Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty. Photocall Ireland

Advice against older grandparents caring for children 'unchanged' as workers return under Phase Two

Childcare facilities are not scheduled to reopen until 29 June.

THE MINISTER FOR Social Protection has said the advice that grandparents remove themselves from any childcare duties has not change despite the return of many retail outlets today. 

As part of Phase 2 of the government’s roadmap, most stores that have been closed since the end of March are now permitted to reopen.

This has led to concerns about retail workers with children because childcare facilities are not scheduled to reopen until 29 June.

Speaking over the weekend, Health Minister Simon Harris suggested that people will be relying on family and friends in the interim to give a such parents “a dig out”.

Asked about childcare on RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said it is not advised that such be provided by older grandparents. 

“I think the situation with regards to grandparents particularly I suppose depends on their age,” the minister said. 

In this country we have a long-standing arrangement of grannies and granddads looking after children or collecting them from school and it works effectively well. But a lot of those grandparents now are over the age where we have suggested to them that they should remove themselves from those kind of activities over the last couple of months and I don’t think that advice has changed.

Doherty said that “the State will continue to support” people who can’t return to work but added that she could not provide a guarantee that supports would continue until the point that older grandparents could care for children again. 

“I probably don’t have an answer to that insofar is that the scheme, the PUP scheme has been extended to Phase Five, which is currently the 10 August, the wage subsidy scheme will go a little bit longer,” Doherty said.

“I think the question to the answer you’re asking me would only be able to be answered if there was a vaccine to the virus. And I don’t expect that before 10 August.”

New normal

Doherty conceded that the current plan is “not perfect” and she said that that reopening the country was always going to be more difficult than introducing restrictions.

“I think obviously 29 June when our creches and all of our informal arrangements around childcare can restart again that will make a massive difference. But just to reassure people that if they can’t go back to work or don’t have arrangements that some couples would have had over the last 12 weeks, that the department will be still here to support them,” she said. 

Speaking on the same programme however, employment law solicitor Richard Grogan said that questions remain about whether an employee can be sure their job will remain if they cannot return to work due to childcare issues. 

Grogan said an employee’s rights are “very limited” in such instances: 

You’ve no right to continue to be paid because the employer has said ‘we’ve opened the workplace’. So you’re now effectively going into an unemployed payment situation because you’re no longer being laid off because you’re employer is saying you’re not laid off any longer. So you’re probably alright, if I can put it that way, until the 10 August but come 10 August when everything is back employers are going to be saying ‘you’re either coming back or you’re not coming back’. 

Sinn Féin has also criticised the government’s efforts on childcare with party leader Mary Lou McDonald TD stating that many workers will be forced to take leave because of their inability to organise childcare. 

“Parents are understandably anxious that the government are failing to provide childcare yet again, leaving many more families abruptly left in the lurch where they should be entitled to proper State support,” McDonald said. 

“We urgently need a scheme which meets the real needs of parents and properly engages with childcare providers across the sector to ensure plans are clear and viable. Parents and childcare workers deserve this clarity as a matter of urgency.” 

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