January 18, 2024
Bill to exclude child maintenance from the means test of social welfare schemes welcome but Child Maintenance Agency needed – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD  has said that the bill to exclude the means testing of child maintenance from social welfare schemes is welcome but that we must now see the establishment of a Child Maintenance Agency.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“I welcome this bill and I welcome the fact that child maintenance payments will no longer be assessed as means for social welfare payments. This is long overdue and I also welcome the fact that we will now see the discontinuation of the Liable Relative Provision.

“This is a very important piece of legislation and will make a big difference to the lives of one parent families. I commend the Minister for addressing this.

“I want to start off by acknowledging the huge amount of work that my colleagues Claire Kerrane and John Brady have done on this. It is a vitally important piece of work and I believe that the work they have done on this matter has forced the Government’s hand on this.

“This is a move which Sinn Féin have been calling for, for many years. Teachta Kerrane has brought forward proposals on this repeatedly. This system is already in place in the North and has worked well.

“It is important to note that removing these provisions does not replace or supersede the primary responsibility of parents to maintain their children.

“While we welcome this bill, there is a lot more to do and we have long called for the establishment of a statutory Child Maintenance Service.

“The previous system was not working as it was inefficient in obtaining contributions from non-custodial parents, and while this is now to be changed, ending this policy alone will not meet families’ needs.

“We now need to see the establishment of a statutory Child Maintenance Service in its place. 

“This service would take the responsibility for pursuit of child maintenance off the shoulders of lone parents and importantly, out of the courts. 

“This would be a really important move as it’s not fair to be forcing parents to go through the court system and down the legal route.

“We need to prevent this happening. In the North, the move to a Child Maintenance Service agency has been largely positive.

“A child maintenance service would remove the adversarial court approach. It would also ensure that the child is central to the decision on child maintenance to be paid and that it has the necessary enforcement powers to actually ensure it is paid. 

“The model that Sinn Féin are proposing draws on extensive work Teachta Kerrane and myself have done on this issue, and echoes calls from leading lone parent organisations, such as SPARK and One Family Ireland and Treoir.

“We want to take child maintenance out of the courts and instead, see a statutory agency step in when it comes to the arrangement, calculation and payment of child maintenance rather than leaving it up to the lone parent alone. 

“We know that child maintenance, where paid, can play a key role in reducing child poverty, this is one reason why having a robust system in place is so important.

“The Minister must consider our proposals carefully and make sure that families are given the support that they need.

“It is not enough to end the existing flawed approach, without putting an alternative in place. 

“Once and for all, we need to support lone parent families in seeking maintenance and receiving it.

“The Government must also take measures to address the fact that one-parent families are at a significantly greater risk of poverty.

“In the Sinn Féin Alternative Budget 2024 we had a number of specific measures that would apply to one parent families to tackle this issue but the Government did not take action on any of these measures

“This is simply not good enough, particularly with the cost of raising a child constantly increasing with clothing, food, childcare, back to school costs among many other factors.

“More needs to be done and we need to see additional measures introduced by Government and meaningful action taken to address the fact that one parent families are at a significantly greater risk of poverty.

“The Government should listen to and implement proposals brought forward by Sinn Féin such as, for example, they have thankfully done with this bill and which has now forced the Government to take action.

“We welcome that action has finally been taken on this issue and hope to see further action and further measures taken to support one parent families.”

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