Extra €2.5m to provide free preschool for 60,000 children
An additional 60,000 children will be accommodated in the second free preschool year after Children's Minister Katherine Zappone secured €2.5m in extra funding.
Childcare providers have warned in recent months that they will not be able to cater for the sheer number of children eligible for the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, which was announced in October's Budget.
Particular concern has been raised about the short period of time that providers have to expand their premises and boost staff numbers before the scheme goes live in September.
However, Ms Zappone has announced that the initial budget of €4m, which was announced in February, will now be increased to €6.5m.
The Dublin South West TD has confirmed that grants of up to €10,000 will now be paid to 1,006 pre-school providers across the country.
The funding is being made available from today, Ms Zappone told the Irish Independent.
The grants being awarded are designed to cover the building, fitting out or refurbishment of an additional room in each crèche facility, an extension, minor building alterations and the costs for additional play equipment.
The Programme for Government committed to widening free access to pre-school to cover all children between the ages of three and five-and-a-half years of age who are currently attending primary school.
The children are able to enrol in September and again in January and April.
Ms Zappone said that the additional funding was key to ensure the scheme is effective.
"The extension of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) pre-school scheme, so that every child will be able to access free pre-school from the age of three until they start school (entering pre-school in the September, January or April after they turn three), is a welcome development for children, parents and early years providers," Ms Zappone said.
"It will see more than 60,000 additional children enrolled in the programme by April 2017.
"Children will now benefit from an average of 61 weeks of the scheme, up from 38 weeks.
"In order to ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the sector to provide for these children, this is one of a number of measures my department has developed to assist services to expand."
She added: "I am delighted that so many high-quality applications were received under the scheme and that the majority of applications can now be approved for drawdown of funding.
"I look forward to working with the sector to deliver further improvements in childcare quality, availability and affordability over the coming year."