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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 3 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 3

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Departmental Funding

Alan Dillon


6. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the plans for increased funding for his Department delivered as part of budget 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59467/21]

A substantial increase in the budget of the Minister's Department of €183 million brings funding up to €2.1 billion. It is great to see such support for the Department and I congratulate him on securing that in the budget. Will the Minister outline to the House the plans for how he will use that and the progress in that regard?

As the Deputy said, we secured an additional €183 million of funding in budget 2022, bringing my Department's overall budget to €2.1 billion. The increase will be targeted at improving outcomes for children, young people and their families, as well as promoting equality and human rights. I am allocating an extra €78 million for the early learning and school-age childcare sector, €41 million additional funding for Tusla and an extra €41 million for international protection and the work to end direct provision, in addition to €23 million for a range of other areas.

The main spending areas - childcare, international protection and Tusla - represent 89% of the overall budget and are receiving a significant proportion of the increased funding. In early learning and childcare, the bulk of the extra funding allows for a new core funding scheme for providers, which in return for a commitment not to increase parents' fees will entitle them to access a new funding stream to help cover increased operating costs linked to quality improvement measures.

The additional resources for Tusla will bring funding for the agency to almost €900 million and will allow it to continue to grow, to improve front-line services and to support those services provided by its partners in the community and voluntary sector. This investment underlines the Government's commitment to ensuring that Tusla has the resources to meet its mission of protecting and supporting our most vulnerable children and families.

A key priority for me is to end direct provision and I have allocated additional funding to start the transition to a new model of accommodation to meet expected increased demand for accommodation for international protection applicants in 2022. Other very important areas, such as youth, equality and inclusion, are also receiving increases. I have also placed a particular emphasis on supporting services for former residents of mother and baby institutions.

I am very pleased the additional resources of €183 million for my Department will allow us advance with significant work in 2022 and, indeed, achieve many of the programme for Government commitments

That is great. I have another question later on childcare and I will leave that point until then.

On international protection, the Minister is doing an awful lot of work in trying to end the direct provision system. Will he give us an outline of how the additional €41 million will expedite that process? There is also €3 million specifically for refugee and migrant integration and anti-racism projects. Will the Minister provide a list of those projects? Similarly, €2 million has been allocated for actions in gender inequality. Will he provide a couple of specific examples of what is happening there? I will come back to the point on childcare in a later question.

In terms of the actions on gender, some of that money will go towards the creation of the website and the reporting system for the gender pay gap which, as the Deputy knows, we passed legislation on earlier this year.

On the international protection funding of approximately €41 million, a significant part of that is to contribute towards the expected increased numbers of people arriving in the country seeking international protection as international travel increases, and we are seeing that. It is to increase our capacity to respond to people as they arrive. Another significant portion of that money will be used in securing the first element of the community accommodation for the new model and for providing the initial people moving into community accommodation with an independent living allowance, which will be really important in supporting them there.

What was the second area of funding?

The €3 million for refugee and migrant integration.

A key part of that will go towards anti-racism. We expect the anti-racism strategy to be provided early next year. There is an allocation there to support the roll-out of the national action plan against racism.

I believe there is also extra money for Traveller and Roma integration and support. There is an extra €5.6 million. I know it is not under the direct remit of the Department, but the national Traveller education strategy is overdue and necessary. It is the central plank for supporting the Traveller community. It is always the first ask when one speaks to representatives from the Traveller community who are trying to do more. I appreciate the additional funding, but are the Minister's officials working to expedite that with the Department of Education? Can we do more on that please, Minister?

Absolutely. The national Traveller and Roma education strategy is something I feel passionate about. It does fall within the remit of my Department because early years is a key issue. We know in terms of accessing the early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, the access rate of the Traveller community is 10% less than that of the settled community. The educational disadvantage is already being ingrained there. Funding will deal with that. Part of the allocated extra money is to ensure that the Traveller pilot programme - I do not have the name right - which is run in a number of schools across the country and seeks to support the retention in particular of Traveller children in education, is supported for another year. It had originally run for two years but because of Covid, it will run for an extra year.

There are a range of reports published. The Out of the Shadows report is really important, as well as a significant report on bullying in schools with a particular lens on the bullying Traveller children have experienced. A range of issues will feed into the Traveller and Roma education strategy that we will be working to bring to fruition next year.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor


8. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the progress made towards the establishment of a national memorial and records centre under point 7 of An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59448/21]

I thank the Minister for giving me the opportunity to ask him about the progress made in establishing a national memorial and records centre under point 7 of An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions. I note it is an area the Minister is working on and is very committed to.

I know of the Deputy’s interest in the issue of memorialisation and the work she has done locally in Carlow on this. The establishment of a national memorial and records centre is a core commitment within the plan and provides a basis for several other interdependent projects. The national centre will stand as a national memorial in honour of those who were resident in mother and baby homes, county institutions, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and other related institutions. It will make a significant contribution to our journey of recognising and learning from the failures of the past, acknowledging the hurt which continues to be felt by survivors and seeking to rebuild a relationship of trust with those who have been so gravely wronged.

