The Government is exploring ways to force childcare providers to repay parents who are charged fees for services that can't be used due to Covid-19 restrictions.
There is concern among parents that creches will still charge fees for January so their child's place can be maintained. The average fee nationally was put at €736-a-month in one study in 2019 with parents in Dublin forking out an average of €1,000-a-month for one child.
Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman said he is asking childcare providers to refund parents whose children can't attend under restrictions.
The Government hopes this will be done voluntarily.
But the Department of Children confirmed last night that ways to enforce refunds are also being explored, and said many childcare providers are already offering them. It added: "The relationship between a service and parent is a private one based on a contract.
"The department is examining whether there are mechanisms whereby it can mandate services to repay fees."
On Wednesday Taoiseach Micheal Martin was asked about childcare providers seeking payments for January to maintain a child's place and whether this should be should be permitted.
Mr Martin said: "The minister will be engaging with the childcare providers and with the sector to iron out these particular issues."
Last night Mr O'Gorman told the Herald: "In light of the extensive financial support the State is providing to the childcare sector I am asking that providers would refund or credit those parents who are not essential workers and can't take up childcare for the next three weeks."
Meanwhile, Leaving Cert students will study remotely until the end of January after the Government performed a major U-turn on its decision to proceed with classes in schools three days a week.
The move follows widespread opposition from teachers, parents, pupils and special needs assistants due to "grave concerns" amid the worsening Covid-19 situation.
Existing plans to reopen special schools next week are also to be scrapped.
"Unfortunately I am left with no alternative but to pause the limited reopening on Monday to allow further engagement with all education stakeholders," Education Minister Norma Foley said in a statement last night.
The Labour Party's education spokesman Aodhan O'Riordain said the Government has "averted a disaster".
Attention will now turn to the exams as students continue to voice their concerns about sitting the traditional Leaving Cert in the summer.
The decision to use remote learning follows one of the main teaching unions telling members to stay at home from school on Monday.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) called on its members to teach remotely and defy the Government's plan to allow classes go ahead for Leaving Cert and special needs students following a meeting with public health and education officials.