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Childcare crucial to National Development Plan

22 March, 2005

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that if the government does not sort out the childcare issue it might as well bin the National Development Plan.

Speaking during Statements on the National Development Plan in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Recently the Forum on the Workplace of the Future exposed the reality that childcare costs in this State are the highest in the EU. Irish parents spend almost twice the EU average on childcare and the problem is getting worse. This is firstly a question of the rights of children to the best care. Secondly, it is about the rights of parents, and especially of women, to have access to the labour market. And finally it has to be recognised that no Development Plan can succeed, and no economy can develop, if a proper childcare network is not established by the State. If you do not sort out childcare you may as well bin this Plan. "

Commenting on how the National Development Plan was being implemented in relation to the border region Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say, "The Counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, are recognised by the Irish Government and the European Union as a region of special need. This is reflected in the context of the Peace Process and under a number of programmes which seek to address the social and economic problems of the region.

"While much progress has been made, the reality is that these Counties still suffer significant disadvantages and have not experienced the same level of economic growth and development, including infrastructural development, as other regions. The level of inward investment is lower. Rates of unemployment are higher. Rates of participation in third-level education are lower.

"We still have many poor roads, inadequate or non-existent public transport, insufficient energy supply and lack of broadband. The current rollout of broadband to some towns is inefficient, patchy and inconsistent. Communities are suffering for the Government‚s disastrous privatisation of Telecom Éireann because the State is now paying through the nose to Eircom and other private companies to develop an infrastructure that could and should be in public ownership.

"Many of the services that do exist suffer from the failure to co-ordinate and integrate service provision on a cross-border/all-Ireland basis, thus hampering efficient and equitable delivery of services within the Border Corridor. The health system is a prime example.

"Since the Good Friday Agreement, progress in redressing the balance and in bringing the Border region in from the cold has been painfully slow.

"The National Development Plan and the Northern Ireland Structural Funds Plan share a 'Common Chapter' that highlights the fact that within the context of North South Co-operation it is recognised that the areas immediately adjacent to the border are some of the most disadvantaged areas of the North and South. It makes very specific time bound commitments in relation to cross-border co-operation and integration of services and infrastructure in the following areas: Energy, Communications and Electronic Commerce, Human Resource Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism, Transport, Environment, Education, Health.

"It is essential that the Common Chapter commitments under these headings are not mere aspirations, as many of them have been up to now. Now is the time for them to be acted upon and accelerated with a focus on real delivery within definite timeframes.

"The 'Common Chapter' states that the primary fund for addressing issues of ŒCross-Border Co-operation‚ will be the EU Community Initiative Programme ˆ INTERREG III. However, problems in actual delivery have been identified and must be addressed.

"There has been little progress in delivery of the Common Chapter commitments to co-operation between health services. As a result the health needs of the people of the southern Border counties are not being met as they could and should. In fact the reorganisation of health service administration in the 26 Counties has created doubt even about the continuation of existing co-operation. Essential now, therefore, is renewed commitment to the extension and development of the existing mechanisms for co-operation between the Western and Southern Health Boards in the Six Counties and the North Western and North Eastern Health Boards in the 26 Counties to improve co-ordination and co-operation in relation to ambulance cover and joint training; and the sharing of emergency admissions. Work should begin immediately on Common Chapter commitments on planning for major emergencies; the procurement, funding and use of high technology equipment; collaboration on cancer and other research; participation in multi-centre trials, health promotion, and public information/education in the area of heart disease, cancer and smoking. In addition, the Irish Government should commit itself firmly to no further diminution of acute hospital services in the Border region, their further development and their enhancement through co-operation with hospital services in the Six Counties.

"I endorse the motion on the Western Rail Corridor tabled by Deputy Cooper Flynn and in the same vein, the Irish Government should establish a Task Force for Public Transport in the Border region with targets of delivery of improved bus services throughout the region, and across the Border, by the end of 2005; increased funding for the Rural Transport Initiative; and an action plan for the strategic extension of the rail network within the Border region."ENDS

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