We proceed to consideration of amendment No. 164b in the name of Deputy Fennell. Amendment No. 176b is cognate.
I move amendment No. 164b:
In page 18, subsection (1), line 16, after "Education" to insert "and the Minister for the Environment".
I move this amendment because I am aware that for people running pre-school play groups, day centres, crï¿½ches or Montessori classes, planning comes under the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment. This has come through very clearly and I feel it would be useful and important if the Minister for the Environment had an interest, or if he consulted with the Minister for Education.
The effect of these amendments would be to require the Minister for Health, before making regulations in relation to pre-school services or children's residential services, to consult with both the Minister for Education and the Minister for the Environment. I accept that this might be useful and I am prepared to accept these amendments.
We proceed to consideration of amendment No. 165 in the name of Deputy Yates. Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 are related and 168 is an alternative. With your agreement, amendments Nos. 165, 166, 167 and 168 will be discussed together. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 165:
In page 18, subsection (2), between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following paragraph:
"(d) set out minimum requirements for the educational qualifications of professionals working in pre-schools.".
This is an addition to the Bill and it relates to the regulations that are to be set out for pre-school services as already defined. What the Minister has in subsection (2) (a), (b) and (c) deals with everything from lighting, heating, ventilation and repairs to the enforcement of the regulations and payment of fees. I am seeking to add to "set out minimum requirements for the educational qualifications of professionals working in pre-schools". It is only reasonable that when children are at such a vital age of their development they should benefit from the teaching and care of professionals. Therefore I think this is a necessary safeguard for those children who are enjoying these pre-school services.
Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 also deal with the school environment, particularly amendment No. 167 where I am seeking that there would be a pupil/ teacher ratio of sorts so that you would not have, for example, 50 small children in one room with one teacher. There must be some limit. It is for the regulations to determine whether that ratio should be 12:1 or 5:1 or 15:1, but I feel that the ratio should be included in the regulations. These are all important additions to strengthen this legislation and to ensure that our pre-school services are of the highest possible standard.
I support this amendment and wish to emphasise to the Minister how absolutely essential it is that we mention them explicitly in this section of the Bill. The quality of a pre-school play group is not how wonderful the toys are or how beautiful the decor is; it is to do with the educational qualifications of the people who run it and who are involved in it and the ratio of personnel to children. I ask the Minister to look at section 45 (2) (c) which has the ratio between the number of children and the number of staff and the qualifications of staff built in. I suggest to the Minister that if he needs it in that section he certainly needs it in this one as well, and I ask him to accept these amendments.
I wish to support strongly these amendments because they are the foundation of good pre-school education. They are also an acknowledgment and an answer to the request of all the pre-school associations who would like their professionalism and their work to be truly valued and enforced. I take it that under the regulations here, although it is not actually written in, you have provisions regarding heating, light, ventilation, cleanliness etc. Space is also important because no more than large pupil/teacher ratios one can have children congregated in a very small space and children of that age certainly need even more space than older children. Is the actual space that will be allocated to the numbers of children allowed within one pre-school area actually covered or will it be covered under the regulations?
I welcome the fact that for the first time we are addressing this very important issue. Deputies will recall the furore at the time of the debate on the age of intake when a previous administration proposed to raise the age for entry to primary schools. Much serious consideration was given for the first time to the quality of nursery or pre-school education at that time. It emerged that we, rather uniquely in the developed world, have no State-sponsored, State-funded nursery education as an integral part of our education system.
What we are doing is putting down regulations which will, by necessity, be almost second best because they should be an integral part of the national education system. This would be monitored by the Department of Education directly, funded by the Department of Education directly and available to all citizens across the country. Unfortunately, we are not going to do that but, at least, let us do what is proposed in this section and added to by the amendments, that is, to lay down some clear-cut enforceable regulations to insist on standards in relation to basics. It is a great irony that under the Factories Act adults had minimum rights of ventilation and safety. Children, on the other hand, because of the lack of provision are often "educated", really minded, sometimes herded together in sheds and garages and rooms. This occurs notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of pre-schools around the country are excellent. However, there were many gaps in the system. There was a huge difference in standards sometimes in the same towns, cities and streets.
