By Dominic McGrath, PA
The childcare sector has given a cautious welcome to some measures announced in the Budget on Tuesday.
Mary McPhillips, the chief executive of St Mary’s Early Years Service in Dublin, said that some of the Government’s rhetoric on support for childcare was welcome, but only time will tell if it leads to fundamental improvements.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath stood in the Dáil on Tuesday promising that a Budget package of €4.7 billion would support Irish people and families as the country emerges from the pandemic.
Mr McGrath told TDs that the Budget would be a “turning point” in the Government’s approach to early years and the childcare sector.
Central to that pledge is a commitment to extending the universal subsidy in the National Childcare Scheme to children under 15 from next September.
Mr McGrath said he had earmarked €716 million for childcare investment in 2022, with €78 million in extra funding for the childcare sector and for the reform of the National Childcare Scheme.
“The funding the Government is allocating will support providers in attracting and retaining staff and it will provide more options for parents, and is linked to a commitment of no increase in fees to parents,” Mr McGrath said.
Staff at St Mary’s, part of the Daughters of Charity community services, have been working with children and families in the Dublin inner city since 1922.
Ms McPhillips said the language from Mr McGrath was “welcome”, especially after the disruption of Covid-19.
The impact of the pandemic on childcare services had been “huge”, she told PA news agency.
“We would have seen an increase in anxiety, mental health issues.”
“We have been working right through Covid.”
Ms McPhillips, who was still inspecting the Budget announcements, said: “On paper, it looks very good. But the devil is in the detail.”
“Early years staff salaries need to be tackled and I would welcome anything in the Budget that does that.”
The National Childcare Scheme, she said, has good elements as things stand.
But too often, she warned, it falls short of the support disadvantaged families need.
“We’re not cherishing all our children equally,” she said.
If Government’s Budget is genuinely trying to address those failings, she said she could only welcome that.