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Here's how Fianna Fáil proposes to reform childcare and education

It proposes 52 weeks of maternity leave and a cost benefit analysis of the cost of childcare.

Image: Family via Shutterstock

A NEW DISCUSSION document from Fianna Fáil outlines how the party proposes to reform early childhood care and education in Ireland, including extending maternity leave.

The document, Investing in Tomorrow, looks at raising quality standards, improving inspections and making childcare more accessible and affordable for parents.

Suggestions

The full document can be read here. The suggestions include:

  • Moving responsibility for Early Childhood Care and Education to one Government department
  • A revised inspection system for childcare services
  • Increased capitation to allow for better remuneration for staff who train to graduate level
  • A second free pre-school year for all children with special education needs
  • A National Obesity Prevention and Treatment strategy
  • Mandatory requirement of outdoor play spaces for new early childhood services

Also included in the suggestions is the extension of statutory maternity leave to one year by 2019, and transferable paid parental leave for parents.

Maternity leave

Robert Troy, spokesperson on children for Fianna Fáil, told TheJournal.ie that the suggestions in the document are made in the light of Senator Mary White’s Parental Leave Bill 2013.

Under this bill, fathers would be allowed to share in mother’s maternity leave.

The Fianna Fáil proposal would be that a joint transferrable parental leave plan, which is based on the existing maternity leave entitlements of 26 weeks, would be introduced immediately. This would enable mothers to pass on part of their maternity leave to their partners if they desire.

The extension of statutory paid maternity leave to one year by 2019 would come following a cost analysis by the government of the cost of childcare, said Troy. The analysis would have a specific remit of identifying relief proposals.

“In that cost analysis they would look at the possibility of incrementally extending paid maternity leave to 52 weeks,” explained Troy.

He said that it was about “creating flexibility to family childcare arrangements” and that the joint paid parental leave plan could happen “straight way at no cost to exchequer”.

Asked about the impact on business, he said that the aim would be that the extension of maternity leave would see the State look after the cost of it rather than businesses.

Cost analysis

He said that the analysis would look at what it would cost to extend paid maternity leave in Ireland.

“I think obviously this has to be fully costed within any cost analysis of the childcare,” said Troy.

Certainly it’s not something we could look at forcing the cost of this onto businesses. Businesses are currently struggling in the present.

He said that the proposal would mean instead of supplementing the cost of childcare after 26 weeks of maternity leave, “why don’t we pay maternity benefit” for up to 52 weeks.

“I would imagine it would be cheaper for the State to intervene in this regard as opposed to supplementing or sub-venting childcare,” he pointed out.  “It has to be looked at in the context of analysis of the cost of childcare as a whole.”

“Let’s have a real debate to see how we can support this going forward,” he said, calling childcare costs “unfair to parents”.

He said it needs to be seen if it would be feasible for the State to look at paying maternity benefit up to a period of 52 weeks.

“We have to look at and we need to look at how we can support working families,” said Troy. “The high level of childcare costs in Ireland is a disincentive for parents to return to employment.”

He said that debate needs happen about what options are available.

“I certainly hope that the document as a whole will be welcomed by the Minister [for Children, Frances Fitzgerald] and she will take it in the spirit that it is intended,” said Troy.

Read: Replacing child benefit with school attendance payment ‘would save €100m’>

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