Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 7 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Early Childhood Care and Education

Brian Leddin


84. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an update on take-up of the transition payment for early years providers; how effective has the payment been in ensuring financial stability; if he expects similar take-up of core funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36742/22]

I wish to ask the Minister if he will provide an update on take-up of the transition payment for early years providers, how effective has the payment been in ensuring financial stability, if he expects similar take-up of core funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Ensuring financial stability of early learning and childcare services is a priority of Government, as demonstrated by State supports provided to the sector throughout the pandemic that were in excess of €1 billion.

A transition fund is now in place to support providers between May and August 2022.

This fund is designed to support the financial stability of services in the period between the end of Covid-19 supports and ahead of the introduction of the new core funding scheme this September while ensuring that fees to parents do not increase.

I am pleased that approximately 96% of providers have signed up to the transition fund. One measure of financial stability of the sector is the number of services that open and close. Current data on service closures and openings are not markedly different to the trend in previous years. Moreover, the data on service closures identify the wide range of reasons for these closures as reported by providers themselves, including retirement of owners or other personal circumstances. Only a minority are reported to be related to financial stability.

These data indicate that the Covid-19 supports and the transition fund have proven successful in providing financial stability to the sector. The main contractual requirement for the transition fund is that fees remain at or below September 2021 levels for the duration of the scheme. This has provided important financial stability to parents. I am encouraged that providers have shown such willingness to work in partnership with the State toward the shared goal of delivering affordable early learning and childcare for families. The high uptake of the transition fund bodes well for the introduction of core funding in September. This is further underscored by the fact that 89% of providers have now completed a survey, which is the first step to coming into contract for core funding. Core funding is open to all eligible providers, subject to their agreement to the recently published funding agreement. Becoming a core funding partner service is, of course, optional but I look forward to a very high proportion of providers becoming partner services.

I welcome the Minister's answer. I can see that a lot of work has gone into ensuring the financial stability of the early learning and childcare services sector.

I have been contacted by many parents in my constituency in Limerick who are extremely worried about the availability and affordability of the early years schemes. It is reassuring that so many service providers have signed up to the transition fund scheme because it gives a guarantee to parents and carers that fees will not increase above those that were charged in September 2021.

I have also been contacted by many providers in my constituency that want to provide the best service possible for children and their parents, and at the same time ensure that their staff are paid well and have security of income for 52 weeks a year. I thank the Minister for engaging with me and some of the providers and taking on board their worries and challenges. Do I have another minute?

I thought I had two minutes in this slot.

No. The Minister has two minutes and Deputy Leddin has one. He will get another opportunity to come back in.

We had a useful visit to a number of providers in the Deputy's constituency. We were in King's Island and we saw the benefits of early learning and care for young children, in particular from vulnerable areas. We spoke about the additional supports that new funding like the core funding can provide to those services. We know this year that a number of services have registered with Tusla to say they will be expanding their offering come this September. That is important because we want core funding to be in a position to deliver additional places. The Deputy is correct that availability is an issue. Core funding will go some way to improving the availability of services, but we also need to look to the capital programme that my Department is bringing forward. We received funding of €70 million under the national development plan, NDP, to bring forward capital funding and some of that will go on increasing capacity. There is also work in terms of local authority planning guidelines when large developments are made to ensure that the required childcare facilities are delivered. We know that they are not always delivered even though they are often a requirement of planning permission granted.

I thank the Minister for his recent visit to Limerick, especially to King's Island, which is an important example. He mentioned that interest in the core funding is quite high. If I may, I will ask a follow-up question in that regard. I have also received some queries on the topic of core funding mainly in regard to the cohort of smaller services that provide only the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme. The Minister has probably been made aware of that. Some of the providers in my constituency have said that they will not be able to increase salaries and improve living conditions for their staff while also continuing to provide the same quality of service because the new funding model does not take inflation, the stagnant position regarding capitation or increases in running costs into account. Some even fear that their businesses will no longer be viable and that they will have to shut down. What can we do for this cohort of service providers to ensure that jobs are not lost, their staff are paid appropriately and that children get the best possible experience in their early education years?

The ECCE programme remains fundamental to our delivery of early learning and care. That is emphasised by the fact that we are doing an evaluation now. One outcome of that will be to put it on a statutory basis. We want to continue to support our ECCE-only services. We have announced the first year of the core funding package. We recognise that inflation is an issue. When I announced the package on budget day, it was €207 million. It is now €221 million. We increased the overall package of funding to reflect inflation. This is the first year of it and I believe that it will secure the elements of better pay for staff, as we discussed with Deputies earlier, and sustainability of services. In addition, the fee-freeze that we sought in exchange for this additional funding will begin the work of cutting costs for parents. The work will be advanced further in this year's budget through an increase in the national childcare scheme, NCS.

Question No. 85 replied to with Written Answers.

