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Calls for Irish government to follow UK u-turn over meals for schoolchildren over the summer

Earlier today, Downing Street announced a £120 million fund to benefit some 1.3 million children in England

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford had led a campaign in the UK for  the continuation of the meals.
Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford had led a campaign in the UK for the continuation of the meals.
Image: Martin Rickett

THERE HAVE BEEN further calls for the government here to provide meals for schoolchildren over the summer months after a high-profile u-turn by the UK government on a similar programme. 

Earlier today, Downing Street announced a £120 million fund to benefit some 1.3 million children in England over the six-week summer period. 

The school meal programme had continued while children were not attending school due to the Covid-19 pandemic but the UK government had initially resisted plans to extend it into the summer. 

The government came under significant pressure on the matter, most directly from Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, and today it confirmed that the scheme would continue. 

The programme is to continue over the summer by way of food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period. 

It is understood payment will be through a one-off six week voucher given to eligible families at the end of term to use in supermarkets.

In Ireland, an estimated 250,000 children benefit from a similar school meals programme. 

In March the Irish government confirmed the programme would be extended during Covid-19 restrictions. Under guidance issued by the Department of Education, the collection of food or food parcels from schools by individuals was to take place only where delivery to pupils’ home addresses was not possible. 

In recent weeks there have been several calls for the Schools Meals Programme to continue now when the school term is completed.

Speaking today, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he has been told by the department that there are “no plans to continue this essential service for at-risk children throughout the summer”. 

“Many European countries continue school meals throughout the summer because they recognise that many vulnerable children need it. We are living in extraordinary times which has put huge strain on families, particularly low income families,” he said. 

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Ó Ríordáin added that the Covid-19 crisis has “put significant pressure on household budgets” and that continuing the programme would represent “a very welcome gesture”. 

Speaking in the Dail last week, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said there are “logistical issues” in continuing the programme over the summer. 

“My department confirmed that funding to schools would continue to enable schools provide food until the end of the current school year – the end of May for post-primary schools and the end of June for primary schools, in line with the parameters of the school meals scheme,” the minister said. 

Doherty added that should any primary school need additional funding for the programme up until the end of June it would be “reviewed on a case-by-case basis”.

“Any proposals to consider a new scheme or extend funding for food provision beyond these dates would need to be considered in the overall budgetary context. Furthermore, it is important to take account of the logistical issues involved in delivering the programme during the school holidays,” the minister said. 

TheJournal.ie has sought additional comments from the Department of Education and the Department of Social Protection following today’s developments in the UK. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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