With the intention of advancing this project as a priority, the Secretary General to the Government has been appointed to lead a cross-Government process to advance work on a national memorial and records centre. This process, which will include engagement with survivors, will develop an overarching vision and proposed approach for the creation of the national centre. Once this initial work is complete, a proposal will be brought to the Government for approval. I have secured funding of €1 million per annum for 2022 and 2023 to support the immediate preparatory work and research needed to deliver this centre.

The national centre will include an archive of records relating to institutional trauma, alongside personal accounts of survivors' lived experiences, as well as presenting the historical and social context. More generally, my Department has already appointed an archivist and established a dedicated information management unit to lead on the preservation and access to our records, including the commission's archive. In addition to the national centre, work is being advanced in conjunction with the local authorities to deliver on the commitment to support local memorialisation across the country. Furthermore, financial support is available from my Department through the commemorative grant scheme to support survivor groups in commemorating their experiences in a manner which fits their own specific needs.

As we have learned from our consultations with survivors, memorialisation is very important to many of them, but it means many different things to different people. In recognition of this, consistent consultation will be facilitated to ensure the process is informed by those most centrally involved with the experiences.

I am delighted to hear that. It is important that the survivors play an important role in this. We have all learned from our meetings with survivors the importance of access to records and that there are no barriers. That is our commitment from this Government, that we will make sure no survivor who wants to access his or her records encounters barrier after barrier.

I am delighted that the Secretary General of the Government will chair this. That is very important. Like other Deputies, I have been working with survivors in my area. One learns from that. We will all remember listening to the stories of survivors about their journey. This national memorial will play a significant part in helping them on that journey. That is all we can do, as the Minister said. We can only help them as best we can and make sure we are there to give them that support.

I thank the Deputy. I agree with her. The national records and memorial centre will be really important. It will be important for survivors as it will be a physical manifestation of a recognition of what happened to them and, as the Deputy stated, it will provide a place for their stories and personal accounts to be told. It is important for society as well in terms of educating people about what happened in these institutions. It is also important from a historical perspective in terms of ensuring there is a single place where these records are accessible to historians and maybe individuals researching information about their families. It is important that these records are made available in a very accessible format online as well, recognising that the survivor community is an international one. It is all over the world and it should be easy for its members, wherever they are living now, to access these really important records.

I totally agree with the Minister. Access, whether online or through one's local authority or the HSE or whatever, is important. The message we have to send to survivors is that we are here to help them access their records if needed.

Does the Minister have a timescale for this? I welcome the funding allocated but timing is very important here in the context of all the work the Minister and the Government have been doing. I know we on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have been working really hard with the survivors. We need to get this up and running as soon as possible. Letting survivors know is important. Communication is key and I know it is a priority for the Minister. It is about letting everyone know what is happening. The survivors should be kept updated, whether through some sort of helpline or communications through the various Departments. I always believe communication is key and that is the best way forward.

I agree with the Deputy on that point of communication. My Department is endeavouring to ensure we communicate effectively on this issue. We send out a quarterly bulletin to approximately 500 survivors who are on a mailing list. We engage with them by way of the quarterly update, but also letting them know when major announcements are being made, such as in respect of the recently announced institutional payments and updates on other legislative provisions. That communication is there. If there are survivors in the Deputy's constituency who wish to be added to that list, she should let me know and we can do that.

We want to advance the national records and memorial centre quickly. The Secretary General for the Government is probably in the best place to bring together the various Departments and agencies to undertake that work. I know he is bringing together this group to undertake that initial scoping work, as well as getting that element of survivor consultation done. It is a balance between moving quickly and ensuring there is adequate consultation. I think we will strike that balance and move this really important project quickly.

Questions Nos. 9 and 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Sports Organisations

Brendan Griffin


11. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department will consider engaging with an organisation (details supplied) with a view to seeing how youth and sports organisations can best collaborate into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59375/21]

What level of collaboration is there between sporting organisations and Sport Ireland and youth services? What benefits can be leveraged from the footprints that sporting organisations have throughout the country in terms of communities? What benefits could that have for youth services?

Sporting activity has an important role to play in the development of young people and addressing many of their needs. The programmes offered by various Departments can collectively offer that kind of holistic response to the needs of young people. The infrastructure of youth services across the country that are funded by my Department includes the 30 national youth organisations, a significant number of local clubs and the youth function of the education and training boards. It works closely with agencies and local organisations, including many sporting bodies, on areas of mutual interest. I and my officials are always happy to engage with any organisation that is interested in our policy role.

At national level, my Department participates in an interdepartmental sports leadership group chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, which oversees the implementation of the national sports policy. The Sports Action Plan 2021-23 published by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, in recent days includes actions to increase participation in sport by young people. One key action is the convening of a youth-centred stakeholder forum in early 2022. Youth organisations will be consulted as part of this process.

