“It’s not all bad,” I have written before about being a lone parent. “There are advantages,” I have said. “There are certain things that are better about being on your own with the kids,” I have revealed.

One of those things, however, is not trying to subsist on social welfare payments. A parent in my position – with two qualifying children – receives the grand fortune of €247.60 per week. There is an additional fuel allowance of €20 per week during the colder months – but the last budget slashed the ‘cold season’ from 32 to 26 weeks.   Yes, I know, lone parents and their children are entitled to medical cards and some lone parents get help with their rent or mortgage but still, €247.60 a week to cover the costs of food, detergent, toiletries, other groceries, clothing, transport, energy, the phone, the Internet (no longer a luxury) and refuse collection. Not to mention ‘luxuries’ like books and outings. Because, yes, children do need books and they do outings (of course I’ve heard of the library – and we revel in our trips there, but some books you need to own). Sending them to school will not provide them with an education (but that’s a whole other blog post).


Anyone can live on €247.60 for a week. Or a month. Or six. After a year, though, the shine goes off it. After five, it becomes a struggle to survive. The feeling of triumphing over your circumstances because you’ve managed to ensure that no one went hungry all week, dissipates. You get sick of having to say ‘no’ to your children because you can’t say ‘yes’ – not as a lifestyle choice.


The feeling of embarrassment when your laser card is declined at the supermarket is alien to you. It’s happened so many times already that you don’t care about the humiliation, just the fact that you still don’t have bread or eggs or salt.


You resent having to choose between paying the rent and buying food for your kids. That’s a choice no one should have to make.


You turn down invitations not because you’re anti-social but because the cost of a night out petrol, parking, a babysitter – just isn’t available to you.


The cost of everything – insurance, tax, petrol, food, clothing, energy – has risen in the past year. I understand that they have increased for everyone, not just lone parents; but when you only have yourself to rely on, then you do feel it more acutely.


But, guess what? I don’t want to live on social welfare payments. No, really, I don’t. This is not a lifestyle choice for me. I’m not moaning because the government won’t give me enough of your money to live and raise my kids on. I would love to work. I would love to use the talents and experience I have to provide for myself and my family. I am a highly intelligent, well-educated, articulate, motivated, capable woman. I have valuable international experience and I learn fast. I am highly employable – and I have always managed to earn enough to support myself and my family outside of Ireland.


For so many lone parents in Ireland, working is incompatible with raising our children. Yes, I have tried. Dear Lord! I have tried.  Again and again I have come against the brick wall that is the attitude of employers in Ireland. They do not understand how skills can be easily transferred from one sector to another. They do not understand that people can be highly productive off-site. And don’t get me started on the lack of affordable childcare – especially for those of us who don’t have another parent, or parents or siblings of our own around to share that with.


In the absence of paid employment – and because I refuse to atrophy – I’ve returned to education. Partly funded – I will admit – by the Irish government. The non-funded part? I had to find that myself. I’m not even going to go into how I managed it. But manage it I did. See? I’m good at project-management, juggling budgets and finding solutions. The one thing I can’t find a solution to, though, is this government’s continuing willingness to penalise the most vulnerable, the most voiceless and the most precious people in our society – our children. That benefits no one.


Seven Is Too Young

This past week has seen single parents (usually mothers) reacting to the budget cuts that have affected them so acutely. Vincent Brown gave the subject a good airing on his programme last Thursday.

One of the elements of the Irish government’s cut-backs is their proposal to phase out the payment of Lone Parents’ Allowance to parents of children over the age of 7.


What is the reasoning for this? That by the age of seven every child is expected to be in school and therefore, doesn’t need a mammy or daddy to come home to?


Clearly, this is an attempt to save costs. The idea is that mothers (for they are nearly all mothers) on LPA can stop this ‘mothering’ and ‘nurturing’ business and get the feck out the door and work for a change. This attitude is not only insulting – by implying that lone parents are feckless, lazy creatures who want to live and (try to) raise their kids on benefits – it’s also naive. Does this government think that by insisting that lone parents find paid employment as soon as their youngest child turns 7, jobs will automatically appear?


I’ve posed a lot of questions in this piece. But here’s my biggest question: Wouldn’t this proposed course of action require a referendum? I refer to Bunracht na hEireann, Article 41, 2.2:

‘The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.’


To insist that mothers are obliged, by economic necessity, to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home – of which child-rearing is the most important – is surely unconstitutional? Or am I missing something glaringly obvious?



Close the Vatican Embassy – and Several Others

There is much agonising in Ireland at the moment over whether or not we should close our embassy in the Vatican. Last November, the Taniste (second in political command) announced the closure of the Irish embassy there.


On Saturday, however, there were whispers from Government that it wouldn’t close – or that it would close, but would be opened again in two years if economic conditions allow.


Let’s just think about embassies and their functions for a moment. Principally, they are there to offer diplomatic and consular assistance to their citizens on foreign soil. Their other principal function is to forge and maintain good economic and diplomatic links with their host countries.


Take a look at this list  of Irish embassies and consulates around the world. There are plenty there that could be shut.  I mean, do we really  need one embassy and 14 consulates in Spain? Really?


When I lived in Jakarta in 1997, we had no embassy there. We still don’t, as it happens. At the time, the nearest Irish embassy was in Kuala Lumpur. In 2000, we opened one in Singapore. I understand the strategic importance of an embassy in Singapore – it’s a gateway to China and is very well-placed in South East Asia. But do we really need one in Kuala Lumpur as well?


While we’re busy closing schools, removing SNAs from children with special needs and increasing class sizes, does it make sense to keep so many embassies open? Remember, it’s not just the salaries of the staff you’re paying, it’s the rent of the Embassy, the Ambassador’s residence, the residences of the First and Second Secretaries, the Ambassador’s car, a ‘hardship allowance’ in some territories. Not to mention the cost of moving staff and their belongings around the globe. School fees at International schools for the offspring of ambassadors and other staff, domestic staff, security staff……do you see how quickly the euros mount up?

When I lived in countries where there was no Irish embassy, there was always an Honourary Irish Consulate. This was a person local to that country who had links to Ireland – usually they had been educated here – and who undertook to help get passports and register foreign-born children as Irish citizens.


Jakarta in 1997 wasn’t The Year of Living Dangerously, by any stretch – but there were a few hairy moments. Irish people there – and there was only a handful of us in that city of teeming millions – were advised that if we were in trouble or needed refuge, then the embassy of any EU country would help us.


If that solution was good enough then, why isn’t it good enough now? There is an Irish embassy in Rome. Let it deal with the Vatican as well – and let’s keep a few small schools open and a few more SNAs in employment.