Many will be aware that in the recent supplementary budget, the Minister for Finance indicated the Government intends to introduce a scheme of free child care places throughout the State. That announcement was partly welcome. It is proposed that the scheme will be rolled out over the next year or two. The question of how precisely the scheme will work is the subject of serious uncertainty. Although it may have gone against the grain, I was happy to welcome the principle underpinning the announcement that was made in the recent supplementary budget.
I reiterate that my party supports the concept of providing free preschool child care places to children across the State. We need to have clarity about how precisely it will be implemented. Will it be implemented at all? There are many concerns in this regard.
Our only concern relates to the need to ensure that an efficient and accessible childcare scheme is available to children, through their parents. Many child care providers will be expected to step up to the plate, for example by providing sessional care. They have serious concerns about how this scheme will be implemented. The providers’ concerns relate to the level of the subsidy, for example. One might well say that people who are running businesses will always have a concern about subsidies, and that our job is not to bolster individual businesses.
If our objective is to provide childcare places, our job is to talk candidly to the providers and listen carefully to what they are saying about whether it will be possible to implement the scheme that was so enthusiastically announced by the Minister for Finance in the supplementary budget.