In last week’s edition of the Big Picture, we mentioned the plans that are being considered by the incoming coalition government to disband the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and transfer its responsibilities to other Government Departments. Early Childhood Ireland is fundamentally opposed to any moves that would see this plan come to fruition. As 2020 was an election year, we took the decision before Christmas to incorporate a new question on the role of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs into our annual Childcare Barometer. We wanted to understand the level of public support that exists for the Department to be maintained. As you can see, the findings are conclusive.
The vast majority of adults want to see the Department maintained. As you will know, Ireland’s historical record on children’s rights and provision for early years education compares shamefully with our European neighbours. We currently invest the lowest percentage of GDP in early years care and education of any country in Europe. The creation of a standalone department for children’s issues was meant to act to provide direction and focus to policy in this area and address this historical imbalance. The development and co-ordination role that the Department plays in relation to the all-of-government First5 strategy for babies and children is crucial. Only a standalone department, with a Minister at the Cabinet table can achieve the level of required co-ordination necessary for a successful implementation of this plan which will be essential to address our historical shortfalls.
Last week, Early Childhood Ireland wrote to a number of opposition spokespersons on children and youth affairs and outlined our opposition to any plans to downgrade or dissolve the Department. We were fortunate in that the current Minister was due to take questions in the Dáil on matters relating to Children and Youth Affairs last Wednesday. You can see a video of the exchanges between the Minister and the representatives here (From 5:10 onwards). We were delighted to hear TD after TD stand up and outline their opposition to the abolition of the Department. Deputy Kathleen Funchion from Sinn Féin said:
“I am totally opposed to even considering getting rid of or axing the one Department we have that deals primarily with women’s and children’s issues. Sinn Féin is totally opposed to it. I commit to doing everything in my power to ensure it is not axed. It would be a very dark day for this country, given our record on women and children.“
This sentiment was echoed by Deputy Seán Sherlock from the Labour Party who commented on “the vital role the Department plays in Irish society. I know there are Members present in the House who are part of a tentative Government who would be very sensitive to the needs of children and ensuring that we, as a society, recognise the role of children and the importance of maintaining a Minister at Cabinet level.”
And Deputy Jennifer Whitmore from the Social Democrats:
“There needs to be a Department and a Minister whose sole purpose is children and that has children and young people at its heart. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is needed now, more than ever, to ensure that children are protected as we move through the recovery.”
What is concerning however, is the failure of any members from the Parties involved in government formation talks to address the future of the Department. The TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who spoke, failed to raise the topic of the future of the Department at all. The Green Party’s spokesperson did ask the Minister to comment on the media articles but made no substantive comments on the role of or importance of the DCYA. We will be engaging with the negotiation teams from all three of these Parties as government formation talks progress to outline our opposition to any plans that would see DCYA disbanded or downgraded and to also lobby that our other election asks be included in any new Programme for Government.
We will be sure to keep our members updated on any relevant developments.