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Dublin pay-outs for Communion too big – Burton

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Joan Burton,TD,the Minister for Social  Protection  at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 27/3/13

Joan Burton,TD,the Minister for Social Protection at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 27/3/13

Joan Burton,TD,the Minister for Social Protection at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 27/3/13

DUBLIN families have been singled out for having received "excessive" amounts of State money to pay for expensive First Communion dresses.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said she was "surprised" at the amounts given to families in the form of exceptional needs payments (ENPs), with an average spend of €300 in Dublin for the dress alone.

Ms Burton said ENPs were not made in some counties, while in others, including Dublin, it had become the norm to pay out excessive amounts for religious ceremonies.

Axed

The comments come as it was confirmed that the Government has axed grants to help needy families with the costs of First Communion.

The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that ENPs will not be made in 2013 for religious ceremonies.

It said this followed a review that recommended ENPs be paid in response to financial need rather than for occasions.

"For 2013, it is recommended that payment of the allowance specifically in respect of religious ceremonies will cease," it said.

More than €3.4m was paid in Communion and Confirmation grants in 2011 to over 14,000 families – but the average payout was slashed last year, with 12,500 families receiving €1.5m before being axed altogether this year.

Ms Burton was speaking in Killarney, Co Kerry, where she described some of the payments to families as "excessive".

"One of the things that was surprising was that in some counties, including Dublin, there was something like an average of €300 being spent on Holy Communion dresses and that seemed very excessive.

"In other counties, those payments were not being made at all or, if a family needed support, they went to the Community Welfare Services and got an individual exceptional needs payment."

Ms Burton insisted the axing of the ENP was bringing into line what had already been done in other counties and followed recommendations made by staff at the department. She said families could still apply for supports on an individual basis.

"In the Dublin area it had become almost practice to give relatively large amounts of money on occasions like Communion and Confirmation.

"There was a strong feeling coming from staff that the way this money was being spent was not being done in the best way possible," she said.

Ms Burton said she wouldn't go so far as to say the payment was being abused.

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