Other Questions

Adoption Registration

Mick Barry

Question:

24. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason no audit or action was taken in view of the report submitted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland on illegal registrations in 2011 and which again reported the issue in 2013. [25613/18]

I am conscious of claims that the State knew for many years about illegal registrations, and that successive Governments should have done more to address the issue. What has been lost in the debate is the fact that, while there seems to have been an awareness of this illegal practice, we had no clear proof of what happened, other than in a few individual cases where documentary evidence was found.

It is vital to point out that illegal registrations were deliberately concealed and that either no records were kept or else they appear to have been deliberately falsified. In these circumstances, it was difficult to find the truth.

The St. Patrick's Guild records were the first source of a considerable number of cases where clear written evidence was identified. I announced this on 29 May as soon as I was satisfied about the strength of the evidence in these cases.

While the AAI has previously reported concerns in relation to a number of cases it was aware of, the threshold of evidence of an incorrect registration, which is required if persons are to be notified, had not yet been reached.

While engaging with Tusla and the AAI on the evidence emerging from the St. Patrick's Guild files of illegal registrations, I requested that the authority revisit the cases about which it had concerns, and to conduct a validation exercise on them to establish if a high level of certainty could be reached that an incorrect registration had taken place. I await the outcome of this validation exercise from the authority. If further confirmed cases emerge, they will be added to the same process as the 126 confirmed St. Patrick's Guild cases.

In addition, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the specified institutions within its terms of reference.

I thank the Minister for her reply but I challenge her assertion that prior to this there had been "no clear proof" of this criminal action other than in a handful of cases. In 2013, the AAI said that there may be thousands of cases, which is not clear proof, but it also said that there were hundreds of illegal birth registrations. The authority knew this from its own audit and work on the issue. This was brought to the attention of departmental officials. Given there was clear proof on more than a handful of cases from an authority no less than the AAI, which is the key body, why was more not done at that point?

When preparing a reply for the Deputy's important question, the information from the AAI was that, between 2010 and now, it has been contacted by 141 people looking for information that the authority did not have.

Who are these people? They are children who suspected they were adopted, mothers who gave their children up for adoption and relatives who were aware that family members were adopted but the AAI could find no official records or adoption orders relating to their cases. It checked with the General Register Office and discovered that in 75 cases the individuals concerned were registered as the children of the people who raised them. The AAI is now cross-checking with Tusla that other parties connected with the individuals in question, that is the 141 people, were not in touch with the latter regarding its information and tracing service. For example, a mother who had given birth may have contacted the AAI and a child may have contacted Tusla. I am indicating now that hundreds of people had come to it and that it did a certain amount of checking but could not establish the level of evidence needed in order to move forward.

I wish to ask Deputy Zappone, in her capacity as an Independent Minister, about her comment that successive Governments should have done more. I agree with her but it is a mild comment in the circumstances. She has sat at the Cabinet table with the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the current Minister, Deputy Flanagan. The former Minister said that all adoptions since 1952 had been carried out legally on the basis of the 1952 Act and subsequent legislation. That was a false statement. It was repeated twice by the current Minister. They could have easily verified the situation by having an audit of all the files. They consistently refused the request of adoption campaigners to the effect that such an audit be carried out. I ask Deputy Zappone, who is an Independent Minister, to make a further comment on the track record relating to this matter.

The Deputy has laid out his position on that commentary and it is on the record. On the matter of what I, as an Independent Minister, have done regarding the evidence presented to me in recent months, I moved as quickly as I could to ensure that they continued to do the research in which they were engaged and that the cross-checking took place. I also brought people, including representatives from Tusla, the AAI and my officials, to the table many times in order to determine that we had a level of evidence that was never the case previously. When they did that, I moved to facilitate the possibility that Tusla would be able to support and begin a process of contacting these people. This was in addition to the research we have identified and with which we are moving forward. That is what my job is as an Independent Minister in this Government.

