Calls for Education Minister to explain plan for child benefit diversion to pre-schooling

Senator highlights difference between child minding and high quality care

Marc MacSharry (FF) said the Minister should “outline his intended cuts to child benefit”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Marc MacSharry (FF) said the Minister should “outline his intended cuts to child benefit”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Fri, May 10, 2013, 01:00

A call has been made for Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to address the Seanad about his comments on diverting child benefit to fund a second year of pre-school education.

Marc MacSharry (FF) said the Minister should “outline his intended cuts to child benefit following an earlier cut to the payment dressed up as an additional pre-school year for families”.

The Sligo Senator said the debate “should be firmly closed”. The child benefit payment was “not a luxury” and “to divert the vital resource to other areas would be shortsighted”.

Cáit Keane (FG) said that in the US early childhood care delivered a return on investment of 10 or 20 to one. She said there was a need to upskill trainers and pointed to the difference “between minding children and high-quality care and education”.

Ivana Bacik (Lab) said there should be an overall debate on the provision of childcare. The suggestion for a second year of pre-schooling “is a positive one and would be universally welcomed” and it was part of the Government’s commitment to childcare. “We need to cost and provide for the initiative.” She acknowledged that the previous government had introduced the scheme, although on a part-time basis and 95 per cent of parents availed of it.

Seán Barrett (Ind) noted that Mr Quinn’s proposal had been criticised by children’s charity Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay and by Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council. He pointed to the Mangan report on taxation and welfare and said it supported universalism and did not recommend taxation of child benefit.

Paul Bradford (FG) said there should be a debate on the current economic situation which “would cause us to reflect on economic reality”.