Labour unveils multi-million euro childcare policy

 

Grants of €50 per week to both parents of children under three and paid leave of up to 15 months for couples are among the proposals in the Labour Party’s new childcare policy.

Labour will also provide free pre-school places for every child and higher subsidies for poorer families, according to the party’s childcare spokeswoman Ms Eithne Fitzgerald.

 Eithne Fitzgerald
Ms Eithne Fitzgerald

New parents are to be offered leave of 20 weeks shared between couples on top of the 18 weeks maternity leave and 14 weeks each that they are already legally entitled to.

Playgroups and creches will receive grants for facilities and toys, per-child subsidies and be subjected to inspection to ensure top-quality care.

"We owe our children the best possible childhood," Ms Fitzgerald said. "Investing in our children will bring long-term benefits to our society."

Party leader Mr Ruairí Quinn said childcare had now become so unaffordable that many people were put off having children at all, particularly when they are faced with huge mortgage repayments.

The party conceded that this will not come cheap. The whole package will require an initial capital investment of €300 million and result in a total annual expenditure on childcare of €820 million when fully implemented in three years. This initial capital expenditure would be funded by borrowing, Ms Fitzgerald added.

Mr Quinn pledged, however, that Labour would return employers' PRSI to pre-Budget 2002 levels, effectively raising it by 1.25 per cent. This "investment by business", as he termed it, would raise €400 million annually to help fund the childcare proposals.

However, this funding proposal was attacked by Fianna Fáil as a tax on the public and businesses which will "bring Ireland back to the 1980s".

The Minister of State for Children, Ms Mary Hanafin claimed the measure would merely end up costing jobs. She said the current Government had trebled Child Benefit, extended maternity and adoption leave, funded 30,000 care places and invested heavily in child welfare.

Labour's finance spokesman, Mr Derek McDowell, dismissed Ms Hanafin's calims as "nonsense".

"All the jobs created in the last five years, whcih FF likes to brag about, were created under the PRSI regime that Labour seeks to retunr to," he said.