A long-awaited State strategy to deal with issues such as childcare subsidies, pre-schooling and parental leave will be delivered within months, a Fine Gael TD has said.
The National Early Years Strategy was first mooted in 2013 and was expected to be finalised and implemented soon after, but is yet to emerge four years on.
The delayed plan was raised from the floor during the Children’s Rights Alliance’s annual conference in Dublin on Tuesday.
Some of those present, who were involved in initial discussions on the strategy, said they had since had children who will soon be starting primary school, before the proposals are even published.
Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, told a panel discussion at the conference that the strategy would be delivered before the end of the year.
‘Neither prudent nor possible’
He said State provision of early years childcare services was an “aspiration” for future years but that it would neither be prudent nor possible to create an entire new cohort of public sector childcare workers in the short term.
Fergus Finlay, an alliance member and chief executive of the children's charity Barnardos, said change is sorely needed across Ireland's early childhood sector.
"The truth is that Ireland fares very badly in OECD rankings on our public spending on early childhood education and care," he said.
“The emphasis in public discourse has always been on the needs of parents rather than on the needs of children, it’s always been on the benefits to the economy rather than the benefits to the child, and part of what we need to do is to reorientate that discussion.”
Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said Ireland was still lagging behind the European average of 19 months' paid parental leave, despite the recent introduction of two weeks' paternity leave on top of existing maternity entitlements.
Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Function said the early childhood sector in Ireland was in "major crisis" because workers were leaving due to poor pay and conditions.Fianna Fáil's Anne Rabbitte questioned the suitability of the part-time and 38-week contracts given to some crèche workers.
People Before Profit leader Richard Boyd Barrett said the housing crisis was an "absolute emergency" for child welfare, adding that "critical interventions" were needed to ensure all children in the State have a roof over their heads.
Mr Finlay said that for the first time in the organisation's history, it is now "routine" for Barnardos to take referrals from hotel bedrooms.