Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
I thank the Taoiseach. I do not accept any excuse advanced for not dealing with the clear-cut situation of women returning from maternity leave who are locked out of the wage subsidy scheme. The Taoiseach is right that it is those who were not topped up by their employer, but that makes the situation all the worse because they were solely reliant on their maternity benefit. That is unfair. If other scenarios have arisen, we must deal with them too, but it is of no comfort to women who have been excluded from this scheme, who are coming back from maternity leave, and who are employees with a protected status under the equality legislation, to say to them, "Well, you have to wait because there are other problems also." All of these matters need to be dealt with but this issue has been raised for weeks with Government. It is not a new issue and these women need an answer. It is unfair to exclude them and I would ask the Taoiseach to move very promptly. I urge him to instruct the Minister for Finance today, because the matter has not been resolved and what the Taoiseach has said is of no comfort to the women concerned.
As to the considerations of the childcare sector by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am really alarmed. I hear and understand that we are considering the Norwegian model, with numbers of children in pods and playing with a single toy between them. I have to say that it will take a miracle, certainly for any children I have ever had any dealings with, to enforce that level of physical and social distancing. It strikes me that there is going to be a huge issue around capacity and physical space. There is going to be a huge issue around personnel and the numbers of childcare workers available. I have no sense at this point that the Taoiseach is in any way, in a real-world way, dealing with those very pressing matters. We do not need to hear at this point that the Taoiseach is considering models that might apply. He needs to be considering the day-to-day realities of childcare provision here in this State, how he is going to make it safe, how he is going to grow capacity and how he is going to make up for the fact that fewer children can be in restricted spaces and the consequential need for more personnel. I have no sense that those matters are being considered or planned in a concrete way at this juncture.