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The Greens have a radical plan to feed every schoolchild in the country

The party wants to provide every schoolchild in the country with at least one hot meal a day.

Image: Shutterstock/Oksana Kuzmina

THE GREEN PARTY has unveiled a policy to provide every schoolchild in the country with at least one hot meal a day.

Party leader Eamon Ryan said the aim would be to get canteens into every school in the country within five years.

There are just under 890,000 children in around 4,000 primary and secondary schools in Ireland with research showing that one-in-five go to school or bed hungry.

Under the policy, parents would be asked to pay a contribution of around €10 per week per child towards the provision of a daily meal at school but would be able to opt out if they wish.

“By the end of the five years we will have really high-quality food for our kids,” Ryan said at the launch of the policy in celebrity chef Kevin Thornton’s restaurant in Dublin today.

The party’s agriculture and food spokesperson Seamus Sheridan said the policy would cost in the region of €250 million to €300 million although a party press release says it would “cost in the region of €350 million annually to implement”.

The funding would come from tax revenues and the European Social Fund, the party said.

Sheridan, who founded Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, said the policy would benefit farmers and food producers who could negotiate deals with the Department of Education to provide large quantities of food to schools across the country.

Could you imagine if the kids had brown bread three times a week? That is a quarter of a million loaves of brown bread every week being baked in four or five different bakeries around Ireland.
The quantities involved here are massive but what’s really exciting is it’s Irish food.

The Galway West Dáil hopeful said the overall economic benefit would “far outweigh the cost” as, he claimed, the majority of food we give to our children is imported and processed.

The policy, if rolled out in both primary and secondary schools, would involve the lengthening of the school day to allow for a sitdown meal.

But the Greens claim this would not require teachers to work longer hours as staff employed in schools would be asked to supervise or serve meals. Teachers would be allowed to eat the meals too, the party said.

The party’s deputy leader, Catherine Martin, said that the programme would focus on the health and well-being of children.

“Addressing food poverty, a major contributor to obesity, has a knock-on effect on health spending, reducing the strain on the health service. Well-nourished children get sick less often,” she said.

Ryan said that the proposal would be a core policy for the Greens in any coalition negotiations. He added:

This is the sort of initiative that makes sense. I’d love to see which party doesn’t agree with. I’d love to sit down with them and say: ‘Okay lads, explain why this isn’t a good idea.’

Read: One in five Irish children go to school or bed hungry. This has to stop.

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Hugh O'Connell

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