IRELAND’S FREE school meals programme has been extended to stretch over the summer.
The announcement will provide some much-needed relief to some of the country’s poorest families with an estimated 250,000 children set to benefit from the prolonged scheme.
Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty confirmed the decision following a meeting of the cabinet, as part of a concerted effort to provide additional support during the pandemic.
“Generally, the funding for the school meals programme ceases at the end of the school year –the end of May for post-primary schools and the end of June for primary schools,” she said.
“However, I want the scheme to be available over the summer period to ensure children who do not have access to nutritious food will continue to receive meals during the summer school holidays.”
The decision has been welcomed Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin who had campaigned for the initiative to be extended to over the summer after learning the government had no plans to continue forward with it.
“Fantastic news, the decision by Government to extend school meals for July and August is the correct one,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I wholeheartedly welcome the news that Cabinet is due to sign off on extending school meals for the rest of the summer.
“I have been calling for the Government to make this decision since I received an answer to a Parliamentary Question which stated that school meals would not continue into the summer.
“I made an appeal to Joe McHugh yesterday and he said that he would seek to get movement on this issue from the Department of Social Protection.
“I greatly appreciate the efforts. Vulnerable children will now be assured of nutritious and regular meals for the rest of the summer.”
The programme provides currently funding towards food to approximately 1,580 schools and organisations across Ireland.
Ms. Doherty’s announcement came as part of a raft of measures that include a new enterprise support grant for self-employed individials coming off the Pandemc Unemployment Payment.
Under the changes, people will also be able to benefit from a one-off grant of up to €1,000 to re-start their business.