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All Party Committee on the Future of Childcare and the Early Years Sector

General Election 2020

February 11, 2020

The count for General Election 2020 has been completed. It is very clear that we are facing a significantly altered political landscape. While it is very difficult to predict what the impact will be on the early years system yet, all eyes will now turn to government formation. The former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone has lost her seat in Dublin South-West and will not return to the Dáil. All of the Party spokespersons on Children and Youth Affairs (Kathleen Funchion: Sinn Féin, Anne Rabbitte: Fianna Fáil, Sean Sherlock: Labour and Róisín Shortall: Social Democrats) have held their seats.

When the dust settles and all the seats are allocated in the coming days, negotiations will begin to see if a workable coalition government can be formed. In the context of these talks Early Childhood Ireland will be forcefully making the case for our members and we will hope to see our general election asks worked into any new programme for government. In terms of our asks, with regard to the establishment of a single Early Years and School Age Childcare Agency, only two parties make a commitment to establish this in their manifestos – Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats. Many of the parties do not acknowledge the burden that providers face beyond the wage issue. Low pay is a very important matter to be examined. However, there seems to be a lack of appreciation of the severe bureaucratic and administrative burden that providers face on a day to day basis. Fine Gael for example, make a passing reference to “streamlining” regulatory requirements for settings and resources for Tusla, but there is very little detail about what this would mean in practice. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party make passing reference to supporting providers but with no detail of what this would entail.

There is no mention of full year ECCE in any party manifesto, only Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have included explicit references to extending the scheme at all (Fianna Fáil to 40 weeks and Fine Gael to 42 weeks). The omissions by other parties however have to be read in the context of their promises of large-scale investment to increase provision, but often with little detail of how that would work in practice. The explicit name-checking of ECCE by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael display at least a more nuanced understanding of how the sector currently operates.

Early Childhood Ireland’s final election ask for 2020 was a cross-party plan and roadmap for the increase in early years funding to the UNICEF recommended benchmark of 1% of GDP by 2025. The parties commitment to this is harder to quantify as many have promised higher levels of investment, but only Sinn Féin have explicitly namechecked the target of 1% of GDP by 2025. People Before Profit, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats all commit to much higher levels of investment, which in many cases would exceed the 1%, but detail is lacking. Several parties have championed the idea of a fully publicly owned not-for-profit childcare system which would require huge levels of investment and to a large degree, it is unclear how this would align with or subsume existing providers. Sinn Féin outline how providers would have the option to “opt-in” to this new public system but there is little detail beyond that.

Based on the results that we have seen in the election, it seems that there will be a great deal of horse-trading before a workable coalition can be formed. With that in mind, each of the party’s manifestos an be taken somewhat with a grain of salt. Over the course of the next few weeks, Early Childhood Ireland will be lobbying on behalf of our members to those political parties who are seeking to form a government. We would hope to see our pre-election asks in any new programme for government and we will be keeping our members updated as talks progress.

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