Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Community Development Projects

4:05 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. To respond to Deputy McDonald's basic point about a review of probity, yes, we should do that. I will talk to my Secretary General about that and about the broader interest in terms of just reviewing the progress that has been made, the remaining issues and perhaps lessons learnt from the model. As I said earlier, maybe during Leaders' Questions, I am anxious we would broaden out and learn from previous experience of models that were developed before in certain communities in terms of multidisciplinary, multi-agency-based responses to disadvantage. I think we can now learn lessons from this initiative, which has been up and running since 2017. I am anxious to do that and I do not doubt what the Deputy says about the social and economic problems remaining. Deputy Gannon has referred to those also. That is something we can do.

As for the childcare issue Deputy McDonald raised, I did write to her about that and, again, I am anxious to resolve it. No provider should lose 70% in any new scheme. I do not think anyone intends that to happen, nor should it happen. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has aimed to ensure alignment of existing initiatives as well as the development of other responses which add value to the actions to achieve maximum impact in respect of integrated service delivery relating to children, young people and their families. As for the issues Deputy McDonald has raised, my understanding is officials from the Department have met with a small number of providers operating in the north-east inner city several times regarding the national childcare scheme. I am just saying this is what I have been informed, so the Deputy may take it as she wishes, but we could follow up on it. It became apparent through this engagement that some issues arising were due to a lack of familiarity with the scheme, with some parents registering for the wrong subsidy.

On that basis the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has provided and will continue to provide additional training and support to providers through the Dublin city childcare committee in order that it can in turn advise and direct parents to better understand the operations of the scheme and the subsidies available through it. A letter issued to the committee providers on 23 July restating the offer of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of case management support and the potential for financial supports where assessment criteria are met. A highly skilled and experienced early years specialist team from the Better Start quality development services is to work directly in a mentoring capacity with services in the north-east inner city to support quality improvement. The Dublin city childcare committee is a key resource that is supporting services in the area on matters relating to the structure of their service delivery, governance and management and optimal use of the current subsidy schemes.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Department are actively monitoring this issue and are committed to ensuring this scheme functions in the best interests of families and children, that the Department supports services in adjusting to this new or more progressive approach to early learning and childcare, and that State investment in the sector delivers affordable, accessible, sustainable and high-quality service provision. The Department has engaged an external consultant to review the first year of the scheme. This will include looking at its use by socioeconomically disadvantaged families and by providers serving socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Work is also progressing on a new funding model for the early learning and childcare centre, which is being led by an expert group.

To cut to the chase, we need to engage with the providers Deputy McDonald has identified, see how this scheme is performing in meeting their requirements and see what we can do to make up the balance. It is not our objective that any child from a disadvantaged situation should lose out on childcare. I know Deputy McDonald has raised this a good few times. We need to get people around the table and just ask what are the issues here and can we get them sorted.

Deputy Gannon has been consistent in raising the issue of the very sad death of Terence Wheelock. Again, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Wheelock family for their terrible loss and the pain his tragic death still causes them. The challenges are, as the Deputy knows, that the case was subject to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and that the report of that inquiry was published by GSOC in March 2010. I also note that legal proceedings arising from these matters were settled in 2014. Both GSOC and the courts are fully independent in the exercise of their functions. It is not open to the Minister for Justice or to me to intervene or to comment on an inquiry that has been carried out by GSOC or on the outcomes of any court proceedings. The case was fully considered by GSOC. I believe the death has been the subject of legal proceedings.

I have a general view that, more generally across our system, our independent agencies should be the mechanisms by which these issues are resolved. There are no easy answers, but I am not clear as to what new mechanisms can be devised that would supersede ones we have put a lot of investment and resources into to do just that, to carry out independent investigations into the actions of An Garda Síochána, for example, in given situations. I empathise with what Deputy Gannon says but I think we need as a political system as well to have greater faith in the organisations we set up. Otherwise, we will have different types of inquiries under different Acts on an ongoing basis, and that is not-----

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