The Labour leader was forced to defend the plans and her party’s record since it entered Government during a fractious Dáil debate in which she was accused of “breaking every single promise you’ve made”.
Leaked details yesterday stated that, if it is re-elected to power, Labour plans to introduce a new scheme to cut the cost of childcare for families by more than 50%, to just €2 an hour.
The plan, which is expected to be included in the party’s general election manifesto, is based on a new state-subsidised scheme which would see childcare services given 50c more from the State per hour per child supported — if they did not increase the cost of the service above €4.25 per hour.
The move, it is claimed, would help to put a halt on the growing costs of childcare and creche services in Ireland, and is likely to form a key part of Labour’s election manifesto.
However, despite the policy expected to be welcomed by struggling families, it led to a furious response from the opposition yesterday, with Sinn Féin in particular claiming it is akin to Labour trying to buy back the support of “families you have failed”.
Speaking during one of the final leaders’ questions debates before the general election date is announced, the opposition party’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the timing of the mooted policy is an “insult” to parents and another promise “Labour will surely break” if re-elected.
Passing it off as an “election gimmick” that has been calculated “on the back page of an envelope and not costed”, she said that “your activities [in Government] have hurt parents and children” and that this is not going to change.
The claims provoked a furious reaction from Ms Burton, who insisted Labour in Government has helped to restore child benefit to its level when it entered power, given two paid weeks of paternity leave for couples and set up a second free pre-school year.
The Tánaiste said she is “very proud” of how these targets have been achieved in an “extremely difficult financial situation”, and stressed that the latest plan’s costings will be fully outlined in Labour’s election manifesto.
However, in a pointed and unexpected attack on her Sinn Féin counterpart, she added that the opposition party cannot claim to have “credibility” on any policy matter when its own leader Gerry Adams “can’t say if he was leader” of the provisional IRA and “can’t ‘fess up” to related incidents.
The testy row between Ms Burton and Ms McDonald — which has become a staple diet of the leaders’ questions in recent months — came during a debate which also saw concerns over rising car insurance and the European Commission’s concerns the economic recovery is being risked by a throwaway “political” budget raised.
Meanwhile, the Government has separately accepted proposals for a referendum to enhance the ceann comhairle’s role in the Constitution; for a panel of experts to advise TDs; and for a review of family-friendly Dáil hours.
However, despite the changes, the Coalition has not accepted recommendations that economic, social and cultural rights for minority citizens be guaranteed in the Constitution.