Legislative Programme

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

25. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the date by which she plans to have the Adoption Amendment (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 enacted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25647/18]

What is the date by which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs hopes to have the Adoption Amendment (Information and tracing) Bill enacted and will she make a comment on the matter?

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 has passed Second Stage in the Seanad. As I am sure the Deputy is aware, the Bill seeks to respect the rights to identity and privacy, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Given the constitutional context, striking the balance between these rights is proving challenging. It is important legislation for many people. Previous attempts to introduce a Bill, dating back as far as 2001, failed.

I am conscious of Deputies' interest in this important issue and of our shared desire to move matters forward. It is essential that the Bill progresses as quickly as possible, particularly as it will place the information and tracing service on a statutory footing for the first time.

It will also protect relevant records by bringing them into the custody of the AAI. It will create offences for the concealment, destruction, mutilation or falsification of such records.

The Bill impacts on people who are the subject of illegal registrations, as well as adopted people. Officials are currently reviewing its provisions, in the light of the recent evidence emerging on illegal birth registrations, to ensure that it is robust in addressing this issue. If additional amendments to the Bill are required to ensure this, that can be addressed as the Bill goes through the Houses.

My intention is that the Bill will be enacted by the end of the year. Earlier this week, I met advocacy groups. That was an informative and helpful engagement. As the Deputy will be aware, I am meeting my Oireachtas colleagues today for a briefing session with a view to progressing the Bill to Committee Stage in the Seanad as soon as possible.

I look forward to working with Members of this House and of the Seanad in order that all of us who wish to see this Bill implemented as soon as possible can work together to achieve that goal.

The Adoption Amendment (Information and Tracing) Bill will, quite correctly, give adopted persons, birth parents and relatives a legal right to an information and tracing service. It is frustrating that the legislation has not been progressed in the past 12 months. I am not saying there is a particular reason for that. We are all aware the process is clogged up.

Has the Minister spoken to the Attorney General or has he provided a legal position, information or guidance on this very complex matter? There are the issues relating to the rights of birth parents and those of the adopted persons. A bridge needs to be built and we must find a pathway to enable us to enact this valuable legislation. Has the Minister heard from the Attorney General on this?

I have spoken to the Attorney General twice in the past month - I also had engagement with the previous Attorney General - largely in the context of the urgency of this matter. There will be a number of amendments that will have to be brought forward on Committee Stage. There are two areas that are the most difficult to resolve and I have been working with Senators and hearing their responses in respect of these. In terms of the advice I am receiving, the first of these relates to the compelling reasons as to why birth mother information should not be released and what is the constitutional issue in that regard. I have also received advice regarding the introduction of an undertaking or a statutory duty on the part of all persons involved committing to not contact other parties unless they agree to be contacted. Those are the two primary issues that still have not been resolved. In terms of meeting advocates and my colleagues, I am trying to push the boundaries as far as we can in order to ensure that the apparent conflict of rights can be resolved so that we can get the Bill implemented as soon as possible.

I agree with the Minister that we have to push boundaries if we want to enact this legislation. It might not be perfect that the start of that process but it needs to move forward. What she announced two weeks ago was not new because this legislation has been around in various guises. There is a need to progress to Committee Stage. Has the Attorney General given the Minister any guidance or will he give the Oireachtas committee guidance on the way we can work with her to move forward with the legislation? It is urgently required and there is frustration about the lack of progress on it. We must have empathy for the parties on both sides. How can we all work together to get this legislation through?

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. I would make two points. First, in light of the announcement that was made, things have shifted considerably in terms of a there being a wider public awareness. That is not to say there was not awareness or that many people were not shocked. In light of that growing public awareness, the number of people who are contacting me and the stories we are hearing in the media and in different forums, that has ensured there is a greater urgency for all of us to get this resolved as soon as possible. It has also perhaps changed the context a little in that we should have more space to ensure that what we are doing is right and good in terms of that conflict of rights. The Attorney General and his officials are open to meeting me and my officials in the context of what I learn from the Deputy and the advocates to consider these issues as we move forward, perhaps even in a more intensive way than was the case in the past.

