Over 500 childcare workers held a rally outside Leinster House, Dublin, at lunchtime on Tuesday (17th February) demanding better funding for the essential service they provide. The protest was organised by the Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP), which seeks to highlight the work childcare professionals do, supporting children and families at the foundation stage of development.Among those protesting was SIPTU member and community worker, Fintan Brunkard. He said: “The importance of the early childhood care can not be overstated but despite of that the people entrusted with caring for children at this most important stage are paid a pittance.”He added: ‘There needs to be increased regulation in the private sector to stamp out sharp practices. In the community sector, funding must be increased to ensure workers are paid in accordance with their qualifications and the importance of their work.”SIPTU Organiser Karen Smollen said: “Ireland needs a genuine conversation about the future of early childhood education. You cannot deliver a quality, affordable childcare without investing in skilled and committed workers.”According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Ireland had the highest cost for childcare of any of its 34 members. A family with two children will spend 40% of their average wage on childcare costs. Despite this high cost, the average hourly wage for a fully qualified childcare worker is between €8.65 and €10.50, according to Early Childhood Ireland.