Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Healthcare Policy

9:30 am

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I am grateful to the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber to deal with this issue. I used the term "breastfeeding" in my Commencement matter submission but I am really talking about child-feeding and child-changing facilities. As a new parent, I am acutely aware of this issue, and the Minister of State will also be familiar with the difficulties parents can sometimes face when they are out and about, whether in busy shops or even on the road, in finding a place where they can change or feed a child in a quiet environment. As possible as it is to sit in the main concourse of a train station or an airport and feed a child, that is not always conducive. Especially as children get older and more easily distracted, it can be more and more difficult to feed them.

I am asking for State sponsorship and encouragement for parents to help them in the difficult role they have daily to deal with those issues. This could be done by the giving of a grant or support to small businesses in particular to provide facilities for breastfeeding, bottle feeding, changing or whatever it might be. A lot of large corporations and businesses provide these facilities as a matter of course; that is welcome and they are to be congratulated for that. As we perform badly in Ireland in respect of breastfeeding and feeding babies with breast milk, we should be encouraging this.

For a small café, shop, motorway service station or whatever it might be, there is so much regulation. I am not criticising that but there are many hoops through which people need to jump to satisfy the regulatory requirements, and it is really difficult for small businesses to provide that. For a food business, for example, there are huge food safety requirements, which are appropriate but they leave little left over, whether space wise or money wise, to provide the facilities parents might need. Particularly in the case of SMEs, the Government should be able to step in to provide support to those businesses to encourage them to provide safe, secure, comfortable and clean facilities for changing and feeding children.

This is a minimum requirement as we encourage people to have children, and we know that even though our population is growing, we need growth in the population to pay for pensions, if nothing else, and to be part of the workforce at a time when there is virtually 100% employment. We need to facilitate the parents of young children and make facilities available to them in whatever way we can, but that is a significant challenge for small enterprises and businesses with small premises. I am not talking about giving out money wholesale to businesses to do this but rather a support grant. As I know from my wife, who is breastfeeding at the moment, businesses will often say the issue is on their list and that they would like to provide the facility. They say they cannot do it at the moment, however, because of such and such a difficulty, whether a planning problem or something else, but there is always going to be a money problem as well.The more we can do to help small food businesses such as cafes and small shops in town and village centres make these facilities available, the better. We can ensure a parent who is out shopping with their child, be it a man or a woman, can have a space that is quiet, secure and clean and the facilities they need are available. It is simply a matter of an armchair, a sink to clean, a bin for rubbish and a changing table. Often these things are co-located with accessible toilets and things like that, which is fine if they are clean, but it is more difficult for small businesses to provide those facilities. I am asking the Department of Health in particular, as I think it has responsibility for this area, to consider putting in place a grant that will support those businesses and by extension those parents.


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