Wednesday 28 September 2016

Reilly won't commit to timeframe for ambitious childcare reforms

Marese McDonagh and Gareth Morgan

Published 23/07/2015 | 02:30

James Reilly (right) with Junior Minister Ged Nash at the Cabinet meeting in Lissadell House
James Reilly (right) with Junior Minister Ged Nash at the Cabinet meeting in Lissadell House

Minister for Children James Reilly will not commit to a timeframe for implementing ambitious changes to help families with the burder of childcare.

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Dr Reilly yesterday published a report outlining a range of options to help parents take up work or remain in the workplace after they have children.

However, speaking at IT Sligo after the Cabinet met in Lissadell House, Dr Reilly said the proposals were "very much predicated on what money is available at any given time".

"It is not a big-bang approach by any means," he said.

As revealed by the Irish Independent, the report finds that just over one in four children under school-going age are in formal childcare.

Capping

It says that the existing free year of childcare is too short in terms of hours each day and number of weeks a year.

There is a recommendation for capping of childcare fees at perhaps €4.50 an hour, and lower for those on reduced incomes.

The report looks at extending a childcare subsidy to low and middle-income working parents.

At the moment, the subsidy is only paid to those dependent on social welfare who use community-based childcare facilities, which makes up just 30pc of facilities.

Other recommendations include extension of the Early School Year, six months paid parental leave in addition to maternity benefit and paternity benefit paid for by the State of one or two weeks.

The paid parental leave is expected to be taken up by up to 45,500 parents a year.

Dr Reilly was pressed on when the new measures would be introduced, but said: "We are saying this is where we are and this is where we want to go. The time that it takes to get here will be contingent on the resources available to us."

The minister said he had not decided yet which aspect of the report would be implemented first.

Although he had a good idea of the direction he would be taking, he said he wanted further discussion with other Government departments, with parents and the childcare sector.

And he did not favour focusing on just one element in the package, adding: "We have to be pragmatic.

"What we are doing is laying out the plan, laying out the options and it is there to be acted on whenever the resources become available."

He appeared to rule out tax credits, saying the international experience was that they tended to push up the cost of childcare.

The working group had looked at this issue, but there was a view that by directing available resources at childcare providers "we would have some say on standards and quality".

Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, said that more details on time frames were now needed to ease parental concerns.

"We are happy to welcome the general thrust of the report, and its recognition of the importance of quality experiences for young children and that the State must finally accept its responsibility to invest in early childhood, parental leave and quality and training supports.

"However, the report is short on the very detail that is necessary - time frames and anticipated investment levels.

"On first glance, what minister Reilly has presented today is the architecture for change in the childcare sector, but it is our members who are the builders on the ground who will make this happen. They must be consulted properly."

Decisive

Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, echoed Heeney's concerns.

"There have been many reports providing numerous proposals on childcare in recent years - we need to see decisive action taken in Budget 2016 that leads to the provision of affordable childcare for all parents," she said.

Barnardos also said that the report promised much, but the Government must now deliver.

It pointed out that childcare costs in Ireland remain among the highest in the world.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton also said they have not yet made a decision on the measures to deal with childcare costs.

Both said the issue was a priority.

Some movement is expected in the coming Budget as Fine Gael and Labour have both identified childcare as a key issue in the next general election.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has said childcare is one of the "pressure points" that the coalition must deal with.

Irish Independent

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