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Programme for Government Initiatives

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 8 June 2016

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Questions (8, 9)

Richard Boyd Barrett


8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his plans to implement the Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11576/16]

View answer

Bríd Smith


9. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach his plans for implementing the programme for Government and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14505/16]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 9 together.

The programme for a partnership Government published on 11 May sets out an ambitious programme of work to build a strong economy and to deliver a fair society. Implementing the programme over the lifetime of the Government will involve a range of activity involving all Departments. My Department is engaging with all Departments at present to identity individual commitments and determine responsibility for these actions. These will be published in due course by each Department in their respective statements of strategy.

As part of the process, I am meeting with individual Ministers to agree their priorities for the coming year taking into account the actions and ambitions in the programme for a partnership Government. To date, I have met with eight Ministers and I will meet with a further two tomorrow. The programme for a partnership Government sets out a new and collaborative approach in doing business not only including the partners of Government, but the Oireachtas and wider society.

There are many challenges ahead, including areas such as housing and homelessness, education and health, broadband and rural development. The Government is committed to tackling these challenges head on to ensure that we build a society where the recovery is felt by every individual and family around the country. The programme for Government office in my Department will monitor the implementation of the programme and report to me and to the Cabinet on progress across all Departments. An annual report will be published after the first year outlining progress made.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about one section of a programme for a partnership Government, a point I raised when it was first published in April or March. I am still really confused and am getting more confused by the day as to whether this section is to be implemented. It concerns the linkage of child benefit with school attendance. I raised the issue earlier because I was shocked to see such a right-wing proposal in what is being called a "new politics" programme for Government that would penalise people who rely on child benefit to send their children to school and remove it if their children do not attend school. There is a lot of evidence to show that children do not attend school for many reasons. It is not because their parents are spending the money in the gambling shop or pub and do not give a damn about them. It is often because they have issues relating to disability or are being bullied or because their special needs are not being met at school. They are often related to economic and developmental problems in the family. Penalising those families by removing child benefit will do little or nothing to address the attendance of children at school.

I was shocked to see it. Subsequently, I think the Minister for Social Protection said in this House - he certainly said it in front of me on RTE - that he was not in favour of this measure. I believe he then said in this House that the measure would not be implemented. This morning's edition of the Irish Daily Mail reported that the Minister with responsibility for communications, climate change and natural resources, an "Endapendent" whose baby this is because he is the one who has been promoting it, said that this is not going away, that he is going to put it to the floor of the House and that he believes he has enough support among Deputies, parents and teachers to implement it. I am particularly concerned that he believes he has the support of a majority of teachers. I do not know from where he gets that evidence.

Could the Taoiseach, the Minister for Social Protection or the Minister with responsibility for communications, climate change and natural resources clarify who is telling the truth here? Will the measure to link school attendance and child benefit be implemented under the programme for a partnership Government? Will the Minister with responsibility for communications, climate change and natural resources pursue this issue on the floor of this House despite the Minister for Social Protection's pronouncement that it will not be pursued?

School attendance is a very important element of a child's education. The best education that can be given to children and young people gives them the best opportunity to find a pathway out of difficult circumstances and poverty, a route to find a job and, therefore, the ability to live a life.

There was misinterpretation involved here. The intention is not to take child benefit away from people; it is to ensure that children, in whatever circumstances, are enabled to have the same opportunity as anybody else. The Deputy is quite right that in many different circumstances in places around the country, it is not as simple as it looks. There may well be personal, family, partner or extended family issues. It may be personal to the child and his or her difficulties and no service is being made available to that child. The important point, which was highlighted by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is that child benefit is a fundamentally important element of welfare in Ireland - the Minister for Social Protection has made it that way - but so is school education. Therefore, supports need to be available so that every child can have the opportunity to go to school to learn and to better himself or herself. That requires, in many cases, dealing with a situation where, for whatever reason, some children do not attend school.

Will the Taoiseach please answer the question?

No, time has lapsed. We have to proceed.

The question was not about how important schooling is to a child's education; it was whether this issue is being pursued.

Deputy Smith, we have concluded.

Will the Taoiseach please answer the question?

The answer is "Yes" or "No".

I am afraid we have no way of forcing any Member to answer a question to the Deputy's satisfaction.

The Ceann Comhairle can force us to ask a question and if we want to talk, he says "No, ask the question, Deputy".

We are proceeding to the Order of Business.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.