Childcare Provision

Holly Cairns


87. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the childcare supports available to one-parent families. [36287/22]

The recent Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report entitled Headline Poverty Target Reduction in Ireland and the Role of Work and Social Welfare found that lone parents and working-age adults with disabilities experienced distinctively higher rates of income poverty, deprivation and consistent poverty. In light of that, yesterday the Social Democrats tabled a motion calling for action on the cost of disability. Today, I want to highlight the needs of lone parents, who are being overwhelmed by the cost of childcare.

Significant investment is being allocated by the Government to support families, including one-parent families, with the costs of early learning and childcare. Under the ECCE scheme, all children are supported to access up to two years of preschool education without cost, and 95% of eligible children are availing of this programme. Moreover, the NCS is supporting thousands of families to offset their early learning and childcare costs. We undertook a review of the NCS, the results of which were published late last year. The review showed that for the families using it, 38% had more than half of their early learning and childcare costs covered by the scheme; 56% of families had more money to spend due to the scheme; and 28% families were working more because of the scheme, with 8% reporting that they would not be in work without it.

Single parents working part-time or not working were most likely to report they were using paid early learning and childcare or using more hours of early learning and childcare because of the NCS. Approximately half of one-parent families that responded did so. The greatest perceived impacts on work were reported by single parents, with almost two thirds of single parents working part-time and almost half of single parents working full-time, reporting that they were either working or working more because of the NCS. Single parents working full-time were most likely to report that the NCS had a positive impact on family finances. A quarter reported that they had more money to spend because of the scheme, while a further half reported that they had slightly more money to spend.

The review of the NCS was undertaken before the introduction of enhancements that I announced in last year's budget. I believe they will improve the situation further. I recognise, however, that the burden of early learning and childcare remains too high and that we need to do more to support all families, including one-parent families. In this context, I have signalled that I will be prioritising further investment in the NCS in budget 2023, with a focus on substantially improving affordability for families.

The discussion in the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of child poverty was quite harrowing. We heard how the lack of supports for lone parents was a major driver of deprivation. Exorbitant childcare costs mean it is more economic for parents in many families to stop working or reduce their working hours. It is primarily the mother who does so. For one-parent families, this leaves them no choice but to limit their employment altogether. This cohort, which is primarily composed of younger women, needs more tailored support. Instead, at the moment they are being overlooked.

At the committee, groups like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and One Family highlighted issues concerning the cliff edge for working lone parents due to the arbitrary cut-off for the jobseeker's transition payment. Education pathways and grants can be equally restrictive. I recognise 100% that many of these issues relate to Departments other than the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, but it is children who ultimately suffer. What steps can the Minister take to support lone-parent families in the unique challenges that they face?

On the specific issue of childcare, which is directly within my control, we have demonstrated through the research that the NCS is delivering for one-parent families. Since the report was compiled, we removed the deduction of wrap-around care for children whose parents are not in work or further education. That will benefit approximately 5,000 young children, including some of those most at risk of poverty. It is a significant innovation, which we were able to bring in early, in May this year. As I have said before, we are looking to invest more money in the NCS this year and, again, that will benefit more one-parent families.

I take the Deputy's point on the wider measures, particularly those in the area of social protection. I engage with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, on these issues as part of the pre-budget process and I will be doing so again this year.

Ultimately, this comes back to the need for quality, accessible early years and school-age childcare. Privatisation and the neoliberal model are failing everybody - children, families and workers in the sector. While I recognise the changes that have been made, I must point out that they were not sufficiently targeted at those most disadvantaged under the current system. Lone parents, parents of children with disabilities and others need specialised supports and an integrated approach involving other Departments. The only way that can happen is by working with the representative organisations and advocates in advance of the budget. Those organisations need a commitment from the Minister that he will engage with and listen to them and to the lone parents who experience poverty due to State policies.

I disagree with the Deputy slightly on targeting, particularly regarding the removal of wrap-around hours. That certainly targets the most vulnerable children, namely, those whose parents who are not in work or study. The change was a direct response to advocacy I received from a range of representative groups across the early learning and childcare sector, including the community sector and especially communities from which there was specific advocacy in this regard. This was a change they welcomed.

Regarding the input from other Departments, a range of changes were made in the past two budgets, including in respect of the working family payment and the one-parent family payment and in terms of the increase for a qualified child, IQC, provision. These changes are welcome but we must continue to do more. That certainly will be part of our advocacy. The announcement this week by the Ministers for Education and Public Expenditure and Reform, ,Deputies Foley and Michael McGrath, respectively, regarding additional back-to-school supports will benefit the children who need that support the most.

Childcare Services

Matt Carthy


86. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he has taken to improve the pay and conditions of professionals in the childcare sector, and to reduce the cost of childcare to parents. [35755/22]

Will the Minister outline the steps that have been taken to improve the pay and conditions of professionals in the childcare sector and to reduce the cost of childcare to parents?

I firmly believe that the level of pay for early years educators and school-age childcare practitioners should reflect the value of their work for children, families, society and the wider economy. I know everyone across this House is united in the belief that the level of pay needs to improve.

