Sunday 21 January 2018

'Use whatever means necessary' says Hogan as he backs council in student grant row

Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan

Fiach Kelly

A DEFIANT Environment Minister Phil Hogan has encouraged county councils to use "whatever means necessary" to collect the €100 household charge.

Mr Hogan also told the Dail this afternoon more councils should show “the same level of activity” as Clare County Council, which is refusing to approve third-level grants for students unless their parents paid the €100 charge.

Mr Hogan asked about the controversy during the first exchanges in the new Dail term this afternoon.

“Clare County Council and the management there are doing no more or no less than any other county manager or city manager,” Mr Hogan said. “They’re asking people and they’re putting in place plans to get in the remaining monies that are owed to them. That’s what any businesses would do.”

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn earlier defended the council, saying it was a "reasonable" question for the council to ask whether the charge had been paid.

However, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin questioned whether it was legal.

"I think they are out of order, to be frank," he said. "I would question the legal basis of what Clare County Council is doing.".

The Union of Students in Ireland said young people should not be penalised for their parents' action.

USI president John Logue said: “The action taken by Clare County Council must be condemned in the strongest terms. This is an unprecedented move. Never have I heard of a grant being refused until proof of payment is offered for a completely unrelated tax owed by another person.

"Students are being punished for the decisions of their parents and their education is being put at risk."

Pamela Rochford, a spokesperson for the Clare branch of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, accused the council of using scare tactics with the move.

A statement from Clare County Council this morning defended the move: "The assessment and processing of Higher Education Grants is carried out on an agency basis for the Department of Education and Skills, and is done at a cost (IT, staff, processes, etc) to Clare County Council."

"The Household Charge was introduced to cover the cost of providing local services such as the assessing and processing grants, for which there is no charge to the customer in terms of a grant application fee.

"It is the policy of the council to ensure that benefactors of services such as Higher Education Grants pay the Household Charge as required by law under the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 / Local Government (Household charge) Regulations 2012.

"While any delay in relation to the processing of grant payments is regretted, early payment of the charge will ensure no unnecessary delay in the payment of grants."

He said Clare County Council decided on the move itself, because it is in charge of college grants by law.

He added that the council is working with education authorities on the clampdown.

“I look forward to the same level of activity in whatever means is necessary to get an increased level of compliance to the household charge otherwise the people that are against this charge will have to explain why services are being cut,” Mr Hogan said.

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