Revealed: Varadkar's pledge to ease crippling childcare costs within 10 years
Doherty: lone parents a priority over OAPs
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has outlined measures aimed at tackling the crippling cost of childcare facing tens of thousands of families.
Writing exclusively in the Irish Independent today, Mr Varadkar has spelled out Government plans to provide greater parental leave, increase home care supports and invest in after school care.
"I don't have children, my sisters do, though, and so too do many of my friends," Mr Varadkar said.
"So I appreciate the juggling that comes with childcare - the rush out of home in the morning, the rush back in the evening, the time away from home, and crucially, deciding whether it's worth working outside the home at all, given the high cost of childcare."
The Taoiseach is adamant that the upcoming Budget should be one that focuses on easing the financial burden facing parents - but says some of the measures envisaged can only be rolled out over 10 years.
It comes as Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty warned that vulnerable groups such as lone parents are ahead of pensioners in the pecking order when it comes to October's Budget.
In a move that casts doubt over plans to increase the old age pension by €5 again this year, Ms Doherty said her choices would be centred upon those living close to the poverty line.
"We have Christmas bonuses to consider, we have increases in pension payments to consider, but there are far more vulnerable people in Ireland today than our OAPs," Ms Doherty said.
"That is not to say they are not deserving, they absolutely are. But if you look at the poverty index, lone parents and children are probably at the biggest risk of poverty in this country.
"It isn't sexy that you need to look after lone parents. They are at most risk and they are the most vulnerable in the country and they need to be looked after."
Also speaking yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris insisted his department would not suffer the type of budget over-runs experienced in the past. "We have shown this year that if you make targeted investments in specific areas, you can make improvements," Mr Harris said.
The minister also insisted he was still committed to rolling out free GP care to under 12s - but said negotiations over GP contracts must be allowed to continue.
With the Budget now just over seven weeks away, ministers have been drawing up their wish-lists.
Mr Varadkar is keen for the Budget to reflect the challenges posed by Brexit, as well as the need to help hard-pressed families.
Tax cuts for the squeezed middle and self-employed, as well as measures in the area of childcare, will be announced.
"Creating more affordable childcare in Ireland is a priority for my party and for me as Taoiseach. We cannot achieve it all in one year, but with the benefit of a strong economy, we can invest in childcare and help families with this expensive time," Mr Varadkar said.
"We are looking at further ways to help, whether that's through after school care, more home carers supports or extending parental leave. What's critical is that we get it right. A focus on the early years and childcare will benefit children into adulthood. It gives them an equal start to reach their future potential in a Republic of Opportunity."