On Saturday last, (23rd Feb) I had the pleasure of addressing the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis on the issue of childcare. If I’m honest, it’s not a topic I would have known a lot about when I first ran for election five years ago, but with two-under-three in my house, it’s something I find myself talking to other parents about a lot more.
Fine Gael seem to be so focused on announcements and plans that there really is very little happening in tackling the real issues facing parents.
In the childcare sector, ever-increasing costs are forcing parents to choose between a career and parenting and that’s just wrong. In my own daughters creche, I know that insurance costs will go up FIVE TIMES higher this year than 2018. That cost is being passed on to parents directly.
I’ve also worked with community childcare providers who, amazingly, only make up less than 10% of all childcare facilities. I think there’s a real opportunity for Government, or even County Councils to step up and take the lead in supporting this initiative and roll this model out on a much more widespread basis. This would go someway to tackling the lack of places and the increasing costs in the sector.
I had the opportunity to make my points on stage during the RTE broadcast on Saturday morning. The text of the speech is below and I hope to have the clip to share on my social media channels shortly.
ARD FHEIS SPEECH
“When the first Dáil met on the 21st of January in 1919, they made a strong commitment that in Ireland, all children would be cherished equally. Ireland has changed a lot in 100 years but the value we place in our children has remained a priority for Irish people.
When I look at how my own life has changed in recent years I know this to be true. Five years ago, I was a fresh-faced, first time candidate for Kildare County Council, still working in my first job out of college and engaged to be married.
Today, I stand here as a father of two, still trying to work out all of the challenges that come with that.
But for many parents in Ireland today, these challenges are far harder than they should be.
Too many children are waking up in emergency accommodation and in hotel rooms every morning – 3,559 in the most recent count. We’ve become numb to the numbers but I can tell you, that’s much the same as last year and far worse than any year previous.
If a child needs medical support no parent wants to wait. But today 35,000 children are awaiting a speech and language intervention. 2,000 more are awaiting mental health appointments.
In our hospitals fifty-five thousand children are waiting on outpatient appointments. Almost half of those children, a number equivalent to the population of the town of Newbridge have waited more than a year. More than a year for medical support.
In the childcare sector, ever increasing costs mean that some parents are left to decide between career and parenting. That’s just wrong.
It took a Taoiseach and three Government Ministers to launch a plan for young children last November. But what are they doing about the chronic staff shortages in childcare? What’s their plan for my daughters creche who are looking at a five-fold increase in their insurance bill this year?
And why is it that when Fianna Fáil proposed a bill on shared maternity leave they turned it down?
How is Leo Varadkar responding to these real issues? Has he pledged to increase investment, to hire more staff or to increase supports for struggling parents?
No, he has promised to deliver three billion euros worth of tax cuts. Not service improvements. Tax cuts.
As a parent I’m coming to terms with the vast responsibilities ahead of me. The Irish People deserve a government who would do the same. Go raibh maith agaibh.”