Fine Gael Meath East TD and member of the Oireachtas Health and Children Committee, Regina Doherty, has today (Thursday) welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald TD, to maintain the free pre-school year. Speaking before the Committee today, Minister Fitzgerald also said funding would not be cut for local voluntary youth club grants.
“The Department of Children, like every other Government department, is facing serious challenges ahead of next week’s Budget. The Department must make savings of over €16 million next year, but despite this, the Minister has committed to protecting some significant areas from cutbacks.
“The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, which provides children with a free pre-school year, is a hugely beneficial initiative. It not only provides a helping hand to parents in terms of childcare, it is also a very important tool in early educational intervention. Outcomes for children are greatly improved by early stage education. I am very pleased that the Minister has seen fit to protect the scheme, especially at a time when demand is increasing and budgets are falling.
“Funding for local voluntary youth club grants, which was cut last year, will not be cut in 2013, a move which is very welcome indeed. Ensuring adequate supports are in place for our young people in local communities is extremely important, and this is greatly enhanced by the work carried out by voluntary youth clubs.
“The decision to ring fence this funding is an implicit recognition from the Government that investing in youth services paid off. A study, released by the National Youth Council earlier this month, showed that investing in youth work makes sound economic sense. It showed that for every €1 the State spends on youth work, it saves more than double that in the long run. It also found that a quarter of young people here participate in a youth club or organisation.
“Despite severe economic constraints, the Government is committed to the importance of youth services. Extra funding will be made available next year for youth cafés, recreation facilities and other youth projects. For example, €1.75 million will be made available for play and recreation facilities next year, which will be of significant benefit to families.”