Private Members Business – Childcare

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 11 February 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this motion.

I understand that currently childcare funding is provided to parents in Ireland through a mix of child benefit and childcare support programmes, but am also aware of the huge financial burden that childcare costs are placing on families all across the country.

At the moment, €260 million is invested each year to support early childhood care and education through three different programmes. I know that there has been increasing debate about the merits or otherwise of introducing a second free pre-school year under the Early Childhood Care and Education programme and from talking to many parents of young children in East Galway, I believe that this may not be the way forward and that more creative solutions will be needed to ease the huge burden that is currently placed on families.

There are a number of problems facing parents in rural areas. Many are miles away from the nearest approved pre-school service, and the popularity of the scheme means that many childcare centres have reached their maximum capacity and are unable to take on further children.

The provision of after-school childcare can be patchy in rural areas and while it is an important element in terms of allowing people on low incomes to return to work, the lack of availability of these places across large swathes of the country means that this scheme is not operating to its full potential.

Looking to the future, it is apparent that significant further investment is needed in childcare and a wider range of supports is necessary for working parents.  I welcome the fact that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has established a cross-Departmental group to look at this area and to consider the after-school needs of older children.

This problem will not be solved by the Department of Children alone. It deserves consideration in terms of health, public expenditure, jobs, social protection, education and many other areas. I welcome the fact that this group will report by summer as action on this area is overdue.

The issue of childcare is forcing parents all across Ireland to make very difficult decisions. For many parents, having additional children is simply not an option because they cannot afford the childcare. The Indecon report indicated that monthly childcare costs are somewhere between €730 and €1,100 per month or between €182 and €275 per week. For most working parents, that money simply is not there.

I believe tax breaks for parents will have to form an important part of any childcare package that emerges, but what is needed is a creative suite of packages that addresses the many and varied childcare requirements of parents.