The State is not the employer of childcare staff, and my Department does not set their wage levels or working conditions. However, I am doing all in my power to address the issue of pay. In particular, I began a process in December 2020 to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions and the suitability of a joint labour committee for the sector. This process culminated in the establishment of a joint labour committee for early years services, which began meeting in December last year. The outcomes of the committee's work will be supported by the new core funding stream I announced in budget 2022, which will provide an additional €73 million of funding in 2022 and is equivalent to more than €221 million in a full year.

Core funding is expected, among other objectives, to support employment regulation orders that may arise from the joint labour committee to improve workforce recruitment and retention through improvements in pay. Core funding will require providers to commit not to increase fees from the September 2021 rates. This will ensure that parents feel the full affordability benefits of the NCS. This is particularly important because, from September 2022, universal NCS subsidies will extend to children up to the age of 15.

A transition fund is available to providers from May until August, ahead of the introduction of core funding. This fund invests in services, subject to providers' agreement not to increase parents' fees from September 2021 levels. As of this month, just over 4,000 providers have signed up for transition funding and the associated fee control, which accounts for 96% of all eligible services.

Families do not need to see their childcare costs frozen; they need to see them reduced dramatically. Sinn Féin has launched a document, Delivering Affordable Childcare, which outlines how we, in government, would reduce fees by two thirds. That is the type of support families and workers need in the here and now. Ireland has higher childcare rates than almost anywhere else in Europe. In that context, it is an absolute travesty that the very professional and well-qualified workers in the sector are among the lowest paid of any of those with similar educational attainments. This needs to be dealt with by the Government setting a wage scale, in the same way as the Department of Education does for teachers and as operates in other areas as well. Will the new arrangements the Minister outlined be in place for September? I fear there may be further delays.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy that we need to cut costs for parents. I have set out clearly the mechanism by which we will do so and also deliver better pay for childcare professionals. I have not had the opportunity to study the new proposals from his party and I look forward to doing so. I recall that in respect of last year's budget, it proposed an investment of significantly less than what the Government put into the sector. I look forward to seeing it make proposals for additional funding.

We are all in agreement on the requirement to address the three main issues, that is, the need to ensure the sustainability of providers, the need to pay staff better and the need to cut costs for parents. As I have always articulated to the Deputy and others, we are working to deliver all three aims across two budgetary cycles. Through core funding, we are delivering better pay for staff and sustainability for providers. In this year's budget, we will deliver on cutting costs for parents through additional investment in the NCS.

To be clear, in our alternative budget last year, we outlined mechanisms that would improve the pay and conditions of people working in the childcare sector and reduce childcare costs for families and workers. None of those things has happened. Many would argue that whatever was in the Government's budget amounted to a stunt. Childcare costs have not come down and the pay and conditions of workers in the sector have not improved.

I asked a specific question on what will happen this September. How many childcare facilities will be operating under the new scheme and what will be the real impact on parents of children attending those facilities?

The contract for core funding was issued in the past two weeks. Childcare providers will be filling out and returning their applications. We do not know at this point what the numbers are. We know 96% of providers have signed up to the transition scheme, which includes the agreement to limit fee increases. We know 89% of providers have signed up to the sector profile, which is the first step towards signing up to core funding. There is significant buy-in across the sector. We see that as really valuable. Through core funding, I believe we will be able to deliver on the better rates of pay that are being negotiated in the employment regulation order. There will be a guaranteed living wage for childcare providers as the entry rate and higher rates that recognise qualifications and the role of deputy managers and room leaders will apply.

Childcare Services

Bríd Smith


88. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will clarify in relation to the 9,000-plus childcare places in Dublin where the provider is refusing to accept the State subsidy, if parents who have no alternative to these places can be supported in some way; if he has plans to support them in the coming period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36736/22]

My question relates to the situation whereby there are 9,000 childcare spaces the providers of which have refused to accept participation in any of the schemes that are available. The condition that providers must not raise fees does not apply to them. I am seeking clarity on the position of parents, particularly in parts of Dublin in which spaces are very scarce and there is a real problem for parents in this regard, when a provider does not accept any of the funding streams the Minister is providing and charges the parent accordingly. What supports are available to those parents?

Ensuring the availability and affordability of early learning and childcare provision for parents is a key priority of the Government.

The transition fund referred to in the question is a temporary, once-off scheme to support providers between the end of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, in April and the introduction of a new core funding scheme in September. The primary objective of the transition fund is to ensure that the fees charged to parents do not increase. Participation in the transition fund is optional, but I am glad to see that 96% of providers have signed up to it. In Dublin, 991 providers are now participating and providing 43,541 places for children. The transition fund remains open for new entrants to sign up to for the remaining months of its operation. City and county childcare committees are available to support providers who have not yet signed up.

The transition fund requirements that fees remain at or below September 2021 levels continues in September under the new core funding scheme. Under this core funding scheme, partner services will also be required to offer the NCS and-or the ECCE programme to parents. Taken together, these options will benefit parents by ensuring that the full affordability effects of the NCS are felt. This will give parents greater certainty about what they will be charged and prevent increases in NCS subsidies from being absorbed by fee increases. The NCS is supporting thousands of families to offset the childcare costs. Budget 2022 has expanded access to the NCS and ended the practice of deducting time in preschool and school from the NCS subsidised hours. It has also extended universal subsidies for children up to the age of 15.

