The following item is an excerpt from a column written by Brenda Power.
IF A MALE journalist penned thoughts like Brenda Power concerning single mothers, there would be a storm of controversy. Before Power's piece gets locked down behind the Sunday Times costwall, her words bear repeating here.
"In two brief lines in his budget speech in 1973, Richie Ryan introducted a novel social welfare benefit called the lone parent's allowance. Unlike Noel Browne's earlier mother and child scheme, this innovation was not denounced as heralding the end of the traditional family nor seen as a blow to the country's cherished moral values. Instead, it passed under the outrage radar because, at the time, lone parents were rare creatures, numbering less than 3,000.
"It was a relatively inexpensive measure that pressed all the right buttons in a state that had recently signed up to the common market and begun to look outwards towards European concepts of tolerance and inclusivity. Lone parents were a particularly vulnerable minority and the new allowance would afford htem the economic safety net their circumstances required.
"A little more than 30 years on, the number of lone parents in the country is heading for the 100,000 mark. And there is an increasingly compelling logic to the argument that, while it may have freed single parents from the poverty trap, the allowance has led to the sort of social chaos and decline of family values that even its most strident critics would never have foreseen.
"There is increasing support for the view that the lone parent's allowance scheme, along with all the other benefits and concessions available, have had the effect of at best normalising, and at worst giving an incentive to, single parenthood.
"A few years ago Mary Harney, the tanaiste, considered offering incentives for single parents to live with their extended familiies so they could benefit from the available support system. She got roasted as a result.
"It is a hot potato because of the political incorrectness of targeting unfortunate teenage mothers and their children. But tackling the dangerously misleading impression that single parenthood is a ticket to an easy life on benefits requires urgent and courageous action. Some economists argue that the allowance should be scrapped altogether although such a wide-reaching move would be difficult to implement.
"It is perhaps obvious, but a hard-hitting educational campaign spelling out the realities of teenage parenthood, and the breadth of disadvantages for all concerned, has to precede any change to the relevant legislation.We have to shake off the fear of a backlash from feminist groups that will see any attempt to discourage single parenthood as a gross attack on female reproductive liberties and a return to the bad old days of the Magdalene laundries. But babies have rights, too, and the entitlement to be welcomed as a belived addition to a stable family, and not conceived as a ticket to lifelong welfare benefits, ought to be among them."
Brenda Power -- "Single parenthood cannot be the easy option" in The Sunday Times, January 30, 2005.