Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)


4:55 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

Budget 2023 marks another step on the road to the transformation of early learning and childcare in our country . In 2018, the State set a goal of investing €1 billion per year in childcare by 2028. With the €346 million one-year increase in budget 2023, we have achieved that goal, a full five years early. As Minister with responsibility for children, this is something I am very proud of, and it demonstrates the commitment of the Government to investing in our children. That substantial increase in funding will bring significant benefits for parents. We are increasing investment in the national childcare scheme, NCS, by €121 million next year, reducing costs to parents by, on average, 25%. We will do this by increasing the maximum subsidy in the NCS from 50 cent per hour to €1.40. This means parents will see their fees reduced by an average of €1,200 per child per year and up to €2,100 per child per year.

I acknowledge that for parents, affordability is just one issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to childcare. Parents in some parts of the country can still struggle to find available places for their children, particularly for younger children. I know the frustration this causes and I am determined to address it. In September of this year, core funding came into effect, with services receiving significant State investment and incentivised to increase provision for younger cohorts. I am delighted to say this is already bearing fruit. More than 90% of services are signed up to core funding and we are seeing increased capacity, not least in the age groups underserved by the sector currently, namely, children under the age of three. The geographical breakdown also indicates expansion in urban and commuter areas where there has been significant pressure on places. To meet the costs of this expanded capacity and an increase in the numbers of graduates, the original allocation for core funding next year will be increased by €59 million. Budget 2023 also provides for a capital programme that will support services to modernise.

With the total investment in childcare now surpassing €1 billion per year, it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved in this area since the Government took office. A month before the general election of February 2020, 30,000 parents, providers and childcare staff were out on the streets protesting over a lack of investment, high fees and low pay. Since then, as Minister, I have increased childcare funding by €400 million. We have secured a pay deal for childcare professionals with a clear wage structure, ensuring those staff can see a future for themselves in a job they love. We have introduced a new funding source, core funding, with an additional €270 million going to childcare providers, and now, with budget 2023, we have reduced fees for parents substantially. We have transformed the sector in just over two years and delivered for staff, providers, parents and, most important, children.

As well as childcare, my Department will support some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Ireland. One of my Department’s main focuses this year has been on providing accommodation for those fleeing Ukraine and people claiming international protection. Clearly, this remains a great challenge for the Department. We are now providing accommodation for more than 52,000 people, whereas this time last year, we were accommodating 8,000. A total of €213 million has been allocated to cover the costs of international protection accommodation. The focus will be on transitioning to a new model with expanded, State-owned capacity and a greater focus on commissioning NGOs and not-for-profit organisations to provide services and supports, not least to vulnerable applicants for international protection.

Throughout 2023, we will also continue to respond to the legacy of mother and baby institutions. This year, we passed the Birth and Information Tracing Act to allow adopted people a full and clear right of access to their information. We also passed the Institutional Burials Act, which provides a legal basis for the excavation and exhumation of the site in Tuam. Within budget 2023, there is more than €7 million for the 2023 costs of that excavation. Alongside these measures, we will increase funding for Traveller and Roma groups, the National Women's Council and LGBTI+ groups. I am also delighted that we will increase funding for youth services, recognising the fantastic work they do in supporting young people.

Throughout all this work, my Department is working to achieve a fairer and more equal Ireland but we have demonstrated, through the priority we have placed on supporting parents and children, that at a time when the pressure of the cost of living is so significant on families, the Government, my Department and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I are working to support parents, children and the childcare sector, and we will continue to do that throughout 2023.


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