16:00 (4 o’clock)
Deputy Declan Breathnach: Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Indeed, Aristotle said, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. These both ring true in this motion by the Labour Party, but particularly in the wording of it which refers to “every child”.
In my conversation with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, when she was appointed to the position, I congratulated her but referred to the need for education for life. I also said that while the Minister’s work and the focus on her work would be laudable, she would not be judged by her success, which had been laudable to that date, but by the failure of those children who were slipping through the gaps, of which there were and are many.
My colleagues have referred to homelessness and people, especially children, living in temporary unsuitable accommodation. That in itself tells me that we are failing every child. Others have referred to healthcare – children on waiting lists, children suffering with autism and, indeed, the need for early intervention. My colleague, Deputy Murphy O’Mahony, referred to the issue of disability and respite. While strides have been made there, we are still failing the families of those with a disability. There is a daily crisis in many of these sectors.
The Minister referred to the pathway for citizenship. In my constituency where there are asylum seekers in Mosney. The pathway for those children’s education, while laudable at primary level and secondary level, is often made difficult by the failure to be able to achieve success at third level despite the fact that many of their parents have third level education. There is a need to rectify that.
That day I spoke to the Minister, I spoke about the prescriptive curriculum we have for the modern age and the need to impart those skills for learning for life. That leads me to the issue of the capitation grant. As a primary school principal of 35 years’ standing, to suggest that we have free education, and particularly where capitation grants and such like are barely paying the heating and insurance bills in school, speaks for itself in terms of the Minister’s need to get real in that Department. I welcome her statement where she indicated about schools having to set out a financial statement, but that will not solve the problem.
On the issue of the affordable childcare scheme, will the Minister clearly outline the timeframe for introducing the measures that she announced in 2019? Many families are struggling to afford childcare and those thresholds need to be increased for those families. I thank the Minister for her work but she will be rated on the basis of those we are failing.