Wednesday 26 October 2016

'I won't hold breath waiting for Varadkar to help', says Erica

Erica Fleming
Erica Fleming

A homeless mum who was denied a grant to fund her education believes Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar would not touch her case "with a barge pole" because of political concerns.

Erica Fleming (30) was left heartbroken when she learned she had been refused a Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) because she works part-time.

Following an emotional app-eal this week to Mr Varadkar to save her dream of attending Trinity College, the mum-of-one told the Herald "I'm not holding my breath" for a meeting with the Fine Gael TD.

"At first I thought he might contact me because it wasn't his policy that messed things up, but now I don't think he's bothered," she said.

"It's Fine Gael. None of them want to touch me with a barge pole because they gain nothing from it.

"I mean, I would love if Mr Varadkar sorted things out for me and everyone else in the same boat, but I'm not holding my breath."

When asked by the Herald if Trinity-educated Mr Varadkar would be willing to meet with Ms Fleming to discuss her grant, his department said "it could not comment on individual cases".

In the wake of her appeal to the minister to overturn the BTEA restrictions on lone parents, Ms Fleming has received the backing of the Trinity College Dublin Students' Union (TCDSU) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

"We fully support Erica's call for the minister to urgently revise the BTEA guidelines to support single parents like her who wish to improve their lives and the lives of their children," said USI deputy president Jack Leahy.

While Ms Fleming's story has struck a chord with many, others have taken offence and have been targeting her online.


"People have been messaging me on Facebook and Twitter, saying 'Shut up about lone parents' and writing that I don't have a right to speak up because I'm 'leeching off the State'," she said.

Among those who criticised her was former Dublin city Fine Gael councillor Prof Bill Tormey, who has a PhD from Trinity.

"What plan did Fleming make when she had her child?" he wrote on Twitter, adding: "How many taxpayers are needed to pay for this Fleming woman weekly?"

Ms Fleming said it was the job of politicians to protect the vulnerable, not abuse them.

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