Departmental Funding

Seán Sherlock

Question:

26. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of matters relating to governance at an organisation (details supplied). [25608/18]

My question relates to Scouting Ireland. Has the Minister been provided with an update on the work of Ms van Turnhout on her assessment of the governance of Scouting Ireland?

In April of this year I decided to withhold all further funding to Scouting Ireland until such time as I could be satisfied that the organisation's governance standards met the required level. This followed publicity surrounding an incident of alleged sexual assault and concerns raised about how this serious matter was handled by Scouting Ireland.

Having made my decision to withhold funding, I met representatives from Scouting Ireland on 19 April to discuss the standards of governance within the organisation. The leadership of Scouting Ireland provided assurances to me at that meeting that they were involved in a governance project and reforms in the way they do their work. The project focused in particular on governance at board level. They informed me that these reforms would be put to their membership at a meeting this month.

In May, as Deputy Sherlock referenced, I appointed Ms Jillian van Turnhout as an independent expert to examine governance and related issues within Scouting Ireland. In accordance with her terms of reference she was asked to provide me with a clear assessment of Scouting Ireland's governance arrangements, including the organisation's plan to improve governance. She is completing her assessment and I expect to have her final report shortly. I will examine the content of the report carefully. I need to be satisfied that Scouting Ireland is taking the necessary steps to provide the assurances I need. Based on the outcome I will make a decision about the restoration of funding.

I cannot and will not compromise on issues that impact on the safety of children. Scouting Ireland must be in compliance with the legal requirements of the Children First Act 2015 and related legislation. I want scouts and parents throughout the country to know that I and the Government have a strong regard for the organisation and the generosity and dedication of the 13,000 adult volunteers involved. I want to acknowledge that Scouting Ireland provides exceptional engagement for the 40,000 children and young people who are members nationwide. In light of this and following the final report I will be in a position to make a decision.

I welcome the Minister's response. I understand that the Minister cannot give us an exact date by which she will receive the report. I hope she will keep the House and individual Members who have a particular interest informed on this issue. Moreover, I hope that when the report comes before her, she will keep an open door in communicating with us. I fully accept the Minister's answer.

Has the Minister been made aware of the fact that there are many good people within Scouting Ireland who believe they have not been communicated with with regard to some of the governance or change management procedures under way currently, especially in respect of the proposed new national structure? I have written to the Minister and asked if she would communicate with Ms van Turnhout with a view to hearing from reasonable and rational voices within Scouting Ireland who wish to make their views known officially to Ms van Turnhout on some of the concerns they have in respect of the current process. Will the Minister do her best through her good offices to facilitate that, please?

As Deputy Sherlock indicated, he sent me an email recently outlining those issues and concerns from members of the organisation.

The staff and board have been engaging in and trying to finalise a reform process in recent months and weeks. I received the email in question and I have asked my officials to pass it on to Ms van Turnhout and for her to take account of the contents in making her decisions in that regard. As Deputies are aware, Ms van Turnhout is an independent person working with the organisation. I believe the most appropriate course was to send her Deputy Sherlock's request and to bring it to her attention.

We are all conscious of the fact that time is passing, that there is a funding issue and that these things need to be resolved as soon as possible.

We are very much aware that there is a funding issue and that there are time constraints as well. However, it is vital that the vast bulk of the ordinary members of Scouting Ireland, the people who volunteer at weekends, have confidence in the process that is under way. Everyone is mindful of the fact that taxpayers' money is being used to fund this organisation. Everyone within the organisation bar none must have absolute confidence in the process under way at the moment. It is important because certain voices have not been heard heretofore and they should be heard.

