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Botched government scheme has thrown community childcare system into chaos – Ó Caoláin

13 November, 2007

Speaking from the Dáil tonight Sinn Féin TD and Spokesperson on Children Caoinhghín Ó Caolain noted that once again the opposition was addressing a botched government scheme that has thrown the not for profit community childcare system into chaos.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The debate on childcare that we should be having is about how to ensure the best care for our children, including in the home, at school and in crèches. We should be debating how the State can support such a system and how it can be delivered to all who need it and on the basis of need alone.

"Instead, once again, we are addressing a critical situation, a botched Government scheme that has thrown the community childcare system into chaos.

"The Government's approach has led first to confusion, then serious concern and now real alarm among thousands of childcare workers and parents. The proposed new Community Childcare Subvention Scheme is fundamentally flawed. It requires radical and fundamental reform.

"In my own constituency childcare workers at Farney Community Creche in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan have predicted that, if this scheme goes ahead, many parents will pull out of the crèche and it will have to double its fees.

"The Farney experience is replicated right across the 26 Counties. From Donegal to Wexford from Dublin to Mayo the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme has provoked intense opposition.

"In response to the widespread alarm at the scheme the Minister of State has indicated that the subvention will not now be confined to parents in receipt of social welfare. This may be the beginning of a u-turn or it may not. It has certainly caused further confusion.

"The scheme has been clearly signalled to community childcare workers as one designed for recipients of social welfare payments. Last week my Dáil office received a briefing from officials in the Minister's office.

"The briefing confirmed that the scheme will go ahead as planned and that it is based primarily on subsidisation of childcare costs for parents in receipt of social welfare.

"We were told that based on assessment the Government will decide how widely to extend the subvention beyond those on social welfare. The Minister's office indicated that a decision on a new income threshold will be announced in February.

"The Minister of State may well decide to extend the subvention, for example, to those with the full medical card. The difference between the social welfare threshold and the medical card threshold would be marginal. The danger is, though, that this would be presented as a great concession and a major extension of the scheme. That would simply not be the case.

"Nobody disagrees with the stated intent of the scheme which is to make childcare more accessible for low-income parents. Far too many families still cannot gain access to childcare due to lack of affordability.

"However, far from meeting these needs in a fair manner, the new scheme, if implemented in its present form, could lead to a two-tier childcare system.

"This scheme will undoubtedly drive many parents, especially women, back out of work and into social welfare dependence.

"Sinn Féin is calling on the Minister of State for Children Brendan Smith to suspend the introduction of the new scheme, extending the EOCP in the meantime, and pending full consultation with the community childcare sector. Full consultation is crucial.

"The scheme, I repeat, is fundamentally flawed. We should be moving towards universal provision of pre-school childcare. This scheme moves us in the opposite direction and towards a two-tier structure that mirrors our grossly inequitable two-tier health service.

"I urge the Government to think again, listen to childcare workers and parents and design a better and fairer scheme." CRÍOCH

Sinn Féin proposals for childcare provision:

  • To support the provision of the best care for all children

  • To enable all parents to reconcile their childcare needs with participation in the labour force, education and training

  • To enable all parents to exercise their choice to care for their children full time up to one year of age

  • To enable all parents to access affordable childcare for their children

  • To establish universal state provision of pre-school for all children from the age of three to five years

  • To establish a universal provision of early childhood care and education based on the best international models.

  • To Harmonise maternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by increasing maternity leave from the current 26 weeks paid and extending unpaid maternity leave to 26 weeks.

  • Introduce paid paternity leave, for which there is no provision in this State at all.

  • Introduce payment in respect of parental leave.

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