Wednesday 7 December 2016

How many more 'bombs' are hiding in this deal?

Published 13/05/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten Photo: Tom Burke
Minister for Communications Denis Naughten Photo: Tom Burke

It only took 12 hours for the first 'misunderstanding' to emerge in a 'Programme for a Partnership Government'.

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In its way, the programme clause is hardly something the bulk of 'Middle Ireland' would fight over. It is about reforming the way that school attendance is monitored - and, in turn, connect child benefit payments to that monitoring.

Who could fight about the need to "address the poor attendance within some families"?

Various food scares and animal diseases have meant that the authorities could tell how many animals were in a given field on a given day. The same could not be said about children of various ages at school, other education or training.

Incoming Communications Minister Denis Naughten has championed the principle for some time and is seen as the author of the proviso.

He has argued that it protects taxpayers' money, prevents fraud and ensures that vulnerable primary school leavers go to some kind of work or training.

The Roscommon-Galway TD may have been overstating the fraud and potential savings at somewhere south of €100m per year. But he has good arguments in principle.

The danger, of course, was shown when Opposition TDs and children's charities called on the Government to give a clear undertaking that child benefit payments will not be linked to school attendance.

They argued that such moves would only make a bad family situation worse and do nothing to improve the futures of vulnerable young people.

Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea and children's charities called on the Government to give a clear undertaking that child benefit payments would not be linked to school attendance.

They very reasonably argued that such a move would not advance social conditions one iota. The Government even left the way open for Sinn Féin to take the moral high ground.

Mr Naughten argued that the plan was not about cutting the payment but was designed to improve school attendance.

His colleague, new Public Spending Minister, Paschal Donohoe, argued that it was about ensuring that various educational and welfare data bases could be better aligned to tell government what was actually going on out there.

A day after the programme appeared in cyberspace, they are entitled to a pass. But how many more bombs are sown into the seams of this deal?

Irish Independent

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