Major childcare package required in Budget 2006 - Ó Caoláin
Speaking at the launch of his party’s Budget Priorities 2006 document, Putting Children First – Time for Government to Deliver, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called for a major childcare package in the forthcoming Budget. He set out a range of proposals from Sinn Féin to transform early childhood care and education and eliminate child poverty.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said, “There has been an unprecedented media focus on Sinn Féin policy in recent times. We welcome that. Contrary to much disinformation we have never been a one-issue party and we have always been a campaigning party. For the past nine years we have been publishing pre-Budget submissions, as well as policies across all areas of public concern. In the Dáil our TDs have provided constructive opposition and presented real alternatives.
“Today we are reiterating and reinforcing the call we made before Budget 2005 to put children first. We want the Government to prioritise early childhood care and education, income support for children, children’s health and equal access to education.
“The biggest omission from last year’s Budget was a comprehensive package of measures on early childhood care and education. For the past year there has been a national debate on the need for our society to care better for our children. The debate has arisen largely due to the intense pressures placed on parents and children and family life.
“The social and economic benefits of improved care and education for children, enhanced family life and work-life balance and the elimination of child poverty, cannot be calculated in euros and cents. Their achievement will be the measure of the real success of our society and our economy. It is an investment in our children and in our future and the full return will only become clear in years ahead.
“The National Economic and Social Forum Report on Early Childhood Care and Education has set the benchmark the Government must now reach. Many of the proposals made by Sinn Féin before Budget 2005 were reflected in that Report. A range of organisations including the National Women’s Council, the trade union movement, the childcare sector itself and many others have set out the measures that are needed. Now is the time for action.
“Therefore Sinn Féin is calling for a major early childhood care and education programme, including:
· Universal pre-school session of 3.5 hours per day, five days a week for all children in year before they go to school
· Increase maternity leave to 26 weeks paid, 26 weeks unpaid
· Increase revenue for Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme
· Improved standards and inspection of childcare facilities and national pay scale for childcare workers
· Increase Child Benefit to €155.92 per month for first and second child and €192.85 for third and subsequent children
· Extend medical card cover to all under 18
· A range of measures to address educational disadvantage and ensure equality of access.” ENDS