O'Leary can give up child benefit any time - Burton
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has invited Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary to write a "short, sweet letter" to her department if he wants to give up his children's allowance.
She also raised the prospect of taxing child benefit for high earners -- but has again insisted it cannot be done using the current tax system.
Speaking in Limerick, Ms Burton said a new opinion poll, which suggests there is overwhelming support among voters for the means testing of child benefit, proved people were open to reform of the system.
The IPSOS/MRBI poll for 'The Irish Times' shows a substantial majority (71pc) in favour of means testing the payment.
When asked about comments last year by father-of-four Mr O'Leary in which he called for the scrapping of children's allowance payments -- describing them as a subsidy for people to have sex -- Ms Burton said he was welcome to write a letter saying he no longer required the payment.
"Michael O'Leary is very welcome to send a short, sweet letter to the Department of Social Protection saying 'I no longer require this payment I am signing off'.
"That's his prerogative and his wife's prerogative. That's obviously a family decision for them," she added.
Ms Burton said the poll "correctly" indicated strong support in Ireland for maintaining a universal payment.
However, she indicated another way of reforming the system would be to tax high earners on the payment but said this was not an option now because of the way our tax code was structured.
"What people are saying is they welcome the universal aspect but that people would also like to see it targeted.
"The critical issue in terms of targeting is that you are going to target it at people on lower incomes but that has to include not just people who are on a social welfare income but people who are in low pay and that's the thing that we have to work at," she warned.
Ms Burton said she was working closely with Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald on a report from the advisory group, which will be brought to Cabinet soon.
She said the Government was spending more than €2bn on child benefit, which showed its commitment of resources to family and children.
Ms Burton also said that the Government was working to tighten up procedures around the payment of child benefit to children who are living abroad, which Ireland is obliged to pay under EU law.