Introduce public childcare model to make it widely accessible, National Women’s Council urge

Affordable childcare ‘absolutely critical’ for women’s equality

The National Women’s Council (NWCI) have called on the Government to commit to a public model of childcare in Budget 2024, saying the sector needs to be reformed to deliver affordable childcare.

An event on Tuesday morning in Dublin’s Liberty Hall heard from parents and representatives of the workforce in childcare who believed a public model was necessary to make childcare accessible for a majority of families.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Orla O’Connor, director of the NWCI, said the Government had “already put in place the building blocks for a public model, including a freezing of fees, and the start of taking responsibility for the pay of those in the childcare workforce”, but the Government now needed to “commit to that model” in Budget 2024.

Other countries have introduced a legislative right to childcare, and a free system for people on low incomes, as well as subsidies of fees for families on higher incomes, O’Connor said, adding that Ireland was behind “because it hasn’t valued childcare and seen how important it is for peoples lives”.


“For a lot of families in Ireland, it’s about grandparents helping or parents juggling work and kids, and it being left up to the market which sees the demand, because of the absence of State involvement,” she told The Irish Times.

The need for accessible and affordable childcare was “absolutely critical for women’s equality” too, O’Connor said, as it was often women who had to give up employment or education opportunities when they couldn’t access childcare.

Almost 60 per cent of couples with children say that one partner has given up work due to the cost of childcare, and in the majority of cases that person was a woman, a nationwide survey conducted by Excel Recruitment found in July of this year. The survey showed that more than six in 10 workers feel that the cost of childcare in Ireland is unaffordable.

Ireland was among the three least affordable rich countries in the world for childcare for the middle class, a 2021 report by Unicef found. A couple of two earners of average wage would need to spend between a third and a half of one salary to pay for two children in childcare, the report said.

Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand, Finland and Denmark have the highest quality of childcare. Denmark, Finland and New Zealand combine a low children-to-staff ratio with high qualifications of caregivers to ensure that children get sufficient attention from trained personnel, Unicef’s report found.

Parties including Sinn Féin and Labour supported the NWCI’s campaign on Tuesday, with Labour calling for childcare fees to be capped at €200 per month in Budget 2024 to provide a pathway to universal public childcare.

Labour councillor in Dublin’s north inner city, Deborah Byrne, who is a mother of two, told The Irish Times she couldn’t find a creche place for her 1-year-old.

“I tried to approach community crèches because private ones are not affordable for my the salaries my husband and I are on. We put our child’s name down when we’d just conceived, and you had to phone them up every week to keep your interest up. You’re essentially having to lobby for a place,” she said.

“I was unsuccessful and still haven’t got a place, so we’re continuing to juggle and pay for babysitting when we can’t function with having the child at work. It’s extremely ad hoc, stressful and expensive. We’re such a wealthy country, I don’t see why we couldn’t have a public childcare system”.

Speaking at the event, Tracey Reilly from Pavee Point said Travellers had to “rely on family” because “the services aren’t there”. Reilly said she had to move from full-time to part-time work after her mother died suddenly, as her mother had been someone she relied on to help with childcare.

NWCI’s care officer, Eilish Balfe, said a public model would mean those who most need it – “lone parents, low-paid workers, and women from minority groups – can access childcare on an equal footing. It creates more choices for these women, enabling them to work, or to return to education, or otherwise participate in community and political life”.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times