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Taoiseach indicates childcare and sick pay reforms may not be rolled back on entirely after the crisis

The Dail is debating emergency legislation today.

Image: Sam Boal

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has suggested that the emergency measures in the childcare sector as well as sick pay reforms may not be rolled back entirely once the crisis is over.

However, speaking in the Dáil today, the Taoiseach indicated that the rent freeze is not here to stay. 

Varadkar said:

“When it comes to childcare, our plan had always been to expand ECCE [Early Childhood Care and Education], and to expand the National Childcare Scheme incrementally, thereby reducing the amount parents have to pay.

“In some ways we’ve done that in one fell swoop, an incremental measure done very quickly. We might decide, perhaps as a House, not to rollback that entirely.”

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone announced this week that parents won’t have to pay crèche fees for three months. Childcare workers are also to be paid in full with the help of the State. 

Changes to sick pay earlier this month means that those forced to self-isolate due to the virus immediately receive sick benefit, rather than have after a waiting period of six days, which was previously the case.

Varadkar said this is also another measure that might not revert back, stating that it is important in terms of “social justice”.

On the rent freeze, Varadkar tried to explain why the government previously said it was unconstitutional to impose a rent freeze.

“The truth is these are extraordinary times,” he said. The Constitution speaks of the common good, he said, adding that in these circumstances the common good overrides property rights.

Varadkar says rent freeze in normal circumstances “would make things worse” during a housing crisis.

Speaking about the predictions of a downturn in the Irish economy, he said Brexit planning has proved beneficial. 

When there was a threat of a hard Brexit, the government fast-tracked contingency plans and supports. 

“When it comes to so many of our plans on the shelf we’re simply rubbing out Brexit and writing in Coronavirus,” he said.

Varadkar said: “We’re taking unprecedented actions for an unprecedented emergency.”

Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin acknowledged the importance this “highly diverse Dáil” working together, stating that the bulk of the suggestions made by parties have been made privately and there has been an approach of seeking to limit public disagreements.

However, while it is a time to work together, questioning the authorities is also necessary, he said.

“There is a fine balance to be struck between supporting a common message to the public and maintaining space for asking tough questions and pointing to areas where more action may be required. This is a balance which is particularly important for us and for the media to consider… Everyone being on the same side does not remove the need to ask questions,” said Martin.

He said persistent questioning which “goes to the heart of whether we are doing all we can – or whether enough information has been shared on specific issues” is also needed.

Martin said Fianna Fáil will be supporting the passage of the emergency legislation today but will be suggesting ways of improving it. 

A number of amendments have been put forward today, including one by the Social Democrats and People Before Profit which calling for government to dispense with the current requirement of a 3-day waiting period to access medication to terminate pregnancies. 

 

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