I totally accept what the Deputy is saying. That is why I have taken action in respect of the information he has shared with me. Decisions need to be made in that regard. As the Deputy is aware, these questions are being raised by some people who are coming to him. My understanding is that there is ongoing communication between the members, staff and the board on this reform project. Perhaps some people believe that they need to have more of a voice in respect of what is going on there. I hear what the Deputy is saying in that regard.

My understanding following my meeting with the organisation is that it undertook a long and engaged process. It is a membership organisation and that is how it has decided to approach the matter. Again, I am happy that the Deputy has raised these issues and I have passed them on.

Question No. 27 replied to with Written Answers.
Questions Nos. 28 to 30, inclusive, replied to after Question No. 45.
Questions Nos. 31 to 43, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

44. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied with the capacity of the ECCE sector and its ability to deliver a universal service across the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25648/18]

Is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs satisfied with the capacity of the sector operating the early childhood care and education scheme and its availability to deliver a universal service throughout the country? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

Deputy Rabbitte is speaking particularly about the two-year preschool ECCE programme. I am satisfied in recent years at the way in which the ECCE service has been delivered, especially by the providers. As time has moved on we have increased the number and time period within which the service is available to children throughout the country. I am satisfied that the planning has been undertaken by the Department in concert with the providers. There is terrific engagement and ongoing communication with providers through the early years forum that I established and these features were evident prior to the forum as well. They are also evident through Pobal's engagement in identifying the number of places required in the various parts of the country and the ways in which providers are offering the services. Some participate in the ECCE scheme while others participate in the ECCE scheme and provide after-school services as well.

There is a need to build more places and spaces as more children are born in various parts of the country. That is why we continue to roll out the capital investment programme. There is increasing need on the part of providers to ensure that ongoing continuing professional development is provided for. Again, that is why the Department has offered increases in the learner development fund. The service is largely demand-led. Certain statistics can lead us in that regard but I am confident that we will continue to do the work that has been done in recent years.

I thank the Minister for her response. I tabled that question following the capital grants announced in the past week. I referred specifically to Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre. I may have referred to Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre on the floor already. The centre is like many others in that it is in a rural area but can supply a service to areas like Galway or Athlone.

This year that crèche has been oversubscribed in the sense it will have to let go three staff because it cannot facilitate 16 children this year as it was not fortunate enough in getting a capital grant. In the past the crèche had used a national school room but because the numbers have grown in the national school room it now does not have the space. It is a community crèche in which the Government invested heavily. I have a concern around capacity. There is a capacity issue in my colleague Deputy Smyth's constituency of Cavan-Monaghan as well. It is not just in isolated areas, we have issues around it and I wonder how we can address it.

I accept what Deputy Rabbitte is saying that clearly there are certain areas where capacity is not completely being met. My answer initially was generally in terms of the way we are planning and delivering. The difficulty and challenge has to do with the demand. Who can ever predict how many children will be born etc. except that we do our best? There are predictions but how accurate they are and how well we can work in each county and each context with the needs of each particular crèche and provider is the issue. I appreciate that. I am not necessarily saying that there are not places and times such as the incident Deputy Rabbitte mentioned or the one in Deputy Smyth's vicinity as there will be those problems, but the best we can do is to engage, to hear that and to see how to resolve that - as the Deputy knows there can be lots of different reasons why capacity cannot be extended in those different settings - and that is the promise I make and I know the way my officials continue to work with others.

I thank the Minister.

We had to skip a number of questions to which we will return. In fairness Deputy Sherlock has been here all day and I have to take his Question No. 45. I will abandon the 30 seconds for introducing the question.

School Completion Programme

Seán Sherlock

Question:

45. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that the school completion programme is operating effectively. [25607/18]

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for being a fair minded and decent man. I am asking the Minister whether she is satisfied that the school completion programme is operating effectively.

I thank the Deputy. As he is aware, the school completion programme has been under review. It has been identified that reforms are required and Tusla has been working on proposals and analysis of how that needs to be the case. I have received those, I have been engaged in a very intensive and deep process of trying to identify the best possible way to move forward in terms of the issues of human resources, governance and the programmes that are delivered themselves. I am in the middle of that process and I want to get it right. That is the first thing.

