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Prioritise children in Budget 2005 - Ó Caoláin

15 November, 2004

Sinn Féin Dáill leader Caoimhghín Ó Caolain has called on the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen to prioritise the needs of children and to take key steps to tackle child poverty in Budget 2005. Speaking at the launch of Sinn Fein's budget priorities document 'Putting Children First' Deputy Ó Caoláin said there was "greater awareness now than ever before of the persistent inequalities in Irish society that have been deepened by this Government".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Cabinet reshuffle has created an expectation that the new Minister, Brian Cowen, might adopt a different approach to that of his predecessor Charlie McCreevy. Minister McCreevy's seven Budgets of Inequality created a more divided society and missed the opportunity to use wealth to end poverty. He allowed the wealth-poverty gap to grow while failing to properly develop vital public services and social infrastructure.

"The poor performance by Fianna Fáil in the European and Local elections was followed by complaints by Fianna Fáil backbenchers that the influence of the PDs was too great and that the Government had gone too right of centre. The first real test of all that will be Minister Cowen's first Budget.

"The public is entitled to expect a new approach from a new Minister.

"There is a greater awareness now than ever before of the persistent inequalities that have been deepened by this Government. This is underlined by a series of studies and reports published in the autumn and providing a stark backdrop to Budget 2005.

"Some 21 % of the population are living below the 60% income poverty line, compared to an EU average of 15%. 66,000 children in this State live so far below the poverty line that they experience deprivation of basic needs such as proper food and heating. Of those living in relative income poverty over 250,000 are children.

"This is a prosperous country. It is a small country. There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that, at the very least. no child should want for any of the basics of life and should be able to look forward to a full and rewarding future. The lack of vision. the incompetence and conservatism of successive governments in this state have robbed generations of children of their birthright.

Therefore, as key measures In this Budget. Sinn Fein is calling for:

• Increase in Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and €185.50 for third and subsequent children. (Additional cost approximately €190 million). Child Benefit is recognised as the single most effective social welfare measure for addressing the needs of children. Such an increase would also assist working parents with the cost of childcare.

• Comprehensive package of childcare measures, budgetary and legislative, implementing the right Of all children to the best care, allowing parents to care for their children full time up to one year of age and equalising women's participation in the labour market.

• Immediately extend medical card qualification to all under 18. (Cost approximately €116 million) Children are suffering most from the disgracefully low income threshold for medical card qualification.

Improve funding for primary education, Including school building programmes and schemes to tackle educational disadvantage."

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