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Nobody seemed prepared for creche landing

THE sirens may have blared for a full week before the 'Prime Time' doodlebug came howling through the roof of Leinster House, but its creche landing still appeared to catch the Government on the hop.

Whether it was distracted by the Shatter shenanigans or underestimated the gravity of the programme's findings and the reaction of a rattled nation, the Government's response was fuzzier than a babby's teddy bear.

There was much solemn talk on Wednesday from the Coalition – in particular from Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald – about action plans being activated and inspection systems being examined and regulations being scrutinised and sanctions being considered.

Frances popped up early yesterday in DCU where she announced she had commissioned an HSE review of privately run childcare facilities.

"We need to see what patterns have emerged in the inspection reports," she said.

A report, however useful, is also a handy way of looking busy during the hiatus between the furore and the publication of draft legislation on childcare issues which is due to land on the Cabinet table soon.

Even as the dust settles after a bombshell, the fallout always sparks another sort of political activity – finger-pointing.

Frances headed in the afternoon for the Seanad, where statements were scheduled to take place on the aftermath of RTE's 'A Breach Of Trust' investigation.

"The focus was not on child development," she stated (the obvious).

This was one of those pesky 'legacy issues' that harked back to the Celtic Tiger era when everything was all about profit.

"In the past 10 years there has been a focus on direct cash payments to parents and there's been far less investment in an affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare sector," she said.

Several of the senators hastened to agree with her.

"The last administration, they spent a lot of money in this country on bricks and mortar and not a lot of money was spent on children," said Fine Gael's Imelda Henry.

This was echoed by Independent Jillian van Turnhout. "I think we've had too much emphasis on the physical environment and not looked at the learning environment, the relationship environment that is there. We do really need to invest in children and not concrete," she said.

The Fianna Fail senators were less than impressed. "The minister must feel embarrassed to find she is relying on 'Prime Time' to find out what is happening in creches," sniped Terry Leyden.

"It is really a revelation that this could happen in any institution overseen by the State. The minister is more than two years in office but the situation continues."

Sinn Fein's Trevor O'Clochartaigh issued a warning, reminding Frances there was another hair-shirt Budget looming.

"All the government senators who have spoken have done so very passionately, but I put it to them that there is a budget coming up in which many of these issues can be addressed," he said.

"There is no point in their coming in here on Budget Day, wringing their hands and saying they are tied by budgetary measures. If there are cuts to childcare and the associated regimes, we will be reminding the government parties that they were jumping up and down today looking for the opposite."

The Government can consider itself warned. After all, finger-pointing works both ways.

Irish Independent