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11th February 2016: Donegal Democrat

In a letter entitled 'A call to candidates,' Start Strong CEO Cairiín de Buis outlines why the public should vote for the General Election candidates who have signed up to our Promise to Children.

Here's the letter:

Early years care
A call to candidates

Sir,

Start Strong, a coalition group to improve government policy on early years in Ireland, has welcomed new childcare proposals by Sinn Féin as a step in the right direction, but warns that ambitious plans must be followed with even more ambitious action.

Early years care and education in Ireland is suffering a crisis of quality, affordability and accessibility. For the next government to truly address childcare, they must tackle each of these three areas.

Measures outlined in childcare proposals from Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats are focused on making sure all young children can access high quality childcare that parents can afford. Only then can the State hold its head up high when it comes to providing the best possible start in life for all young children in Ireland.

It seems that these parties agree with our long-campaigned for belief that parents should be able to afford to stay at home to care for their children for at least the first year of life. Research shows that children do best when cared for in this environment for those 12 months. We therefore welcome proposals to increase paid parental leave to 12 months over the lifetime of the next government.

Sinn Fein’s plans to increase capitation payments to childcare providers, a review of childcare workers’ salaries and subsidising childcare are also moves which, in the long run, are best for our children and the country as a whole.

We await the official launch of plans from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and others, but the fact that childcare proposals from Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats address affordability through direct subsidies rather than tax credits is significant. Introducing tax credits for parents would be a simplistic move that would have zero effect on the quality of care our young children would receive. Tax credits are also unlikely to have any real long-term impact on costs and could, in fact, drive costs to parents up further.

However, ambitious plans like these come at a cost. Currently Ireland, at 0.2 per cent GDP, lags far behind the OECD average (0.8 per cent), when it comes to investing in early years. The next government must be prepared to invest €1 billion per year in early years care and education if we are to see an early years sector that we can be proud of.

Now that it has laid out its proposals, we call on Sinn Fein election candidates (as well as all other candidates) to sign our Early Years #GE16 Promise to Children on www.earlyyears.ie, which includes a commitment to make early years a priority if elected by increasing investment to ensure affordable, accessible, quality early years services and by continuing to strengthen family leave.

Yours,
Ciairín de Buis
Director, Start Strong