The Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said today’s planned protests by childcare providers are “unwarranted”.
Hundreds of creches will close their doors as their owners and some clients take part in a nationwide demonstration against what they say are inadequate funding and policy decisions by the Government that could see them close permanently.
The Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) representing small and medium-sized creches is organising the protests in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Ennis Co Clare and Castlebar in Co Mayo in which around 500 State-funded creches are expected to take part.
FECP chair Elaine Dunne said the protests are being staged to highlight the representative body’s concerns over a new funding model for the State-subsidised Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) sector that was introduced in Budget 2023.
The federation claims the new model will see smaller independent childcare providers lose the higher capitation and support payments leaving their services “completely unviable.”
However, Minister O’Gorman has defended the Government’s investment in the sector, saying budget 2023 has allocated over €1bn to childcare “for the first time”.
He said €259m is being provided in core funding, which he described as a “massive increase”.
"I think it's really disappointing that the closures are going ahead today and I believe these closures are are unwarranted. Government and myself as Minister, we've prioritised investment in childcare,” he said.
"For ECC only services, the services we’re probably focusing on today, last year between the higher capitation programme support payments, they would have gotten total €14m. This year through core funding, they'll be receiving €27m,” he added.
"So a €13m increase to the ECCE only services. So again, recognising the diversity of services in the country and looking to support all services large and small.”
FECP chair Elaine Dunne said rising costs due to inflation and soaring energy bills, coupled with the funding model, threaten the future viability of hundreds of independent creches around the country and a series of rolling closures in protest are on the cards.
“A lot of these creches will be closed next year,” she told Independent.ie.
“FECP surveys indicate that somewhere in the region of over 260 childcare services across Ireland are expected to close completely in the coming year, due to State subsidies failing to account for rising energy costs, staffing overhead and other inflation-linked pressures,” she said.
She said most of the parents who will be affected by today’s closures are fully behind the protests, adding many of them will be joining in.
Meanwhile, Aontú Leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibin said: “The owners of these businesses are being hammered with rising costs and yet they are being squeezed unfairly by a minister who is reducing their income.”
“It is causing devastation throughout the sector. Unless the Government changes direction and provides adequate funding, thousands of mothers and fathers will have no have no childcare for their children.”
He raised the issue in the Dail on Thursday, stating: “It’s the 11th hour for many childcare and Early Years Education providers. They have had no option but to announce a series of rolling closures of childcare facilities around the country. "
The FECP said it will stage more protests if the Government refuses to address their concerns.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister O’Gorman urged the organisation not to suspend services further.
“I will meet with them again, but I would ask that they withdraw the threat of the second day of closures later on in this month. Because I think unfair for parents, it's unfair for the children who are impacted, and I believe we can work to ensure that all services feel feel supported by core funding,” he added.
"Core funding will change, it will develop but it's really important to say that the investment going into core funding, it won't be going into capitation because core funding does come with some some conditions.
"And I think that's important and a key condition there, is the fee freeze, and I make no apologies for working to link the very significant extra funding, quarter of a billion this year, to some conditions like a fee freeze. So that parents can also see a benefit from the extra investments the State is putting in place.”