Council has ‘no plans’ to link household charge with third-level grants

The Galway County Council has “no plans” to ask third-level grant applicants to prove they - or their parents - have paid the household charge.

The news has been welcomed by Galway students, but the controversial action by Clare County Council to link the household charge with the grant, will still affect many attending NUI Galway and GMIT as both institutions have hundreds of students from the county.

GMIT SU president Joe O’Connor said the move by Galway’s neighbouring local authority has come has a “huge shock” to GMIT students from Clare and that they are gravely concerned”.

However second and third year students in Galway will be unaffected. Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, Ger Mullarkey, the deputy manager of the Galway County Council said there are “no plans to request proof of payment of the household charge form those who are applying for the third level grants”.

Grants for first time applicants, ie, first years, are being assessed by a separate, central agency.

He added the household charge and the grants “probably cannot be linked”. It is also understood the Government’s Student Support Act 2011 does not provide for withholding payment of a student grant on foot of non-payment of the household charge.

The Galway County Council’s stance has been welcomed by the Galway section of Free Education for Everyone.

“We welcome this and hope the Galway County Council respects the fact that the welfare of students should not be used to punish their parents who are taking a stand against the household charge,” said FEE spokesperson Joseph Loughnane.

“South Tipperary County Council has said it will not now issue letters asking for proof of payment, so pressure now needs to be put on Clare to do the same.”

Mr Loughnane pointed out that while Galway students will be unaffected, NUIG and GMIT are major third level centres for young people from Clare and that many will be affected by the local authority’s actions. As such this remains a live issue for students and student groups.

Clare County Council has written to some 800 college grant applicants saying it would “prioritise” payments from households which had paid the charge, adding that early payment of the charge “will ensure no unnecessary delay in the payment of grants”.

This led to NUI Galway Students’ Union and the picketing the council’s Ennis offices on Tuesday and condemnation from SU president Paul Curley.

“The decision of Clare County Council is short sighted and ridiculous,” he said. “Students don’t own houses and linking the payment of the household charge to their grants is a cheap shot. We call on Clare County Council to abandon this badly thought out plan and process students’ grant applications as a priority.”

His comments were echoed by GMIT SU president Joe O’Connor: “We are calling on local councillors and Government to intervene and prevent this issue from becoming a widespread crisis for students across the country.”

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