24th May 2021 | Press Releases

EU Child Guarantee opportunity for Ireland to address failings on child poverty – Minister O’Brien

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Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development and Department of Social Protection, speaking at the Children’s Rights Alliance National Conference on the implementation of the EU Child Guarantee noted that Ireland, despite its considerable wealth, has a particular issue with child poverty.

While there is recognition and understanding of the significant and grave impacts that child poverty and inter-generational poverty cycles have on future life prospects, Minister O’Brien said, the Government’s response to these issues needs to become sharper and more systematic in order to address entrenched child poverty. The EU Child Guarantee would be an opportunity to put increased urgency, attention and resourcing into the issue of child poverty. The Minister also announced the introduction of a National Action Plan on Child Poverty as part of the implementation of the Child Guarantee.

The EU Child Guarantee seeks to promote equal opportunity for children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and seeks to break cycles of intergenerational disadvantage. It calls on Member States to guarantee for children in need, free access to early childhood education and care; free education (including school-based activities); healthcare; and to ensure effective access healthy nutrition, a healthy meal each school day and adequate housing.

The Minister highlighted his belief that there must be a substantial increase in provision for the Hot School Meals Programme in order to help address the issue of food poverty. In the next fortnight, he will Chair the first meeting of an inter-departmental group on the issue of food poverty which he convened:

I think we have the tools in our hands to make significant progress on the issue of food poverty for children – with the school meals programme in particular. We increased the funding for the Hot School Meals programme fivefold in budget 2021 and it’s now time I think that we scaled up the reach of the programme significantly for 2022 and beyond.”

Touching on the wide range of issues facing children living in poverty, the Minister also highlighted some of the positive changes in child and family homelessness statistics but said more needed to happen:

As a State I think the number of children in precarious housing situations is one of the most obvious ways that we are failing our children are the moment. Thankfully, over the last year we have seen the numbers move significantly in the right direction. But I hope the Child Guarantee and associated Action Plan can maintain and accelerate that progress.”

In conclusion the Minister made reference to this morning’s publication by the Children’s Ombudsman regarding living conditions for Traveller children, No End in Site:

“It is clear from the report that the conditions these children and their families are experiencing are deeply unacceptable, the State has repeatedly failed Travellers and it is something I have a personal interest in trying to address. I will be having conversations with my colleagues Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Minister Darragh O’Brien in relation to this morning’s report.”