As a teacher, the future of our county’s children is of huge importance to me, and I have always seen and empathised with the struggles of parents to raise their children, striving to give them the best future possible. We can’t pay lip service to our children’s future without giving parents real, concrete support. Fianna Fáil introduced the Free Playschool year in 2009, and I support  adding another year to that. Prioritising investment in childcare and early years education is a huge issue for Irish society. The rewards that not only children, but our society as a whole reaps from early intervention and investment in childcare services is uncountable.

As well as adding another year to the playschool year, we want to extend paid maternity / parental leave. And look at every way possible to encourage women to go back to work. All of these issues are intricately linked, and the basis of all the problems facing parents is affordable childcare. Paying €400 a week for two pre-school children is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for too many families, makes working not financially viable, and forces the mother from the workplace. The losses in terms of career and pay are irretrievable in many cases, and this is no way to value 50% of our population -  we need to do more for women, to place a true value on their education, experience and skills that we cannot afford, as a society, to lose.

Kildare has the highest rate of people under 24 in the whole of Ireland. There are 78,000 0-24 year olds: they account for two-thirds of the county’s population. Our birth rate is also extremely high and still rising. 16.2 per 10,000, higher than the national average of 15 per 10,000. We have the fourth highest rate of 0-4 year olds and the second highest of 5-12 year olds in the country. That’s a lot of numbers, but those numbers translate into a county facing a host of needs: these children already do or will soon need more schools, especially more secondary schools; these children need resources and sporting facilities; and these children, and their families need affordable childcare.

Across the EU, childcare costs represent 12% of a family’s income: in Ireland it’s a staggering 35%. By implementing and developing child-friendly tax credits to help families take care of pre-school children, increasing access to pre-school for children from low-income families and encouraging participation in mainstream crèches and pre-schools for children with special needs. These measures will reduce the costs that are unfairly crippling Irish families and ruining their quality of life: it’s time to stop paying lip service and start helping.