I very much welcome this new provision in this section and I strongly support the amendments which require professional standards for educators. We are talking about the most vulnerable people. There is always an educational debate saying that we actually link our formal education into the worst possible ages when children have gone beyond the level of their best ability to learn and have yet to reach the time of their life when they are most motivated to learn. It is not the norm in most of the developed world that there would not be some form of educative interaction at a pre-school level. The least we can do is to structure what exists in an orderly way and provide for minimum standards.
May I move my amendment now?
You can move it later in chronological order but we will discuss it now.
It is a great credit to the Chairman that progress has been made in this legislation. Whether that is been attributed to the recent judgment in the Supreme Court — at least I hope it is — where it says that a modern children's Act is essential. Let us bear that in mind for the rest of the debate because every other day one sees the problems in one's own area and no proper legislation to deal with it. It is very important that this legislation be processed as quickly as possible.
In this context of pre-schooling we are talking about conditions and so forth and the qualifications of people running the pre-schools that may be in the context also of observing where children are being ill-treated. I am well aware of pre-schools in my own town of Mallow and excellent work is being done there. However, there may be no consciousness of other things to do. For that reason the amendment, which I propose to move when the time comes, is that the Act should prescribe the requirements as to the educational, professional or other qualifications required for persons working in pre-school services. It is reasonable to put that into the legislation. Pre-schooling is going to be very important in the future, as it is at present, and we should try to create that awareness and consciousness among those who are providing that service.
I would like to make one or two observations and ask Deputy Yates a question. Overall, we have the welfare of pre-school children at heart. It is a matter that is vital especially from a rural constituency point of view. It is very important for the rural women and their families and it is something I am very interested in. I have been involved in community play groups and community play schools and I would say to Deputy Yates that I have my reservations about his amendment No. 165, on the minimum requirements for the educational qualifications of professionals working in pre-schools. We may be putting a damper on some very good play groups and pre-schools that are in existence. As pointed out by Deputy Howlin, there are some excellent ones run by clergy and women's groups that get together and consult with their local authority and with the health board with regard to requirements needed. I have a slight reservation on that whether we expect all play groups teachers to have certificates or diplomas in child care or degrees or Ph.Ds.
In regard to the other fears expressed by the members, the health, safety and well-being of the children would be vital matters. The fact that they should have adequate space and ventilation and a safe place to play are important. I would hope, however, that consultations would take place with the educational authorities, the Minister or the relevant inspectors and that the local authorities would be used in relation to the provision of any educational requirements for play-groups. Also, as we all know, in applications for planning permission for conversion of garages etc. local authorities especially can enforce regulations that adequate space or facilities would be made available for these types of play groups. It would be through consultation with the Minister for Health, the local authorities and the Department of the Environment that these would also be adhered to. Although our care facilities must be of a high standard I have reservations that we may be over-stepping the mark when it comes to qualifications for those who may want to organise or be leaders in those play groups.
I have listened with interest to the contributions. There are two main issues in these amendments. Amendments Nos. 165, 167 and 168 seek to include references to the qualifications of staff working in pre-school services. Amendment No. 167 also proposes that there be a reference to staffing ratios in the regulations. The first point I would like to make is that the list of matters set out at section 36 (2) (a) is not intended to be exhaustive. What is listed are some of the main items that may be dealt with in regulations. As the introduction to the subsection makes clear, this is without prejudice to the power of the Minister to impose requirements in relation to other matters not mentioned here.
There are certain difficulties about prescribing staffing ratios and minimum qualifications for staff in the pre-school area. In the first place, the fact is that there is no uniformity in staffing ratios or qualifications of staff in the services that exist at present. The sudden enforcement of strict requirements could throw those services into chaos. This difficulty has been recognised by various working parties that have examined this area over the years. All of them have urged that standards be raised gradually to avoid widespread disruption if not the closure of existing services. Deputy Coughlan has touched the nub of the problem. It is this type of step by step approach that the Minister for Health intends to adopt. Rushing in and fixing essential qualifications and minimum staffing levels could cause havoc, and that is one thing we all want to avoid. It is for this reason that I have reservations about imposing minimum qualifications, standards or maximum child/staff ratios.
