Leo Varadkar in U-turn on child benefit

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has ruled out any linking of the payment of child benefit to school attendance, despite a commitment in the programme for government to do so.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said while there is a requirement to disclose attendance records for children over the age of 16, at present there is no such requirement for those younger than that under current legislation.

He said the monitoring of children is beyond his remit and is a matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

The programme for government states that monitoring of child benefit will be reformed by amalgamating two existing monitoring systems, to address poor attendance within some families.

This initiative has been spearheaded by Communications Minister Denis Naughten. However, Mr Varadkar yesterday ruled out any move to link the payment to attendance.

“Child benefit is a payment that is not means tested nor is it taxed and I have no intention of changing that. For those under 16 it is not linked to school attendance,” he said.

“I had some discussions with [Children’s Minister Katherine] Zappone and [Education Minister Richard] Bruton and our view is that those involved in monitoring truancy do not believe the further tool to enforce attendance would be useful. I see no reason in changing the law.”

Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said concern had been raised following media reports about the inclusion of the measure in the programme for government, but that he welcomed Mr Varadkar’s ruling it out. “We are happy with that and I thank the minister,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was also pressed about the €2.5m cost to the taxpayer in meeting the statutory redundancies at Clerys in Dublin.

He said legal action could be instigated in order to reclaim the monies from the company, which was folded in controversial circumstances last year.

He said the redundancies were paid out of the Social Insurance Fund from PRSI contributions to 134 former employees at Clerys.

He said: “Arising from the Clerys liquidation, the Department of Jobs examined protection law for employees and unsecured creditors to see that limited liability or company restructuring is not used to avoid obligations to employees or creditors.

“It is my firm view that companies should stay true to the spirit and letter of company law. My department is now examining how the monies can be recouped.”

Mr Varadkar said legal action would have to take into account any burden of proof involved, the cost of taking such an action, and the level of assets in the company.

Labour TD Willie Penrose criticised the response, saying it reflects the conservative nature of bureaucracy. He called for Mr Varadkar to make the most of existing law to recoup monies for the taxpayer.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about his decision to scrap the JobBridge scheme. He told the Dáil he felt the scheme was now “out of date”.


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