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Dáil Update: Parliamentary Questions

September 22, 2020

On Tuesday, September 8th in the Dáil, TDs had an opportunity to put questions to the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration for an oral response. These back-and-forth questions provide a useful opportunity for TDs to get more detail on issues from the Minister that cannot be gleaned from written responses. The full debate can be seen here, but we focus on some of the more interesting exchanges below.

Deputy Seán Sherlock (Labour-Cork East) raised the question of the reports of slow turnaround times for COVID testing for early years settings and the issue of Sick Pay for childcare workers. In his response, the Minister highlighted how, while it is difficult to fast-track testing for a specific cohort of workers, he commits to engaging with NPHET in the context of increasing the levels of testing overall. He also agrees to meet with SIPTU to discuss the issue of sick-pay and see if and how this matter can be progressed.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion (Sinn Féin-Carlow/Kilkenny) had a number of questions for the Minister, the first being the issue of the Over Age Exemption for ECCE and the high levels of refusal of applications. While the Minister points out that the main reason for a refusal would result in the child attending school over the age of six, he does indicate that there is a plan for a full review of the AIM programme to ensure its effectiveness. We will be sure to keep members updated on the progress of this review.

Deputies Pádraig O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil-Cork North Central) and Cormac Devlin (Fianna Fáil-Dún Laoghaire) had questions on the capacity of school-age care services in Cork and Dublin respectively. The Minister’s response highlighted the work done under the NCS but also outlined how his Department is engaging with schools to make more of their facilities available for after-school programmes. This is interesting as it is an issue that our members have raised previously. It is encouraging to see the Department taking a proactive approach to the matter.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion’s second question of interest related to the matter of sustainability in early year’s settings and a further question regarding the supports that the Department is offering in this regard. In his response, the Minister confirms that the €2 million funds are also open to community childcare settings. While this is welcome, the money that has been made available is not COVID specific sustainability support, and the Minister confirms this in his response to Deputy Funchion. We will continue to lobby for additional sustainability supports for the sector.

Another question of note is one from Ruairí Ó Murchú (Sinn Féin-Louth) who raised the issue of families transitioning from CCSP to the NCS potentially seeing their fees increase dramatically. While the Minister’s response outlines the extension of these schemes to “saver” children for an indefinite period, this is not an effective or equitable solution. Some families have found themselves in the unfair position that one child may have to pay more for their place in a setting as the CCSP is now closed to new applications. The situation is also an administrative headache for providers. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore (Social Democrats-Wicklow) also raised this matter in a written question to the Minister and his response can be seen here. While we welcome the Minister’s commitment to working with his officials to “refine” the scheme, progress needs to be quick as very disadvantaged children are losing out. ECI is committed to finding a more equitable and sustainable solution to this issue and will continue to engage with the Department in this regard. 

A final topic of interest was also raised by Deputy Whitmore, who raised this question on funding levels. It is interesting to see that the Minister and DCYA’s calculation of how much Ireland invests in early years is at odds with the OECD’s figures and those of Early Childhood Ireland. (0.2% of GDP vs. 0.1%). We will be engaging with politicians from across the political spectrum in the coming weeks to promote and lobby for higher levels of investment for our members as per our Budget Submission, and for the retention of the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme.

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