‘Families tend to defer bills to pay for Communion’

Cash-strapped families will put off paying bills to cover the cost of their children’s First Holy Communion a charity has warned, after the Government confirmed that a grant for “religious ceremonies” is to be axed.

‘Families tend to defer bills to pay for Communion’

Jim Walsh of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), said it was still too early to see how the cut would impact on needy families, but said some would inevitably run into financial difficulty.

“A lot of people tend to defer paying bills so they can pay for their children’s First Communion and Confirmation. It is later on when they run into financial difficulties they come to us or go to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service [MABS] looking for help,” he said.

The SVP spokesman said the charity understood the desire of parents to have a special day for their children but their advice was to take a modest approach; try and limit spending as much as possible; and above all, avoid using moneylenders.

Michael Culloty of MABS added: “Parents should really try and keep within their budget so that they don’t leave the celebration with a bad aftertaste that lasts for quite a long time.”

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the cut, saying people should return to basic values and have a more “simple” approach to First Holy Communion.

“The Pope himself has said that we need to be far more simple in the way that the Catholic Church does its business,” he said.

Joan Burton, the social protection minister, who defended her decision to cut the payment, said some parish priests had voiced concerns about over-spending by some parents on the non-spiritual side of the celebration.

She also urged parents to shop around for outfits: “You don’t need a very expensive dress to celebrate Holy Communion.”

Over the last 18 months, the payment has been cut from an average of €242 to a maximum of €110, before it was cut altogether following a review.

The review recommended grants be paid in response to financial need rather than for an event or occasion.

In 2011, the Government paid over €3.4m in Communion and Confirmation grants to more than 14,000 families, while in 2012 the payments were cut back to €1.49m for 12,500 families.

The National Parents Council Primary has been helping a growing number of parent groups reduce the costs by organising post- Communion parties in schools.

“As well as saving the cost of bringing the extended family to a hotel for a meal, the post-Communion parties allow the children to play with their friends, which, quite often, is what they prefer to do,” said Áine Lynch of the council.

Oxfam said Communion dresses start at just €15 in their charity shops.

Oxfam Ireland manager, Anne L’Henoret, said their pre-worn dresses were in mint condition and the most expensive was priced €35. .

Costly day

* Families spent on average about €744 last year on their children’s First Communion.

* €179 on the outfit and accessories.

* €176 on clothing for the rest of the family.

* €303 on food and drink

* €86 on entertainment

* The Ulster Bank survey found eight out of 10 families used savings to pay for the celebration while one in 10 relied on help from friends or family to cover the cost.

* 9% borrowed money and the average loan taken out was €343.

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