Investment in affordable, regulated and high-quality childcare options for families is urgently needed rather than cash payments to grandparents, childcare advocacy groups have said.
Responding to Minister for Transport Shane Ross' proposal that grandparents who provide childcare for their grandchildren receive a €1,000 grant, Frances Byrne from Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) said cash payments were "not the answer".
“We need very serious evidence-based investment and a cash payment to grandparents is not that,” said Ms Byrne, director of policy and advocacy and ECI.
Mr Ross said the proposed grant - which he estimated would cost €70 million a year - was a way of recognising the contribution of grandparents to looking after their extended family and should not be seen as a “rival for the child care subvention”.
However, Ms Byrne said: “We’re at the bottom of the league in the OECD measure for investment in early years and if we have €70 million this is not how to get to the top of that table, and we should aiming to be at the top.”
Chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance Tanya Ward noted Mr Ross's proposal clearly recognised the important role grandparents played in caring for their grandchildren but she said providing cash payments to grandparents would be expensive and difficult to administer.
“What children and families really need is meaningful investment in affordable, regulated, high-quality childcare options for both centre-based settings and childminding services,” said Ms Ward.
Age Action, which campaigns for older people, declined to comment on the proposal, but fellow lobby group Active Retirement Ireland was unafraid to pour cold water on it.
Its head of public affairs Peter Kavanagh said: "While it's nice that the independent alliance are acknowledging care by grandparents, as members of Government they would be better served to deal with the root problems that lead to childcare being so expensive.
“While a lot of grandparents love minding their grandchildren, many feel obliged to do it to help out the family.”
“Paying what some of our members have described as ‘a pittance’ won’t solve the problem.” Instead the Government needed to deal with the high cost of childcare, Mr Kavanagh said.
“We offer grandparents the chance to lead an active and healthy retirement but if they’re working full time as childminders they don’t get that. Some of them choose to do it but we want people to have the freedom of choice to live an active life.”
Similarly, the trade union Siptu - through its Big Start campaign - said the Government should be focusing on investment in high quality, affordable childcare rather than endorsing an "ill-conceived proposal" for parents to grandparents.
Siptu Sector organiser Darragh O’Connor said parents were paying up to €1,400 per month in childcare fees making Ireland the second most expensive country for childcare in the OECD. He added that the IMF and the EU Commission had both called on the Government to address the issue of affordability of care.
Qualified childcare workers were paid on average €10.88 per hour with many working on precarious contracts, added Mr O’Connor.
“We need fundamental reform of the current childcare system, not soundbites as policy proposals.”
A spokeswoman for the Green party said the Government should support all childcare choices and called for a childcare system similar to Finland where crèches are subsidised directly, but if families choose to stay at home to care for children, the subsidy goes directly to the parent.
Dun Laoghaire Labour Party representative Deirdre Kingston described Mr Ross' proposal for a "granny grant" as "populist", "tokenistic" and "short-sighted".
“While we cannot underestimate the role many grandparents across the country play in looking after their grandchildren, it is ludicrous to propose a scheme like this when so many parents are struggling to access a form of adequate and affordable childcare,” said Ms Kingston.