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Fitzgerald pushes for childcare to be free for two years

PRE-SCHOOL childcare should be free for at least two years, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said.

Ms Fitzgerald said that she has been pushing for a second year of care to be made free of charge as it was vital to childhood development, regardless of the country's economic situation.

"We're going to have to look at our values system, about the kind of investment [we make] in early years," she said.

"We have not examined it enough and haven't given it the kind of attention it needs."

The Fine Gael minister said that it was vital to invest in supports and services of children from a young age.

Young people are "our biggest resource", the minister said.

"You have to look at it as much through an economic lens as a social lens," she said.


"Our biggest resource -- and we're not using it as well as we should, and of course the economic situation with emigration and everything is very challenging -- but [it's] our young people, and the fact that we have the kind of birth rate that we have.

"The investment in those young people, the proper investment, will be part of what will lead to the recovery."

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said that there were issues beyond the Children's Referendum on November 10.

The department has a "long agenda" but the referendum was the first step.

"I could give you a long list of the work that needs to be done in relation to children and families," she said.

"I do think we have to get more questioning about how we allocate resources in this country.


"So if you ask me, for example, for my opinion of how this country has done in putting children at the centre, if you take child care, I would say we haven't done well."

The forthcoming referendum would see dedicated children's rights inserted into the Constitution for the first time.

Ms Fitzgerald said that the need for such a move was vital, given the long dark history of shocking child abuse reports over the last two decades.

Opposition to the referendum has come from those who believe that it would give the State far too much power to remove children from their families.

But Ms Fitzgerald says voters can read that the wording clearly refers to "exceptional cases" and "proportionate means".

"There is a very big agenda, the referendum is a very important building block," she added.