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How Hungary, unlike Ireland, makes children a blessing.

Three years ago this week, those of us who voted for, and campaigned against, the abortion referendum, were on the wrong side of an electoral kicking. The voters, in their questionable wisdom, decided to vote for what the Yes campaign said would be a more compassionate Ireland for women. Many of our readers will regret that decision. No doubt, many of our newer readers will have voted for it, and remain quite content with the outcome. The purpose of this piece is not to re-litigate arguments around abortion.

The point to be made here is this: During that referendum, we were told repeatedly by the Government that legal abortion was just one part of the solution to the problem of crisis pregnancies. We were also promised more supports and better policy for those women who wish, or decide, to keep their child. Where are those? It was a promise which vanished, into thin air, the moment the ballot boxes were opened. It was a promise, a cynic might say, that was never intended to be kept, and served only to make wavering voters feel a bit better about their Yes vote.

But it is a promise that should be kept.

Such policies, supporting women who want to have children, are not hard to come by, if you look elsewhere in Europe. Hungary, for example, is an often maligned country. But on abortion, it is a good comparison to Ireland. Like here, abortion is legal there without restriction up until 12 weeks, and in limited circumstances up to six months of gestation. However, since the introduction of a range of pro-family laws in recent years, the abortion rate has been plummeting – down from 31 abortions for every 100 live births in 2017, and falling every year to its present level of 25 abortions per 100 live births.

So, what are those policies? Well, here is what Hungary introduced:

  • Lifetime income tax exemption for women with four or more children
  • Three-year paid maternity leave
  • US $35,000 interest-free loan for women under 40 getting married for the first time. If the family eventually has three children, the loan is forgiven.
  • Generous home mortgage subsidy for families with two or more children
  • Families with three or more children are eligible for a government grant of US $9,000 towards the purchase of a seven-seat car.
  • Creation of 21,000 day-care centers over the next three years
  • Discounted summer camps for children
  • Childcare payments to grandparents caring for grandchildren
  • Family leave for working grandparents to help with newborn grandchildren
  • Beginning in 2022, no income tax for those under 25

Hungary, then, has actually embraced a whole set of policies which encourage people to start families and have children, up to and including effectively giving women a thirty-thousand-euro gift if they have three children, and a lifetime income tax exemption if they have four.

In Ireland, have we done anything like that? No, of course not.

Many of these policies make sense for Ireland, though by no means all of them. In a nation with a childcare crisis, would it not make sense, for example, to provide a subsidy, and family leave, to Grandparents who are willing to provide childcare?

We pay children’s allowance to every child, but make no effort at all to help those with children find homes. In Hungary, they make having children a net benefit, in terms of getting a mortgage, or buying a car, or paying tax. In Ireland, every policy seems to make it harder to have children.

You may disagree with these policies, but they seem to be working fine in Hungary. But more to the point: Isn’t it time we held politicians to account for the promises they made during that referendum?

Abortion, remember, was only supposed to be one part of the solution. Instead, it’s the only solution on offer. Whether you voted yes, or no, that should be something we can unite around, moving forward.

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