Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Children Robert Troy TD has accused the Government of misleading many parents into believing their young children will receive a second free year of preschool as a result of Budget 2016.

Deputy Troy commented, “Fine Gael and Labour have led parents to believe that they will receive a second free year of preschool as a result of Budget 2016. However this is far from the truth. Minister Howlin has said the Budget is providing an “effective free second year of pre-school”, but the devil is in the detail with this announcement.

“For example while announcing a potential 160% increase in free preschool the Minister has only provided an ECCE Budget increase of €40 million. This represents an increase of 24% on the current ECCE provision. On a full year basis this is an allocation of €120 million, far below the cost of a second free preschool year expansion for 67,000 children as estimated by the Department of Children at €182 million.

“How is Minister Reilly almost tripling the program provision for two thirds of the current cost? The answer is that the he expects far fewer children to actually undertake the additional preschool than are officially eligible. Minister Reilly has purposely designed the scheme so that only children born in four months of the year will experience a full benefit of the scheme.

“If the Minister had designed the ECCE expansion on rational policy grounds then all children would have been provided an additional 38 weeks childcare for all children aged 2 years 2 months and upwards. Instead the Minister has decided to restrict the scheme by only allowing preschool enrolments to take place in three months of the year, as well as by restricting the scheme to children over 3 years old.

“Our analysis shows that many families will be no better off under the revamped ECCE scheme. The only real beneficiaries from the scheme will be parents whose children are born between September and December, and consequently do not begin primary school until the age of to 4 years 9 months to 5 years.

“By contrast, if your child is born in April to August (2013 and subsequent years) and will be starting school in September (2017 and subsequent years) aged 4 years 1 month to 4 years 6 months, they will not benefit from any additional preschool weeks under the new scheme.

“In effect, the Minister has designed this scheme to exclude children born in six out of twelve months of the year, because he does not have the Budget to make the expansion to the ECCE program he is claiming.

“For children born between January and March beginning school age years 4 years 7 months to 4 years 9 months, a parent can only hope to save approximately €700 over two years on preschool under the Budget announcements.

“Given that the cost of a full day care place for children currently in the ECCE is on average €12,260 over two years, this is a small saving for family Budgets and will be nothing like the government is claiming.”