The Government is developing a first-of-its-kind 'baby boom strategy' aimed at increasing birth rates to counteract the increasing economic demands posed by the country's ageing population, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
A high-level taskforce led by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone is examining a wide range of new policies to encourage families to have more children.
The cross-departmental group plans to unveil a series of radical new State initiatives which will reduce financial and health barriers faced by parents considering having children.
Ireland currently has the highest birth rate in Europe but the Government is still concerned about decline fertility rates and the historically small size of the average Irish family.
"Population data shows that birth rates are declining and families are having fewer children, while fig ures confirm that fertility rates have fallen from 2.1 in 2011 to 1.8 in 2016," a Government source said.
The National Early Years Strategy will include polices and initiatives on a wide-range of issues, including supports for parents, developments in childcare and child health
The first key policy of the Government's new strategy will be the national roll-out of 'baby boxes' for all new parents. The baby boxes will contain all the essential items needed by parents of newborns, while the box will double up as the baby's first crib.
The idea was first introduced in Finland in the 1930s and is credited with significantly reducing infant mortality rates. Baby boxes are also given to new parents in Scotland.
The initiative has already been piloted in Wexford General Hospital and University Maternity Hospital Limerick.
The starter kits for babies included babygrows, a blanket, outdoor clothing, bathing products, nappies and bedding. Educational books are also included in the package.
The boxes will be just one element of the baby boom strategy currently being developed by Ms Zappone along with her Cabinet colleagues Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, Health Minister Simon Harris and Education Minister Richard Bruton.
Ms Zappone said the strategy is focused on developing children aged zero to five years old.
"The Early Years Strategy represents the first cross-Government approach to deliver concrete support to parents and infants," she told the Sunday Independent.
"The baby box demonstrates to parents that we are keen to deliver very practical supports. Such schemes have been very successful in Finland and in Scotland.
"However, we will also be moving to far more wide-ranging actions. I will be leading out the strategy in cooperation with some key colleagues including the Ministers for Health and Education.
"We will of course be seeking to build on the progress that has already been made in childcare, for example, but also be looking at many other ways to ensure parents are well supported.
"The arrival of a new baby should be a time of joy for every family - now in Government we are going to work together to ensure everyone has a chance to make the most of these very exciting time parents share with their infants."
It is hoped the commitments outlined in the strategy will also make things easier for families with young children.