Fine Gael response to lone parent motion referred to as Thatcherism

Cllr Rose Conway Walsh

Cllr Rose Conway Walsh

The Fine Gael whip in Mayo County Council, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly, was accused of parroting the views of Margaret Thatcher in the council chamber this week.

The 'Thatcherism' comment arose from his response to a motion tabled by Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway Walsh, which called for the reversal of cuts to single parent families.

The cuts are slated to come in from July and will see single parents whose children are over seven put on jobseekers allowance transitional arrangements, rather than receive the traditional payments.

Speaking on her motion, Cllr Conway Walsh told the chamber: "This is a very serious motion, I know it doesn't fall within the remit of this council, but as public representatives in this county, who represent the 5,437 single parent families in this county, there is an onus on us to try and stop this.

"We have to remember that this isn't a one off change. There has been a succession of very nasty cuts to lone parents within this county and the country.

"It has the impact of putting many lone parents in this county into long term poverty. I'm very concerned about the children in these families who are trying to survive.

"I believe single parents are being singled out by this Government for special treatment," continued Cllr Conway Walsh.

"We have to look at some of the cuts already, such as the cut in the earning disregard from €146.50 to €90, the half-rate payments on certain social insurance schemes, the abolishment of the six month transitional one parent family payment, and the ending of the disregard for hours in home help. They are being cut from all angles.

"I wouldn't mind if what was going to happen in July was going to make an impact and do the job the Tánaiste was trying to do. But we have seen from the figures already from the cuts already that this is a decrease in the number of lone parents going out to work.

"The most people that are going to be impacted by this are the lone parents who I admire greatly, who are trying to educate themselves better, trying to participate in education, and are working as many hours as they can.

"I've met lone parents and I've had scores of representations from them who are being cut up to €100 a week. Taking €100 a week from lone parents, pushing them into poverty, is not the way forward.

"We are going to have a lot of lone parents who are going to have to give up their education and their work if these changes come in."

Welfare

Responding to the motion Cllr Munnelly said he agreed with the sentiments of what has been raised and the fact that familes with single parents heading them up deserve to be supported.

"And indeed in the main they find it much more challenging," he pointed out. "I think it's four and a half times more likely that a child in a single parent family is in poverty from statistics in 2004.

"But between then and 2012 there was €1 billion a year invested in payments, it didn't change. The solution to this isn't really more welfare, investing more money in welfare and giving people more welfare isn't the solution.

"The current Government plan to get people out of the welfare trap is to get them jobs.

"The whole philosophy that the Government is trying to do is to get lone parent families into the workforce. That needs to be supported, and going on as it stands, the lone parent with their youngest child which is older than seven they lose entitlement to their lone parent payment. But it doesn't end there.

"There have been a number of measures by the Government, including family income support, the introduction of the single parent tax credit. There's an incentive now for people while they are transitioning to claim their benefits and also to avail of the tax credit while they are working."

He concluded: "It's very easy to come in here and say, put more money into this and more money into that. It's a case of priorities and we have to look at the hard facts. In the case of the Netherlands, UK, and New Zealand, at the age of five, families leave payments for lone parents. We have to ask ourselves, and be honest, is our welfare system working and is it incentivising people to work?

"The whole thinking here is to get and encourage people to the workplace and supporting them. The philosophy behind this is to get more people into work, you can say for certain and the statistics back it up, the previous system wasn't working and it's about thinking about a new approach.

'Extreme right wing'

However, in response to his reply Independent councillor Gerry Ginty said: "I'm sad to say, I never thought I'd hear Maggie Thatcher being parroted around this chamber by councillors over here, extreme right wing reactionaries.

"It's the worst of the worst. I don't know whether Cllr Munnelly is opposing it because it came from Sinn Féin or some deeply held political view that the poor are responsible for being poor. Now that's a philosophy that I thought had died with Thatcher, and I personally object to it.

"I don't agree with everything Sinn Féin say, but I'd agree with a lot of their ideas about the poor when it's right. Part of what this philosophy is, is to force people who are poor to take jobs for half-nothing, and that is right wing philosophy and one I object to and will object to till the day I die."

Responding to Cllr Munnelly, Cllr Conway Walsh said: "I have to say, I'm angry beyond words with some of the reaction from people who I respected for a long time. We are not looking to give more money to single parents.

"We are begging that the cuts that have accumulated over the last number of years, and every penny that is taken off families within this county stops, and that the plans for more cuts in July are stopped.

"I always speak in facts and the fact is that in 2011, 49 per cent of recipients of one parent families were working, but this has fallen to 36 per cent now.

Netherlands

"It is not doing the job that is being purported to do by the Minister. I'm told to look at the Netherlands model where money has been invested year after year in childcare, we can't compare Ireland to that and other countries where there are supports in place for lone parents.

"I agree with Cllr Ginty and the first thing that came to my mind was Maggie Thatcher and the conservative government that used sticks to beat people out to work when there was no jobs."

Fine Gael councillor Patsy O'Brien spoke up for his party colleague and also said that no-one on the Fine Gael side was against the thrust of the motion.

"I support the motion," said Cllr O'Brien. "No-one on this side of the house doesn't. But what Cllr Munnelly did was outline the current position in this country, and he went out of his way to the get the facts, and if it's wrong, it's wrong and we will come back and say that.

"We are not opposing this motion we are just outlining the facts."

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