UBU: Your Place, Your Space is the main scheme for youth services funded by my Department. The scheme provides out-of-school supports to marginalised, disadvantaged or vulnerable young people to enable them to achieve their full potential. It recognises that youth services engage with young people through a wide range of activities that may include drama, music and sport, for example. In addition, there are some legacy sport-related supports that meet the criteria of UBU: Your Place, Your Space and they have continued to be funded on that basis. I am happy to continue to engage across Government on the issue of support for youth and sport, and my Department will always work collaboratively with youth organisations and agencies such as Sport Ireland to advance this.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate the reply. I acknowledge the wonderful work that is done by sporting organisations across all sporting disciplines, as well as youth services around the country. They make a massive difference in people's lives. I tabled this question because I think there is potential to do more in terms of using the capital and community infrastructure that is in place in the context of the sporting world to try to provide even more services in areas where there are no services outside the immediate primary sporting function of organisations. I am cognisant of the fact that many young people are not engaged in sport. How do we provide services for such young people? At present, if they are not engaged in sport, there is very little else for them. Can we leverage the network of sporting organisations around the country to create something for those young people and include them, although not in the primary sporting sense? A holistic inclusion model would be very achievable, given the massive networks that exist in every community.

Speaking as one who was not hugely involved in sport as a young person, what my Department seeks to offer is alternatives for young people who are not as interested in team sports in particular as some other young people, but who want to have that element of social development that, for many young people, is filled by sports. It is really important for us to get that balance to encourage young people to do what they want and to support them. I think all present agree that trying to leverage young people into anything they do not want to do is absolutely not the right way to go. The point made by the Deputy in respect of the availability of locations and buildings is a really valuable one. I understand the Deputy will raise at a later stage the issue of capital funding for youth services. Securing premises for usage is always an issue and there may well be things that can be done in that regard. Youth services and sport probably have the same busy times but there may be something we could do to leverage the use of community space.

I will give the Minister an example from my constituency. The local GAA club in a rapidly growing village is seeking to build new clubhouses and dressing rooms. It is very open and recognises that, apart from its sports club, there is very little for young people to do in the locality. Right now, it is very open to the concept of building the clubhouses but including in that new development a space that can be used for young people who may not be interested in playing Gaelic football or hurling to come in and be part of the community, develop as young adults, enjoy themselves and have a place to go at weekends and during school holidays and all of that. That is not really recognised in the capital schemes as they are currently set up. The sports capital programme is brilliant and there is space for collaboration and joint applications, but something specifically and formally organised between the Minister's Department and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media would be really beneficial and progressive.

It would try to capture those children, and there are many such children, who do not engage in sport. They are just not interested in it and it is not their thing, but they feel very much excluded because of that.

The approach that is being adopted in the village the Deputy is talking about is a really interesting one and could have genuine benefits. We are aware that the difficulty in securing capital for community buildings is a major issue for so many community organisations, be they sports clubs, youth services or more general kinds of groups. I would certainly be happy to talk to the Department responsible for sport about what could be done to make it easier for the two areas to come together. In my local authority area, Fingal County Council is building community centres that may have sport and childcare elements, but also a youth services element. When the process is being led by the local authority, it may have a more rounded sense, but if sports organisations show leadership in the way the Deputy described, it is valuable.

Direct Provision System

Bríd Smith


12. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when he expects the last of the direct provision centres to close. [59476/21]

Holly Cairns


44. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the process to end the direct provision system. [59328/21]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill


74. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the ongoing work taking place within his Department to dismantle direct provision, as detailed in the White Paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59204/21]

Pa Daly


77. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an update on the implementation of the White Paper on ending direct provision. [58559/21]

Catherine Connolly


82. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the integration policy being developed by his Department in respect of the new model that will replace the direct provision system; when the new model will be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59447/21]

This series of questions is to find out from the Minister the status of the ongoing work within his Department to dismantle direct provision, as detailed in the White Paper. Will he make a statement on the matter and update us on the details?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 44, 74, 77 and 82 together.

Earlier this year, I published a White Paper to end direct provision and establish a new international protection support service. Since then, my Department has taken a series of steps to implement these reforms, with a view to completing them by the end of 2024.

A staff team has been established in my Department to lead the transition to the new model. Ending direct provision and putting in place the new system, with its focus on human rights, not-for-profit delivery, and integration from day one, requires a whole-of-government approach. My Department is therefore working closely with key stakeholders across government to plan, design, and implement the changes described in the White Paper.

I have appointed a programme board, including officials from relevant Departments and agencies, and independent members, to oversee the transition. The board has met four times since its establishment and its next meeting is scheduled for 16 December.

I have appointed a three-person external advisory group whose role is that of independent observer of the implementation of the new policy. Through its work, this group will help to build confidence in the reform programme among all stakeholders. This group has already met twice, most recently on 19 November.

As stated in the White Paper, I intend to have the new system of supports and accommodation for international protection applicants operational by December 2024. This means we are working to end the use of all centres that do not meet the requirements for own-door and own-room accommodation by this time.

We have made good progress on this objective to date. Working with the Housing Agency, my Department has begun to acquire the accommodation needed to implement the White Paper reforms. We are prioritising the acquisition of accommodation for phase 2 — that is, after people have completed their initial four months in a reception and integration centre and move into the community — and are now acquiring properties in this regard. We are planning for the process of moving the first applicants into this accommodation to begin in 2022 and for it to accelerate over the following years as more properties come on stream.

Working with the housing experts on the programme board, my Department is developing an ownership model for the accommodation, in addition to a funding model to enable approved housing bodies and other not-for-profit organisations to act as our delivery partners. A subcommittee of the programme board is finalising a policy approach concerning the ownership model. An allocation key to determine the spread of this accommodation across all counties has been agreed by local authorities and is being used to determine where properties should be acquired.

