Detailed: How price of childcare adds up to a 'second mortgage'
THE childcare crisis is laid bare in new figures showing how many families are paying an "extra mortgage" to cover the monthly costs.
A Newstalk survey reveals the national average monthly fee for a two-year-old in full-time care is €745 - a 5.5pc increase in the past five years.
But there are major disparities, and in Dublin and Wicklow the cost is above €1,000.
Childcare has already become a burning political issue with Minister Shane Ross, sparking furious debate after his proposal to offer grandparents €1,000 for childcare.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, by contrast, wants all crèches exempt from costly commercial rates.
There is set to be a major Budget battle for childcare cash but Fianna Fáil cautioned that not all savings will be passed on to parents, with many families bracing themselves for even steeper costs in September.
The latest survey from Newstalk, which compared 135 childcare providers countrywide, found Dublin had the highest costs, which climbed to €1,047 a month on average.
That is an eye-watering increase of almost 9pc compared with 2013. At the other end, Longford has the lowest average childcare costs per month at €650, still an 8pc increase compared with 2013. The difference between the two counties is a significant 61pc.
Commuter-belt counties around Dublin also featured high on the list with Wicklow coming in second at €1,006.63 on average a month. Kildare, Meath and Louth were fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
Meath and Clare were the only counties to register a fall in childcare costs when compared with 2013 figures.
Other urban areas, including Cork and Limerick, showed a monthly average increase of 3pc and 5pc respectively compared with 2013, while in Galway, those living in the city are paying 15pc more than those living in the county.
Frances Byrne, director of policy and advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, said: "Given how expensive it is, only about a quarter of all two-year-olds in Ireland are actually in centre-based care and you can understand why.
"Some of that is down to parental choice. For example, it wouldn't be unusual for mothers to stay at home or work part-time... The economics of all this are affecting parental choice.
"About half of private providers are barely breaking even because what we have in Ireland is historical under-investment in this area.
"So parents will say; 'I feel like I'm paying a second mortgage', or indeed three if they've two children."
She warned that providers also complained that their "backs were to the wall" absorbing rates and dealing with a hefty administrative burden.
"The third thing is that staff are notoriously underpaid," said Ms Burne.
The survey was conducted by Newstalk researchers for the 'On The Record' programme.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee said that despite everything, childcare providers were still hiking costs. "I have been contacted this month by many parents who have recently been informed by their childcare provider that their fees will increase for the forthcoming school year," she said.
A spokesman for Ms Zappone said the results of a full independent report on the cost of childcare are expected in the coming weeks. He said the minister was working to "correct decades of neglect by successive governments" in this area.