Second, in the context of the acknowledgement of the need for reform, at the same time I have met with a number of school completion co-ordinators, their principals and other members of the schools both in my constituency and throughout the country and I believe that in the circumstances and in the context of that acknowledged need for reform, they are continuing to do an excellent job with the students and the people they serve.

I am not satisfied with that answer to be very honest about it. There are 470 odd primary schools. There have been cuts in counselling services. We have heard wonderful words like "review" and "reform" but I have not heard anything that I can say is meaningful. The school completion programme is not operating properly currently: it is operating sub-optimally. We need to hear something a little bit more robust and definitive from the Minister on what she is actually doing. She has had reports, proposals and analysis on HR and governance. I and the House want a straight answer to this question on what exactly it is that the Minister proposes to do. What is the current budget? Are there further cuts proposed to the school completion programme? Will there be an increase in the budget? How is it proposed to recruit more staff for the school completion programme? I have not heard any of that from the Minister in the reply.

What I have been saying to the Deputy is that we are working intensely on this issue and when we move forward, particularly with the human resource issues which have been very challenging over the last number of years, I will let the Deputy know. We are getting close to making some decisions in terms of a different type of engagement in that regard. Second, on governance, these are the issues that are still in front of me, working with principals and stakeholders. As the Deputy knows I have held a number of meetings. I do not have a magic wand to say that right now there are changes that I am ready to go with but that does not mean that we are not working on them. This issue has been around for a long time and we will get it right and that is what I am determined to do.

Home Schooling

Eamon Ryan

Question:

28. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures she will take to support parents who choose to care for children in the home. [25682/18]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

53. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to support stay-at-home parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24818/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 53 together. The Government is committed to supporting parents in caring for young children at home in a range of ways. Within the remit of my Department, a number of schemes provide support to parents whether they work full time, part time, or stay at home. For example, from September of 2018 all children aged from two years and eight months will be entitled to access two years of free pre-school through the Early Childhood and Education, ECCE, programme. Some 114,000 children are expected to benefit this September, many of whom will be children of stay-at-home parents. The current targeted childcare schemes are available to families where parents are in receipt of certain social welfare payments or medical cards, again many of whom are stay-at-home parents. A universal childcare subsidy is available to all parents of children under three, regardless of whether parents are working or not. The affordable childcare scheme, ACS, which is under development will make childcare subsidies available on the basis of family income and will be available to stay-at-home parents. More widely across Government, there are various initiatives that support stay-at-home parents. A child benefit payment of €140 per month is available to all children. Budget 2018 increased the home carer tax credit to €1,200 per year. There has also been a number of new measures to support parents to spend time at home with children in their early years. Two weeks of paternity leave and benefit for fathers was introduced in 2016. In 2017, there was an extension to maternity leave and benefit to mothers of babies born prematurely. Currently, my Department is also drafting a cross-Government early years strategy. The strategy will include a range of measures to support families given the fundamental importance they play in shaping children’s outcomes. I look forward to updating the House on those developments later this year.

I thank the Minister. It would be good if we could be updated, particularly on budget policy because we are in the middle of the budget process now in the sense that Departments are negotiating with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on whatever comes in October.

Is the Minister looking for any major initiatives other than the existing ones in this budget process? If there are how will she ensure that it will not make it difficult for parents who want to stay at home in terms of creating an environment where increasingly the incentives promote a different approach? It is not that people are pitting one parent against the other, far from it. Every family and parent needs support in their own circumstances but when we have a system that disproportionately favours one choice over another there is a concern that it makes it difficult to take that choice. Can the Minister give any indication within the budget process, separate to the early years strategy, whether she expects to introduce measures in this year's budget and if so can she give some outline as to what those new additional measures might be?

