On the 5 April, Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Children and Chair of the Committee On Children, Equality, Disability, Integration And Youth, Deputy Kathleen Funchion brought forward a motion that the Dáil recognises and addresses the issue of the high cost of childcare fees. During her initial remarks, Deputy Funchion outlined that high childcare fees impact decisions for families around returning to work and puts household finances under immense pressure.
Deputy Funchion noted the new Core Funding Stream for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare which will be extended to childcare providers on condition that they freeze fees at still unaffordable levels and whether it will be sufficient to support providers. Remarking on the ongoing Joint Labour Committee process for the Early Years’ Service Sector established to address low wages of those working in the sector, Deputy Funchion queried whether tying the new Core Funding stream solely to the successful outcome of the JLC process is precarious without any alternative.
The motion calls on the Government to:
— further increase public investment in order to enable providers to reduce fees for parents by two-thirds, commencing with a reduction of fees by one third this year; and
— guarantee the commitment to increase wages and improve conditions for staff, regardless of the outcome of the Joint Labour Committee.
The motion relating to the cost of childcare looks to implement proposals made by Sinn Féin over the past number of years to cut costs by two thirds over two budgets, with one third in the first year and another third in the second year. Sinn Féin Deputies including Pauline Tully and Louise O’Reilly called on all Deputies to support the motion and engage with the proposals to cut the cost of childcare.
Minister for Children
In response, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman welcomed the opportunity to discuss the important issue of early learning and childcare and indicated that he would not be opposing the motion. He highlighted the importance of early learning and childcare to society and the economy and importantly, to children, but that significant challenges in the sector remain and that fees are still unaffordable for many parents. The Minister acknowledged that pay levels and working conditions in the sector do not reflect the value of the work that early-years educators and school-age childcare practitioners do and seek to transform early learning and childcare through an agenda of reform and new investment including core funding. This reform agenda encompasses all the funding including pay and conditions, professional development, sustainability, and administration. The Minister also maintained that core funding is purposed to address the issue of pay for childcare professionals and that the separate issue of fees will be addressed in next year’s budget through enhanced investment through the national childcare scheme, NCS.
The Minister did not accept the Motion’s reference to the precarious nature of the joint labour committee, outlining that the JLC is intended to negotiate an employment regulation order which will have a legislative underpinning. He maintained that he had not heard any better mechanism for delivering increased pay for staff.
Labour Leader and Spokesperson for Children Deputy Ivana Bacik moved to insert the following addendum to the Motion.
- guarantee a pre-school place for every child, and
- begin the rollout of a universal public childcare system.
In her remarks, Deputy Bacik outlined her gratitude to have the opportunity to debate this matter, asked for the House’s support for the Labour addendum to the motion and confirmed Labour Party support for the motion.
In closing remarks, Deputy Funchion welcomed the fact that the motion was not opposed by the Government and that she supports the Labour Party amendment to the motion. The motion as amended was agreed to and carried out.
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