Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 27 February, 2007
Adjournment Debate. - Child Care Services.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
Mr. Crowe: St. Muirin’s crèche has operated in the Avonbeg area of Tallaght for the past 16 years. It is based in a building that is due to be demolished and refurbished as part of an overall programme for the area. The crèche has room for approximately 24 children and has 12 staff all of whom are on the community employment  scheme. They all love their work and seem to be very popular with the children and their parents. We were contacted earlier this week and advised of its imminent closure. There is disbelief locally. People cannot believe that in a time when we need to increase the number of crèche facilities we could be closing a community-run crèche. It does not make sense.
Some of the women on the scheme are in their 50s and my understanding of the scheme is that they would normally have worked for between six and seven years. There are also women in their 40s with up to three years and women in their 30s with two to two and a half years. It does not make sense to take the women from this facility. It is reasonably priced. Many of the people with children at the crèche are on low incomes. Some of them are in employment and others are in full-time education. Their difficulty is that there is no alternative. They will not be able to afford private sector child care and they are at a loss as to why any State body would close a crèche in this day and age.
One of the workers was told in a supermarket that the crèche would close. The workers received a phone call from someone in FÁS, but they have not received anything officially in writing. There is disbelief and confusion locally. We have been asked to report back to staff on Monday, hopefully with some reasonable explanation as to why the crèche will close. The Departments responsible need to wake up to the crisis that will face the families in the area. While we are all in favour of people moving on to education etc., if we do not have the facilities in place, that education will fall by the wayside. I hope the Minister of State has answers for us. There is a crisis in the area and people do not know where to go. Some of the women who are in their 50s will find it difficult to move on. They love their work and want to continue at it. Some time next year I believe the site of the existing facility will become a €1.5 million community centre. A youth and ladies club will operate at the new St. Muirin’s community centre. In the meantime if this crèche closes the community will face a crisis and everyone wants to know why.
Mr. O’Connor Mr. O’Connor
Mr. O’Connor: I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue along with my fellow Tallaght-based colleague, Deputy Crowe. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing us to raise this important issue on a day when he clearly had many items on his desk. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, and I hope he has answers for us.
As Deputy Crowe has outlined, this crèche has been operating for 16 years and has 24 children currently. Many devastated parents have contacted us in the past week since Thursday’s edition of The Echo broke the story. With other colleagues I was in St. Muirin’s House yesterday —  it was not the first time I visited the facility — and I sat down with the children who were drawing, painting and having a good time in a very safe environment. It is easy to understand how successful the crèche has been. I have had a long-term contact with that project. When I was first elected to the council for Tallaght-Central in 1999, St. Muirin’s featured as an issue being brought to our attention. As Deputy Crowe said there was a campaign for a new facility and I am glad that we, as members of the council, were present to see it to fruition. I hope that next year we will see the new facility built and opened.
Meanwhile today’s crisis is the crèche. The committee and workers met executives of FÁS last night. Despite that meeting and certain statements from FÁS, the workers’ situation remains unclear. We want absolute clarification and I hope FÁS has fully briefed the Minister of State. We need to be able to go back to the workers and advise them how safe their jobs are and confirm absolutely that the crèche will continue to operate. It is a vital service locally. It is Government policy based on social inclusion criteria to help people get back to the workplace. I do not want to make a political point. There are jobs and, thank God, in recent years Tallaght has benefited from employment opportunities. As my colleague has said while we want people to take work we cannot provide crèche places. In this case what appears to be a very happy and safe crèche is being jeopardised because of what appears to be FÁS red tape. If the Minister of State wants to correct me on that presumption, I will stand corrected.
I received a large number of calls on this important issue over the weekend. I went to the crèche yesterday and saw the position for myself. I spoke to people who gave me testimonials. One lady said she has tremendous experience from working in the FÁS finance project and she does not want to leave. Another trainee told me she had asked if she could do a training course and her supervisor told her no money was available to her and that she should write to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to ask for the money. I did not hear that FÁS had problems in that regard and did not hear FÁS being challenged in that regard.
I look forward to the statement of the Minister of State. I will certainly make contact with the Minister in the next few days. I hope that by the time we meet the parents again next Monday we can give them an absolute guarantee that this project is safe, that the children will have their crèche places and everything will be normal.
Mr. M. Ahern Mr. M. Ahern
Mr. M. Ahern: Community employment is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other  disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary basis. Community employment helps unemployed people to re-enter the open labour market by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to work routine and by assisting them to develop their technical and personal skills.
Community employment as an active labour market programme has the emphasis on progression into employment. The programme is managed to this end with primary regard to the needs of participants and the community. In addition, this programme with its focus on the needs of disadvantaged persons, forms a major response by FÁS to tackling the social exclusion of such groups as persons with a disability, lone parents, long-term unemployed and drug mis-users with a view to their re-integration into the labour market.
In July 2006 my Department published its sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005. One of the key highlights of this plan is to increase participation rates of people with disabilities on community employment over the period of the plan and to raise the community employment participation limits for people with disabilities. In order to provide additional training to assist progression to employment for people with disabilities under 55 years of age, the participation limit has been raised by one year from three to four years, and for people with disabilities over 55 years of age, the participation limit has also been raised by one year from six to seven years.
FÁS is continuing to develop the content of the community employment programme. The new approach involves the introduction of an “individual learner planning process” which is focusing on meeting the learning needs of participants. The individual learner plan is providing for the planning, organising and recording of the work experience, training and development that each participant receives while working on community employment. It also includes further training and development for supervisors, a new application process and quality assurance procedures.
Support for this individualised approach is the hallmark of the Education and Qualifications Act 1999, with its focus on individual access, transfer and progression towards accredited and quality assured learning. Under the Act, FÁS has proposed new FETAC awards relevant to community employment and JI learners. The two awards are a certificate in personal and social employment skills and a certificate in vocational employment skills. These new awards will facilitate all the planned learning completed on community employment or JI by each participant being rolled up into the achievement of a FETAC award. This will provide added value to the  learner and will support their progression onto further training or employment.
Funding for community employment in 2007 has been provided with a view to maintaining overall numbers on FÁS schemes at 2006 levels. There are more than 22,000 people employed on community employment schemes nationally, a figure which has been maintained throughout 2006. It is anticipated that FÁS will utilise its full allocation in this area during 2007.
Operationally, in delivering these places, FÁS operates flexibly in the management of this allocation in order to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This provision of places is managed through a standardised application process between regional FÁS offices and local sponsor-community organisations and any issues regarding the allocation of places are dealt with in this context. FÁS makes every effort to ensure differing levels of demand between neighbouring schemes are equalised.
I am informed by FÁS that the position in relation to St. Muirin’s House crèche, Avonbeg, Tallaght, Dublin is that FÁS and the local management committee have agreed to keep the crèche running until a new creche facility is provided in the area early next year.
An acting supervisor will be appointed and local people, in conjunction with FÁS and South Dublin County Council, will initiate a temporary refurbishment of the current crèche and concentrated efforts will be made to improve the surrounding area.
After many years I am glad to be able to give good news on an Adjournment debate.
Dáil Éireann 632 Adjournment Debate. Child Care Services.