‘Impossible to tell’ if enough capacity for when crèches reopen on Monday - Dáil told

€2 billion investment required to get childcare services to Scandinavian levels

Doubt has been cast on the capacity of childcare providers to cope with possible demand when crèches reopen next week.

As the Covid-19 Dáil committee looked at the impact of the pandemic on childcare services it was also estimated that Government investment of €2 billion would be required to bring services up to the international best practice Scandinavian model of State-funded childcare.

And TDs appealed to organisations in the sector to speak with one voice. Labour spokesman on children Sean Sherlock who called for a citizens’ assembly on childcare said a more coherent voice was required.

During a session dealing with the impact of the pandemic on childcare provision and services for essential workers chair of the Association of Childcare Professionals Marian Quinn said it was “pretty much impossible to tell” what the capacity would be.


There were “so many unknowns until services open up in terms of what the demand will be”.

She told Fianna Fáil TD Norma Foley that some crèches would not open while others would operate at perhaps 60 per cent to 70 per cent of capacity but it depended on their location and the cohort of parents.

Later Secretary General of the Department of Children Fergal Lynch said "the planned reopening on June 29th occurs at a time when just 40 per cent of services would normally be open at this time of year - that's 1,800 out of 4,500 providers".

Demand in the autumn may be lower than pre-coronavirus because of job losses among parents, or more flexible working. They expected demand to rise progressively “but we are in uncharted waters this year”.

Mr Lynch said they were preparing for the 2020-2021 year to start on August 24th. Ms Quinn said that in summer “the slack is typically taken up by summer camps”. About 50 per cent of parents traditionally relied on family and grandparents, who would not be available.

Essential workers

Asked by Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy if organisations could cater for the children of essential workers from Monday she said "not necessarily".

“There’s not going to be enough services working, going to be able to open next week in order to take up that capacity.”

Many healthcare workers did 12 hour shifts and typically services could not cater for that. “Childminders are going to be hugely, hugely important in relation to this.” But she said there were providers who normally would not open in the summer who may be available because they had not been open since mid-March.

Director of policy and advocacy for Early Childhood Ireland Frances Byrne told Independent TD Matt Shanahan and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith "we're probably looking at €2 billion" in Government funding to bring services to Scandinavian levels of investment.

Ms Smith said there had to be a move to State-provided services. Ireland had the highest levels of childcare provision in the OECD but 99 per cent of it was through private operators where the OECD average was 34 per cent.

Ms Byrne said funding would need to be “probably four times more” than currently. Two party manifestos mentioned getting to €1 billion over five years and that would be welcome.

“From our point of view it’s certainly critical that in the next phase of the programme for government that they would prioritise in the first 100 days telling us the amount of money” they will invest.

Ms Byrne said “childcare has grown up in Ireland the way it has because of the lack of government interest or investment”. She said “it’s not that the provision in Ireland is so hugely more expensive than in other countries, it’s that the fees for parents are not subsidised.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times