looking at changing the rules in light of changes in family structures over the years. He is examining an option where payment to the mother would be the default option but would allow a mother or couple to nominate that the payment be made to a joint account, to the father or a guardian instead.

A number of cases against child benefit legislation are pending in the High Court, and two are before the Equality Tribunal.

In the Dáil, when Ms Burton said “there is a well-known idea that if something is not broken, one should not fix it”, Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy retorted, “you didn’t take heed of that on the one-parent family allowance”.

Outrage to women

She added: “I would be horrified if Fianna Fáil were to support this proposal, which would be very damaging to families.”

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said Ms Burton had cut child benefit and Mr Troy said “you decimated the one-parent family payment when you were minister”.

When the Tánaiste went to respond further on the issue, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl intervened and said: “We are not discussing newspaper reports. We are on the Order of Business.”