No childminders registered in five counties
Fianna Fáil says Zappone scheme set to 'backfire'
The Government's new childcare scheme has come under fire again after it emerged several counties currently have no child-minding services eligible to avail of the State subsidy.
New figures show that of the tens of thousands of childminders across the country, just 119 are registered with the child and family agency Tusla.
Under Children's Minister Katherine Zappone's new scheme, child-minding services must be registered with Tusla in order to qualify for a subsidy.
But the figures, obtained by Fianna Fáil's children's spokesperson Anne Rabbitte, show five counties have no registered childminders whatsoever.
These are Wicklow, Longford, Laois, Offaly and Leitrim.
Several other counties, such as Kilkenny, Carlow, Westmeath, Kerry, Monaghan and Roscommon, have just one or two childminders registered with the agency.
And in Dublin - where there are over 100,000 children under the age of five - there are just 18 registered childminders.
The vast number of unregistered childminders has raised fears that thousands of families will not be able to avail of reduced childcare costs - unless they move their children to a crèche or other registered facility.
At present, only childminders who are minding four preschool children from different families are required to notify and register with Tusla.
However, there are no regulatory requirements in relation to the qualifications held by childminders.
To undergo a registration with Tusla, childminders must also be garda vetted. This can take several months.
As part of the vetting procedure, businesses must have their premises inspected. They can then avail of a tax exemption up to €15,000 per year.
It is understood Ms Zappone has now contacted Childminding Ireland, the representative body for childminders, and requested it comes back with a set of proposals to address the issue within the first six months of the year.
But last night, Ms Rabbitte said she has deep concerns that the scheme will now "backfire" given the large number of unregistered childminders.
The Galway East TD also said she believes the issue could eventually lead to crèches raising the price they charge parents by a significant degree.
"I have fears that the scheme will backfire, as there is nothing to prevent crèches from hiking up their fees in the face of huge new demand for childcare places.
"Currently about 80,000 children under five are taken care of by unregistered childminders - who will not be eligible for payment with this subsidy.
"This will create huge new demand for new childcare places, which will undoubtedly create price inflation for childcare fees," Ms Rabbitte told the Irish Independent.
The Fianna Fáil deputy also expressed concern that the scheme will put major pressure on crèche places.
"Minister Zappone's scheme allows very little choice or flexibility over childcare arrangements. It also relies heavily on availability of crèches in an area," Ms Rabbitte said.
"We know that crèches are already struggling to meet demand for places arising from the expansion of the ECCE scheme.
"But this new scheme could double or triple demand for childcare places in crèches, nurseries and montessoris," she added.
A spokesman for Ms Zappone last night said all efforts are being made to get as many unregistered childminders on board.
The spokesman added that Childminding Ireland has been contacted and that discussions are ongoing.
Ms Zappone's scheme, which includes a universal childcare payment and subsidised childcare, was one of the centrepieces of this month's Budget.
The universal payment will see all families earning more than €47,500 getting a payment of 50c per hour on their childcare costs for children under three.
Meanwhile, families earning below that threshold will be able to avail of subsidies for childcare for children all the way up to 15 years, on a sliding scale depending on their income and the age of the child.