I recognise that the burden of childcare fees for many families remains too high and that more needs to be done to ensure affordability. The introduction of core funding from this September, combined with developments in the NCS, will improve affordability. I have also made it very clear that in this year’s budget I will look to do more in respect of investment in the NCS.

The Minister’s figures are interesting. While it is very good that 96% of providers have signed up to the scheme, that still leaves 4% who have not. The figures the Minister gave me referred to approximately 9,000 places in Dublin City and in Cork and in Limerick, but there are another 12,000 places nationally and the relevant providers have refused to sign up to any scheme. Those providers are then free to push up the cost to parents. Regarding that small percentage of providers, desperate parents come to my clinic, and I am sure to other people’s clinics, who have no other option for alternative childcare provision in their areas. Those parents are left high and dry. If we are talking about 12,000 places, then we are talking about many desperate parents. I wish to find out where this leaves them and what supports the Minister will give them to ensure they do not drown under their childcare costs, particularly in the context of the current cost-of-living crisis. Those costs are being put up by providers who will not sign up to the scheme, because it is possible for providers to not sign up to any scheme.

We are providing significant new core funding. The allocation for this first year is €221 million. We have also made it clear that we are going to be putting additional money into the NCS. Therefore, we are making these schemes as attractive as possible to support providers as far as possible. As I said already in my answers, one of three challenges we face is the sustainability of providers. We cannot force providers into schemes. That has always been something we have been clear about. We are, however, making these schemes as attractive as possible to providers in order to support them and allow them, in turn, to support and retain their staff and to be able to improve delivery of childcare services to parents. We are seeing strong take-up in this regard, as has been demonstrated by the 96% of providers participating in the transition scheme.

I still maintain that there are 12,000 places in respect of which providers have not signed up. I suspect that they are probably, in the main, the more commercial and bigger childcare providers. That information is not in the answer, so I cannot elaborate on it. We are still left, though, and this is the problem, with a dysfunctional, fragmented and piecemeal approach to childcare. The Minister is doing better than anyone has done before, but we are being left open to the consequences of the fact that we spend less on childcare services in this State than in any other EU member country. The provision of childcare services here is fragmented and privatised, in the main, and it is a very difficult system to manage. I maintain, therefore, that what we need to do is to fund parents in circumstances where providers are not accepting the provisions that the Minister has allowed for and encouraged them to take up in the context of this scheme. The parents are being left high and dry in that type of situation. In the long term, what is needed is a national early learning and childcare scheme. We would not put up with this fragmented, privatised and dysfunctional system for our national or secondary schools. Somehow, though, we are putting up with it, forever now, in respect of early learning and childcare. This is the real political problem here.

One of the key reasons we have linked the provision of core funding to services and the NCS is to ensure that we can get that agreement for the additional money being invested to go to pay staff. Without some element of conditionality regarding the money we are giving, we would not be able to guarantee that those enhanced levels of pay, that are being negotiated now, would actually be delivered to staff. Therefore, our mechanism in delivering on that is to link the NCS and core funding. To do otherwise would be to put at risk the opportunity to finally ensure that we can channel additional funding to delivering better pay for staff. We will, however, continue to look at the wider elements of the system.

As the Deputy is aware, in the review of childcare services, the expert group discussed the issue of there being some element of public provision and indicated that further examination of this aspect is worthwhile. That is also something I certainly agree with as well. In the context of the crisis we have right now, however, my focus has been on seeking to address those three big challenges in the existing system.

Childcare Services

Brendan Smith


89. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the total grant aid available for the provision of additional childcare places and the upgrading of existing accommodation in 2021; the level of funding for such developments in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36663/22]

I am asking this question on behalf of Deputy Brendan Smith. This question is on the available provision of additional childcare places, the upgrading of existing accommodation in 2021 and the level of funding for each development in 2022.

The availability of high-quality early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible is a key Government priority. To ensure that the supply of early learning and childcare places meets demand, my Department has, since 2015, funded the creation of more than 27,000 new places, as well as the upgrading of services through an annual capital programme. With the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, the annual capital programme prioritised funding for early learning and childcare providers to enable them to reopen safety following mandated closures and to improve outdoor play areas so as to reduce the potential spread of infection.

In 2021, €10.5 million was allocated across two different capital funding programmes: one to improve fire safety standards and another to improve outdoor play areas in services. During 2021, my Department also successfully secured €70 million in the revised NDP allocation. This will enable significant capital investment in early learning and childcare during the period 2023 to 2025 across three pillars: modernisation, new capacity and first 5 initiatives. Capital funding in 2022 totals €1.3 million, including €750,000 of unspent 2021 capital funding which has been carried into 2022. This will be targeted capital funding commencing with not-for-profit services that have been informed they must resolve fire safety compliance issues to complete their re-registration with Tusla. Eligibility for this funding will be dependent on a financial assessment of need. City and county childcare committees are engaging with these services on this. Applications for the pillar 1 of the NDP money, the modernisation grant, will also open in the coming months.

