The crèche chain at the centre of a damning undercover exposé is set to be investigated by the Garda Child Protection Unit.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has obtained a copy of the secretly filmed television footage showing distressing practices involving mistreatment and emotional abuse of children, at centres run by the Hyde and Seek crèche company. It has handed the tape over to gardaí.
Gardaí in two Dublin stations are asking any parents or guardians who have complaints to contact them.
A Garda spokesman said they were “aware of issues raised by the RTÉ ‘Prime Time Investigates’ programme” aired on Wednesday night.
Gardaí in Mountjoy are separately investigating an alleged assault on a young girl at one of the crèches. This separate incident is alleged to have taken place earlier this month. Gardaí visited the crèche and it is understood no arrests have been made.
“An Garda Síochána are notified where there is identifiable harm to children of a child protection nature,” Tusla confirmed.
As parents spoke of their distress, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “appalled”.
“I know that a lot of parents dropping their kids off to crèche or to preschool this morning must have been that little bit more worried or that little bit more nervous than they would be normally,” he said.
Several parents of children attending the chain's crèches expressed their devastation.
"We are devastated by what was revealed by the programme. We trusted the crèche to provide the standards of care it advertised and undertook to provide, at all times, and from all carers. This trust was badly misplaced," they said.
The Hyde and Seek chain is family run by Anne Davy and her husband Peter and has centres in Shaw Street, Tolka Road and Glasnevin.
Tusla said yesterday it is already taking enforcement proceedings against the chain and it will be using the disturbing footage, taken by two undercover childcare workers, to speed up the action.
The programme showed flagrant breaches of safety including blocked fire exits, crammed cots, lack of Garda vetting of staff and children being held down to make them go to sleep.
Milk was diluted with water and children were served cheap noodles instead of the vegetable dish in the menu given to parents.
Tusla said it had closed down five crèches since the beginning of last year for contravening child welfare and protection laws.
A spokesman for Hyde and Seek, one of whose owners Anne Davy has stepped down from frontline work, said the company would be calling in external consultants to look at the service.
He insisted the "overall picture it painted does not reflect who we are, but there are specific issues we need to address and are addressing quickly".
"One of the first changes we make will be the recruitment of a new manager at our Tolka Road crèche, which was the focus of much of the criticism in the programme.
"We know we need to work to rebuild, retain and enhance the trust our parents have in us. We have spoken to many of them in recent days and would urge others with concerns to contact us.
"We are available to talk to and meet parents at any time."
Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children's Rights Alliance, warned that any childcare facility that continually flouted regulations must face sanctions, funding cuts and closure.
"The question has to be asked whether centres that fail to comply with regulations should get any Government funding at all towards parents' childcare fees."
The company received €1.25m in State funding to cover subsidised childcare over the last five years.
"A Programme for a Partnership Government committed to withdrawing funding from providers that do not meet quality standards in the free pre-school scheme. We are calling on Government to expedite this commitment and introduce a new quality mark to ensure that public money doesn't go to non-compliant providers," she added.
Tusla, which is responsible for regulating 4,500 crèches and childminders, said that if a crèche provider was prosecuted under the current regulation then it would be prohibited from operating an early years' service.
"If a provider is removed from the register they are entitled to make a new application which the Tusla Early Years' Inspectorate will consider."
A spokeswoman said inspection should happen every three years but they are done more regularly than this. Where there is an immediate concern, it can trigger an immediate inspection. All registered providers have been inspected, and the majority are compliant with the majority of regulations, she added.
Speaking in Donegal last night, the Taoiseach said: "I think I speak for everybody in the country when I say that I was really appalled by what we saw on 'Prime Time' in relation to the way that children were treated.
"And I know that a lot of parents dropping their kids off to crèche or to preschool this morning must have been that little bit more worried or that little bit more nervous than they would be normally.
"But we do want to reassure people this was just about one particular chain and we're confident that what people saw last night doesn't reflect standards across the crèche sector, or the childcare sector, or the preschool sector at all.
"We do have some very strong regulations in this area around minimum standards and over the past four or five years."
If any parent or guardian has any concerns in relation to this matter, they can contact gardaí at Mountjoy 01-666 8600 or Pearse Street 01-666900.