Parents all over Ireland are facing into a perfect storm as the country’s childcare system has been plunged into “chaos” amid fears hundreds of creches will not re-open in the Autumn.
Leading industry figures have hit out at the lack of support and clarity from the government as how to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with one TD declaring: “the sector is dying on its feet.”
The sector which has already received €75m in State supports so far, says it will need another €150m if widespread closures are to be avoided.
The Dáil was told that 180 childcare providers have already closed since the start of the pandemic.
A day of confusion culminated in Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman saying that 66% of childcare providers have applied for the Government's capital grant to enable them to reopen, signalling that one in three will not reopen.
He was speaking after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar gave inaccurate information to the Dáil saying that only 60% of facilities had indicated that they would be reopening in September.
A little later, his spokesman said that the information provided to him by the Department of Children was inaccurate.
Mr Varadkar said the Government wants to ensure the sector is "fully up and running" by the autumn to meet demand and that data is being collected to assess the situation.
He was responding to questions from Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín who 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".
“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”, he said.
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 Tobin 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.
The Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) has demanded urgent government support as the sector faces severe crisis with 150 service providers having to close their doors.
FECP Chairperson Elaine Dunne said: “We step up our call to urgently meet with the new administration and hear our plight. In just two weeks, we have lost 150 providers. 55 have closed in the past week and 8 in just the past 24 hours. This is only going to escalate further as we are all running at a loss. We have even had to set up an emergency mental health hotline for our members due to the extreme stress anxiety they are experiencing.’’
Nessa McNamara, owner of Little Learners in Drumcondra in Dublin told the Irish Examiner that pressure on providers have been exacerbated by a lack of clarity from the Government as to what will happen in September.
She said she has been advised by her accountant to “shut down” given the impact the pandemic has had but she is committed to remaining in place.
“We have re-opened in June but the way the government has structured their package we would have been better off staying shut. This is breaking people’s hearts but we are a business and we simply do not know where we stand as to where we will be in September,” Ms McNamara said.
“We have sought to do right by our staff, by the kids and their parents but it is all becoming too much,” she added.