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Family raised concerns about Hide and Seek creche with politicians over a year ago

A family who removed their child from the Hide and Seek creche service at the centre of an RTÉ exposé raised concerns about the facility with politicians and child protection services more than a year ago.

The Department of Children and Tusla faced growing calls to put in place creche CCTV systems and for parents to be told of all ongoing inspections in order to ensure their children are safe.

During an emergency Oireachtas children's committee meeting in the wake of last week's RTÉ Investigates creche exposé, Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte asked officials when they first learned of concerns at the facility.

Citing a June 2018 parliamentary question on the Hide and Seek creche, Ms Rabbitte said "red flags" had been raised more than a year ago.

However, while acknowledging the parliamentary question was raised, the Department of Children's assistant secretary general Bernie McNally said her officials passed the query onto Tusla and did not take any further action at the time.

After the meeting, Ms Rabbitte said she has been in contact with the family who raised the June 2018 issues who told her it was based on a "gut" concern.

She said in June 2018 the family contacted all TDs in their Dublin Central constituency - Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and unaligned Independent Maureen O'Sullivan - about their issues with the creche.

Subsequently, Ms O'Sullivan formally asked the Department of Children to clarify if there were any issues at the facility, with the Department response being sent on July 24, 2018 - a full year before the RTÉ Investigates exposé.

The 2018 case came as the Department and Tusla came under fresh pressure today to introduce new transparency measures to ensure the safety of children in creche care.

During the committee meeting, Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said CCTV systems should be introduced to prevent a repeat of "every parents' worst nightmare".

However, while Tusla's quality assurance director Brian Lee backed the plan, Ms McNally and Tusla's interim chief executive Pat Smyth cautioned against the unintended risks of videoing young children.

Officials also confirmed they are considering plans to give parents greater access to inspection files, with Sinn Féin's Denise Mitchell saying "they have a right to know what's going on".

Ms McNally, Mr Smyth and Mr Lee stressed there are potential difficulties with the opening of all inspection records to parents.

However, they confirmed the move is being examined, with Ms McNally explaining "we are looking to hold [individuals] to account" and that the Department accepts "we have to look at informing parents".

Meanwhile, child protection officials also confirmed they would have closed the Hide and Seek creche at the centre of the RTÉ exposé "immediately" if they had those powers.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has confirmed she is examining extending Tusla's remit to allow it to shut down facilities with immediate effect in the wake of the revelations.

Asked if the powers are needed, Tusla's quality assurance director Mr Lee told politicians while the powers would be used rarely, they would be welcomed.