With respect to integration, the House will be aware that the White Paper commits to the principle of “integration from day one” for all international protection applicants. My Department is currently developing the detailed policy required to meet this commitment. Integration supports will be delivered during both phase 1 and phase 2 of the new model. My Department is working with local authorities to develop a system of integration supports.

A nationwide network of integration support workers will help to deliver these supports, building on the current model established under the Irish refugee protection programme. Applicants will also have access to integration supports delivered by service providers at a local level through interagency working groups co-ordinated by the relevant local authority.

When living in the community, applicants will receive an international protection support payment to enable them to meet their needs. A child payment will also be provided. A detailed policy on the international protection support payments is being developed by my Department. The draft policy was submitted to the programme board for review on 21 October 2021.

It will take time to end direct provision and replace it with a new and very different system of accommodation and supports, grounded in human rights and delivered on a not-for-profit basis. However, work to develop the new model is well under way and I am fully committed to implementing the model by December 2024.

I thank the Minister for the update. It is important today to acknowledge the work of both the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth on undocumented migrants. It will have an important effect on asylum seekers. Undocumented migrants who have been here for four years are being given today a once-in-a-generation amnesty to remain here and have their status regularised. It will affect 17,000 people, including 3,000 children. This is welcome because, in the discussions with the various migrant groups and the Department leading up to this, I lobbied to bring asylum seekers into the process. With regard to the systems for asylum seekers who have been in the State in a documented way and people who have been here in an undocumented way, for various reasons, there had to be some measure of parity of treatment. I am glad asylum seekers have been included. How many will be affected? I believe the arrangement pertains to people who have been here for two years. It will have an effect on the Minister's dismantling work. How many asylum seekers does the Minister believe will benefit from the important announcement of the Government today?

I welcome the progress on this and the Minister's commitment to it. As he knows, it follows on from 21 years of an unjust and unjustified system. It follows on from the McMahon report in 2015, which made 173 recommendations; the Oireachtas report of former Deputy Ó Caoláin, an excellent report; the report from Dr. Catherine Day; and the White Paper from the Minister. I am mentioning only some of the reports. The Minister has a job on his hands because we have a major housing crisis. I appreciate that. I mentioned all the reports to give the background and the 21-year history. This is difficult to solve. When I read the White Paper and Catherine Day's report, I understood the complexity of the matter, but we have no choice. The Minister has set up an implementation body. Could he guide me on that? Is it an observer body or will it have power? How will the feedback come?

On regularisation, I am meeting the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, after oral questions to launch the regularisation scheme. I am very excited about that. It is an important development, for which my party pushed very strongly in negotiating the programme for Government. The Minister and Minister of State in the Department of Justice have shown great leadership in this area. It will be a life-changing experience for undocumented migrants to fully regularise their affairs and participate fully in society. I particularly welcome the fact that the measure has been extended to international protection applicants who have been in the system for more than two years. We estimate that there are 2,800 in that category. The mechanism will be significant in regularising the affairs of the very large number who are already in the process. Therefore, when we bring in all elements of the White Paper, we will have a smaller number and will be able to move more rapidly.

On Deputy Connolly's question, we have a programme board that works at a high level, in that it brings in staff from my Department and experts from other agencies. It oversees the implementation overall. The transition team, comprising civil servants in my Department, is working on a day-to-day basis on implementing the White Paper. The advisory group, comprising Dr. Catherine Day, Dr. Lorcan Sirr and Dr. David Donoghue, is overseeing what we are doing, criticising if we are getting it wrong and giving us a bit of guidance. The transition team is working from day to day, the programme board is engaged in implementation at cross-departmental and cross-agency levels and making sure all Departments are working away on this, and the advisory group, which I hope will give good reports on progress, is in place to flag failures to meet deadlines. Catherine Day has a track record in this area, David Donoghue has worked very much in the area of international human rights and Lorcan Sirr, as we all know, is an expert in housing. Therefore, the advisory group includes the key areas. As the Deputy said, housing will be essential in getting this right.

I thank the Minister and I congratulate him, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the work here. It is a very important piece of work and is a credit to all of them.

I wish to raise an issue on which I have spoken to a number of asylum seekers and I know that this is not a universal one but is about the plans on housing. Many have told me that they do not necessarily want the housing assistance payment, HAP. They are working and capable of work and of earning, want more flexibility than that, and do not want a system that requires them to participate in a HAP-type model where they feel that they do not necessarily need it. I just wanted to highlight that point of flexibility within the work that the Minister is developing. It is certainly part of the feedback that I have received directly from people who are working in the medical and caring sectors, particularly in different parts of the country where there is less relative pressure on prices for rental accommodation and where they may have other arrangements available to them. I ask that the Minister keep that flexibility in mind from this feedback that I am giving him today.

I thank the Minister, and for his clarification also on the independent advisory group. Will those minutes or reports be available publicly so that we can see them? It is not that I do not trust the Minister but we have had 21 years dealing with this issue. Even when I outlined the reports I forgot to mention the Ombudsman’s many reports on it and I am sure that I have not mentioned other reports.