I support what Deputy Eamon Ryan said about the value of parents who do take the option of staying at home to mind their children. Any increase in the home tax credit would be important. Like him, I would like to hear about any further measures the Minister has to help and facilitate parents to do a valued job. Is the Minister in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on any measures she might introduce for stay-at-home parents?

I set out a number of measures and supports in my initial reply for stay-at-home parents and that needs to be acknowledged. I have done that because of the value the Government places on parenting and the provision of support by families for children.

I have been asked questions about this year's budget and other measures. I have begun initial discussions with the Minister for Finance but I am in the middle of them and I will not indicate right now all of the measures I am trying to secure. I am committed to provide supports for all families, including those with stay-at-home parents. The child care infrastructure I have set up enables women to have the choice to move into the workforce and have their children cared for. Many women do not have that choice given the current expensive cost of child care. There is potential to improve the measures for stay-at-home parents, particularly in relation to what we have identified as ways of supporting families and children in the upcoming early years strategy. We recently had an open debate about that. I will publish the strategy later.

I take the opportunity to remind the House that we were seven minutes late starting as we did not have a quorum. At one stage it appeared that we would have to suspend the House until 12 noon. Now we have more than enough Members present. I remind Members that one hour and 30 minutes are provided for questions. Whoever is listening to me should learn that we start at 10.30 a.m.

If Deputy Heydon forfeits his 30 seconds for introducing his question, he will get one supplementary question and then we will get to Deputy Brendan Smith's question.

Quality and Capacity Building Initiative Innovation Fund

Martin Heydon

Question:

29. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the quality and capacity building initiative, QCBI, innovation fund; the way in which it can benefit projects in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25559/18]

The QCBI, funded under the Dormant Account Fund, aims to take a co-ordinated approach to enhance capacity, knowledge and quality in prevention and early intervention for children, young people and their families. It focuses on those at risk of developing poor outcomes. At the core of the initiative is a desire to foster persistent curiosity among those working to improve the lives of children and young people.

The QCBI aims to support key groups working with children, young people and families to know what works, how it works and to provide an evidence-supported approach to the application of this work. The QCBI innovation fund, amounting to €2 million, was developed by my Department to support prevention and early intervention innovations that build on existing data and evidence. We aim to improve outcomes for children and young people aged up to 24 years who experience disadvantage. All proposals are expected to have a strong professional development and-or coaching and mentoring component.

Four applications were made from County Kildare: Foróige - the Strengthening Families programme for Kildare and west Wicklow; County Kildare Leader partnership - Mojo project to support young men; Kildare Youth Services and Curragh and Newbridge Garda youth diversion project; and Kilcullen community childcare and education centre - breakfast and afterschool service expansion.

Each individual application has been assessed against the transparent criteria outlined in the guidance document. The outcome of each application will depend on the quality and proposed impact of the initiative outlined in the application form, the ability of the measure to support diverse innovations across a range of community, contexts and practice areas and the number of quality proposals received. All the applications received under this funding measure have been assessed by an expert evaluation panel assigned by the Department. Our aim is to notify applicants by the end of this month.

The Minister outlined the four applications from County Kildare and I will briefly touch on them. I previously raised with her the fact that County Kildare is playing catch-up in terms of investment in what is one of the largest youth populations of any county. As the Minister will have witnessed during her visit to County Kildare to open The Hive youth facility in Kildare town when she met all the agencies and groups, there is good collaboration between them and they work well together. The application from Foróige is an example of that in that it involves Foróige leading the project on behalf of an inter-agency group to create a dedicated and co-ordinated post to further develop the Strengthening Families programme. I launched the evaluation for the programme last year. It works and we must be able to extend it and provide it in other locations.

The application from the Kildare Leader programme is for the Mojo project. Young men aged between 18 and 24 are getting involved in it with an open mind as it does not have the stigma attaching to HSE-run projects. The Mojo project is working well in Kildare town and it was previously in Athy. We need the project in Newbridge, in particular, and in other locations.

