I understand that a capital grant application for more than €3.2 million was submitted by the group to my Department some time ago. This is one of the highest grant amounts ever sought for a single project under the programme.
The Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006 is a seven year development programme which aims to increase the availability and quality of child care to support parents in employment, education and training. The progress of the programme was commented upon very favourably by the mid-term evaluators of the regional operational programmes and the National Development Plan 2000-2006, and following the mid-term review additional funding of approximately €12 million was made available for the child care measures. This brings the total funding available for the programme to €449.3 million.
There has been considerable demand from community based groups for capital grant assistance under the programme and every county has benefited significantly from grants to provide new and enhanced community based child care facilities and indeed to support capital developments in the private child care sector. ADM, on behalf of my Department, is currently carrying out an extensive review of the programme's capital commitments to date, numbering more than 1,100 at a value of €114 million, to ensure that all the grant commitments previously entered into will be realised. Projects may be awaiting planning permission or the completion of tender processes before reasonable assurance can be taken that they will proceed and, if they do not, the funding set aside can be decommitted and made available to another project.
Expenditure under the programme covers the period to end 2007 and must take place in a planned manner as must grant approvals to ensure that the programme can meet its financial commitments at all times. In addition, my Department has recently reviewed the different budget lines under the EOCP including the capital programme to ensure that the most effective use is made of all remaining funding in accordance with the programme's objectives and this has brought to €157 million the total allocation for the capital development of child care under the current programme. At the same time, an extensive review of child care provision on the ground has taken place to identify obvious service gaps, the filling of which will be a priority using the remaining capital funding which currently exceeds €30 million, of which about €25 million is being earmarked for community based not for profit child care groups which provide services for young children to support their parents who may be in employment, education and training.
I intend to allocate the remaining capital funding under this strand of the Government's commitment to child care to address the most immediate service gaps. As a result, all the projects in the pipeline on 30 April 2004 have been reviewed again by ADM Limited on the basis of geographical need, the range of services being offered, value for money and the capacity of the groups to complete a project before the end of the programme in 2007. Those projects which best meet the criteria will receive priority funding from the capital funding which remains unallocated at this point.
I have made inquiries and I understand that the application for capital grant assistance in respect of this project has been reviewed as part of the review process to which I have just referred. I understand that the recommendations regarding allocation of the remaining funding are currently in preparation. If a project is recommended for funding as part of this process, its recommendation will be conditional upon its being able to establish that it can be completed within a fixed budget and a tight time frame. If a project is not recommended for priority funding at this time, it may be considered again should additional capital resources come available and if the project has adequately demonstrated that it would merit funding under the programme during the review process. The allocation of any additional funding which might come available to me will also be allocated on the basis of local need, levels of service being offered and value for money.
I do not doubt but that the success of the present strand of the programme and the need to continue to make child care available to support the child care needs of our still growing work force will support my case for ongoing capital and current funding from Government for this key sector. Indeed, should any additional funding become available before the end of the present national development plan, I would expect that the programme would again benefit from transfers.
The Deputy may be aware that the group in question has previously been approved a total of € 362,927 in staffing supports under the programme. In the interim, it would be premature of me to comment further on this capital grant application.