Courts loath to interfere with tax policies
THERE is no constitutional impediment to child benefit being means tested or taxed -- unless any proposed system undermined the family based on marriage or resulted in certain families being singled out.
Last night legal experts said that there was no constitutional right to child benefit and the courts would be loath to interfere in the Government's tax policies unless they were excessively discriminatory.
Child benefit is payable to the parents or guardians -- usually the mothers -- of children under 16 years of age, or under 18 if the child is in full-time education, Fas Youthreach training or has a disability.
It is a universal payment, which means that it is paid regardless of a person's income or social insurance record.
At present, child benefit is not means tested and it is not taxable, but its universality has been undermined and not every child in Ireland receives it.
Until 2004 every child in Ireland received the allowance, but asylum seekers, undocumented migrant workers or parents who can not demonstrate a "centre of interest" in Ireland or who have no previous work experience in Europe can not claim the benefit.
The Constitution guarantees equality before the law and some argue that a proposed system that further undermines the allowance will result in children being treated differently because of their parent's economic or social status.
But the law already discriminates between children of married families and other family forms in relation to issues such as guardianship, access and custody owing to the constitutional protection afforded to the family based on marriage.
The biggest legal obstacles to changes are administrative ones: the Government does not have the capacity to tax benefit or subject it to a means test.