Friday 20 April 2018

Valentine's Day massacre when Kenny made sure farm assets wouldn't count when it came to education grants

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is right politically not to pursue the idea, says John Walshe, who recalls how the Taoiseach's representatives made sure such a plan stayed off the Cabinet agenda when it was previously mooted

Former Education minister Ruairi Quinn
Former Education minister Ruairi Quinn

John Walshe

Hard-pressed PAYE workers who went to college years ago still rail about the children of the well-off who got a higher education grant - usually the offspring of farmers, vintners or other self-employed. When their grant money arrived, it was time to celebrate and they seemed to do so with gusto at the taxpayer's expense.

The rules have been tightened up since, but the belief is still out there that some groups are able to finesse the system by reducing their 'reckonable' income in the year before their children go to college in order to help them qualify. Grants are awarded on the basis of family income, and for PAYE workers it's easy to calculate whether or not they are above the income limit. For others, it can be a bit harder to work out - which is where the suspicion of unfairness arises. Every year there are still the apocryphal stories of farmers' or vintners' children getting grants while the children of the farm labourer and bar staff cannot. In Irish society, perception is all.

Then there is the question of whether or not assets such as second homes, luxury boats, big pension pots, huge savings, land etc, should be taken into account. Over two decades ago a group chaired by Donal de Buitleir published a report saying that "the means test is defective in that it fails to take full account of ability to pay - particularly since it ignores the accumulated wealth of individuals. Some people with clearly expensive lifestyles obtain grants while others, who are hard-pressed, lose out."

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