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Frontline health workers face long childcare headache after plan falls apart

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Stock photo: PA

Stock photo: PA

Stock photo: PA

Frontline workers, including healthcare staff, will have to wait another six weeks to be provided with childcare after the collapse of a proposed Government scheme, the Taoiseach has signalled.

Leo Varadkar said it was with "great regret" that a plan to provide childcare in the home to frontline workers dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic had collapsed due to a lack of take-up by providers and concerns over insurance cover and childcare staff working in other people's homes.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil the Department of Children would now be focused on getting créches and childcare facilities open by the end of June for all essential frontline workers first, and more broadly after that.

"That's going to be the focus for the next couple of weeks," he said.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone told RTÉ's 'Prime Time' last night her department had made "strong arguments" for a State indemnity for the childcare sector, but that the "Government ultimately said no to that" because of concerns that other sectors would look to be indemnified.

The Taoiseach was heavily criticised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who demanded that the State indemnify childcare workers.

"I want you to ensure the people who put their life and their safety on the line for the rest of us actually have the childcare that was promised to them," she said.

The Taoiseach questioned whether this would be possible and whether insurance providers were covering the risk of employees getting Covid-19 in other sectors. He said it could be the case that childcare was not an insurable risk.

"We have to make sure that we're not indemnifying people who are negligent in their actions [because they know] there's no consequences to that because the State or the taxpayer will cover their bills," he said.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said anyone who had looked into the proposed scheme, which collapsed on Wednesday night, "knew it wasn't going to work".

Trade union Fórsa has urged the State to contribute to the costs of childcare for essential workers. The head of the union's health and welfare division, Eamonn Donnelly, said it would be simpler to help with costs already being incurred by frontline staff who had taken annual leave or were paying for private childcare.

Elsewhere, during a two-hour Q&A session in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said there would be fewer jobs in retail, transport and entertainment as a result of Covid-19.

Mr Varadkar said the new government would have to create jobs through public, private and foreign direct investment, as well as education and retraining programmes for people left unemployed.

He said the next government would have to quickly institute programmes to allow people to return to education or take up training for jobs that would exist in the future.

"I think it's reasonable to say that there will be a lot more jobs in care, there'll be more jobs in the public service, there will be more jobs in construction, for example," Mr Varadkar said.

"There will probably be fewer jobs in retail perhaps and transport and the entertainment sectors, because of the way our economies change - not just here, but across the world."

Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil there would need to be an overhaul of the care model for the elderly and vulnerable with "more and better homecare" in the future.

He said the current government had increased the homecare budget by 40pc, but it was unlikely the next government would have such resources.

Irish Independent