Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
We all agree that manners need to be put on the insurance industry in this country. Insurance companies have been exposed for charging customers extortionate premiums, despite the fact that claims have fallen significantly and those same companies' profits continue to soar. There was general outrage when motorists discovered the extent to which they were being ripped off. There is an ongoing issue for every festival, playground, community organisation and GAA club with their insurance costs but now, disgracefully, our childcare services have fallen prey to the same greedy arrogant insurance industry.
At the core of this problem is the fact that we rely on private provision for early childhood education and for childcare. That is the nub of it. The root of this problem is that childcare providers have no option but to rely on the vagaries of market forces and market providers which can decide whether they will open their doors. All of that needs to change and it is my strong belief that we need to move towards making early childhood education and care a public service. That is the answer to this but that will take considerable work. However, in the here and now, all those childcare providers, parents and childcare workers - who not alone do not have a structured career pathway, as Deputy Micheál Martin would have it, but are very low-paid, are in very insecure work and, for the most part, are women - want to know that the doors of the crèches will open in January. I am alarmed to hear the Taoiseach, on the one hand, speculate about the concern - it is actually panic - that families are feeling about all of this and, on the other hand, move to give a reassurance that registration of these crèches is in order and that they will open in January. The fact is if they do not have insurance cover, they will not be opening in January. The Taoiseach speculates that the new quotations and premiums will be reasonable but that is not the evidence we have heard from any number of providers. One in Tallaght, for example, with which Deputy Crowe has been working, has had a €1,000 hike in its premium. It provides for ten children, one of whom has special or additional needs. Other premium hikes range from €600 to €2,800. These are breathtaking additional costs and if they can be met by the provider, which is not a certainty, they will come out of the pocket of parents.
We need Government intervention. The Taoiseach needs to give solid assurances to parents, childcare workers and providers that they will be able to operate in January. That means the Government has to step in.
Simply to recommend to those families that they cross their fingers and hope the market will be good to them is frankly not good enough.