Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has confirmed that payments to families for special occasions, including first communions and confirmations, are to be cut.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Ms Burton said a review by community welfare officers made a number of recommendations, including that the average payment of €200 for holy communions be reduced to €110.

But she said that welfare officers would be allowed discretion when considering requests for exceptional needs payments.

The Government was criticised in the Dáil today for changing the guidelines for exceptional once-off payments to families in need.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil that increasingly it was the working poor who were accessing the payments, and said the Government was dressing up a cutback as change.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the guidelines had not been reviewed since 1995 and were being changed to reflect the current realities.

In relation to one area, 14,000 payments for communion and confirmation were made last year, at a cost of €3.4m.