Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 October 2003

Adjournment Matter. - Nursery Closure.


10:30 am

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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I have raised this matter because of the crisis in child care and the need for emergency funding in the Ballyfermot area of Dublin. It involves a child care facility that was only opened two or three years ago, which caters for approximately 45 children every day. It has been primarily funded through grant aid and facilitated by statutory and local community bodies. A crisis has now emerged in that the 25 staff of the facility can no longer be paid because an application for funding to the Department that has been in the system since last November has not been granted. I understand it has not even gone through stage one of the process, despite several submissions of additional information.

The banks are unwilling to continue funding this child care facility unless there is at least grant approval from the Department. If this does not happen, we will have a crisis in this area. Considering that it was only established three years ago, it is imperative to assist this facility in whatever way we can. I hope the Minister can give some concrete information to the group, who are concerned that the facility's closure is imminent. It may be forced to close the day after tomorrow.

Joe Walsh (Minister, Department of Agriculture & Food; Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter in the House and I apologise for the inability of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to appear. He cannot be here as he is currently on official business outside the country.

As the Senator will be aware, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responsibility for the administration of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, 2000-2006, which makes grant assistance available under a range of measures to develop child care services throughout Ireland. Funding for the programme, which totals almost €437 million, comes from both the European Union and the Exchequer.

This matter relates to an application received for assistance from a community-based child care service. Under the EOCP, assistance towards staffing costs can be made available to community-based, not for profit child care services that have a strong focus on meeting the needs of disadvantaged families, where the parents require child care to enable them to fully partake in work, training or educational opportunities. It might be useful if I briefly outline the EOCP application process.

Each application undergoes an initial assessment by Area Development Management Ltd, on behalf of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A programme appraisal committee, chaired by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, then considers each application and makes a recommendation to the Minister. The assessment of applications is based on material supplied by the applicant and each application is considered under the following five assessment criteria: the socio-economic profile of the area relating to the application; the quality of the proposal; the capacity of the applicants to implement the project; the level of integration and co-ordination; and the costings-value for money of the proposal.

With regard to the application referred to, the appraisal of the application raised a number of issues in relation to the project proposal, including the actual numbers of children being cared for compared to the capacity of the facility and the fee structures in place. Clarification of the funding mechanisms for the group was also necessary. Rather than delay a decision at that stage until all outstanding issues had been addressed, it was deemed appropriate by the programme appraisal committee to recommend to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the group receive funding of €63,487 towards its staffing costs for a one year period.

The group was advised of this and was asked to address certain issues which had been identified at the appraisal stage and to submit a development plan. A revised development plan was submitted by the group in July 2003 and since then Area Development Management Ltd. has been in contact with the group seeking clarification of outstanding issues. I understand that the outstanding information was received on 9 October 2003 and this will now be assessed by ADM Ltd. Once this assessment is completed, the application will be forwarded to the programme appraisal committee, which will, in turn, make a recommendation for the Minister's consideration.

It would be inappropriate to make any further commitment or comment on the application at this time, other than to say that I hope it will be expedited and concluded successfully in the shortest possible time because, as the Senator said, the matter is urgent. It is worth noting that the group referred to is just one of a large number of community-based projects throughout Ireland which are receiving grant support under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme. Capital grant assistance has been made available to over 450 community groups to enable them to bring new child care places to every county. The supports are creating both part-time and full-time services in the process.

The Seanad adjourned at 1.25 p.m. until 10.30a.m. on Wednesday, 22 October 2003.