Thursday, 14 January 2016
Order of Business
The Irish Independenttoday quotes the Minister for Education and Skills as saying: "The State has never invested in childcare and, as the economy recovers, it is time to change that for once and for all." I have the height of respect for the Minister, Deputy O’Sullivan. She sat in this House and I was proud to be one of her colleagues but is she living in the real world? I have been involved in child care for almost 20 years. From 1997 until Fianna Fáil left office in 2011, millions of euro, if not several billion, were invested in child care, specifically in a capital programme that resulted in the provision of superb facilities across the country. In my own town of Drumshanbo we have a dedicated child care facility which looks after 120 children of all ages. Most of the people, sadly because of failed Government economic policies, benefit from a State subsidy given to those in receipt of social welfare. A significant proportion of the people accessing child care, particularly in rural Ireland, and in some urban parts, gain from Fianna Fáil initiatives dating back over 20 years in respect of child care.
Although a large amount of money was given to provide for state-of-the-art facilities that people are proud of, the high cost of providing child care remains a problem for those in what is called the “squeezed middle”. I have repeatedly raised this issue in this House, going back over several years. It is a bit hollow and cynical that in its dying days this Government, which has been in office for five years, talks about considering child care costs. The Labour Party is engaging in more auction politics to attract votes from the “squeezed middle”. I am not in any way diminishing the financial difficulties faced by the middle classes, although I hate using such terms, those with incomes who find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, not only because of child care costs but also mortgage costs and the cost of living. The figure of €25,000 is given as the annual cost of living in Dublin.
The problem is one of rising child care costs and nothing has been done to address that issue. It diminishes this Government to suggest that there has been no investment by the State in child care. If that is its message it will not gain votes because people, particularly in my county and town, know that excellent child care facilities have been provided and that those who are unable to pay, mainly those on social welfare, are able to access State subsidy and it does not cost them so much. This Labour initiative is a cynical exercise in trying to attract votes.