When one looks at the International Protection Accommodation Services reports, we got one back in November 2018. We were supposed to get them regularly. We have a new one now, the October one which is just out, and I welcome it. There has been a gap. Can the Minister explain why there has been a gap with these reports that give us updated figures and statistics? From what I can see there is a very significant gap between November 2018 and October 2021. That is my difficulty in this. With the enormity of the challenge, given the housing crisis, I welcome the not for profit approach, the human rights framework and the use of that language but it is making a reality of this which is important.

I acknowledge the point made there by Deputy Carroll-MacNeill and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, will be very happy if someone does not want HAP, if they can provide for themselves. We have always made provision where some people here are seeking international protection but do not enter direct provision because they are in a situation where they can provide for themselves. There is flexibility, yes, but there is a key issue about people being treated similarly to Irish nationals also, and that there is no distinction in treatment. That is also important in respect of the credibility of the overall system. I thank the Deputy for the point, nonetheless.

In respect of the Deputy Connolly’s point, I will follow up on the specific issue on the gap between reports as I am unsure what the answer to that is at this time.

The Deputy is completely correct in reflecting the failures to deliver on improvements in direct provision in the past and that is why it is so important for transparency. The reports of the independent advisory group, therefore, will be made public. The group members were very clear to me that they wanted to see themselves as having this independent oversight, that there was no element of window-dressing and that these are people who want to be engaged in this process. They all have a stake in this and have shown that from their track record. Their reports, be they positive or critical, will be independently available.

Childcare Services

Alan Dillon


13. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the National Action Plan for Childminding; the engagement that has taken place with representative bodies; the actions that are being put in place to ease the burden on parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59466/21]

I thank the Minister for taking the question relating to the status of the National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028, published in April of this year. This is a seven-year plan for giving better support to childminding in the home. Can I have an update on that please?

I thank the Deputy. The National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028 which I published in April, sets out a phased, incremental approach to extending supports and regulation to all non-relative childminders. It aims to improve access to high quality and affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare through childminding.

During phase 1 of the plan, which began recently and is expected to last two to three years, childminding-specific regulations will be developed that are proportionate and appropriate to childminders, as will childminder-specific training. In addition, primary legislation will be amended, and there will be further engagement and consultation with childminders.

The steering group for the plan met for the first time in September and again on 1 December. Its role is to drive, oversee and monitor implementation. The steering group will be supported by four advisory groups on stakeholder engagement; training and support; regulation and inspection; and funding and financial supports. The first two advisory groups have already commenced their work.

In line with commitments in the national action plan, childminders are represented on the steering group and the advisory groups. In addition, Childminding Ireland which represents childminders, is a member of these groups, and officials in my Department continue to work closely with Childminding Ireland, engaging on a regular basis.

Extensive consultation with parents, childminders and representative bodies took place throughout the development of the plan and continues in the implementation phase that has now begun. Ongoing consultation will be critical to effective implementation and work will begin shortly on developing a stakeholder engagement strategy. In addition, my Department provides funding to representative bodies to support information and engagement with childminders on the plan.

Childminders who are registered with Tusla can avail of the national childcare scheme, NCS, allowing parents to avail of subsidies. The plan aims to support a much wider cohort of childminders to register with Tusla and, therefore, to take part in the national childcare scheme. In this way, the plan will support parental choice in the type of provider of early learning and care and school-age childcare.

I am pleased that work in this important area is making progress. Childminding is a key part of the early years sector which up to quite recently was not getting the attention it deserved. The national action plan has set out clearly where we want to go and does so in a way that emphasises a collaborative and step-by-step approach. I will continue to support these developments in the coming years.

The Minister is correct to identify the amount of work that has had to be done in the childcare sector over the past ten years, where, ten years ago, the Government spent nearly nothing on this sector. We are now spending, I believe, €716 million, with a doubling of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme of childcare places and a real focus, that has had to be there, on the regulatory standards around that sector. There were some very good childcare providers and childminders but very many that were not. We have seen that in quite distressing ways over the past ten years and a very significant amount of work has had to be done.

Coming directly to this issue with the Minister, Fine Gael did an extensive consultation piece with thousands of parents and childminders, as he is aware, in its Care of the Child document. The two big issues that emerged from this were, of course, cost, which we are aware of, and flexibility. The Minister said himself this morning that listening to parents and to what they need enables the flexibility that can be built in for them in any model. That may be in childcare facilities themselves or with childminders in order to be able to build choice and flexibility into a model, particularly recognising how people’s working lives have changed and their needs are now different.

I thank the Deputy. As she knows I have met with colleagues from her party on that comprehensive policy work that her party undertook. The issue of flexibility is of great importance and childminding is a very significantly flexible element of the early years sector. There is a very large number of people working in childminding. The parents who use those services cannot, for the most part, avail of the NCS, because the childminders are not registered with Tusla. We are beginning this process to bring a greater degree of regulation, recognising that childminders are not the same as centre-based carers. The regulation should be different but still has to be of a relevant standard. The educational qualifications are, equally, different but also have to be of a relevant standard. We need to encourage childminders not to see this as some sort of negative or imposition but to see it as a way of supporting them and the parents that they work with financially.

I have a few practical questions on that. When the Minister is doing this, can he make it easier for parents to formally set childminders up as employees, or whatever mechanism is appropriate? People are not used to doing that and to creating businesses. It is relatively straightforward but is not easy. People want to be compliant and to ensure that everything is done correctly, so I ask that the Minister might remember that point.

