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The Big Picture - Dáil Update: Parlimentary Questions

Sinn Féin Dáil Motion on the Future of our Sector

July 28, 2020

Last week, Sinn Féin’s private members time in the Dáil was given over to discussing their motion on the childcare sector. Before we examine the contents of the debate, it is worth setting out what all of these key terms mean and how the debate is structured.

All opposition parties in the Dáil are allowed a certain amount of speaking time each week to raise issues and debate matters, this is referred to as “private members business” or PMB. Last week, the PMB slot was given over to their motion on the future of the childcare sector. A motion is a set of statements and actions that the Dáil votes to endorse or reject, the government can choose to accept, reject or replace the motion with their own amended version. In this case, the government chose the last option and submitted an amended motion.

Both the Sinn Féin motion, and the government’s amended motions can be seen here. Following a debate on Tuesday night, the government’s amended motion passed in a Dáil vote on Thursday 73 to 64. You can see how TDs voted here. A full video of the debate can be seen here (Starts 7 hours 29 mins in) and the transcript here.

As you can see, the two motions themselves differ substantially in terms of how they seek to resolve the ongoing issues in the sector. The Sinn Féin motion notes the low levels of investment:

“the early years sector has been acutely underfunded for many years and as a result Ireland is ranked the lowest country in the European Union (EU) for investment in this vital area;”

And also recognises the high levels of staff qualification and low wages;

“this sector, which employs approximately 30,000 people, has some of the most highly qualified professionals who are paid some of the lowest wages of any sector, with many existing on minimum wage;”

The proposed Sinn Féin solution is to substantially increase investment in the sector (to at least 1% of GDP, retain the Wage Subsidy Scheme and once this has been implemented, introduce a fee-cap with the long term plan to eliminate fees entirely. 

“commits to significantly ramping up investment year-on-year, fast-tracking to a spend of at least one per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as recommended by the early years sector and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF);”

“reinstates the wage subsidy scheme at the full amount, as the basis of investment in the sector, so that entry level wages increase to the living wage;”

“fully commits to implement pay scales and full continuous professional development for all staff which properly value childcare as a viable long-term career choice;”

“ensures, once proper investment is in place, that a maximum weekly childcare fee is set, incrementally reducing until the service is free at the point of use;”

The Government’s counter motion, while acknowledging the issues the sector faces, simply re-states and welcomes the already published plans for the future of the sector. The motion does however commit to establishing Childcare Ireland, which the Minister commits to in his speech, and to;

“develop and introduce a long-term, sustainable funding model by fast tracking the work of the Expert Group to develop a new Funding Model for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare;”

The work of this expert group will be crucial to ensuring equitable and sustainable funding is provided to the sector in the future, so Early Childhood Ireland is glad to see that their work is being fast-tracked.

We are very grateful to Sinn Féin for bringing forward this motion, and particularly their spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Kathleen Funchion TD. We would also like to thank all the other TDs who spoke on the motion last Tuesday and for keeping the vital work of our sector on the Dáil agenda.

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