I would like to quote from a document — Irish Women — Agenda for Practical Action — which emanated under the auspices of our good colleague, Deputy Nuala Fennell, when she was Minister of State for Women's Affairs. I have to say it is a good document. I would like to quote from chapter 5.27, which recommended: "The immediate focus of attention should be on adequate standards of physical safety, fire safety, ventilation, etc. with the important issues of child/staff ratio and size of centre also being addressed as the next key area of action". I want to say that against that background we have included that here and we were in tandem with what they recommended.
With regard to amendment No. 166 there may be some confusion as to the purpose of subsection (3). This enables the Minister to impose different requirements for different types of pre-school services or to exempt certain types of services from certain aspects of the regulations. This is necessary given the wide variety of services that are covered by the definition of pre-school service, ranging from pre-school play groups operating for a few hours per day to nurseries and crï¿½ches providing full day care. What the Minister requires is the power to make different provisions if this appears necessary. However, it would not make sense to require the Minister to make different provisions as the amendment proposes. I would ask Deputy Yates to reconsider the need for amendment No. 166.
The good news is I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 166. The bad news is that on amendment No. 167 I can see no case for not having an outer limit on the number of children that should be cared for in a play group. It really does not matter how nice Mrs. Murphy, who is running the play group, is how well thought of she is in the community, or what an invaluable service she is providing, if she is stretched to the limit trying to mind too many children, it is not acceptable. If anything went wrong everyone would turn around and ask what would be the minimum standard required. It is absolutely essential that a maximum ratio be set. I feel very strongly about amendment No. 167.
Deputy Sherlock's amendment No. 168 and amendment No. 165 are essentially the same, that is they deal with minimum requirements and qualifications of the professionals working in these areas. This is a matter of judgment. We should not make apologies about trying to set high standards. There is a need to establish nationally accepted certificates which would be the minimum standard and let play groups across the country be given a certain time to conform to that in the implementation of that standard. I do not think we should have anad hoc or laisser faire arrangement where health boards or parents do not necessarily know what the content of the work or the care is in such play groups. It is better to grasp this nettle than ignore it because it might cause interim problems. I feel there should be some minimum standards and that we must have a maximum ratio of children to staff, otherwise there could be chaos.
I do not think we can reiterate this point strongly enough. What Deputy Yates says holds true. We should not have a ceiling on the professional qualifications of those who train our children because when children are six years of age we demand a very high level of qualification and professionalism from our teachers, of which I think we are very proud. In the children's five formative years, some psychologists would say two-thirds of real learning is absorbed during those years — we should have the same kind of regulation and qualifying standards. We have waited long enough for this legislation. I want to pay tribute and to acknowledge the skilled, qualified, people who are already working in the community, who do not get any State support or recognition for doing this highly qualified job. Secondly, I would point out, as somebody who taught young children, that skill is demanded to help in the development and the teaching of good social skills to children of that age. Indeed, a person needs far more energy to teach younger than older children. We must give our children the right start.
This legislation has been long awaited and it is essential that we include the prescribed ratio of children and staff, as Deputy Yates said, and the necessary qualifications for staff. I would also agree that there should be an interim period during which people could work for diplomas in child care and child training.
One of the things that appalls me is that we do not demand statutory qualifications for teachers and child carers. This is an indictment of the State. That is something else we have to look at very carefully. Above all we must write into the section the qualifications and the proper child/staff ratios. I have been distracted, with great pleasure, with Deputy Coughlan's suggestion that the clergy are running pre-school play groups at the moment. I wish the bishops and priests of this country were actively engaged in organising and running play groups and we might have a different attitude to family planning. I would travel anywhere in Donegal to see a bishop or a priest running a play group.
