Ireland
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Varadkar: Government mulling new means-tested higher rate of child benefit

The Government is considering a higher, means-tested rate of child benefit, the Taoiseach has confirmed.

However, Leo Varadkar has said it will not be possible to introduce the two-tier system as part of Budget 2024.

Addressing the Seanad, Mr Varadkar said Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys has now been asked to examine a means-tested payment after the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said such a measure could take more than 40,000 children out of poverty.

"The proposal has real merit and I look forward to understanding more about how it might be implemented,” Mr Varadkar said.

However, he added that "further work" will have to be undertaken to ensure "no unintended consequences occur".

Children's therapies

A number of senators raised the issue of lack of delivery of therapies for children, which Mr Varadkar said is "one of the most difficult issues we all deal with as politicians".

One of the things I find hardest to explain to my constituents and parents is why they cannot get access to therapies for their children, and the truth is I have no good explanation. 

"It is certainly not a lack of political will or compassion. It is not a lack of funding, although it might have been in the past. It is to do with much more difficult issues to resolve, such as finding the trained professional personnel we need and also changing our systems in order that they will be more modern and use new technologies," he said.

Anne Rabbitte is considering removing HSE funding to recruit therapists to schools and reallocating funds and responsibility to the Department of Education. Picture: Julien Behal
Anne Rabbitte is considering removing HSE funding to recruit therapists to schools and reallocating funds and responsibility to the Department of Education. Picture: Julien Behal

The problem has become so acute that Ms Rabbitte is now considering removing HSE funding to recruit therapists to schools and instead wants to reallocate the funds and responsibility to the Department of Education.

Legacy legislation

Turning to the controversial issue of the UK legacy legislation, Mr Varadkar said the bill is "disrespectful to victims" and the Government will be deciding how to act in the coming weeks.

"There is the option of supporting a case taken by one of the victims or victims' groups," he said. "There is the option of taking our own case to the European Court of Human Rights. We will have legal advice on that quite soon, and we will have to make a judgment.

"It is both a political and legal judgment in deciding what the right course of action is. I expect to see the British prime minister next week and that will be an opportunity to discuss it further."

On the nitrates directive, Mr Varadkar warned politicians that we have "a real flight on our hands to hang onto the 220kg/ha" but he said this must be a "big priority" between now and 2025.

"Going to 175kg/ha would be devastating for family farm incomes. It would be really damaging to our economy and export industry, which is what our food and dairy industry is. We will have a battle on our hands and we might be the only country that has it."