That is encouraging to hear. As Deputy Bríd Smith said earlier as well, the Minister must be commended for the work he is doing, especially on childcare services. There are still issues and choke points, particularly in urban areas, as well as capacity issues. I am the father of three children. I am facing my first bill for childcare in September. Childcare is still quite expensive and difficult to get in some places, particularly in urban areas. Our population is growing and more and more people are going back to work, which is great, but also increasing is the pressure on existing childcare capacity. Obviously, this is an issue that affects women in particular and we need to do all we can to ensure that many women across the country do not face the difficult decision of choosing between going back to work or staying at home and, inevitably, minding children. We must do all we can in continuing to provide the supports the Minister has outlined to ensure that women do not face that decision.

I understand that a significant announcement might be due in the budget. I know the Minister cannot speak to it today, but judging from comments made by him, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in recent weeks, that development will greatly help the childcare service. I ask the Minister to address issues regarding capacity in urban areas and how we are going to deal with that.

We have had an extensive and valuable discussion in the House today on the issue of childcare. It is worth mentioning childminders in recognition that centre-based childcare is not the only method of childcare provision. Thousands of families across the country rely on childminders. We brought in the childminding action plan to provide an appropriate degree of regulation of that sector, recognising the important work being done, and to allow childminders use of the national childcare scheme, NCS, as well. Thus, parents using a childminder would be able to benefit from those State subventions to make the cost cheaper for them. That is an element that would help to increase capacity because having more diverse availability of childcare will help with the issue of capacity. In my final minute, I will talk in more detail about wider measures to improve capacity in centre-based services.

I commend the Minister on the work being done and raise one other issue, about which I have spoken to him privately relating to the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme. I am aware that those service providers were protesting outside Leinster House recently. ECCE-only providers seem to be under more pressure than those who provide a more diverse childcare service. From what we have heard on the ground, they are looking for an increase in capitation. I am aware that fees have been frozen, which can be passed on to parents, but I am concerned specifically about the ECCE-only providers. Will the Minister look at the resilience fund, of which only €500,000 was drawn down out of a €20 million pot, and disburse the funds among the ECCE-only providers who are facing a difficult period ahead?

The Deputy has raised the issue of ECCE-only service providers with me on a number of occasions. We continue to examine the concerns raised by some of these service providers. I made the point before that only a small number, amounting to 1%, will see no change in their funding allocation. The vast majority of ECCE service providers will see additional money coming into them as a result of core funding. I reiterate that we are dealing with year 1 of core funding now. The money we invest in education and childcare will have to increase. The reason childcare is so expensive in this country is that we invest much less than other European countries. The Government has an objective to invest at least €1 billion by 2028 and I believe that will be achieved, although probably not by this Government. We are moving quickly towards achieving that. More investment means more money for all services across the sector and less costs for parents.

Residential Institutions

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor


90. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will outline progress made under the commitments set out in 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. [36702/22]

What progress has been made under the commitments set out in An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions? People urgently need to know exactly how this is progressing and when the action will take effect on the ground. We can get lost in the whole process and fail to understand what people really care about which is the actual change as it affects them.

Since its publication last November, there has been strong progress in implementing many of the key commitments in the action plan. Of the 22 actions, eight have already been completed while 12 are in progress. Key achievements include the enactment of the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022, to conclusively address the wrongful denial of people's identity rights; the launch of a comprehensive public information campaign and the establishment of a new contact preference register under the Act, paving the way for information and tracing services to open in October 2022; the passage through the Houses of the Institutional Burials Bill 2022, having gone through the Seanad last night, and referral to the President for his consideration, which will provide the legal basis for an intervention at Tuam; and the publication of heads of Bill of the mother and baby institutions payment scheme Bill, to provide financial payments and a form of enhanced medical card to eligible applicants. The heads were referred to the relevant Oireachtas joint committee for pre-legislative scrutiny and I will receive the report of the committee shortly.

In addition, good progress is being made on the national centre for research and remembrance. Following Government approval of the high-level proposals for the centre on 29 March, a steering group was established and met on three occasions. Earlier this week, Dublin City Council voted to transfer the proposed site for the centre to the Office of Public Works, marking another step towards the development of this important national site of conscience. Work also continues on local memorialisation and, in this regard, a consultative process with survivor advocacy groups and representatives, led by independent facilitators, took place throughout June. Importantly, dedicated and professional counselling support continues to be available nationwide with priority access of the services given to survivors.

In addition to an annual progress report, which will be laid before the Houses towards the end of the year, my Department continues to prepare quarterly progress updates. On 31 May, the second of these updates was issued directly to every person who provided their contact information to the Department's dedicated mailing list. The update was also published on the Department's website.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Many of the victims of the mother and baby homes are very anxious about when the payments and enhanced medical cards will be provided. People live in a practical world and they have to survive. Will the Minister give an indication of how and when the payments will be made and enhanced medical cards will be provided? Has an analysis been done on the age profile of the people involved who are likely to receive compensation? One of the problems is that many of them, by definition, must be very elderly at this point. Therefore, every year that passes before we get to the stage of providing payments, more people will have passed away or another part of their life will be gone, which will shorten the benefit of those payments to them considerably.

