I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 83 together.
The removal of crèches from the Register of Early Years Services is the ultimate sanction by Tusla, the independent statutory Regulator. It comes at the end of an enforcement process, during which a provider is afforded fair procedure, and generally provided with several opportunities to rectify matters and meet regulatory requirements. Tusla does not take the decision lightly and generally does so because of persistent and serious non-compliance with the Regulations. While there is a right of appeal to the District Court within 21 days, the services will be required to close after the notice period.
The safety and protection of children remains the first priority of the regulator and indeed of Government. Safety and protection is assured through the enforcement of regulations which have children at the heart of their implementation.
I have great sympathy for parents who, due to de-registration of their crèche, now need to find alternative childcare options. This comes in addition to the distress they may already be experiencing due to the poor standards uncovered. Their distress is further exacerbated where access to alternative services is limited or indeed absent.
Where a service is removed from the register, City and County Childcare Committees are available to support parents who need help finding alternative provision. In the case of current de-registrations in central Dublin, officials in my Department have been liaising closely with Dublin City Childcare Committee and Fingal County Childcare Committee, to offer supports to parents who will be affected by the closures. Both Childcare Committees have operated extended opening hours to support parents who need help finding alternative provision.
Both Childcare Committees have also been actively seeking to support the development of alternative childcare options in the locality, either through the development of new services, or the expansion of existing services. Tusla has also agreed to fast-track any applications received from providers to increase capacity in the area.
I would like to encourage providers to consider expansion given apparent demand in the area and the fact that demand may continue to increase with the introduction last month of the National Childcare Scheme and other measures being taken by Government.
It will not be a comfort to the parents affected in this case, but capacity in the sector has doubled in the last 5 years, and continues to rise. My Department is actively seeking to increase capacity even further, through a range of measures including its annual capital funding scheme. In 2019, I provided €5.9m towards the creation of new places within the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector. I hope to announce details for a new 2020 capital scheme in the coming weeks.
Childminders are also an option that parents may consider and Childminding Ireland is available to provide information to parents on potential childminding places. My Department has recently been consulting on a Draft Childminding Action Plan. Once the plan is finalised, reforms will commence that should see more childminders being available to offer places and to deliver Government schemes.