All the main political parties have now launched their manifestos for the General Election. It’s disappointing that none of the parties has yet committed to developing a national plan for the care and education of young children – even though it’s a commitment which would not in itself be costly. In fact, it’s a commitment that would in the long-term bring financial returns to the State. Politicians do not yet appear to be ambitious for our young children.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. Whichever parties form the Government after 25th February will negotiate a Programme for Government, and Start Strong will continue its efforts to make investment in young children an election issue and to get a commitment to a national plan for young children included in the Programme for Government. In the meantime, we need you to support our campaign. E-mail our manifesto to your candidate asking them to commit to the development of a national plan for the care and education of young children. Download our doorhanger and ask candidates when they call to your door whether they will make early childhood a Government priority. Share our general election video-message. Follow us on Twitter, and like our Facebook page.
One positive in the political parties’ election manifestos is that the future of the Free Pre-School Year seems to be secure. But the parties have given very few details on how they might build on the scheme, even though the scheme is only the first step in the development of quality, affordable and accessible care and education services and supports for all young children:
- Fine Gael’s manifesto commits to maintaining the Free Pre-School Year “to promote the best outcomes for children and families”. It also commits to developing a new early childhood education programme called “First Steps” for disadvantaged children, building on existing pre-school supports targeted at disadvantaged families. In addition, the manifesto states that Fine Gael “will examine ways to reduce the cost of childcare to ease the burden on working families”, and “will review maternity leave to permit parents to share leave entitlements”.
- Labour’s manifesto commits to build on the Free Pre-School Year to develop “a comprehensive, national pre-school service” when resources permit. In the shorter term, the party says that it will review the age structure of the existing scheme and that it will improve the quality of services through implementing Siolta standards and through ensuring sufficient training options for staff. Labour’s manifesto also commits to greater integration of services for young children to tackle child poverty, building on the youngballymun model – bringing together public health nurses, schools, childcare professionals and social workers in disadvantaged communities – with the support of philanthropic funding. In addition, the manifesto says Labour favours allowing parents to share paid leave, and introducing legal rights to career breaks and to part-time work.
- Fianna Fáil’s manifesto makes no reference to policies for young children or their families. However, its Policy Statement on Health and Children, published as part of its election campaign, commits to protecting the Free Pre-School Year as introduced in 2010 and to expanding the Children’s Services Committees to one in every county.
- Sinn Fein’s manifesto commits to ensuring the “public provision of comprehensive child-centred childcare services”. It says that these services would be developed “in consultation with parents and communities, reflecting the needs of children and families”. The manifesto also says that Sinn Fein would “create employment through the construction and delivery of childcare services”.
- The Green Party’s manifesto commits to maintaining the Free Pre-School Year and also states that the Green Party would “introduce tax incentives for extended family members who are taking care of their grandchildren”. The party also states that it would examine the possibility of allowing fathers to share the existing unpaid leave of their partners.