Taoiseach dodges question on reported childcare tensions

Labour TD highlights reported differences between Katherine Zappone and FG TDs

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny  has refused to be drawn on reported Government tensions over proposed preschool budgetary measures. File photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has refused to be drawn on reported Government tensions over proposed preschool budgetary measures. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The Taoiseach has refused to be drawn on reported Government tensions over proposed preschool budgetary measures.

“It is not for me at this stage to indicate the details of the budget, except that we have a situation where the Ministers are speaking to their opposite numbers,’’ Enda Kenny said.

“This will emerge over the course of the next week to 10 days when the figures will be finalised before being presented to the House.’’

He was replying to Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan, who said she understood Minister for Children Katherine Zappone was proposing a targeted programme for lower income families, angering Fine Gael backbenchers who wanted the “squeezed middle’’ assisted.

“Is there a focus in Government on making this step change in funding quality early years education, and will the Taoiseach tell us what proposals it is considering?” she asked.

Under consideration

Ms O’Sullivan said she knew the Taoiseach could not tell her what was in the Budget but he could say what options were under consideration.

Mr Kenny said the programme for government included provision for after-school care, home care, childminders and parental leave.

Parents, he added, wanted to have more choice, greater flexibility, availability and affordable options.

“These are matters that need to be considered,’’ said Mr Kenny. “The Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, proposes to bring together various schemes into one scheme and make it accessible and affordable.’’

He said it was an issue raised on so many doorsteps and streets every day and was a priority for the Government. “As I stated, we temper it with a sense of fairness,’’ he added.

Mr Kenny said over two million people were now working and the best pathway out of poverty and welfare was a decent job.

“Childcare costs have been and are a very serious challenge for many, which is why the work of the Government is focused on making childcare affordable and appropriate,’’ he added.

“I hope we can make further progress in the Budget.’’

Ms O’Sullivan said the issue was about quality and affordability.

‘Huge comeback’

“We all know that what is put into early years education results in a huge comeback and improves the life chances of children in a variety of ways,’’ she added.

She said the pay of people working in the system was abysmally low.

“We need to see to it that people who are extremely dedicated, and who would not put up with low pay only for their dedication, will see an improvement in their situation,’’ Ms O’Sullivan added.

Mr Kenny said investment in early years education impacted on children to their advantage into adulthood.

“That is why the focus of the scheme proposed is targeted at those on low incomes to get them out of unemployment and give them an opportunity to avail of affordable and appropriate childcare,’’ he added.

“It will expand as the economy improves and more money becomes available.”