I am acutely aware of the importance of getting both the financial payments and enhanced medical cards to the people who need them as a matter of urgency. That is why the drafting of this detailed Bill was done at pace. The pre-legislative scrutiny process is almost over. I will seek to have the Bill passed early in the autumn term. It has always been my hope that the first payments will begin to be drawn down before the end of this year or very early next year. That is the timeframe we are working towards. As the Deputy knows, it is a scheme that covers a lot of people. Some 34,000 survivors will come under the remit of this scheme. It has a value of €800 million. Not until people receive the tangible benefits of this scheme will its benefit be fully understood.

Does the Minister have an age breakdown of the 34,000 people, for example, that 10% are over 90 years of age, as well as the percentage of those aged between 80 and 90, 70 and 80, and so on. In looking at the age profile, he will find that it is quite elderly and will, therefore, be aware of the critical urgency of moving forward. Once the Bill is enacted, I presume a scheme will be put in place. How simple will that scheme be to access for people, or will it be complex? These are the practical questions people face in trying to get financial compensation or an enhanced medical card. Will he outline in more detail the age cohorts and the process involved? Presumably, an application will have to be made. How complex will that application be and what process will the administrative system go through before the payments are awarded?

There is a breakdown of age which I do not have to hand but I will communicate it to the Deputy. It spans a wide range. There are people at the edge of the range who are elderly, as the Deputy mentioned. We recognise that many of those eligible were children when they were formerly resident. There are also a number of people who are middle aged.

In terms of the process, we are working in advance of the passage of the Bill to create an executive office within my Department that will oversee the entire process. We are working to make sure that the application process is as simple as possible, with a simple, single application form irrespective of whether an individual is seeking a payment or advanced medical card or both. In the case of someone who was in a mother and baby or a county institution covered by the Institutional Burials Bill, the executive office will access the records to see if there is evidence that they were in place.

The burden of work, therefore, will be placed on the executive office rather than on individual survivors. We are very conscious of making this simple and swift.

Childcare Services

Richard Bruton


91. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he has sought reports from the childcare committees in the various Dublin local authority areas on the availability of childcare for children under two years of age; if there are measures which could be taken in the short term to meet supply constraints; if he will request that local authorities undertake assessments of childcare supply needs as part of their five-year development plan exercises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35723/22]

I think the Minister will appreciate the desperation of many parents who are looking for childcare for under-twos and, in a constrained supply framework, how prohibitive the costs can be. At the same time, local authorities, with their childcare committees, often see the standard of 20 childcare places per 75 new housing units developed not being properly enforced. I am anxious to see the Minister develop the capacity of local authorities to address this serious deficiency in Dublin.

In April a nationwide survey of capacity in early learning and childcare services was undertaken by city and county childcare committees. That survey was followed in May by the annual early years sector profile survey that is undertaken by Pobal. Approximately 89% of providers have already participated. Preliminary analysis of those data reveal vacancy rates for children under one and children aged one to two of 14% and 6%, respectively. Vacancy rates for children under one and children aged one to two in Dublin are close to that national average, with the exception of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where vacancy rates for young children are lower than the national average.

The network of city and county childcare committees, CCCs, including in Dublin, are in a position to match children and families to services operating with vacant places. To address the issue of undersupply in the immediate term, CCCs are also proactively engaging with early learning and childcare services to explore the potential for services to increase capacity where there is evidence of undersupply.

A range of other steps are also being taken. The new core funding scheme, which the Department will roll out in September, will provide funding for services aligned to costs of delivery. That means that higher levels of funding will be available to services that cater for younger children, where costs of delivery are higher. I hope that this new approach to funding will encourage services to operate baby and toddler rooms where demand for them exists.

Some €70 million has been allocated to my Department through the revised national development plan, with the majority of that funding earmarked for new places.

Specifically, as for the Deputy's point about planning, I and some of my officials had a really useful meeting with about eight city and county planners about two months ago. We discussed the specific issue of the operation of the planning guidelines. The planners gave their perspectives as to what was and what was not working. We are considering that. Obviously, the legislative and regulation-making powers lie with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, not my Department. We will engage further with that Department because we are very much conscious, given the delivery of Housing for All and the very significant amount of building, that where childcare centres are provided, not only do they need to be appropriate but we also need to get them opened.

I do not wish to dispute the findings of a survey, but I could bring the Minister to areas in Dublin Bay North where there is not 6% or 14% availability. I suppose it is always the case that there will be areas of acute shortage. A couple of childcare centres in my area closed down, which has provoked this question. There does not seem to be ready capacity to respond to that. What are the policy tools the Minister envisages to address a deficiency that is identified in a particular area? What are those tools we will have available to us under the proposed money he has set out?

