Burton tells parents to shop around if they can't afford €300 for a Communion dress
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has told parents to shop around for cheaper First Communion dresses as the Government axes grants to help families meet the costs.
Ms Burton said parents should look for bargains rather than paying €300 for a dress.
"If you were to walk down the street here and maybe have a look at Dunnes or the high street chains, I think you would find very nice dresses for around €50," she said.
"Also, there's a long tradition of families helping out with communion costs."
Defending her department's ending of exceptional needs payments (ENPs) for religious ceremonies, Ms Burton said that while these were not made in some counties, in others it had become the norm to pay out excessive amounts.
"One of the things that was surprising was that in some counties including Dublin there was something like an average of €300 spent on communion dresses and that seemed very excessive," she told the Irish Independent.
"In other counties those payments were not being made at all or, if a family needed support, they went to the community welfare service and got an exceptional needs payment."
Ms Burton was speaking in Killarney, Co Kerry, where she opened a new Intreo centre, an integrated service for job-seekers that will be rolled out at all the department's offices by the end of next year.
She insisted that the axing of the payment was bringing into line what had already been done in other counties, but said families could still apply for support on an individual basis.
"In the Dublin area it was almost practice to give relatively large amounts of money on occasions like communion and confirmation," she said.
"There was a strong feeling coming from staff that the way this money was being spent was not the best way possible."
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "The Pope himself has said we need to be more simple in the way the church does its business.
"Everybody knows that in the past you've had a drift towards wondering how much communion would generate in terms of money for young children.
"There is a fund available for parents where there's hardship, and that's no different than applied previously."
Karen Kiernan of One Family, a group supporting lone parents, said axing the payment just before communion season would cause problems.
She said: "Children feel stigmatised and children feel different when they don't have things that their peers have, so really we're concerned that children will feel bad about this occasion which should be special."
Oxfam Ireland yesterday urged families to donate secondhand dresses to its shops nationwide. It said it had some as good as new priced between €15 and €35 at its shop in Dublin's South Great George's Street.