There is also an ongoing question on the status of au pairs as people are not sure what that will mean for the future.

I will return to the point about flexibility and it is related to his other piece of work on gender equality. One of the points that arises - and I acknowledge that the Minister has done the work on the gender pay gap - and has a big impact potentially on flexibility and gender equality is the need to look at the culture of organisations. This is how parents of both genders can go in and request flexible working four-day weeks instead of what has happened traditionally, where women go in looking for a three-day week and a man stays at a five-day week, with all of the implications that has. The Minister now has a model through the gender pay gap reporting mechanism. Can we think about how we could extend that to look at how often men are looking for flexible working also - whether that can be documented and noted in annual reports or anything of that kind - to try to get a picture of what that might look like for the future?

I am aware that work is ongoing in the area of flexible working. Some of that is through my Department and some is through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I believe that a monitoring element would be really useful in the context of getting the take-up. We have seen a huge increase in the take-up of parental leave by both parents. Whereas originally and pre-pandemic it was primarily just mothers, now we are seeing a lot of fathers taking that leave, which is positive.

On childminding and the regularisation discussion, it is estimated that about 10% of the undocumented migrants who have the opportunity to be regularised through that scheme are actually working in the childcare sector. I believe that the vast majority of those are probably childminding. The work the Government is doing today on that will allow these people to regularise their situation and, hopefully in terms of the work we are doing on the childminding action plan, give them a stable career going forward.

Childcare Services

Colm Burke


14. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on the need for a career structure to be put in place for staff in the childcare sector in recognition of their vital work and the value of such work not only to the economy but to the development of children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59202/21]

I will follow on from the earlier debate on the career structure to be put in place for staff in the childcare sector in recognition of their vital work and the value of such work, not only to the economy but also to the development of children. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

I raise this issue from the point of view of the survey that was done which shows the lack of appropriate career structure, insecure employment and high rates of staff turnover. Will the Minister give his views on that please?

It is important for service providers to have flexibility in staffing arrangements and in how they structure their organisations. I also believe that a career structure will be necessary to support the further professionalisation of the sector and to make careers in the sector more attractive. Establishing clear and supported career pathways is important in improving the recruitment and retention of staff and in enhancing practitioners' continued professional development, both of which better support outcomes for children. Putting in place a career structure will involve giving clarity on the different roles and services, as well as on the tasks and qualification requirements for those roles. It also will involve identifying and supporting career pathways for individuals to progress their careers within the sector. These are all elements that will form part of the workforce plan that I will publish in the next number of weeks.

Work began in 2019 on developing a workforce plan for the sector. The processes involved extensive engagement with sectoral representatives, as well as a public consultation process. The workforce plan will set out actions to achieve related commitments in the First 5 strategy, including: a graduate-led workforce by 2028; development of a career framework; a national infrastructure for continuing professional development; and strengthening leadership development opportunities. I will shortly publish the workforce plan, which has been developed in parallel with the work of the expert group on the funding model. Commitments in the workforce plan are expected to complement the development of the core funding stream that was committed to in budget 2022.

Another element of a career structure is the rates we pay. It is vital to recognise the value of the work, with higher rates of pay for those with greater responsibilities or higher qualifications. While the State is not the employer and I have no power to set wage rates, I have already referred to the process I began last December that has led to the recent establishment of a joint labour committee. With this process now in place and with the backing of the new core funding stream from September 2022, I believe there is a real prospect of improvements in pay rates in this sector. I am looking forward to progressing the expert group and the workforce development plan in the next week or two.

I believe that the Minister will agree there is a very high turnover of staff in this area. Has the Department done research on this? What areas has the Department identified? What must we do now to ensure we do not have such high turnover? In his response to me, the Minister referred to people who are highly qualified. They are moving on to other jobs. I have come across people who have qualifications in childcare and who are not going into the sector because it is not attractive to them. It is important, therefore, that we have the proper structure and the proper pay in place. We also need to make sure that there is continuity and people do not feel they must leave because it is no longer a viable proposition for them to stay in the sector. Perhaps the Minister will further outline his Department's knowledge in this area and the research the Department has done.

The Deputy is absolutely right. Just like him, I too have met constituents and young people, primarily young women, who have done the four years of a level 7 or level 8 course, and who then decided not to go into the sector because they did not see that career pathway for them. As the Deputy noted, the issues are primarily pay and conditions. Childcare professionals are not paid enough and the conditions are not adequate. This is why we have such staff turnover. The Deputy asked about research on this. In 2020, the turnover was 18% across the sector, which is very significant. It has an impact on the young people who have done all the study and then do not feel there is a future for them. There is also an impact on the children because they are continuously meeting new childcare professionals in their service. The bond they create, which is very important for the learning element of early learning and care, is not being established. We are very aware of the problems. Pay and conditions are the key elements. The work we are doing with the workforce development plan and funding of the joint labour committee are how we are responding to that.

On the joint labour committee, which was set up by the Minister of State, Deputy English, will the Minister update the House on the engagement with that at this stage?

We are bringing in a sick pay scheme and it seems many of these workers cannot actually avail of that scheme because they have to sign on, and they do not build up enough time. Will the Minister comment on what are the plans to change that?

