Fianna Fáil demands doubling of €80 subsidy for childcare
Fianna Fáil is set to demand the flagship childcare subsidy to families is doubled in this year's Budget.
The €80 per month universal childcare subsidy came under fire after it was first introduced by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone last year amid claims fees simply rose to absorb the benefit.
With childcare costs amounting to a so-called 'second mortgage' for working families, the Government will face pressure from various quarters to move to address the issue.
It is understood that Micheál Martin's party have urged the doubling of the subsidy to €160 per month in a bid to bring down childcare costs for hard-pressed families.
With Budget negotiations ongoing between the two parties, the party's childcare spokeswoman, Anne Rabbitte, has also put a new proposal on the table which will be assessed by the party's negotiating team.
She has suggested a €5 increase per child in the capitation fee paid for the first year of the free pre-school scheme.
The move would cost €13m and it is hoped that the increase would be ring-fenced for staff wages to bulwark against a retention and recruitment crisis in the sector.
A spokeswoman for Ms Zappone did not respond when asked if the doubling of the subsidy was included in her Budget wishlist.
However, she defended the minister's track record on childcare.
"Minister Zappone has demonstrated a commitment to making childcare in Ireland more affordable, more accessible and higher quality," she said. "The early years sector in Ireland has suffered from chronic under-investment from successive governments over the past decades.
"Over the past two budgets, Minister Zappone has secured an increase of almost 80pc in funding to the sector.
"Last year this funding was directed at addressing the affordability of childcare, with a 50pc increase in subsidies for families that need it most and a universal non-means-tested of over €1,000 per year for children under three.
"These measures have benefited the families of more than 80,000 children since their introduction in September," she added.
In relation to another of the Fianna Fáil's demands - to increase funding to family resource centres nationwide - the spokeswoman said the minister "will continue to support the work of Family Resource Centres with a view to enhancing the services they provide to vulnerable children and families".
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday insisted that the €600m overrun in the Department of Health will not see other departments lose out.
"If we're overrunning in health we're overrunning for a reason, because those improvements are being made. On the Budget itself, no decisions have yet been made - there are moving parts.
"Obviously there's an overrun in one department, there are underruns in other departments.
"What was favourable in the last couple of days were very positive GDP numbers, not too positive the tax receipts for August, so lots of moving parts and it will be a number of weeks before I determine the Budget."