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

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

February 25, 2020

In the aftermath of the 2016 General Election, before a coalition had been assembled, it was very clear that no party would be able to form a government on their own terms. While this made forming a government more difficult, it also presented an opportunity. As you will know, the health-service in Ireland has been in a state of perpetual crisis for decades. Years of under investment and constant churn of ideas and plans with each new minister charting a different course to the last. The comparisons to the early years sector are obvious.

One of the most severe challenges that faced the health system was the lack of an agreed plan that all political parties could buy into. With an agreed consensus and a plan for what the health system should look like, how it should operate and what it should deliver it, health would no longer be a political football. The health minister, regardless of what party they come from would only be responsible for implementing the agreed plan, not designing it. For the first time in Irish history, politicians from all parties came together on a Dáil committee (The Committee on the Future of Healthcare) to hear from health experts, professional bodies, patient groups and so on and to agree a ten-year reform plan. This consensus became known as Sláintecare.

Sláintecare is now the agreed plan for the health system for all political parties in Ireland, whoever the next minister for health is, part of their remit will be delivery of this agreed reform programme. It is the only game in town as far as a long-term plan for the health service goes.

As part of our Election 2020 asks, Early Childhood Ireland sought a similar plan for the early years sector. For too long, planning and funding for our sector has been piecemeal, reactionary and short term. While funding has undoubtedly increased significantly, the absence of an agreed political strategy for the future of the sector at a political level has undoubtedly contributed to the current fragmentation that we see. First 5 as a strategy can only achieve so much in the absence of a strong political consensus.

Early Childhood Ireland’s vision is for the convening of an all-party Oireachtas committee to achieve this consensus.

We want to replicate the successful model that produced the Sláintecare report, where international experts, local practitioners, service users and others spoke at the Dáil committee to describe their experiences and outline their vision for the future. This work would have to be complimented by an agreed plan to increase funding to a sustainable level. As per our election ask, Early Childhood Ireland is seeking to increase funding to a minimum of 1% of GDP by 2025. Beyond 2025, it would be up to the committee to decide the levels of appropriate funding to fully implement their plan. The committee would work closely alongside the already established structures that exist under First 5 in order to support the delivery deliver their ongoing work.

We have already begun to see some traction on this proposal. The Labour Party spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs, Sean Sherlock TD released this statement on February 20. In the statement, Deputy Sherlock echoed our calls for the establishment of a Committee on the Future of Childcare and the Early Years Sector in order to seek political consensus on the way forward.

Early Childhood Ireland will be engaging with other key stakeholders in the Dáil to ensure that this committee becomes a reality, and we look forward to working closely with this committee when it is established.

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