Claire Byrne: Tax on women caring for children at home will force minders into the black market or mums to quit jobs
Almost 300 years ago, Irish parents made secret payments to teachers who taught their children on roadsides and ruined buildings to circumvent the Penal Law system.
The laws were designed to break the spirit of the people and condemn them to servitude, but the parents came up with the Hedge School system to assert their rights and retain their identity.
Today, Irish mothers might too be asked to hand over furtive payments to people who are prepared to help them stay in the workplace, while our Government, it seems, is determined to force them to stay at home.
The news that women who care for children in their own homes are to be taxed will inevitably lead to more women having to opt out of their jobs as childcare is priced beyond their means.
The Government wants women who take care of children at home to pay a flat rate of PRSI, probably around the €250 per annum mark. It may not seem like much, but it is a cost that will inevitably be passed on to the working mum who is paying for the care.
The implications of the proposal have the potential to cause far more damage than the figure might imply.
Firstly, these childminders have a hugely important role to play in our society. Without them, countless women would be unable to work -- whether it's part or full-time. Ireland is a country that has encouraged women to get jobs, but has failed abysmally to help them out with the costs and logistics of childminding. I know many who could manage to work with one child, but who were forced out altogether when a second child arrived, purely because it cost too much to have the children looked after during the day.
Women who take care of children in the home are often much more reasonably priced than creches, whose charges can surpass the amount a family pays on the mortgage every month.
A good, trustworthy and experienced carer who minds a child in the safety of her own home can provide the comfort of reliability to a working mother. They don't earn enough to pay income tax, but now they will face the prospect of making a tax return, which is enough to turn some away from the industry altogether.
For some, making a tax return might be daunting enough to make the prospect of childminding unattractive, for others, declaring the income could have implications for the household tax liability or social welfare payments, if the husband is unemployed.
While no one can justify tricking the system and thriving on ill-gotten gains, there should be some recognition given to these women who allow others to go out to work and actively participate in the workforce.
Could it be the case that there is a more sinister agenda at play here? Women are already delaying having children because they are afraid that everything that they have worked so hard to achieve will be lost to them once they drop out of the rat-race. Now though, the Government intends to make it even harder for them to get back in the game, if that is what they want to do.
Perhaps this measure which, make no mistake, will make childcare more costly and harder to come by, is designed at surreptitiously encouraging women to stay at home. In so doing, they free up jobs needed by jobseekers and therefore reduce the dole queues.
It sounds like a far-fetched theory and it's probably more likely that this is evidence of short-sighted policy designed to bring in more money for the State coffers without a thought for the hardship it will cause.
It may be almost 300 years since children were taught religion in the hedges of Ireland by teachers who were secretly paid by parents, but if we are not careful, we will force childminders to operate in a black market economy where those who want to get out and work will have to pay them a tithe under cover of darkness for their much-needed services.