The quickest response is through core funding, which, per child, provides three times the amount of funding for services that have rooms for children under the age of one as opposed to, say, a room for school-aged childcare. We recognise that it is more expensive to provide a baby room or a toddler room, so core funding will provide additional support for services to open and to sustain such rooms. We are already seeing some services change their registration with Tusla and broadening their offering, and that is really important. Services are responding to the extra support that core funding has provided. In emergency situations we have the city and county childcare committees. Parents can ring them to find out if they know of services that have spare capacity. That can be a very practical help in the first instance.

As for the provision of extra capacity in the medium term, we are looking at the money we have invested from the NDP, €45 million for the provision of new places, and changes to the planning guidelines so we can better deliver new childcare facilities when new residential developments take place.

Finally, how will the allocation of capital be structured? For areas of the city where acute shortages arise, will it be through the county childcare committees or through Pobal? We have a mixed system, so there are some community providers and some private sector providers, but the capital element has been missing for quite a number of years now. I am just trying to see how we will see this evolve in a practical way for people in the sector.

We have not yet drafted the complete terms and conditions in respect of the additional capacity. We are working on that. We will draw from a range of sources, recognising that different providers engage with different surveys in different ways. I absolutely recognise that there are parts of the city where there are real capacity constraints; they are in my constituency as well. I see the capital programme as one way in which the Government can respond in a more targeted way than changes to the planning regulations. The policy in respect of the operation of that is still being developed, but we want to use this to address areas where there is high demand and low capacity. We have the capacity to do that.

International Protection

James O'Connor


92. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an update on the total admissions to the Irish refugee protection programme since its inception; when the next group of refugees from Jordan and Lebanon are expected to travel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36699/22]

Will the Minister provide an update on the total admissions of people under the Irish refugee protection programme since its inception? Will he give us an update as to when the next group of refugees who will arrive from Jordan and Lebanon are expected to travel? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

On 10 September 2015, as part of Ireland's response to the migration crisis in central and southern Europe, the Government established the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP. The IRPP has seen the arrival of approximately 4,100 refugees under various resettlement strands, the largest of which is the programme led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.

There have been significant challenges in meeting these targets over the course of 2020 and 2021, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the IRPP's support for the arrival of almost 550 refugees from Afghanistan following the crisis there in August and September 2021. The IRPP is working to resume its planned resettlement processes for the remainder of 2022 and into 2023.

On 18 May of this year, 76 Syrian refugees arrived from Beirut to Ireland following their selection during the IRPP mission there in September 2021. Work is under way to arrange for the arrival, in the coming months, of the remaining 470 people who were selected as part of the mission to Beirut and a further mission to Jordan in November 2021.

The timelines for further arrivals through the UNHCR mechanism remain dependent on the time required to make necessary travel arrangements and on the space available in the emergency reception and orientation centres, EROCs. Both our EROCs are currently at capacity.

One of the real successes of the IRPP has been the community sponsorship programme, whereby communities not only come together and find accommodation but also, really importantly, put in place the supports to welcome families into their communities. That has been operating really well in Ireland. Our operation of the programme aligns, I think, with best practice internationally. I was in Geneva earlier this week and met with the UNHCR. It complimented highly our community sponsorship programme. I recognise those communities that have done that already and those that are working to prepare themselves to welcome some of these new arrivals.

I thank the Minister for his response. It is a very uncertain time in the world, particularly in the region to which I referred. Ireland has worked with that region over a great many years. I recognise that Deputy Stanton, who is sitting behind me, worked on that portfolio in the previous Government. It is important for us to continue to support people in that region. I was recently in the Sinai region of Egypt, which is not terribly far away. It is very easy for us to forget just how lucky we are to live in a country as peaceful, as stable and as economically successful as Ireland. There are regions of the world where that is far from being the case.

Is an update available on the status of the delivery of the commitments under the White Paper on ending direct provision?

This is a very timely and important debate given the significant inbound level of migration and direct provision in Ireland at the moment.

I thank the Deputy for his response. I too had the opportunity to travel to that region in November of last year. I visited Jordan and the Al Za'atari refugee camp and I was very impressed by the generosity of the Jordanian Government. It is a country of 10 million people and 2 million people, 20% of that population, are refugees. They are provided with the same Covid-19 vaccinations and the same level of supports as are the rest of the population. It puts a great strain on the resources of a country that is not wealthy and that country certainly welcomed our support in taking a small number of refugees, which nevertheless enabled the taking of some of those requirements away from that country. The same applies to Lebanon, a country which is very much struggling right now. Both of those countries recognise the importance of this support. If I may, I will address the queries on the White Paper in my last response.

I thank the Minister for the update. Another point which needs to be made is that there was a great deal of unfortunate commentary in recent times about the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland. It is dangerous to go into that type of territory. It is important also that the Government works with communities which are hosting refugees. I am from the town of Youghal and the Minister will be very familiar with the fact that a very short distance from where I live the Redbarn centre was set up and there is a very significant number of Ukrainians there at the moment. It is important that there is cohesion from every stakeholder’s perspective and that Government engages with those communities, particularly in matters of education.

