Minister accused of hypocrisy over pledge


MINISTER FOR Social Protection Joan Burton has been accused of “hypocrisy” over her pledge to abandon provisions to cut the lone-parent’s allowance if her Cabinet colleagues fail to introduce adequate childcare provisions in next year’s budget.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Minister’s position was deceptive and “hypocrisy at its worst” because she “is pretending to make a change without making any”.

Ms Burton had made her comments in the Dáil on Wednesday night when she introduced the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, which gives effect to the provisions of last December’s budget.

Budget provisions include a controversial proposal to stop paying the lone parent allowance once a child reaches seven years of age.

The Minister told the Dáil she “will only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that I get a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery” of a Scandinavian-style system of childcare by the time of this year’s budget”.

Mr Martin accused the Minister of hypocrisy but Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore insisted the issues of the lone-parent allowance and childcare were linked.

Mr Gilmore said “the reduction in the payment of the lone-parent’s allowance, the reduction in the age, goes hand in hand with the delivery of childcare and that’s what the Minister for social Protection has made clear and that is the position of the Government”.

Mr Martin said however that if the Tánaiste agreed with the Minister that the age of seven was too young for such a proposal “why make this decision the budget to reduce the age of seven at all”.

He said “the Government cannot have it both ways” and he asked “is it in or is it out”.

Mr Gilmore said Mr Martin knew quite well that when legislation was enacted there were provisions for its “commencement”. He said the changes “will be worked out” between Ms Burton, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Children.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Minister had “belatedly acknowledged that the age of seven is far too young for cutting off the lone-parent payment”. She asked the Tánaiste: “Are you saying quite categorically that seven is too young and if that is the case why does this remain in Section 4 of the Bill?”

Mr Gilmore insisted nobody “would leave a seven-year-old without care of an adult. This legislation is not about the age at which children should be left on their own.” The Bill was “addressing the age at which the lone-parent’s allowance is payable”.

The proposal was that for new recipients, from next month, the lone payment would be made until the youngest child turned 12. From January 2013 it would be reduced to 10 years of age and to seven from January 2014.

He said what was proposed was a “reform in the social welfare system, which will over a number of years reduce the age at which the lone-parent payment is made”.

Later, asked by Mr Martin if the proposal would be deleted at committee stage, Mr Gilmore said “it is not intended to withdraw Section 4. Obviously issues relating to amendments and so forth will be dealt with by the Minister in the normal way.”