Saturday 20 January 2018

Worrying signs of an early loss of backbone

ONE of the tests of integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. The Government is scarcely a week old and already there are concerns about its resolve, which in turn raises doubts about its viability. For instance, there is mention in the Programme for Government of looking at child benefit as a means to get parents to focus on making sure that their children attend school. Communications Minister Denis Naughten put the idea into the public domain, clearly not to harm families, but ultimately to help them, by guaranteeing that children are given a chance to get through the one gateway society offers to a level playing field - education.

Mr Naughten's view is entirely reasonable. Linking the Department of Social Protection to school absentee databases would clearly concentrate hearts and minds by making sure that children are in the classroom during school hours. It is not about public shaming of parents, it is about ensuring the child has a chance of a future and is not locked out of a career path.

As Mr Naughten pointed out, in 2012 1,500 children did not move on from primary school to secondary school. How is the State to know whether payments are still being made to them? Meanwhile, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe was practically doing somersaults to distance himself from anything that might be vaguely criticised or stir controversy. Nothing will be done in any way that creates the possibility of anyone feeling as though they are being punished, he insisted.

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