Time to talk with childcare providers regarding free pre-school

June 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Many will be aware that in the recent supplementary budget, the Minister for Finance indicated the Government intends to introduce a scheme of free child care places throughout the State. That announcement was partly welcome. It is proposed that the scheme will be rolled out over the next year or two. The question of how precisely the scheme will work is the subject of serious uncertainty. Although it may have gone against the grain, I was happy to welcome the principle underpinning the announcement that was made in the recent supplementary budget.

I reiterate that my party supports the concept of providing free preschool child care places to children across the State. We need to have clarity about how precisely it will be implemented. Will it be implemented at all? There are many concerns in this regard.

Our only concern relates to the need to ensure that an efficient and accessible childcare scheme is available to children, through their parents. Many child care providers will be expected to step up to the plate, for example by providing sessional care. They have serious concerns about how this scheme will be implemented. The providers’ concerns relate to the level of the subsidy, for example. One might well say that people who are running businesses will always have a concern about subsidies, and that our job is not to bolster individual businesses.

If our objective is to provide childcare places, our job is to talk candidly to the providers and listen carefully to what they are saying about whether it will be possible to implement the scheme that was so enthusiastically announced by the Minister for Finance in the supplementary budget.

Care system needs immediate attention

June 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Government implementation plan in response to the Ryan Report, due to be completed next month, must contain concrete commitments to make changes to our current care system so that no children are put at risk again.

The situation as highlighted in today’s Irish Examiner is clearly in need of urgent need of the attention from the Government.

The care system is badly flawed in a number of significant respects. For instance, while HIQA is responsible for inspecting the various centres, including High Support Units and Special Care Units, there are only seven inspectors in place.

The work that HIQA does is very valuable, but their resources are stretched too thinly. In addition, in the absence of the commencement of the relevant section of the 2007 Health Act, they do not have any powers of sanction in relation to centres that fail to meet requirements and standards.

There are also serious problems with the implementation of vetting procedures that are in place and while lip service is paid to the need for a substantial Garda vetting system, the fact of the matter is that it is failing to meet requirements.

The failure of the Government to provide for a formal inspection process for residential facilities for children with special needs is inexcusable, and must be addressed in any implementation plan that the Government publishes.

The most important lesson the Ryan Report teaches us is accountability, and this must be at the heart of any future reforms. No institution is above the law. Every institution must be examined, inspected and held to account for what it does.

Solving literacy problems key to addressing social exclusion

June 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

The National Economic and Social Forum has reported that one in three children in disadvantaged areas has severe literacy problems.

Literacy levels among children are very closely linked to outcomes later in life, and children who do not read or write effectively are far more likely to end up leaving school early, becoming unemployed, or being drawn into crime and anti-social behaviour.

I agree with the NESF conclusion that a national literacy strategy is now needed. In fact it is astounding that there is no such strategy already in place. Any such plan can only work if it has input and commitment from a wide range of Government Departments and other public agencies

Labour has proposed a number of substantial and workable proposals that should be included in any national plan to tackle poor levels of literacy. We should:

  • Give every encouragement to primary school teachers to undertake more intensive training in literacy and education, with additional training available to teachers in disadvantaged schools.
  • Encourage public libraries to increase their opening hours and to have outreach programmes aimed at maximising community literacy.
  • Provide all possible funding and training support for family literacy schemes.
  • Work with local authorities to incorporate educational facilities, such as space for homework clubs, into local authority housing developments.
  • Require schools to develop whole school literacy policies and target outcomes for class groups and individuals.
  • Make provision for homework clubs run by trained tutors in schools with low achievement in literacy and numeracy.

Archbishop ahead of debate on future of education

June 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Once again, today, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has taken what can only be described as a leadership role in the debate on the future of education, particularly of primary school education. He appears to be ahead of the debate in many cases, certainly ahead of many people who purport to speak on behalf of church interests in this vital area. The Archbishop has described the situation with regard to primary school education as a near monopoly of control by the Catholic church and has said that it does not reflect current realities. He has called for a debate, the kind of debate for which many Members have been calling for two years.

