Gilmore plays down Burton comments19/04/2012 - 15:23:41
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has denied that the Government advocates leaving seven-year-old children at home alone without care.
The Labour leader played down an ultimatum by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who threatened to abandon controversial plans to make cuts to Lone Parent Payments unless she secured certain childcare provisions in the next Budget.
Mr Gilmore refused to delete section four of the Social Welfare Bill, which proposes to reduce the upper age limit for lone-parent payments to a child of seven, despite his party colleague Ms Burton saying the age was too young.
"There is nobody in this house or this country who would leave a seven-year-old without care," said Mr Gilmore.
"This legislation is not about what age you would leave a child alone.
"What the legislation is addressing is the age to which the lone-parent payment is payable."
Opposition TDs have accused the Government of forcing single parents to abandon their young children to return to work.
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on Mr Gilmore to ditch plans to reduce the upper age limit so significantly.
It is set to drop gradually from 12 to 10 and finally to seven by 2014.
But the Tánaiste insisted it was necessary in the Government's long-term plan to reform the childcare system.
The Social Protection Minister spoke out against her Cabinet colleagues last night during a speech on the Social Welfare Bill, when she admitted the decision to reduce the upper age limit was too drastic.
She said she would only stick to the plans if the Government made arrangements to adopt a Scandinavian-style childcare system.
"Many of those opposed to the measures on the One Parent Family Payment being introduced in this Bill have said that seven is too young," said Ms Burton.
"Too young to leave a child alone without adequate childcare, too young for a parent to make the first steps back to the workplace and too young for the same parent to return to education or training.
"I entirely agree that seven is too young for anyone to seriously contemplate any of these things."
The Minister, who also serves as the Tánaiste's deputy in the Labour Party, said she would only progress with the Bill if the Government gave her a "credible and bankable commitment" to deliver what she described as safe, affordable and accessible childcare.
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