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'Shambolic': Government told to 'go back to the drawing board' over failed childcare scheme for healthcare workers

The scheme has been scrapped after just six providers had applied to take part.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated May 14th 2020, 11:12 AM

UNIONS HAVE CALLED for the government to “go back to the drawing board” and develop another scheme to help healthcare workers with childcare costs.

It was confirmed last night that a scheme launched only last week that sought to provide childcare services to healthcare workers has been scrapped after just six providers had applied to take part.

As envisaged, the plan would have seen families €90 per week for a childcare worker to look after their children in the home, but the majority of the cost was to be be paid by the State.

Childcare providers had warned their insurance wouldn’t cover them for Covid-19 claims if they took part in the scheme and the government last night cited insurance issues as one of the reasons for the scheme’s failure.

Following the collapse of the plans, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said a “successful scheme” needs to be found. 

“The government must go back to the drawing board. Everyone wants to see a successful scheme, so we will be engaging constructively with the government to get this sorted,” said INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha.

A key lesson from this process is that there should be constant engagement with unions and stakeholders in the design of these schemes.

The INMO says that 94% of nurses and midwives are women and that childcare is “a major practical issue”. 

“Until then, nurses and midwives with childcare difficulties can expect maximum flexibility to allow them to attend work. Should that fail, they can remain home, awaiting remote work, with full pay. This was negotiated between unions and employers in the past weeks,” Ní Sheaghdha added. 

The Fórsa trade union has previously criticised the HSE’s efforts to to increase flexibility for healthcare staff, saying that efforts so far have only “marginally increased the wriggle-room”

Last night, Fórsa called on the government to refund additional childcare costs that essential health workers have incurred since schools and crèches were closed on 12 March. 

Opposition parties have blamed the government’s approach to the scheme for its failure, with Sinn Féin describing it as “inexcusable” and Labour saying it has been “shambolic”. 

Labour TD Seán Sherlock has said garda vetting and insurance issues were obvious problems with the planned scheme. 

We had called for a state insurance indemnity for providers specifically to deal with the issue of Covid-19 as insurers had said they would not cover this risk.We knew from the minister’s intervention last week that this could not get the buy in it needed to work. The terms of the scheme left too many questions unanswered.

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“The Taoiseach needs to take ownership of this issue now. It requires political leadership at the highest level. The government can’t keep stringing parents and providers along,” he added. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has echoed Labour’s call for a state indemnity scheme for childcare providers to provide access for healthcare workers.

Speaking this morning The Today Show on RTÉ Radio One, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill described such suggestions as “populist”. 

“I am extremely concerned about Sinn Fein’s calls for a blanket indemnity or State indemnity for this industry. I think we have had enough of blanket indemnities in this State,” she said.

“We are facing a deficit of potentially tens of billions of euros. To call for another blanket guarantee is very, very difficult and populist, and we need to be reasonable.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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