Child Care Services.

I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, for coming into the House to take this motion. In 2001 Ballymote Community Child Care Company Limited lodged its application with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for capital and staff funding for a new play group building providing a morning and afternoon session. Following discussions with the Sisters of Mercy, it donated a new site for which planning permission was sought and granted.

In January 2002 Area Development Management Limited met with members of the group to assess its grant application and plans. Some weeks later Area Development Management contacted the group about the grant application and advised it to apply for funding to provide a full day care facility. The group was reluctant to do so but Area Development Management implied that the grant would be looked on more favourably if it did so. A needs assessment survey carried out in a four mile radius of Ballymote indicated that there was a demand for full day child care and an even greater need for before and after school child care.

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this with the Minister. There are many such applications before the Department but I wish to impress upon him the importance of this application. A total of 28 people who worked in the playgroup and availed of training went on to full-time employment. The proposed new child care facility will provide employment for 18 people. It will offer 200 play group places per week; 55 full day care places for one to three year olds; 50 places per week for three to four year olds; and 72 places per week for before and after school care. The application speaks for itself and there is no doubt about the demand. I ask the Minister at his earliest convenience to ensure that this project gets off the ground.

I thank Senator Scanlon for raising this matter. The equal opportunities child care programme 2000-06, a seven year inclusive programme, facilitates the further development and expansion of child care facilities to assist people in reconciling their child care needs with participation in employment, training and education. The programme makes capital grant assistance available to community-based and not-for-profit groups or organisations and self-employed or private providers to build, renovate, upgrade or equip child care facilities. The programme also makes grant assistance available towards the staffing costs of community-based and not-for-profit child care facilities which have a clear focus on disadvantage and support disadvantaged families who are in work, training or education. It also makes available funding under a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing the quality of child care provision.

The programme's guidelines lay out the criteria against which capital grant applications and staffing grant applications are appraised. These include the socio-economic and demographic profile of the area; the quality of the proposal; the capacity of the applicant group to implement the project; the level of integration and co-ordination with existing services to avoid duplication; and value for money. Area Development Management Limited which is employed by my Department to carry out the day to day administration of the programme, undertakes a thorough assessment of all applications to ensure that they meet the programme's criteria. In addition, all large-scale capital grant applications undergo an intensive appraisal by an independent external building specialist. All applications are then considered by the programme appraisal committee, chaired by my Department, before I make the final decision on the committee's recommendations.

Funding of almost €437 million has been made available by the European Union and the Exchequer under the National Development Plan 2000-06. To date, of that €437 million, €258.6 million has been approved for capital, staffing and quality improvement projects. Much of the remaining funding will be required to meet the ongoing supports to projects until the programme ends. My Department has carried out a thorough review of the programme with a particular emphasis on the capital programme. The review shows that every county has benefited from considerable support for new child care facilities under the equal opportunities child care programme. In all, funding to create some 28,300 new places has been approved. This will, when fully drawn down, bring an increase of 50% in the number of centre-based child care places throughout Ireland since the start of the programme in 2000. Included in the total figures I mentioned earlier are approvals for the creation for 508 new child care places and the support of 338 existing places in County Sligo.

The equal opportunities child care programme originally set aside over €140 million capital funding to create new and enhanced child care places. The review is also looking at all existing financial commitments under the programme to ensure that all capital projects which have already received grant allocations will proceed. The amount now being set aside for capital grant assistance is increasing by about €16 million to €157 million and a further additional amount will be made available shortly following the conclusion of some technicalities by the BMW regional assembly. This additional funding was made available in recognition of the programme's success to date and its capacity to develop and support quality child care. The public investment is also directly levering some private investment in the sector, estimated at approximately €14 million. I must be sure that all funding already committed, and yet to be committed, can be fully drawn down by the end of the programme, which is end 2007 for much of the investment.

Given the time constraints on the programme and the need to commit the remaining capital to those projects which best meet the programme's targets I asked Area Development Management to carry out a thorough appraisal of all capital projects in the pipeline to determine which projects will best meet the programme criteria, including geographical location, the range of services being offered and value for money.

The application for capital grant assistance received from Ballymote Community Child Care is being assessed in the context of the outcome of the detailed programme review. In addition, as the group's application for staffing grant assistance relates directly to the capital grant application, it will be considered following the completion of the appraisal process of the capital grant application. I have asked Area Development Management to undertake this thorough appraisal of all capital projects on hand as quickly as possible and I hope that my Department will be in a position to bring forward completed appraisals and recommendations soon. The programme has been such a success that I hope to persuade my colleagues in Government to create an additional programme to run after the 2007 deadline so that this will not be a line of funding moving towards a sunset. It has been so successful that there is a very strong case to extend it beyond that period but that decision must be taken by Government as a whole in the light of budgetary circumstances which have yet to be examined.