It is my understanding that childcare professionals will be able to avail of the sick pay scheme on which the Tánaiste is working at the moment. I can certainly touch base with him on that. My Department has been in constant touch with the Tánaiste because we are aware that the lack of sick pay, particularly in light of the current crisis, has been a major issue for the sector. I am happy to touch base further, but that is certainly the assumption we have been working on. While pay is absolutely important, conditions are also really important. Nobody should be coming in sick to work but particularly not childcare professionals given the vulnerability of the children they work with.

The joint labour committee is an independent process. It has been established. I got the ball rolling with the pre-process we engaged in. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has now called sides together through the Labour Court. It is now up to the Labour Court to oversee this process, by bringing together the five union representatives and the five employer representatives. I would urge them all to act quickly because we have made financial provision to deliver this.

Youth Services

Brendan Griffin


15. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department will consider a new capital programme for new community youth facilities in areas in which no such facilities exist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59374/21]

This question relates to how we could provide more facilities in our communities. I am conscious that our towns and villages are full of derelict buildings that potentially could be renovated and made available for young people as youth cafes or centres where young people could go and hang out to have some place to go on weekend nights. Many towns and villages around the State do not have those facilities at the moment.

My Department works very closely with young people and representatives of organisations serving young people to make decisions around the prioritisation of available Exchequer funding. Their input in recent years has greatly informed budgetary decisions. For the past number of years, the annual capital budget available to youth services has been approximately €3 million. Decisions on the allocation of these funds are made based on an assessment of need at a given time and the consultations I have referenced. The funding is distributed among more than 30 national youth organisations, over 250 funded UBU Your Place Your Space youth services, and more than 1,500 youth clubs funded by my Department.

At present, youth clubs and services are largely operating from shared community facilities, their own premises or rented accommodation. This reflects, for many, the age profile of young people being served which is schoolgoing, and the part-time requirements for accommodation.

In recent years, capital funding for physical infrastructure has been provided in relation mainly to minor works, equipment, ICT and as a contribution to local authorities for the development of playground facilities. In 2020 and 2021, works to adapt outdoor spaces, ventilation, sanitary upgrades and other Covid-19 related refurbishments were eligible for funding. This enabled both the move to increase our online working with young persons and to create suitable spaces for meeting in person. The capital allocation for 2022 will be finalised over the coming weeks.

I appreciate the work that is going on and good work being done.

There is an opportunity in respect of towns and villages throughout the country, where there are many derelict buildings. There is a massive opportunity from a housing perspective but also to provide the types of buildings and facilities we know are needed. I refer in particular to former pubs and shops. Our towns and villages are dotted with such buildings that are boarded up. Community organisations are there and, with a capital injection, they will run those places and make them available. The capital injection is the key to joining the dots. That would be a very ambitious and progressive programme.

As I said earlier, we need a collaboration with sporting organisations in respect of the sports capital programme for organisations that want to provide youth-specific spaces in their clubs and facilities. It would be money wisely invested and we would not have to reinvent the wheel. Many of the social organisations are there, as is the infrastructure. It just needs a capital injection.

We are always looking to support innovative and co-operative work with youth organisations and other sectors as well. My capital budget in this area is not huge - I have to be upfront about that - and much of it at the moment is being spent on supporting existing services and maintenance. Many of the buildings in youth services are old and we are backing them up. What I have been able to grow quite significantly over the past two years is our current budget. Almost the opposite to what the Deputy was saying, perhaps we could get local authorities or something along those lines to examine buildings or derelict sites they have identified where there could be co-operation. We have additional current funding to start running services. Six new UBU services were set up this year and I hope we can get eight next year through the additional €5 million we have invested in youth services. There are ways for people to work together and I am always happy to engage on those points.

It is important to acknowledge the Department of Rural and Community Development and what it is planning to do with former bank buildings and other such facilities to create innovation hubs and spaces that are beneficial to communities. Young people should not be left behind and should be included in those plans. There is a strong case for that Department to get additional capital funding to help, either solely or in a collaborative way, to provide those types of facilities. Whether it is done through that Department or through some sort of a formal collaboration with the Department of Rural and Community Development or even local government, getting spaces for young people to hang out, have somewhere to go and be safe is really important in every town and village. There are many towns and villages throughout the country where young people do not have anywhere to go. They hang out on street corners and, inevitably, end up in trouble. Having those spaces to go to and to be safe in is very important.

I concur with Deputy Griffin's final point. Throughout the country, there are youth organisations that have nowhere to go. Has the Department considered engaging schools that are closed? Some of them, which often have fantastic facilities the State has paid for, lie idle at night and on weekends, when young people could use them. Throughout the country, in towns and villages, they are there. Will the Minister give some thought to that and engage with schools? It would not cost a lot.

Minibuses are something youth organisations keep telling me they would like to have to get out of the club and into the countryside. Is there a fund through which they can apply to get that kind of facility?

I agree with all that has been said. Whether it is through the Minister’s Department or whatever, we need an audit of buildings that are lying idle in order to determine which of them can be used better. We need also to build in the wider question of those youth supports and an audit of those projects and services that operate and where the gaps are. I have said previously to the Minister that we need to deal with those absolutely necessary family supports. That is a vital matter. At times really good projects have been in operation but their remit has been widened and we have lost the thrust. I will continue that conversation later with the Minister.

