The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is very welcome. This is the first time I have had an opportunity to congratulate him in the House. I wish him the very best of luck in his endeavours.
I wish to raise the issue of the baby-friendly health initiative, which has been operating in Ireland since 1999, with 100% of maternity hospitals participating. Fifty-three of these hospitals meet the international benchmark. The initiative is very important and is worthy of support. Knowing that a hospital has received or won an international award designating it as baby friendly, which all our maternity hospitals should get, gives a certain comfort to the parents when going in. The initiative is supported by the World Health Organisation. It is the only international benchmark to which Irish hospitals operate. It is particularly disappointing to see that the funding for the baby-friendly health initiative has been withdrawn. There has been a lack of discussion and consultation with the organisers. We are at a stage where we cannot allow this to happen. The baby-friendly health initiative supported the staff in this hospitals and the management to improve their standards, not through a slap of the hand but in co-operation and collaboration. It is certainly the way to go. We are fighting at present to try to increase the breast-feeding rate in Ireland. The rate is very low by European standards. There is only one other country behind us, the United Kingdom. We need to increase our efforts. Currently, 56% of women initiate breast-feeding in our maternity hospitals, but this drops by 10% within 48 hours.
I am certainty interested in hearing the Minister of State's views on this matter. Why has the funding been withdrawn and why are we no longer participating in the baby-friendly health initiative?