'Every family to benefit from childcare plan,' vows Zappone
Every family will get childcare support "in some form" as a result of measures to be announced in the Budget, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has insisted.
The minister is involved in intense negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure over proposed subsidies for childcare but denies reports that there are deep divisions over the types of families she wants to target.
Fine Gael are keen to be seen to help families in the so-called 'squeezed middle' and backbench TDs are worried that Ms Zappone's focus is solely on children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds.
She has now said that her "ambition" is to ensure that "all families in the State are supported in some way or other in terms of childcare and after-school care".
"The scheme my Department is developing will bring us on a radical new path regarding the ways in which the State subsidises childcare needs," she said.
The Irish Independent understands her officials have proposed a system that streamlines a number of existing schemes into one online system.
It would see money from the State paid directly to childcare providers to subsidy crèche and pre-school places, with the parents paying the balance.
A policy proposal circulated to Cabinet members suggested an income figure of €47,500 as a potential cut-off point for benefiting from the scheme.
However, Ms Zappone said this was only an "inductive figure" and "various thresholds" have been identified.
"Also, it is a figure that relates to the net income of households. Middle-income earners, those earning between €25,000 and €50,000, could well be captured by this threshold," she said. "There's a focus initially for those on low income but the scheme will enable us to target, effectively and efficiently, all families."
Asked about reports that Fine Gael were keeping her in the dark about alternative proposals to her scheme, Ms Zappone described the origin of the stories as "phantom sources".
She said Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe is "well aware of my desire to target children living in households where they're experiencing conditions of poverty".
"I'm sure you're aware of the figures - there are 136,000 children living in poor conditions - just think about that for a moment, it's equivalent to the population of our second largest city, Cork," she said.
Ms Zappone described the talks taking place with Mr Donohoe as "very intense and serious negotiations" but insisted there was no major dispute.
Fine Gael TDs have discussed alternative approaches, such as basing the qualification for subsidies on age rather than income. A source said: "Childcare is going to be a major part in the Budget and it's an area being closely [watched] by Fine Gael because it has to help working families."