Paid leave will be provided for the partners of healthcare workers to assist with childcare issues in the home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed.
Mr Varadkar, speaking in Dublin on Wednesday, said that a proposal was considered yesterday by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on childcare for frontline workers which has two aspects.
The first is to provide paid leave to the partners of healthcare workers.
This would apply where the partner currently works in the public sector and would allow them to stay at home and provide childcare.
“That has been approved by NPHET so we can try and action that now over the next couple of weeks,” Mr Varadkar said.
However, those who are lone parents or whose partners do not work in public sector may have to wait until May 5 for support.
It isn’t an adequate answer for those who either are both healthcare workers or one is in the private sector and one is the public sector.
“The second piece which NPHET still has reservations about is using child minders to go into people’s homes. But that’s now going to be considered as something that perhaps could kick in on May 5th as part of a general easing of restrictions. But they’re not happy for us to do it right now.”
Mr Varadkar also suggested that the last thing to be eased in terms of restrictions will be large gatherings.
Reacting to the decision, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the new childcare plans for frontline health workers will “do nothing for the vast majority of nurses and midwives.”
In a press statement, INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the plans "will not resolve the issues faced by the vast majority of nurses and midwives," and that they offer "a limited solution only to those with partners in some public sector work."
She said: “For most of our members with childcare needs, this is worse than irrelevant. It actively discriminates against single parents and many modern families, who will still have the same problems in relation to childcare provision.
"It cannot be ignored that over 90% of our members are women."
Mr Varadkar also called on the European Union to do much more in helping individual countries deal with the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis.
He was speaking ahead of a conference call of EU leaders tomorrow where a key decision on a response to the crisis is eagerly awaited but severe divisions among leaders remain.
He said: “I'd be strongly the view that Europe needs a much stronger economic response that we've had from the European Union to date. And that involves money.
"And that's what we're going to have to talk about tomorrow how we can use the European Union's financial firepower to assist countries in real trouble, particularly Mediterranean, but also every country in European Union is going to need help to get their economies back on track.”
Mr Varadkar said there's a lot of proposals being made.
“Some people have put forward a proposal of using our existing European funding mechanisms, as opposed to being considered now that would allow the European Commission to borrow on behalf of the European Union as a whole if you like, that would free up money that could be used to stimulate economies and then be paid back at a European level,” he said.
But in an inherant criticism of Germany and Holland which have blocked proposals to help other countries, the Taoiseach said now is the time for Europe to stand together.
“But we are of course running into those same difficulties. But we always have when it comes to these questions, some countries not wanting to share a debt, some countries not wanting to pool our borrowing capacity, and Ireland is very much among those countries that believe that if there's ever a time for the European Union to stand together, ever time for us to assemble our firepower and to mutilise some debt, even if it's only for the purposes of the pandemic and healthcare, now is the time,” he added.