Our local secondary school, Pobalscoil na Trionóide in Youghal, has been doing wonderful work to accommodate the very significant number of new students who will be arriving in September. We should not just be talking to the commercial operators but to the local communities also. I invite the Minister to come to the Cork East constituency. We would be delighted to meet him to see if he can get a better perspective from all angles on this issue. This is a point that needs to put forward in a very politically appropriate manner, unlike what we heard, I believe, on the “Claire Byrne Live” programme last week. That type of dangerous commentary is profoundly regrettable in this republic. Perhaps the Minister might commit to visiting east Cork at some stage.

I thank the Deputy for the invitation and I will certainly do my best to take it up. The Deputy has raised the issues in respect of ensuring that where we welcome Ukrainians, or indeed people from any crisis, that there is capacity here. Our response to Ukraine has been an emergency one and is a response to a war that none of us anticipated. My Department has not always got it right in the co-ordination area but we have done our best and we will continue to do so and this is recognised by the Ukrainian authorities.

It is putting real pressure on the system as has both this development and the increase in the arrivals of international protection applicants. We discussed this question earlier. There will be delays with the implementation of the White Paper because of that. We are looking at the timetable at the moment and we hope to be able to provide an update in the next number of weeks as to the accommodation element. The integration elements will continue to be rolled out and will be beneficial for Ukrainians now and subsequently for international protection applicants.

Departmental Reports

Marc Ó Cathasaigh


93. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an outline of the value of the Growing Up In Ireland longitudinal survey in terms of policymaking across Government; when it is anticipated the new cohort will be created and how large this cohort will be; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36714/22]

I am substituting for my colleague, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh. Can the Minister provide an outline of the value of the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal survey for policymaking across Government, when it is anticipated the new cohort will be created, how large this cohort will be, and if he will make a statement on this matter?

I thank the Deputy for the question and I am very excited that we are bringing forward a new, third, cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland, GUI, survey. GUI represents a significant and valuable State investment in high quality, policy-relevant data on the lives of children, young people and their families. To date, GUI has generated more than 90 reports and a multitude of findings. These have provided important evidence for policy and have been used extensively across Government and the wider public sector. GUI data are also used extensively across the higher education sector, facilitating scientific research here in Ireland, on a par with best practice in longitudinal research internationally.

A new GUI birth cohort will ensure the availability of robust evidence on the diverse life experiences of a new generation of babies, children and families in contemporary, post-pandemic Ireland. This evidence will support the implementation of the First 5 strategy and the development of a broad range of other policies and services. It will also support the ambitions of Impact 2030: Ireland's Research and Innovation Strategy, which seeks to maximise the impact of research on multiple national priorities.

A new model of delivery for GUI means that, from January 2023, responsibility for GUI data collection will transfer to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, while responsibility for the research aspects of GUI will transfer into my Department.

The new birth cohort will be established under this model, with a plan to start collecting data in 2024. The previous GUI birth cohort included 11,100 nine-month-olds and their parents. The new sample will be comparable in scale, relative to the number of nine-month-olds in the population and their diverse experiences.

Ireland's recently published EU Child Guarantee National Action Plan outlines the significant investment we make annually on vital services for children and young people. A new birth cohort will ensure that the ongoing provision and development of these services is informed by the best practice. I am delighted that so many Deputies have joined us to share our excitement in the new GUI cohort.

I agree with the Minister that we are all delighted with the new cohort and I very much welcome his answer. The very best form of policy is evidence-based. We can see that with the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study, which kicked off about 15 or 16 years ago, how important it has been in developing policy and in the operational and funding decisions by the Minister and his predecessors. Governments can often be accused of making policy on a whim. When one has data and the evidence such as in the Growing Up in Ireland study, that is not the case.

I want to pick up on two points. It seems appropriate that the responsibility would transfer to the CSO from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and to his Department also. Can the Minister elaborate on that, please, so we can learn more about the transfer? Can he also elaborate on the costs of the new cohort and the costs also of the longitudinal study in itself?

It is hard to overstate how important GUI is in terms of the scale of research. Interviewing of more than 11,000 people takes place. One group was 12, the other group was 22 and now there is this new group. This has been able to chart major developments. The first group would have been some of the first children to undertake the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme and was introduced in 2008-2009. We have been able to chart the difference that has made to them. Particularly during Covid-19, we have been able to do a number of snap surveys of the cohorts to assess the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, on general health and on educational attainment. We have been able to compare the pre- and post-Covid-19 results of that. Knowing the status of this large group of people before prior to Covid-19 has given us a real ability to acknowledge the impact of Covid-19 and to devise policy solutions to address those impacts.

I will be brief and I thank the Minister. I might ask him some supplementary questions in the time available which he might address. If he wishes to expand, he can provide a written answer. Can the Minister tell the House the plans he has to ensure that the Growing Up in Ireland survey data continues to be widely used as we go forward and how the Government and future governments can use the data to inform their work in the future also?

The overall cost of GUI for the next three years is just short of €14 million and €4 million of that will be dedicated towards that new cohort. The information will be publicised through a range of methods. There is an annual conference where research that has been undertaken on foot of the data is discussed. Each of the new reports is publicised widely so we have taken and used this data in a range of very valuable ways, both publicly, but also in terms of Government policymaking.

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