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Minister doesn't want to scrap fee freeze for parents, ahead of protest by childcare providers

CHILDREN’S MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has said he doesn’t want the fee freeze at childcare centres to be scrapped as it would mean increased costs for parents.

Childcare providers agreed to continue to freeze their fees last year to avail of over €200 million in core funding from the government.

However, many providers say this funding comes with too many stipulations which make it difficult for them to do business.

A large number of childcare providers are expected to take part in a protest outside Leinster House today, as well as local protests around the country tomorrow and on Thursday.

Around 60 providers have informed the department they will be closing this week.

The Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP), which represents around 1,600 childcare providers, said it expected hundreds of providers to take part in the protests over the coming days.

The FECP is calling for government funding of the sector to increase by €138 million each year between now and 2028, saying small independent creches in particular are struggling to remain open.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Minister O’Gorman said he wants to increase the core funding given to childcare providers, rather than scrap the fee freeze.

“If we remove the fee freeze we remove the ability to secure cuts in costs for parents. That’s because of the fee freeze, that’s why so many parents this January saw a decrease in the amount they’re paying for childcare costs,” he stated.

The FECP also wants an increase in the money paid to providers who take part in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme which provides early care and education for children of preschool age.

The State pays participating playschools and daycare services €69 per week per child for the ECCE service.  

However, the FECP says this figure has not risen in line with inflation, increasing by only €5 per child since 2011. The group wants this figure to be increased to €100 per child.

‘Significant investment’

O’Gorman said he’s “working to grow more investment in the sector in this year’s Budget” and wants “to continue to decrease fees for parents”.

“I’ll also be looking to continue to grow core funding so we can support providers,” he added.

O’Gorman said “really significant investment” has been secured for the childcare sector in recent years after decades of underinvestment.

We’re coming from a long way behind, Ireland historically underinvested in childcare for decades.

“We’re playing catch up, but we’ve made really important strides over the last three years – a €400 million euro increase, that’s 60% growth in state investment. I don’t know any other area of state funding that has grown so much so quickly.”

Speaking to The Journal ahead of today’s protest, Averil Sheehan of Full Day Care Childcare in West Cork said she understands why parents are worried about potential fee increases.

“Parents have to be given a tax break of some sort or something [to offset any increase]. I genuinely look at some parents here with three kids in my service, I don’t know how they’re doing it financially, it’s a huge strain on parents.

Absolutely parents have to be looked after, absolutely staff have to be looked after, but we can’t look after either of them if services are going to be closing down here, there and everywhere due to the fact that we’re not able to pay our bills because we’re not getting the funding.

Sheehan, who is travelling from Cork to Dublin to take part in today’s protest, told us she wants to increase her employees’ wages but can’t.

“I’m in the office the whole time but my staff are my front of house. I think they should be on way more money but you can only give them what we can afford.

“It is a vicious circle because if we’re not getting the funding then we can’t pay our staff accordingly. The staff aren’t staying in the sector, and they’re only using it as a stepping stone to move on to primary school teaching or another job,” she said.