You have an open invitation to Donegal to see play groups.
On the amendment, I must say I have great sympathy with Deputy Coughlan. A lot of what I said in the last contribution and what I am going to say now would probably be more appropriate if we were discussing an Education Act and, hopefully, in the fullness of time, an Education Bill will also come before the Houses of the Oireachtas and that it will not take quite as long as the Child Care Bill took to materialise.
I have very strong views on the whole area of pre-school education. I have already said I think it is wrong, fundamentally, that it is not part of the formal, State system, funded so that we can regulate curriculum, training, standards and have a consistency across the country. Even after the enactment of this, we will not have that, because we are not going to actually have a cohesive national-funded system. There will be many children in this country who will have no access to pre-school and, in the main, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are doubly disadvantaged before they reach primary school at formal level. The have been given handicaps which many of them will never overcome. I have the strongest possible views on that and it is accepted as the most serious single factor in compounding inequalities in our society. This Bill is not going to address that but I hope some Minister for Education, in due course, will put a Bill before us that will address that fundamental problem. In the meantime, let us make the best we can of what is before us. Let us deal then as far as we can with the provisions we are putting down.
I have never taught in an infants' school but I have the greatest of admiration for the teachers. They require the greatest skills, not the lesser skills which a lot of people believe. I remember a comment being made to a teacher when she was moved from infants' class to teach sixth class: "You got promotion". The reality is that the skills, the patience required and the tact required are infinitely greater at the lower end of the primary school, rather than at the senior end. It is incumbent on us then to look again at the younger child before he starts the formal system of education.
There is a great deal of proper curriculum that is required and a huge amount of research from Piaget onwards that have laid out a curriculum for infant schools and pre-schools and the learning process through play. That is not haphazard. We have the view that we can run a play school and just get the children in, get a few pictures and a few balloons and we will amuse them. That goes on in many play schools and it does not constitute education. There is no reason we cannot make provision at least for standards and qualifications that would provide education as far as practicable to as many of our young people as is possible. Therefore, there should be some standard required of those who undertake to run a play school.
If we are going to impose such conditions the State obviously, has a responsibility to provide in-service training and courses to those who wish to undertake this work. That should be assisted and that should be funded by the State as well. I would like those who have initiative, enthusiasm and a natural affinity with children and who want to be involved at this level of education, to be afforded the opportunity to do some sort of training programme that would enable them to involve themselves in this area in a structured way.
What Deputy Yates is asking in his amendment — and indeed what Deputy Sherlock is asking in his amendment, which is more or less the same thing — is to put in place, in a structured way, a training programme for professionals in the area. I know it requires money ultimately from the State but there is nothing more important than the formative education of our children. By that single action we could take a step in breaking down inequality. I spent a great number of years involved in primary education, involved in the work of family support units and looking at how they operate. I cannot stress that enough. I again stress my support for amendment No. 165.
There are lovely, good honourable people, clergy included, who are involved in this work but what is required, is that there would be standards and a cohesion about it. That is not in any way to downgrade what they are about rather, it is to say how important what they are doing is to us, that we want them to have formal qualifications and standards and that we will assist them to have them. That is a very important part of this section.
As Deputy Yates said he will withdraw amendment No. 166 I will not comment on it. Amendment No. 167 refers to the ratio of numbers, a very important factor. It is very basic and a very fundamental factor that you cannot for safety reasons have too many children in a class. Also, for effective teaching you cannot have too many children in a room and there should be standards laid down to govern that in a formal way.
Quite frankly, we do not have what I would like to see — a State-funded nursery education system in this country. What we do have is a commercial pre-school education system where many people are charged for it. If it is a commercial undertaking there is actually a pressure of sorts to increase the numbers and I do not think that is a very desirable thing in itself. There may well be a few who will take a commercial view of it and seek to provide numbers that are not viable. I think we should have standards in that regard. I support amendments Nos. 165 and 167.
