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The Big Picture - Dáil Update: Parlimentary Questions

The Big Picture 21 July 2020

July 20, 2020

In previous editions of the Big Picture, we have discussed the campaign by Early Childhood Ireland and other child focused organisations to retain the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and a dedicated Minister. We were delighted to hear that the new Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Green government listened to our demands and the Department was retained, albeit with a slightly different remit. The former Department of Children and Youth Affairs, is now the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, and the Minister in Charge is Roderic O’Gorman of the Green Party.

Minister O’Gorman is a relatively new face to national politics being a first time TD for the Dublin West constituency, but has been active at a local and national level with the Green Party for many years. He was first elected to Fingal County Council in the 2014 local elections and unsuccessfully ran for the Green Party in the 2007, 2011 and 2016 general elections. He is a former law lecturer in DCU in their School of Law and Government.

As our members will know, the new Minister will have his work cut out for him. The sector is still in the midst of the re-opening process following the Covid-19 lockdown and uncertainty about the September reopening. On top of this, our members will face back into the problems that were present in the sector before Covid-19 struck. The Minister has set out some of his priorities for the early years sector in media interviews and elsewhere since his appointment, but his first official Ministerial statement outlining his Departmental Priorities didn’t offer much information. In the statement, early years is only mentioned in passing;

“My hope is that this will be a department that puts the young, vulnerable, and marginalised at the very centre of its work: expanding childcare, ending direct provision, and extending equality to all our citizens.”

We can however, glean some more information from some of his recent media interviews. In this interview with the Irish Independent (behind a paywall), the Minister sets out his plans to establish the single early years and school-age childcare agency Childcare Ireland. This was one of our key election asks, so we are delighted to see this being progressed. He also stated his belief that our current system results in disincentives to participation owing to high fees;

 “When childcare becomes more expensive than the mortgage, that becomes a massive disadvantage, a disincentive”

In the same article, he goes on to acknowledge that he is considering fee caps for settings, but these would be linked to higher subsidies for providers to offset loss of income. As of yet, we have no details of how this might work in practice, but this interview in TheJournal.ie points to a scaling up of the NCS. In the article, the Minister outlines how he sees “huge potential” in the NCS and goes on to say;

“It’s designed in such a way that supports can be targeted to certain income brackets,” O’Gorman says. “I think she’s [Katherine Zappone] put in the building blocks but it has to be acknowledged she was building from a low base.”

“My job is to continue to work on that and widen out the Scheme further.”

The Minister also attended a virtual meeting of the Early Years Forum on July 15 with representatives from the sector including from Early Childhood Ireland. At the meeting the Minister acknowledged that the sector had been through a “tough time” and he thanked providers for their efforts. A full statement on that meeting can be seen here.

As with previous Ministers, we will continue to critically and constructively engage to ensure that the best interests of our members are represented through the Minister at the cabinet table.

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