For 28 years, the children at the Harcourt Creche, off Harcourt Street, in Dublin, have been a familiar sight in the Iveagh Gardens during breaks, carefully shepherded by the creche's owner, Alice Walsh, and her colleagues.
“We’re on a cul-de-sac so it’s very safe for parents to pull up and take their children out. At the bottom of our little cul-de-sac is the Iveagh Gardens, it’s like our little garden.
“We do have a garden outdoor space but it is like our garden and the children get out every day, twice a day sometimes,” says Ms Walsh, who is also a qualified nurse and midwife.
'They want a building on one level, purpose-built, wheelchair access, a big wall surrounding it, etc. You're really not going to get something like that in Dublin city'
From September, however, the Harcourt Creche, which cares for 50 children daily, will close, with Ms Walsh saying that she is unable to meet a €100,000 bill to reach Tusla fire safety standards.
The creche is located in an old building and spread over three floors and she accepts: “Basically, Tusla’s regulations are now very prescriptive. I suppose what they really want [are] kind of like nursing homes.
“They want a building on one level, purpose-built, wheelchair access, a big wall surrounding it, etc. You’re really not going to get something like that in Dublin city,” she told The Irish Times.
Safety is her highest priority, she insists, and she has no interest in putting her charges at risk: “We’re not wanting to work illegally. We’re not wanting to operate without health and safety being foremost in our minds.
'I have increased staffing levels, I've reduced my numbers of children, I've done everything to abide by the regulations, but I can't change the building. The parents are going mad'
"No matter where in the world I am, I could walk on the Great Wall of China, and I'm phoning to see if somebody's sick or somebody's got a temperature. We're not people who are going to wing it and put people at risk.
“At the same time there’s quite a level of the regulations that they don’t compromise at all. So I think there needs to be a certain compromise,” said Ms Walsh, who says her concerns are shared by other childcare businesses.
“I suppose every provider in Dublin has phoned me to say that they’ve heard I’m closing and they’re all getting very nervous because a lot of them are also in older buildings. I’ve done this for 28 years, I’ve given it my all.
“I have increased staffing levels, I’ve reduced my numbers of children, I’ve done everything to abide by the regulations, but I can’t change the building. The parents are going mad,” she said.
The reason parents chose her creche, she said, is “they saw the Iveagh Gardens, they loved the quirky old-fashioned building. It’s not a school, so they didn’t want a big sterile, industrial building for their children”.
“They really would like some sort of more homely kind of experience. That disappoints them because they feel now they’re going to have to go down that road. That’s very much been a sentiment of the parents,” Ms Walsh said.
One of the parents, Maryclaire Ryan, from Phibsborough, agrees, saying she is "gutted" to hear that the creche is closing: "It's really difficult to find childcare in Dublin at all. When we found this one we were so delighted.
“I’t’s really got character and the team really cares about the kids. It’s not run by someone who’s just there to make money. They’ve been doing what they do for such a long time with such a good reputation,” Ms Ryan went on.
“I’ve been in there and I don’t have any complaints. I think if Tusla were reasonable and took into account kids' emotional wellbeing and the fact that parents are happy for it to stay open, then it would stay open.”
“Green space is something Tusla would like to have, but you’re in the centre of town so there’s not going to be green space attached to a creche. But this one is located beside the Iveagh Gardens and the kids go there every day,” she said.