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Government criticised for scrapping Communion and Confirmation grants

The Department of Social Protection confirmed it was scrapping grants which covered the costs of religious sacraments.

Image: Adeline Pericart/Photocall Ireland

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection has confirmed that a grant to help Catholic families pay for their children’s First Communion and Confirmations will be scrapped, saying that exceptional needs payments (ENPs) will no longer be made available for religious ceremonies.

The move, which will see families lose payments for new clothes, has been criticised by opposition parties and advocacy groups.

Last year, Joan Burton’s department slashed the €242 grant to just €112 but there will now be no money available for the events.

Although families will still be able to apply for ENPs, they will not be issued the money specifically for religious ceremonies.

“In some parts of the country, we were spending as much as €300 on Holy Communion dresses. In other parts of the country, such payments were barely known at all,” the Minister told RTÉ News.

“Now, we have the possibility to assist families directly,” she added, stating parents could sit down and talk to the community welfare officer about their needs.

Fianna Fáil has accused the coaltion of using “cynical sleight of hand” on the issue by not telling communities in a timely manner.

“If the government had been honest in the first instance, making it clear that these payments were to stop, the families that genuinely rely on them may have had the opportunity to plan for the impact,” said deputy Willie O’Dea.

“Instead, they wait until the eve of many such events around the country and then state that the exceptional needs payment scheme will continue, but that it will not include expenditure for religious events.  Not for the first time, Minister Burton and her Government are being completely disingenuous.”

The Minister rejected arguments that mothers and fathers will resort to taking money from loan sharks to pay for such events. According to O’Dea, Burton dismissed the problem, stating there are “many garments available at very attractive prices”.

“Fianna Fáil has no interest in defending lavish spending by families on religious events and in fact we would encourage more schools to insist that Holy Communion ceremonies take place in school uniforms to help take pressure off families.

“However, Minister Burton’s comments betray an aloofness and disconnect from the reality of life for a minority of very vulnerable families. For a mother who is having to choose between heating and eating, religious events like Holy Communion and Confirmation pose a very real and very stressful dilemma. Clothing may appear ‘attractively priced’ to someone in Minister Burton’s position, but it is still out of the reach of these families.”

The government spent €3.4 million on communion and confirmation allowances for people who needed help in 2011. That figure was lowered to €1.5 million in 2012, as payments were made to 12,464 applicants. The grants were made by community welfare officers on a discretionary basis.

Previously, Burton had expressed concern at the inconsistency with which applications for discretionary extra payments were being awarded – with officers in some areas in Dublin sanctioning payments of up to €300 for religious ceremonies, while similar requests were refused completely in other areas.

One Family Chief Executive Karen Kiernan told RTÉ News the scrapping of the grant impacts the country’s poorest children.

“I think one of the problems is that if children feel stigmatised by not having the same as their peers, that’s going to be a really hard thing for children at times that should be very positive for those children.”

Charity St Vincent de Paul said it was “too early to ascertain the impact” of the decision as many families will deter other payments to meet communion costs this year. The group expects to be approached by such families at a later date.

However, it also urged people to “take a modest approach”, “limit spending as much as possible” and “avoid moneylenders”.

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