The Kildare Youth Services educational support programme for early school leavers is important, as is the Kilcullen community childcare facility, which does fantastic work in the greater Kilcullen area. The inter-agency collaboration in Kildare must be recognised. Any money the Department gives to the four projects will be well spent and well received by the large youth population we have in the county.

I acknowledge the fine work that is ongoing in County Kildare in the projects outlined by the Deputy. It sounds like the applicant organisations can meet the criteria but, as he will be aware, I am not the one who makes the judgment in that regard. This particular initiative was largely focused on looking at innovative projects for children and young people and how we can use what we have learnt from our history to assist them in the future. Significant resources are being expended on projects but I believed it was important to continue the innovation alongside that, which is why we set €2 million aside. That is the reason the projects outlined by the Deputy and other Deputies who are present have had the opportunity to access the additional money for ongoing innovation.

Child Care Services Funding

Brendan Smith

Question:

30. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to introduce a new childcare capital grant scheme in 2018 to assist childcare providers to extend or provide new facilities in cases in which there is an identified need for additional places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25642/18]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that there has been a capital grant scheme in 2018. One of the principal goals of the 2018 early years and school age capital programmes, as in previous years, has been to assist childcare providers in creating new additional places where demand for those exists. The decisions in respect of the 2018 capital funding programmes were delivered to providers on 1 June, following a thorough and impartial appraisal process overseen by my Department. A total of 398 individual services throughout the country have been offered funding as a result, to a total value of €6.87 million. A total of €3.87 million of that amount has been allocated for the creation of new early years places in 85 separate projects. This funding will result in the creation of a total of 1,950 new places nationwide - 697 of which will be for zero to three year-olds, and 1,253 of which will ECCE places. In addition, €750,000 has been allocated for the creation of new school age childcare places in 45 separate projects. This funding will result in the creation of 807 new places in school age services.

The 2018 capital programmes generated extraordinary demand within the sector. As a result, only applications of the highest quality were successful on this occasion. However, services that narrowly missed out on funding have been added to a short capital reserve list. Those will be considered for funding in the event that any of the successful applicants are not in a position to use their funding. I am pleased at the level of interest in developing early years and school age places. I would like to continue this type of capital funding in 2019 and beyond, in order that we meet the demand for places in the coming years. I will carefully consider the level and quality of sectoral demand for all strands of funding, as well as all constructive feedback on this year's programmes in the development of capital funding for 2019.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I welcome the recent grant approvals. In any grant scheme there will be some disappointed applicants.

In previous replies the Minister gave a commitment to have a widespread consultation with both community childcare providers and private childcare providers on the 2019 capital grant scheme. More grant aid is required to assist in the expansion of some existing childcare facilities. Some such facilities in my own area, particularly the community childcare facilities, need to literally double capacity to meet demand. I ask the Minister to try to put in place a scheme with larger-scale grant assistance to make it realistic, obtainable and feasible for community childcare providers in particular to extend and enhance existing facilities and meet the demand that exists in their localities. In a substantial town in my constituency, there is only one community childcare provider. It has to double its capacity and it is looking forward to the Minister announcing a scheme with larger-scale grant assistance later this year.

It is really important that the Deputy, and other Deputies, raise these issues with me. One of my absolute priorities is to ensure there are enough moneys for a capital provision in order to increase the capacity for the childcare infrastructure I am overseeing. The consultation and engagement with stakeholders is really critical, and I believe my Department does a very good job at that. I am very happy to take note of what the Deputy has said in terms of his particular area and projects there he wishes to represent, and we can engage further with him on that. However, the commitment to increasing the capital available is integral to my work as a Minister and that is why, in terms of the negotiations with the Minister for Finance on the national development plan, significant funding will be available as we move forward in terms of capital investment in childcare places.

I welcome the commitment to further consultation with private and community childcare providers made by the Minister. I have already made written representations to her office about specific concerns I have in my constituency and would be glad to take up her offer of a meeting to discuss those particular projects.