Wednesday 20 March 2019

Comment: Grandparents should indeed be appreciated and their role recognised - but not by an empty gesture

Frank Coughlan and his grandson Arthur
Frank Coughlan and his grandson Arthur
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

I was minding my own business, looking after toddler Arthur and our Yorkie, when this lady wheeled her buggy right up to ours and starting giving out.

“I’m exhausted,” she said as she sat down on the seafront wall and pointed almost accusingly at her angelic young charge sprawled out asleep in his chariot.

Having obviously identified me as a fellow member of the Union of Put Upon Grandparents, she gave me chapter, verse and epilogue about how she was helping out her son and daughter-in-law. She didn’t say they were ungrateful, but it was implied.

I didn’t get a word in edgeways, so I heard exactly what she was saying. That is, she’d rather be doing something else. Which was very little by the sounds of it.

She loved the little demon, of course, but she had reared her own. Fair enough.

Perhaps it was this frazzled granny and more like her that Shane Ross and the Independence Alliance had in mind when they met with the Taoiseach to bring him up to date on their Budget proposals.

One of their priorities is the introduction of a ‘grandparent and grandchild reimbursement scheme’ which would amount to €1,000 per year for grandparents who mind their grandchildren for at least 10 hours a week. Well, what’s not to like? If I bumped into grumpy granny again I’m sure she’d be all for it.

After all, keep your eyes open at school gates, in public parks, on the streets of your city or town and you’ll find grandparents are everywhere doing the State a favour.

They do this by picking up the tab for a childcare system that might have been fit for purpose before Dev’s comely maidens abandoned the crossroads for universities, offices, shops and factories.

But not any more. Not for a long time.

Grandparents should indeed be appreciated and their role recognised.

But not by an empty gesture of a paltry grant that has been vaguely costed at €70m-ish, wouldn’t be means-tested and seems to have no administrative apparatus around application.

No paperwork? How does that work? How would I claim?

Would I walk into my local post office dragging little Arthur, point at him, and demand my €19-ish a week? What proof would I have to offer? What proof could I offer?

And could four grandparents claim in the same week? After all, 40 hours minding is just about right.

What about aunts, uncles or other relatives who might be sheltering little tearaways? Shouldn’t Shane Ross high-five them too? But then the Independent Alliance has earned a reputation for shooting from the hip only to blow a hole in its foot.

It has form.

Last November, the Alliance offered to knock heads together over the North Korean crisis and it only came to its senses when embarrassed member Boxer Moran launched a ballistic missile of his own.

Just last week Shane Ross was accused by former justice minister Alan Shatter of “bombastry and faking” over the reopening of Stepaside garda station. Ross had spent a lot of political capital on this issue and the side-swipe stung.

Another bad day at the office.

If Ross and his disciples are really interested in showing appreciation of grandparents, they’d work hard at producing a grown-up, researched, costed policy on our chaotic, shambolic, ruinously expensive system of childcare.

That way grandchildren would get the sort of educative care and support they deserve and parents wouldn’t be forced to pay a second mortgage just so they can go out to work.

Not that I mind.

About 4pm each afternoon Arthur, his little legs having run themselves to a standstill, will saddle up on the couch next to me and we’ll watch ‘Paw Patrol’ or ‘Masha and the Bear’ together. You couldn’t put a price on that and Shane Ross shouldn’t try.

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