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Councillor Shane Talty said, "while much of the public debate focuses on affordability, availability is rapidly becoming a greater obstacle for parents.

Major crisis brewing in childcare for county Clare

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THE LACK of access to affordable childcare has been described by a North Clare councillor as “a perfect storm”.

Councillor Shane Talty told the July meeting of the local authority that many private providers are opting out to the sector due to the level of red tape.

He said that while much of the public debate focuses on affordability, availability “is rapidly becoming a greater obstacle for parents”.

The Ennistymon man called on the Minister for Children to address the affordability issue, as a matter of urgency.

“This is an issue that has ballooned over last 12 months,” Councillor Talty told the meeting.

“We have a growing population and virtually full employment and there is a huge demand for childcare. We have some private and some government-funded, community services where the waiting lists are running into the hundreds.”

The Fianna Fáil member said that many private operators now seem to be leaving the sector.

“This is a perfect storm,” he said. “A lot of discussion has focused on affordability. Availability is now the issue. We now have families moving back to North Clare, who have built homes here.

“They are highly skilled but have to opt out of work to care for families. I hear a mother talking recently about indignity, as she saw it, of having to sign on for welfare payments. She had no choice in the absence of childcare.”

The motion was backed by Councillor Pat O’Gorman.

“A lot of early childcare is provided by women in private homes between 9am and 12pm,” he said.

“There is then a huge amount of admin work and that is one of the reasons private operators are getting out if they’re not getting enough money to make it work.

“They can’t go on holidays, they have to be there all the time. I saw them recently protesting at Dáil Éireann to highlight the issue.

“Like teachers, nurses, doctors, they do the job because they love it. They are not in it for the money, but they need to get paid properly.”

Councillor PJ Ryan said that at least three facilities in his area have closed recently.

“The burden of regulation. It’s ridiculous and something needs to be done.”

The issue of coast was raised by Councillor Donna McGettigan.

“That is key, as is availability,” she said. “A lot of people are now choosing to have only one parent going out to work due to difficulties with childcare.”

Councillor Joe Killeen noted that the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) offers only two hours and 15 minutes per day.

“This is a great innovation and an effort to support parents who wish to go to work,” he said.

“That timeframe is very short and needs to be elongated. We have had a large increase in employment and we want to encourage people to work and support the economy. Huge efforts have been made with scheme, but more is needed.”

Councillor Ann Norton was also supportive.

“Covid put the spotlight on family-life balance,” she noted. “When people had to return to work, it’s clear that nearly one wage is covering the cost of childcare.

“I know a primary school teacher finding it difficult to cover the hour in the morning that she needs in order to get to her job.

“There is a difficulty finding people who will accommodate out-of-hours childcare. The issue needs to be brought into the open. People are finding things very, very difficult. There are people working privately from home, who are not registered. Something has to be done to allow those people to do it, without all of the red tape.”

The motion was described by Councillor John Crowe as “very, very timely”.

Councillor Joe Garrihy is chair of a community organisation that has a childcare element.

“We have 70 children on a waiting list,” he said. “When it was being started, I didn’t think it would work. Since then, it has provided €13m in social benefit.

Responding to the debate Councillor Talty said: “If a genuine effort was made to address availability, it would address other issues.”

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