The Labour party has called for the introduction of a universal, public childcare system in Ireland.
The party’s spokesperson for children, Ivana Bacik TD, described the current system as unaffordable and undervalued by society.
Instead, Labour proposes that the state should pay the wages of childcare workers, give every child a guaranteed place and introduce flexible drop off times.
The cost of such a scheme, the party calculates, would require €96 million in the first year.
Speaking ahead of the policy’s formal launch this afternoon in Dublin’s Merrion Square Park, Deputy Bacik told Newstalk:
“We should see it as an investment, an investment in enabling many women in particular to get back into the workforce. But also an investment in our children.
“We know that it will improve learning outcomes for children in school where they’ve had access to pre-school education… and to that kind of socialisation that that brings too.”
Ireland has traditionally ranked poorly among developed countries for affordable childcare. In June this year a report by UNICEF found that an Irish couple with an average income would need to spend between a third or half of their income on childcare fees.
Last week, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman pledged to ‘double’ state support for childcare before the end of the decade.
Speaking to Newstalk, Minister O’Gorman said:
“We already put €638 million into childcare each year. But compared to other European countries, that is quite a small amount… The Government commitment is that by 2028 we’ll have doubled the state investment in childcare and that will bring us to well over a billion euros.”
After taking office last year, O’Gorman said he hoped that parents would see "a substantial reduction compared to what they're paying now" over the lifetime of the current Dáil.
However, he declined to say whether parents could expect a drop in the cost of childcare after this year’s budget.
“We’re right in the middle of these discussions and I’ve engaged significantly with Minister [for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael] McGrath - I know he’s particularly interested in addressing this issue,” O'Gorman said.
“So I don’t want to prejudge those but the issues of affordability and the constant increase in fees… those are my objectives in these budget negotiations.”
Main images: A child plays with letters. Picture by: PA.