New state agency to oversee early learning and school-age childcare

A new state agency is to be established to oversee early learning and school-aged childcare.

The creation of the agency is a recommendation, accepted by the Government, of an independent review of the childhood and early years operating model carried out for the Department of Children.

The review concluded that a dedicated state agency is the “optimal operating model” for the sector in what Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman called a “major reform”.

This agency would be responsible for functions currently undertaken by Pobal, Better Start and the city and county childcare committees, as well as the operational functions carried out by the department.

Mr O’Gorman has asked his department to plan how such an agency would operate. He said the new agency will “support the delivery of accessible, affordable and high-quality early learning childcare and school-aged childcare services for children and their families”.

He added: “A project team has been established in my department tasked with undertaking further detailed analysis, planning, consultation and engagement with key stakeholders to assess how this recommendation can best be implemented.

“All stakeholders are strongly encouraged to work with my department in this next and important phase to design an operating model for the benefit of the sector, the State and most importantly children and their families.”

Also at Cabinet, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan received approval for the establishment of a support scheme for licensed travel agents and tour operators hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the scheme, €10m will be provided to help those who qualify to meet fixed, non-payroll costs during the ongoing period of protracted recovery for the sector.

The support plan has a number of eligibility requirements, including that total licensable turnover during 2021 was below 25% of its total in 2019. A government spokesperson said an absence of supports would “risk business failures in a sector that supports approximately 3,000 jobs and would impact consumer choice and protections”.

The cabinet also signed off on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, brought by Justice Minister Helen McEntee. The bill proposes to overhaul how judges are appointed. Currently, judges lodge expressions of interest to the Government if they are seeking a promotion. Those who are not judges must apply to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which assesses their suitability.

The Judicial Appointments Commission is envisaged to replace both processes.

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