I support the thrust of this question. The one thing we have learned from Covid is that we are going to do things differently. We have seen that young people need supports, particularly after Covid. Unfortunately, we could be living with Covid for a long time, so we need to enhance facilities, schools, GAA and soccer clubs. I have noticed in my community that many of the youth facilities finish at 5 p.m. and do not operate in the evenings, at night or at weekends. That is when young people need to be engaged with. The derelict sites levy is not being enforced by the local authorities. It is the tool to force these landlords to use those buildings, and youth facilities could be a part of that.

My Department has strongly supported young people throughout the pandemic with a range of supports, in particular financially. We provided an additional €5 million in both budget 2021 and budget 2022. We have continued to provide those financial supports in order that we can have more services. I visited the Kilkenny and Ossory youth services, based in Kilkenny city. Under its UBU, it has a mandate to provide rural youth services in a range of towns and villages throughout rural County Kilkenny. There is a model there.

I fully agree on the point about the use of idle buildings. I am happy to engage with any local authorities or the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Deputy Stanton might revert to me on the transport issue and we can speak about it separately, if that is okay.

Child Poverty

John Lahart


16. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the measures announced as part of budget 2022 to prevent and alleviate poverty during childhood; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59459/21]

Ivana Bacik


17. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans for tackling child poverty; if he plans to support the establishment either of a special Oireachtas committee on the subject or a cross-departmental child poverty unit within the Government. [59435/21]

Mark Ward


24. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the measures being put in place to combat child poverty. [58935/21]

We are running out of time, so I apologise to Deputy Bacik, who has been waiting. She will have time to put her question and get a response, although it will be limited.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister outline his plans and those of his Department to deal with the persistent issue of child poverty in Ireland? In particular, does he intend to establish a special Oireachtas committee on the subject or a cross-departmental child poverty unit? At the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Innovation and Youth, we have been engaging in meetings on child poverty and I have engaged with the Ombudsman for Children, the Children’s Rights Alliance and others. I am conscious the ombudsman has published a report, A Better Normal, seeking to ensure we will have twin goals of eradicating child poverty and eliminating homelessness for children, which are crucial aims.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 17 and 24 together.

I too had a good meeting with the ombudsman about that report and we discussed his ideas in detail. The Department of Social Protection leads on the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020–2025, which is aimed at reducing poverty and improving social inclusion. Under the roadmap, a new child poverty target is being agreed. Addressing child poverty was identified as a priority action under Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures and will remain a priority in the successor framework being developed by my Department.

Significant advancements can be made through my Department’s co-ordination of the EU child guarantee, an important initiative that aims to combat social exclusion by guaranteeing access for children who are in need of a range of key services. I will publish our national action plan for the child guarantee by March next year. The commitments under the guarantee go to the heart of the child poverty agenda, given they deal with free access to early childhood education and care, education, healthcare for children in need, healthy nutrition including a healthy meal each school day and adequate housing.

Tackling child poverty and effectively implementing the child guarantee will require the commitment and active participation of my colleagues across government to ensure it is collaborative, integrated and, ultimately, impactful. As part of the child guarantee process and in developing the successor national policy framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, I will engage with my Cabinet colleagues to consider the most appropriate and effective structures to pursue the reforms necessary to improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged children.

As for child poverty-focused structures, I have an open mind on the question of an Oireachtas committee or other form of co-ordination mechanism. My Department recently established a new EU and international unit, which, among other responsibilities, will lead on the co-ordination across government of the necessary actions emerging from the EU child guarantee. This will enable us to pursue a coherent agenda in regard to child poverty.

I welcome the announcement of that special unit and the process under way on the EU child guarantee, which is so important. I welcomed also the announcement today by the Minister for Justice on the regularisation of undocumented scheme. I have been working with the Migrant Rights Centre, the Immigrant Council, Labour Youth and other organisations for some time and have constructively engaged with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on that. I am conscious that will really help and support many children who currently live in very precarious positions and in poverty.

Will the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, consider a more targeted focus on tackling child poverty? I am conscious that in Britain, there was a model in the early years of the New Labour Government whereby a child poverty unit was established in Whitehall to target funding and resources with those twin aims of eradicating child poverty and child homelessness.

We know investment in early years and early childhood care and education is also crucial, and is, in fact, the key measure necessary to tackle child poverty. We have heard that from the experts who have appeared before us in the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. We are very anxious to see a public and universal access childcare and early years education scheme being rolled out by the Government. We will work with the Minister on that. We have been pushing for an equal early years campaign on that. We would welcome any further and urgent steps being taken in that regard.

I see the successor strategy to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures as being hugely important. There is always the decision of whether to go narrow and centralise the decision-making process or make it broad and ensure all parts of government are acting towards it. That is that balancing element. Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the policy framework that is ending now, has been really successful, but I have been clear that in a successor I want child poverty eradication to be central and to play an even greater role. I want to ensure that that is reflected across all Departments.

The EU child guarantee is going to be located within that, but while the guarantee is perhaps a response to the most acute levels of poverty, we have to understand that the levels of disadvantage are perhaps broader than those addressed by it. That is where the successor national policy framework will be really beneficial. We can continue to engage on the issue as we go forward.