I do not want to go over all the same ground that was gone over in the contribution. I ask the Minister to continue the kind of give-and-take he had at the beginning of this session and realise the thinking and the thrust of these two important amendments. They are worthy of serious consideration. What we should be doing, and we have an obligation as legislators to do, is to give protection to children through their parents. Parents do not know what to look for when they are looking for a pre-school group or a Montessori school. Even at present they believe that they are protected. Many parents do not realise there is no statutory protection now or standards laid down in any legislation. What happens at the moment is that there is the considerable influence of the Irish Pre-School Play Group Association who have brought out their own standards and their own requirements, and full marks to them for doing that. I hate to think what the situation would be if they had not done that. I ask the Minister to consider this again because the qualifications of the people dealing with these very small children are important.
Even more important, in my opinion, is the need to lay down the ratio of personnel to children. Many parents are busy and they go off and they leave their children. How do they know that there are not 50 small children in two rooms with maybe one or two people? The majority of people running pre-school groups are credible, conscientious, concerned people but there are some who are really only interested in the money they can make. They will cut corners if there is not legislation to prevent them doing so. I ask the Minister to look at that one, specifically and to give it serious consideration and to tell me why we have it in the next section of the Bill. Why have you got it under children's residential centres in section 45 (2) (c) and not under this section?
I have listened with great interest to this part of the debate. I should point out that section 36 will now read:
The Minister for Health shall, after consultation with the Ministers for Education and Environment, make regulations for the purpose of securing the health, safety and well-being of and promoting the development of children attending pre-school services.
I would also refer to section 38 again where persons carrying on pre-school services will have to comply with regulations made by the Minister for Health under this Part. We want to have regulations. We are committed to standards but we do not want to over-regulate. This is a very important point. The personal development and well-being of the child are of vital importance. The natural development of children, physically and psychologically before they go into their first regulated educational development at primary school level must be taken into account. If we over-regulate, we will put many of the excellent services that are presently available in pre-schools and nurseries around our country in total jeopardy. We must take that into account.
Deputy Yates referred to Mrs. Murphy. Perhaps I could refer to Mrs. Brown and put the matter in the context of a local authority housing estate. Mrs. Brown lives in a local authority housing estate where there are two or three segments of residential accommodation interspersed and connected with pedestrian walk ways and facilities and where the mothers may not be privileged to have a car at their disposal and their husbands are away at work. They want to take their children to Mrs. Brown's nursery in their own area where there are educational and other services, where there is character formation and an opportunity for their children to grow and develop together. If we over-regulate Mrs. Brown may be told: "Close down; we do not accept you here because you have four children too many in your group." There must be flexibility. If we over-regulate we are going to deprive more children of pre-school services than by regulating in a standard, uniform way. I would ask the Committee to take that into account and not to press these amendments.
Unfortunately we have no choice but to press these amendments because the Minister has shown no desire to reconsider this area, no desire to do anything. In fact all his points are negatived in relation to making it obligatory and over-regulating by my withdrawing amendment No. 166 which was seeking that there should be different regulations. Section 36 (3) provides of course for different regulations for Mrs. Brown and for Mrs. Murphy. We are talking about minimum standards. If we do not take the opportunity now, there is no hope for these people. I am certainly pressing Nos. 165 and 167.
We cannot over-emphasise the importance of this. There must be minimum standards for all the reasons we are giving. If the planning authorities insisted, as indeed the Commission on the Status of Women of 1972 asked, that no planning permision would be given in a housing estate over a certain number of houses without a space being given by the developer, be he local authority or a private developer, for a communal play school, we would have the space and the ratio available. When we are talking about housing estates with Mrs. Brown, we are talking about housing estates where there are next to no support given. I would put it to the Minister that what this legislation has to be all about is some indication from the State that we are going to fund the training of teachers and the allocation of properly qualified staff for pre-schools within the communities where they cannot pay for it themselves. We should be going for the maximum standard and not be hitting rock bottom with the lowest. I would like to think that this is a foundation on which we are going to build a network of pre-school services. The Minister talked about education — a play group, a sand pit: that is fine, that is kids playing together. We are talking about the formative developmental age for children where space, ratio and qualification skills are needed. Children of that age need more skilled, qualified staff than older children do who have got resources of their own. Unless we adopt that as a fundamental principle, you can throw this section out.
