Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:05 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

The insurance crisis is having its most immediate and telling impact on the childcare sector. Up to 1,300 providers have been left without insurance cover following a letter from their broker, Padraic Smith, who said that he had spent the past six months trying to find alternative insurers through intermediaries and so on. Providers now have only weeks to find an alternative. Many quotes they have received represent a dramatic increase on their existing premiums, from €1,500 to €4,500 in some cases and in others from €3,500 to €9,000. Without question, this is causing real stress and anxiety not just for providers but also for many parents who simply will not be in a position to find alternative places, as was revealed on last evening's edition of "Prime Time". The sector is in crisis for a number of reasons. There is a shortage of places, the goal posts relating to regulatory burdens have been changed and there are questions regarding the credibility of the career pathways for many working in childcare. It must now have to deal with what is potentially an existential insurance crisis. The Government's response to date has been very confusing. It was slow off the mark and the degree to which it seems to have been caught by surprise is incredible. Different Minsters have also been dismissive. Yesterday, the Taoiseach stated that childcare services are mostly private businesses and are expected to cover their costs by the income they receive, and that seemed to be it. Equally, the Taoiseach indicated that the Department did not know about this until 6 December. I find that extraordinary, particularly in view of the fact that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said that he was aware of the impact on various sectors in June. Mr. Peter Boland of the Alliance for Insurance Reform went before the joint committee in April and told it that many sectors, including that relating to childcare, faced existential crises in the context of insurance. I would like clarity on when the Government discovered all of this.

This morning, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, stated that the new, increased rates were essentially reasonable and that the childcare providers should get on with it and take them on board. He stated that what is involved would amount to €60 per child, which he said should be reasonable. He must know that the cost of childcare in Ireland is much higher than the OECD average in terms of its impact on net income. Affordability is a big issue and an additional cost on parents is not sustainable. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, stated that she was shocked and stunned and indicated that something would have to be done. Deputy Darragh O'Brien put forward a constructive solution in respect of this matter to the Minister in April whereby any childcare provider that operates an early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme would be able to access insurance via, for example, IPB Insurance, which is capitalised to the tune of €1.5 billion and has €600 million in a retained income. An approach like that or else a subvention will be required to resolve this matter. Why was the Government so unaware of the issue of insurance in the childcare sector? The Taoiseach must be concerned about that lack of awareness. What does he intend to do to ensure that crèches can stay open in 2020?

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