FRONTLINE workers will have to wait another six weeks to be provided with childcare after the collapse of a 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 and available insurance cover.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that the Department of Children would now be focused on getting creches 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.
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 child care that was promised to them,” he said.
The Taoiseach questioned whether this would be possible and whether insurers are covering the risk of an employee getting Covid-19 in other sectors. He said it could be the case that childcare is 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”.
In his opening remarks, Mr Varadkar said the Government is “increasingly confident” that it can move into phase one of reopening plan on Monday. The Cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide on recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
Mr Varadkar says Government strategy is "isolate, test, trace and treat so we can quickly react if things go wrong" as restrictions are eased.
He warned there may be an increase in the R number - the reproductive rate of the virus - as the country reopens. "This is not a straight path, sometimes progress is halted and there are setbacks," he says, citing examples in Germany, South Korea and Wuhan in China.
Mr Varadkar said the public would have to continue to observe health guidelines with no handshakes, physical distancing of two metres, washing hands, sneezing or coughing into tissue or elbow and self-isolating if they become sick.
He said that face coverings were "no substitute for any of this" and that he had “every confidence in the Irish people to embrace this new normal".
Varadkar said it is Government policy to resume normal travel for business and leisure but it will be "months" not weeks before this happens.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil there would need to be an overhaul of the care model for the elderly and vulnerable with “more and better homecare”.
He said the current Government had increased the homecare budget by 40pc but it is unlikely the next government will have such resources. A new funding model will need to be found and placed on a statutory footing, he said.
He said the next government will have to “consider a move away” from large modern nursing homes with 150-200 beds to smaller facilities like in the disability sector. Care homes will have to be better integrated with the health service, he said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised concerns about the Government’s €115m-a-month deal with private hospitals, saying there had been a “system-wide collapse” in diagnostics and treatment of non-Covid-19 cases.
He said that the Leaving Cert should have been cancelled earlier and that the debate on the exam going ahead was based on the “false premise” that it could happen safely.
Mr Martin said the situation in meat plants was “gravely serious” and that authorities needed to be on the factory floor with families of workers tested and a deep clean of facilities where there has been an outbreak of the disease.
The coronavirus lockdown has cut a swathe through businesses and jobs, with more than a million people now depending on the State for at least part of their wages, and it has also produced an epidemic of worry, loneliness and fear, according a study by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
Ireland is entering a Big Brother world, where people will be under unprecedented watch as a price for exiting lockdown and living with Covid-19. Checks and surveillance will be a daily norm in a trade-off for more freedoms. Here are 10 ways life is going to change: