Address by Mr. Brian Lenihan, T.D., Minister for Children, at Kells Resource Centre, Kilkenny

I wish to thank the people of Kells for the warm welcome I have received here today.

The demand for childcare has changed over the past number of years with the vast improvements in Ireland’s economic infrastructure and the welcome increase in women’s participation in the labour market. The number of women at work has increased from 483,000 in 1995 to 840,000 by the end of 2005.

Childcare plays a key role in enabling parents to engage in employment, education and training. It has also been shown to be very beneficial for children as it helps to promote their social, psychological and educational development. The benefits gained by children at a young age will endure to adulthood and will be garnered, not only by the individual child, but by society as a whole.

It is for these reasons that one of the priorities of this Government under the current National Development Plan is the creation of quality, affordable childcare. To deliver on this priority, the Government and the European Union are together funding the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000 – 2006.

The total funding available under the Programme, over the lifetime of the National Development Plan, is now just under €500 million to cover the period from 2000 to 2007.

The Programme originally aimed to increase the number of childcare places by 50 per cent or about 28,000 new places by the end of 2006. On this front the success of the Programme is there for all to see, as we estimate that throughout Ireland the funding allocated to date will, when fully drawn down, create some 41,000 new full time and part time places, with over 26,000 of these new places already achieved by the end of June 2005.

In County Kilkenny, I understand that there are childcare projects availing of almost € 12.5 million in approved funding under the Programme, which is leading to the provision of 1,100 new childcare places and the support of over 750 existing places. You also have a County Childcare Committee here in County Kilkenny, whose great work is worthy of recognition.

Those who keenly follow what is happening in childcare in Ireland will know that the demand to create new services to meet local need has been very buoyant and I am pleased that the Government announced a new National Childcare Investment Programme in the recent Budget, to cover the period 2006 to 2010. This new programme will build on the success of the EOCP and will incorporate a number of key objectives. It will increase the supply and quality of early childhood care and education services across the board. It will support families in breaking the cycle of disadvantage and it will provide a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of childcare that is centred on the needs of the child.

The decision of the Government to create a major new investment programme immediately, rather than wait until the previous programme has expired, is evidence of the Government’s commitment to drive progress in the childcare field.

The National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 has a funding allocation of € 575 million and aims to create an additional 50,000 new childcare places. It is expected that approximately 22,000 of these places will be in the private sector and 28,000 in the community/not for profit sector. Twenty per cent of the overall places will be for children in the 3 to 4 age group and will provide an early childhood care and education focus.

When taken into account with the other childcare centred announcements on Budget day, such as the increases in paid and unpaid maternity leave, the introduction of a new Early Childhood Supplement worth €1,000 per year per child under six and tax relief for childminders, no one can doubt that the Government is giving this issue the priority it deserves.

I turn now to the Kells Resource Centre and in particular the new childcare facility, which has as its aim to provide a person centred childcare facility that is accessible and affordable. Central to the development of childcare in Ireland has been an amazing commitment by a large number of people. Throughout the country, people such as those involved in the development of the Kells Resource Centre have come together to develop and operate services which are proving to be a great resource for local people. I am sure that there is a huge sense of excitement in seeing the development of a quality project like this. All those involved in bringing the project to this stage deserve the highest praise. I am sure that there may have been other things you could have been engaged in, but instead you chose to devote your time and energy freely to your community and the results will be here for all to see in the not to distant future.

The childcare service will meet the needs of parents in the local community here in Kells and in the surrounding areas by providing full time and part time childcare places over the working day. I am sure that childcare service will be provided in a professional and caring manner, providing a warm and welcoming environment for children and parents alike. In addition, the new facility will help ensure that children can develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically through play.

I am sure you will all join me in paying tribute to all those who worked tirelessly to develop this project. I wish you all every success in your continuing endeavours to deliver services to the local community. I applaud your commitment and tireless efforts to realise your ambition.