Ireland's government has slashed payments to families struggling to cover the expense of kitting out their children for Catholic religious ceremonies.

The cost of a white dress, matching veil, shoes and handbag for an eight-year old girl making her First Holy Communion can run to hundreds of euros. There can be additional expenses for a professional hair-do and, in some cases, make-up, spray tan and fake nails.

Last year the government paid out an average of 242 euros ($320) to 14,000 families on social welfare to help them meet the cost of First Holy Communion and Confirmation, which is celebrated by children aged around 13.

The Department of Social Protection said Thursday the payment would now be capped at 110 euros.

They are designed to meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenses, a spokeswoman for the department said.

Holy Communion and Confirmation are still hugely important family days out in Ireland despite the declining role of the Catholic religion in the country.

Some parents feel pressured to go all out for the big day and take out loans to help cover the cost.

(Reporting by Carmel Crimmins, editing by Paul Casciato)