Earlier on in this debate and indeed many times reference had been made to the professional coalition group on child care. I would just briefly refer to it here. I had not intended but I think it is important that we do refer to it. They say it is not the function of the Bill to establish standards and training — this is in reference to amendments Nos. 165 and 168 — but it is the function of the Bill to establish the standards and level of service, as the Bill already provides for consultations between the Ministers for Health and Education, and as it is its function to establish standards in child care, then it seems logical that the minimum qualifications be set up. That is reasonable and I would use that in strengthening the argument. They make the point that amendment No. 168 would be favoured as against No. 165 which is less comprehensive. On No. 167, I agree with the ratio. I wonder what Deputy Yates has to say on that question.
I take the point that we should not have a repeated series of votes. I think Nos. 165 and 168 are much the same but we could get over this if the Minister would reconsider his position and say that he would come back with a better worded amendment, but his intransigence is making it very difficult to progress.
I would fully subscribe to the aspiration of Deputy Howlin, which I am sure is shared by everybody around the table, for a national scheme to be established and incorporated fully into the national programme for primary education. I have spoken on that on numerous occasions and I would endorse it fully. However, in the absence of that I have listened very carefully to the sentiments that have been expressed and the theories that have been put forward and I cannot quibble very greatly with much of what has been said because it would appear to be borne out by psychological research over the years. I would caution however, and I think it is a caution that has been articulated both by the Minister and by Deputy Coughlan, about going down the road too quickly for minimum standards because, in the absence of a national scheme, if this amendment is pushed and should it be successful, the very effect you are trying to create will be lost. I share Deputy Howlin's concern about the disadvantage being suffered by children without means. That disadvantage is borne out by the Head Start programme research in the United States and elsewhere. If you push this amendment you make that head start more acute in the absence of a national scheme because the only way you can ensure an even, fair and balanced programme of child care right across the community is by way of a national scheme in the long term.
In the long term. It is not going to be done in the short term. We have no evidence it is going to be done in the short term. That is a matter for the Minister for Education not for the Minister for Health. What I am saying is that, in the absence of that, to push an amendment like this is in effect to ensure that those people who have been deprived of pre-school services up to now are going to remain so for the foreseeable future, since you will not have a qualified person coming into many of those estates referred to because simply it will not be economically viable for them to do so. I would caution Deputy Howlin about throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Deputy Sherlock quoted from the coalition on child care. It is not the function of the Bill to establish standards and training. I point out to this Committee that——
They also say they agree with the amendments.
They also serve who only stand and wait and sit and wait. What I would say is that, our job is to look after the health and well-being of the children. We are not in the education business. That is a matter for the Department of Education and we must have a clear, overall view of that situation. I have listened with interest to the contributions and, listening to the debate, it would seem that the State has neglected this area.
We have made a contribution. Let us be clear on that.
Collective responsibility is very important. I am not in the habit of interrupting anybody and I am not an intransigent person either. I have shown that on several occasions last week. I accepted I would look at something on Report Stage, it still was voted against me and you would think it was my fault the decision was taken. Somebody used the negative but yet I was positive. It is crazy.
I would like to quote again from page 200 of Deputy Fennell's report:
Given continuing constraints in the growth of public expenditure and the cost implications highlighted by the departmental study, the working party does not envisage that the health boards will embark on a countrywide development of child care centres to meet the needs of working parents. The role of the State should be seen in the context of a combined strategy of direct State and State-aided voluntary provision, with the State acting both in a supervisory capacity and in some cases a direct provider of a service to meet situations to which the voluntary sector is unable to respond. This would permit the continued growth of the voluntary sector to allow for a diverse and flexible system——
Something that I am trying to promote here——
——which would seem most appropriate to Irish circumstances. This approach accepts the existence of a range of facilities, different in form, organisation and mode of operation subject, of course, to certain standards of care being met.
