Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has called for the Government to indemnify childcare providers after a scheme to offer childcare to frontline workers was scrapped.
The Government confirmed on Wednesday that its temporary childcare scheme for healthcare workers will not go ahead.
It emerged that only six providers applied to participate following concerns about infection risk and insurance issues behind the low uptake to an initiative which had been due to begin on Monday.
It would have seen childcare workers coming into the homes of healthcare workers to look after their children.
It has been nine weeks since schools and creches were closed to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Ms McDonald told the Dail that the scheme was “fatally undermined and flawed” and called for the Government to extend indemnity cover to childcare workers to allow frontline staff to work.
However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that thousands of workplaces will open next week who not have insurance against a virus.
He questioned whether it is an insurable risk adding that there are other workplaces that are of a higher risk than a childcare facility.
“There will be tens of thousands more workplaces in Ireland open next week, and they will open notwithstanding the fact that they do not have insurance against a virus,” he added.
“The truth is this is a new virus.
“It is a deadly virus, but it’s not the first virus we’ve dealt with and not the only deadly virus that we’ve dealt with.
“I’m not sure if it’s ever been the case that insurers have indemnified employers for the possibility of being sued over getting a virus.
“So that’s something that needs to be considered but I’m not sure it is the barrier that perhaps is being being made out to be because there are already so many workplaces in Ireland open now this week will open next week, that are potentially higher risk than a childcare facility, and yet that insurance doesn’t exist.”
Ms McDonald claimed the main reason for the collapse of the scheme was due to the insurance industry stating it would not cover Covid-related incidents.
“They say that they have made the government aware of that for weeks and weeks on end and yet this scheme was announced,” Ms McDonald added.
“It seems to be an extraordinary thing that government announced a scheme that was sure to fail.”
Mr Varadkar said it was “with great regret” that the childcare scheme is not going ahead.
He said the focus of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be getting creches and child care facilities open by the end of June for all essential frontline workers first.
“I know Minister (Katherine) Zappone and her department put a lot of work into developing the scheme,” he added.
“They developed the scheme, there was consultation perhaps not enough, but there was consultation with the sector.
“It wasn’t just insurance, for lots of different reasons the uptake from the childcare sector was very low.”
Other reasons offered by the department for the low uptake were issues around employer responsibilities in relation to breaks and rest periods; and concerns about a lack of protection for staff working alone.
The department said it had always been conscious of the fact that the 27,000 workforce in the childcare sector consisted predominantly of women, many of whom had their own parental and caring responsibilities and some of whom had underlying health conditions.
Under Ireland’s lockdown exit plan, the phased reopening of early learning and childcare facilities is provisionally earmarked for June 29.