Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore denied a split in the Government after Social Protection Minister Joan Burton signalled a U-turn on plans to cut off lone parent payments at the age of seven — but only if the finance department funded a radical upgrade of childcare provision in the next budget.
Opponents accused Ms Burton of “outrageous deception” and playing politics with the plight of single parents because she would not take the threatened cuts out of legislation going through the Dáil.
“She is using young mothers and their children as party political pawns in a battle across the cabinet table,” said Sean Fleming, Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure reform spokesman.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s spokesperson would not comment on suggestions Ms Burton was engaged in a “solo run” to force childcare changes but insisted there was no possibility of amending the current legislation.
Ms Burton sparked the row with a surprise announcement that unless she received a “credible and bankable” commitment to bring in Scandinavian-style childcare she would not implement a reduction in the cut-off point for one parent family payment to children aged seven.
Single parents’ pressure group Sparks said Ms Burton must drop the section of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill which imposes the cut when it goes before the Dáil next Wednesday if she is to be taken seriously.
Sinn Féin said the move was a “penny pinching” attempt to penalise lone parents.
The party’s social welfare spokesman, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said: “It is not good enough for the minister to state that she will not proceed with this provision if she does not get a credible and bankable commitment from the government on the delivery of such a service.
“This is a fig leaf for the minister to hide behind. There is no point in putting this in place and suggesting that at some stage in future an after-school programme will be put in place. Such programmes have been promised by every government under the sun.”
Under the plans for new recipients, from May this year a one-parent family payment will be made until the youngest child reaches 12, from Jan 2013 until the age of 10 and from Jan 2014 until the age of seven.
Campaigners have warned this could lead to children being left home alone at the age of seven if mothers were forced to seek work to make up the shortfall.
In the Dáil, the Tánaiste defended the move: “Nobody is arguing or would argue that a child of seven years should be left at home alone. The changes being made on a graduated basis and over a number of years are being made on the basis of changes being made in the delivery of childcare services.
“The minister made it clear that when legislation was enacted, its implementation was clearly dependent on the various reforms being joined up.”