The country’s childcare has been plunged into “chaos” and 40% of providers may not open their doors again, the Dáil has heard.
The sector is “dying on its feet,” according to a leading opposition TD.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar admitted that two out of every five childcare providers are unlikely to re-open in September, under questioning in the Dáil.
However, in a follow-up statement, a spokesperson for Mr Varadkar clarified :"The information provided to the Tánaiste by the Department or Children was inaccurate. The Department will be issuing a clarifying line shortly."
Responding to questions from Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, Mr Varadkar had said: "60% of the existing services have indicated they will be reopening by September and this portion may rise.”
Mr Tóibín said seven childcare providers in Dublin alone have closed down in the past 24 hours, with 55 closing across the country in the past week.
He told TDs he has "shocking" information from the sector showing it is in "chaos".
“As many as 10% of Child Care Providers have shutdown all ready due to the lack of support. And the closures are accelerating.
"In the last week alone it has been reported to me that 55 childcare providers have closed.
"My office spoke to the sector twice on the phone yesterday.
"Between calls three more had shut their doors. Seven services have closed in the last 24 hours in Dublin alone.
“The sector has been under phenomenal pressure for the last number of years with tens of thousands having to take to the streets.
"However shockingly according to information that I have received from the sector itself, 180 providers have closed since the start of the pandemic,” he said.
The Federation of Childcare Providers is accusing the Department of Children of “gross mistreatment of childcare providers”.
Mr Varadkar said statistics from the Department of Children show that since reopening, 1,000 services have registered 11,876 children.
There have been 717 applications for a reopening support payment of an approximate value of €3m and €7m in capital grants have been applied for.
Mr Tóibín criticised what he called the government’s appalling mistreatment of the childcare sector, and the complete lack of regard for the at least 180 childcare facilities that have been forced to shut their doors due the government’s lack of support.
One of the biggest concerns I have is what’s happening to the children with no voice. Many children with additional have been abandoned.
"It's estimated that there are 7,000 children with additional needs in the sector, many who have been sitting at home without a service or five months.”
“These children more than most need professional educators and routine. Their parents also need the respite that comes with the service.
"This is not happening. I have been an elected rep for 12 years and have spoken to many many representative groups.
"I cannot recollect a sector more stressed, angry and fearful than this sector.
"Service providers have castigated the previous Minister’s inaction,” he said.
“Katherine Zappone stated that there was €750 million going to go into the sector. It has not materialised.
"Key stakeholders are being kept out of meetings and a decision-making process that’s glacial. We need to get practical here.
"Creche and Montessori owners are working 70 hours a week, snowed under with administration, for nothing,” he added.
New Children's minister Roderic O'Gorman said the number of creches who have applied for grant funding to re-open is 66% of all operators.
Tusla has been informed of 68 closures of creches compared with 92 last year, he said.