Saturday 23 September 2017

Kenny rows back after Varadkar's debt claims upset mums

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has escaped any reprimand from Taoiseach Enda Kenny for his controversial comments on women being forced to give up their jobs under mortgage-debt deals.

Mr Kenny was forced to move to end the furore over the impact of new mortgage-debt deals on working mothers by saying that women would not be forced to give up their jobs as part of a mortgage deal if their childcare costs exceeded their wages.

Mr Varadkar has not been spoken to by the Taoiseach about his controversial remarks but government sources said the clarity given by Mr Kenny meant that this wasn't necessary as the point had been made.

The measures contained in new insolvency guidelines have been described by Fianna Fail as "anti-women, anti-family and anti-employment".

Mr Varadkar came under fire for saying that childcare costs would have to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangements.

The minister's comments were based upon draft guidelines suggesting that women would have to give up their jobs if they earned less than their childcare expenses.

Mr Kenny said the debate was "phantom" and that under the guidelines laid down by the Personal Insolvency Agency it would not be mandatory for anybody to give up a job.

"The guidelines will not impose a condition on anybody, woman or man, to be forced to give up a job," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Let's put an end to it," he added.

Mr Kenny said earlier in the week he would find it "quite incredible" if anyone was forced to give up work and stay at home as part of an insolvency settlement. He is now saying the Government simply will not allow it to happen.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said there was a "level of incoherence" in the Government on the issue as there were different statements emerging. "These guidelines are anti-women, anti-family and anti-employment," he said.

Mr Varadkar suggested some working women would have to choose between their careers and paying the mortgage if they enter the insolvency regime.

"If you can't pay your mortgage as a result, or buy your groceries as a result (of childcare), then that is something that needs to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement," he said.

"Nobody is asking anybody to give up their jobs. People are going to come forward, they are going to say 'I can't pay my debts, I can't pay my mortgage', and in that case, the insolvency practitioner will go through with them why they can't pay their bills, and obviously a creditor is not going to agree to a writedown unless that has been gone through and they can work out what is the most they can pay," he said.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said all debt-reduction guidelines under new insolvency legislation will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

But groups representing women reacted furiously to the comments by Mr Varadkar.

The National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) labelled his comments a "disgrace" and said childcare was not a luxury.

"It is unacceptable that the Government would punish working families for making difficult financial decisions with regard to combining work and family life, including continuing their employment despite a loss of income due to the high costs of childcare," said NWCI director Orla O'Connor.

"Families make all kinds of decisions and they are not all about short-term maths but about the long-term sustainability and well-being of the family."

Ms O'Connor said women whose careers were interrupted when they took time off to look after their children faced setbacks in terms of promotion and future earnings.

"If we want to support families struggling to pay back their mortgage, we need to invest in quality and affordable childcare that would alleviate some of the financial burden and actually create an incentive for people to stay in or seek employment," she added.

Distress

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said that, under the proposed insolvency rules, every low-paid single woman with more than one child in pre-school care who was experiencing mortgage distress would automatically be excluded from the workforce.

"Not a month passes without Fine Gael and Labour introducing some measure that rows back on hard-won rights for women," she said. "Families are paying up to €1,000 per child per month on pre-school childcare costs. Women continue to disproportionately populate low-paid jobs."

Meanwhile, Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,330 childcare professionals, said the debate must shift to how the childcare bills should be paid.

"We have been calling on the Government to undertake a cost-benefit analysis on models of support for parents, such as tax exemptions, tax credits and refundable credits, thus ensuring that work pays for parents who combine work with formal childcare in Ireland," a statement said.

Irish Independent

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