Minister for Children confirms two-thirds of crèches have applied for grants to re-open

O’Gorman says 85 per cent of operators surveyed signalled their intention to re-open

Aontú claimed the Government was ‘sitting on its hands’. File photograph: Getty

Aontú claimed the Government was ‘sitting on its hands’. File photograph: Getty

 

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed that two thirds of childcare providers have applied for capital grants to re-open their services in the autumn in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said 66 per cent had sought funding from the €75 million package of supports announced by the last Government amid calls for the amount to be doubled to ensure providers do not permanently cease operations.

A total of 68 operators have notified the Child and Family agency Tusla of their intention to close this year, fewer than the 92 who signalled during the same period last year that they would shut down.

Mr O’Gorman also clarified incorrect information given to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar who told the Dáil that 60 per cent of operators had indicated their intention to re-open, which suggested that 40 per cent might not.

Mr O’Gorman said that was the figure on Monday but it had now risen to 66 per cent of providers seeking grants to re-open.

He highlighted a Department of Children survey in which 85 per cent of providers indicated that they planned on reopening, while 2 per cent said they would not and the remainder said they were thinking about it.

The survey was responded to by 2,624 operators, just over half the approximately 4,500 providers in the State.

Some 1,282 childcare operators have re-opened since June 29th for the summer months, down from 1,800 last summer.

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The Minister met eight organisations representing the sector on Tuesday and “all organisations indicated a very high level of reopening. They did however express concern that parental demand and level of child attendance had reduced but they hoped to see this return to a higher level by September.”

The Tánaiste gave the incorrect information while responding in the Dáil on Thursday to Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín who said the sector is “dying on its feet” and claimed that 180 providers had closed their doors permanently since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As many as 10 per cent of childcare providers have shut down due to the lack of support,” he said. He added that 55 services had closed in the past week, and seven in Dublin in the past 24 hours.

Mr Tóibín claimed the Government is “sitting on its hands”. And he said the Department of Children engaged in “wilful neglect of the sector” and “gross mistreatment of childcare providers”.

The Tánaiste, who said the Government wanted the sector “fully re-opened” for September, pointed to the fewer services open during the summer.

Mr Varadkar said departmental statistics show that 1,000 childcare providers had registered 11,876 children.

A reopening package of supports worth €75 million is being provided by the Government, he said. There have been 717 applications for a reopening support payment worth approximately €3 million and €7 million in capital grants had been applied for.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar later said “the information provided to the Tánaiste by the Department of Children was inaccurate. The department will be issuing a clarifying line shortly.”

Following Mr Varadkar’s remarks in the Dáil, chair of the Federation of Early Childhood Providers Elaine Dunne said funding should be doubled to €150 million to prevent crèches closing down.

But chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland Teresa Heeney said “we have seen absolutely no evidence that there will be widespread closures of childcare facilities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Ms Heeney said they had seen very high levels of engagement for all re-opening supports and this was “evidence of a really committed sector that wants to support children and families”.

She said re-opening had been challenging and new ways of working have had to be introduced.

“However, sustainability is an enormous concern. Capacity may be reduced, as may parental demand for places. Therefore clarity around funding for August is required urgently.”

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