Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 29 June, 2004

Written Answers. - Child Care Facilities.

  380. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if funding will be allocated to a community play group in County Sligo; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in approximately 29 miles from Ballisodare to the Mayo border there are two play schools and no other child care facilities; if funding will be sanctioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19581/04]

  Mr. McDowell:This group applied for a substantial capital grant of more than €1.7 million in February 2004. The equal opportunities child care programme 2000-06 is a seven year development programme, the progress of which was commented upon very favourably by the mid-term evaluators of the regional operational programmes and the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Expenditure under the programme covers the period to end 2007 and must take place in a planned manner, as must grant approvals to ensure that the programme can meet its financial commitments at all times.

There has been considerable demand from community-based groups for capital grant assistance under the programme and every county has benefited from significant grant commitments to provide new and enhanced community-based child care facilities and to support capital developments in the private child care sector. Area Development Management Ltd., ADM, on behalf of my Department, is carrying out an extensive review of the programme’s capital commitments to date, numbering more than 1,100 and valued at €114 million, to ensure that grant commitments previously entered into will be realised. [656] Projects may be awaiting planning permission or the completion of tender processes before reasonable assurance can be taken that they will proceed and, if they do not, the funding set aside can be decommitted and made available to another project.

In addition, my Department has recently reviewed the different budget lines under the equal opportunities child care programme, including the capital programme, to ensure that the most effective use is made of all remaining funding in accordance with the programme’s objectives. Some transfers between measures were recommended and require the approval of the regional assemblies. I expect this technical process will be completed shortly and will bring to at least €157 million the total allocation for the capital development of child care under the present equal opportunities child care programme. This amount includes an element for the administration by ADM of the capital programme. At the same time, an extensive review of child care provision on the ground has taken place to identify obvious service gaps, the filling of which will be a priority using the remaining capital funding which amounts to about €35 million.

I intend to allocate the remaining capital funding under this strand of the Government’s commitments to child care to address the most immediate service gaps. As a result, ADM is reviewing again all the projects in the pipeline on the basis of geographical need, the range of services being offered and the capacity of the groups to complete a project before the end of the programme. Those projects which best meet the criteria will receive priority. The review process will be repeated as necessary to maximise the benefits deriving from this phase of the equal opportunities child care programme. ADM also conducts the day-to-day administration of the programme, and my Department has engaged it to carry out thorough assessments against the programme criteria of all applications for grant assistance under the programme, on my behalf. ADM refers all large-scale capital projects such as this proposal to an independent external building specialist to assess the suitability of the proposal and its value for money. This application for capital grant assistance is under appraisal. On completion of the assessment process, all applications are considered by the programme appraisal committee, chaired by my Department, which makes a funding recommendation to me before I make a final decision on the matter.

The review of the applications in the pipeline, including the project in Enniscrone to which this question refers, will be concluded as speedily as possible to facilitate the development of additional child care places at the earliest opportunity and to ensure that the funding is drawn down in the planned manner I have described before the end of 2007. The success of the present strand of the programme and the need to con[657] tinue to make child care available to support the needs of our still growing workforce will support my case for ongoing capital and current funding from Government for this key sector. Should any additional funding become available before the end of the national development plan, the programme may again benefit from transfers.