When Deputy Mary Hanafin was Minister for Education and Science, she declined in this House to set up a national forum to consider these questions. The subject was raised last week in the House. Has the Minister for Education and Science been persuaded to come to facilitate a debate on this crucial issue? The matter arose again in the context of the recent developments on the Ryan commission report. However, I have no difficulty in decoupling those two issues if that would make people feel more comfortable in debating the matter. The issue of the church’s control and management of primary schools throughout the State requires debate in its own right, with or without the Ryan commission report.

There have been some developments in this regard, for example, a development with regard to VEC involvement in primary schools in Dublin city. The issue arises again and again. Can we now have a full and comprehensive debate on the issue that takes note of the fact that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has said that the current position is a historical hangover and is, essentially, a monopoly. To his credit, he said the position is detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools. That is the Roman Catholic view on the issue.

When this question is debated in the Seanad, on radio programmes and elsewhere, people always say it is a question of choice. We are all in favour of the maximum amount of choice being afforded to citizens, parents and children, but resources must also be considered.

In any country or economy, scarce resources will dictate what level of choice we can provide or can vindicate for parents, whether religious, non-religious or multidenominational education.

Directly elected mayor must have real authority

June 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Alex with (L-R) Senator Ivana Bacik, Joan Burton TD and newly elcted Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Kevin Humphreys last month

Alex with (L-R) Senator Ivana Bacik, Joan Burton TD and newly elcted Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Kevin Humphreys last month

I wish send my congratulations to my colleague, or as they say in the European Parliament, my dear colleague, former Senator Alan Kelly who is now a Member of the European Parliament. We are congratulating many people who have been elected to positions in local authorities around the country, mayoralties and so on. It is right we should congratulate them. However, we are reminded by this, unfortunately, of the constraints and limitations in the powers of elected mayors, deputy mayors and local authority members throughout the country. This is a timely occasion to raise this issue. Last week I asked the Leader of the Seanad to arrange a debate in the House about Dublin. In early or mid-May, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made an announcement in respect of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and, perhaps, other cities.

I would like an early debate on how and in what manner the Minister intends the directly elected mayor to operate, because he has made significant claims in that regard. He said on 13 May, “I am making the most significant change to leadership in Dublin since the foundation of the State.” That is a big claim and I would like to understand how the mayoralty of Dublin will work. What sort of legislation is it proposed to introduce? I presume there will be legislation, because if there is not, there will be no changes in the powers.

I, like many others in the country, would enthusiastically support the position of directly elected mayor, but it must be a position of power. It must be a position that has real authority associated with it. Otherwise, it simply grafts a post onto the existing weak system of local government. I made the point previously in the House that we have a very weak parliament in Ireland. We have an even weaker system of local government. We now have a good opportunity to debate these issues.

More :: Read Labour’s ‘Fair Deal for a Fair City’ by clicking here

Alex on Today FM

June 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last Sunday, I joined Mary O’Rourke TD and Leo Varadkar TD on The Sunday Supplement on Today FM.

You can listen to the show in full by clicking here.

Thanks

June 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

Eamon Gilmore TD greets Alex at the Count Centre at the RDS last Saturday

Eamon Gilmore TD greets Alex at the Count Centre at the RDS last Saturday

On my own behalf, I would like to thank everyone who has given help, assistance and support to the campaign in Dublin South over the past number of months.

Labour had a fabulous election across Dublin and the rest of the country, all of which bodes well for the future. In Dublin South, we gained a seat in Stillorgan and held our other three seats comfortably. I would like to congratulate Aidan Culhane, Lettie McCarthy, Richard Humphreys and Paddy Cosgrave on their wonderful results, and also Veronica O’Doherty and Aidan O’Sullivan who ran great campaigns.

Obviously, I was disappointed not to have succeeded in winning the by-election, especially after all the dedicated hard work and commitment shown by so many party members and supporters. However, I was delighted to have secured well in excess of a general election quota. Our success in doubling the vote to 10,000 first preferences proves that a Dáil seat is now well within our grasp in Dublin South.

Finally, my thanks to the visitors to The White Board and alexwhite.ie. Stay with the sites as there will be plenty more from the Seanad in the coming months.

More :: To see more photos from the RDS at the weekend, please visit Labour’s Flickr page by clicking here.
More :: See Alex’s interview after the result on the RTE website. Click here and go to 1hr 12mins

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