I just wanted to give some facts to the committee so that they would understand the situation.
The health boards provide financial assistance for day nurseries, play groups and other pre-school services operated by voluntary bodies. Resources are concentrated in providing services in deprived areas or which cater for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. These would include children of one-parent families, children of chronically ill parents, children from poor emotional and material backgrounds and children whose growth and development are adversely affected by family circumstances.
The provision of child care facilities, other than in the context of specific intervention to promote the welfare of children with particular needs, or at a particular risk, is in the first instance a matter for parents. Other than community-based voluntary play schemes, most provision is made on a commercial basis. It is a matter for employers and employees and their representatives to consider options for child care facilities as an adjunct to employment. The health boards will, however, have a responsibility in relation to the standards obtaining in all pre-school facilities however provided under the terms of this new Bill.
That should clarify the situation pretty well. I hope that we will not divide on this and we will not push this to a vote. I hope that we can allow for the standard regulation rather than over-regulation, so that we can allow the children to develop in a natural, progressive way until they go into the educational system at primary level. I am prepared, in view of what has been said, to have another look at the situation and to come back on Report Stage, if at all possible, with something better.
Amendments Nos. 166aand 166b are cognate and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 166a.
In page 18, subsection (3) (a), line 31, to delete "different" and substitute "appropriate".
I just wanted to consider these because I suppose it is, basically, my suspicious mind Minister when I see described different requirements. I wonder is that totally different from the norm or the procedure that has been accepted for other centres or pre-school groups. I would just ask that that would be the thinking, that it would not be totally different from all the others but that it would be appropriate to the need that it was meeting.
I am advised that the word "different" is the correct word here as it is the word that is used in similar provisions in other Acts. I see no advantage in changing it to "appropriate" and I regret that I will not be able to accept these amendments.
I move amendment No. 169:
In page 18, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The Public Offices Fees Act, 1879, shall not apply in respect of any fees paid under regulations under this section.".
This is a minor technical provision. The Public Office Fees Act provide that fees payable to any public office shall be collected either in cash or by means of stamps. Strictly speaking, therefore, fees cannot be paid by cheque or other negotiable instrument. The purpose of this amendment is to provide that the Act will not apply to the fees payable to persons carrying on pre-school services under section 36 (2) (c) and this is standard practice.
I move amendment No. 169a.
In page 18, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) Regulations under this section shall also apply to after-school care services.".
I move this amendment to ensure that children who are being cared for in a situation where they would have been at a national school and would be waiting for their parents or who are being looked after until their parents collect them, would be included under this Bill. This is because I know that there are a number of children of working parents who are accommodated in pre-school or other centres, and I wonder if they could be included as well.
The difficulty that I have with this amendment is that it is extremely vague and could result in State interference in a whole range of activities in which children are involved after school. For example, is it the intention that various extra curricular activities, organised by school teachers outside school hours, would be subject to regulations by the Minister for Health? Or is it intended that the activities of summer projects and youth clubs would be affected? I ask these questions because the amendment gives no clue as to the meaning of the phrase "after school care", or as to the age up to which children would be subject to the proposed regulations. The amendment is vague and I do not propose to accept it.
I put it in again in consultation with the group of people who were dealing with this issue, because I believe that in the future we are going to see a change in the whole make-up and framework of what we call day care centres for the care of children. In other countries I know that there are children who finish national school, say at 3 o'clock, and will join a centre where there would be what would be called pre-school children or day care children until their parents collect them. I would be willing to reconsider it with a view to having it better defined. When we are talking about the care of children in a Bill like this we should be able to look ahead to where there is a need beginning to emerge. If we can make provision for it in this Bill we should do so. I will be prepared to withdraw the amendment and come back with a better definition.
If children are pre-school children and are attending any of the pre-school services it does not matter what time of the day they are attending them they will be covered by the regulations. I hope that clarifies the situation. They must be pre-school children attending pre-school services in order to be within the regulations.