Gardaí have begun a criminal investigation into alleged physical abuse of children at all three creches featured in the RTÉ Investigations Unit programme last night.

Parents of children at the three creches contacted gardaí after viewing the footage in the programme, A Breach of Trust.

The investigation involves local gardaí and is being co-ordinated by officers from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described as "abuse" the mistreatment of children in the creches in Dublin and Wicklow as revealed in the programme.

Political parties have pledged to work together on the passage of legislation aimed at improving childcare standards.

The Health Service Executive has said more robust reviews would be put in place at creches and inspections would be standardised.

Mr Kenny has said that creche inspections need to become child centred and the focus has to be on quality for children.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, he said he was shocked by the programme.

He said the upcoming Family Support Bill is the largest reform in this area in the history of the State and would be before the Dáil in the coming weeks.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald described the programme as "deeply distressing, upsetting and unacceptable".

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Fitzgerald said she believed the treatment of children, as shown in the programme, amounted to emotional abuse.

Such practices would not be allowed to continue, she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said that inspection reports on childcare facilities will in future be made public online within a couple of weeks.

The need for more inspectors will also be addressed, she said, adding that staff in childcare facilities needed more training and more qualifications.

Ms Fitzgerald earlier said she has been actively reviewing the issues raised relating to standards in early childhood care and has met the Health Service Executive and Early Childhood Ireland.

Breaches of regulations uncovered

The RTÉ Investigations Unit report examined standards of childcare in Ireland and gathered film footage of the treatment of children at three creches.

It uncovered issues relating to staffing, training, systems of inspection, and breaches of regulations.

One of the creches featured, Little Harvard in Rathnew in Co Wicklow, has apologised to parents and children for any distress caused.

A spokesperson said the company was committed to providing a high quality service and was deeply concerned about the contents of the programme.

It said it was disappointed that the footage in Rathnew focused on isolated incidents, which it is investigating, and did not reflect the commitment, care and love the Little Harvard staff provide each day.

A second creche, Giraffe, has said it was profoundly sorry for the distress caused at its Belarmine centre in Stepaside in Dublin.

It said a staff member has been suspended pending the completion of an investigation and a full disciplinary process.

Giraffe outlined a number of new measures it has taken to avoid a repeat, including the installation of CCTV in all centres, increased staff training in child protection and a complete reassessment of risk management procedures.

The footage from the Links creche in Malahide showed at least one child being thrown or dropped on to a mat during sleep time.

Barnardos chief says staff under extreme pressure

Barnardos Chief Executive Fergus Finlay said the investigation showed there was a complete disregard for children.

"It was clear that these were staff who were taking their pressures out on the children and this is completely unacceptable."

He called for a review on whether the childcare industry should be dominated by private businesses, while he said that the Department of Education should be playing a bigger role in the provision of pre-school services.

Speaking to RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Mr Finlay said he was shocked and stunned by some of the images but was glad the programme was aired because a spotlight was shone on the system.

The examples of mistreatment shown in the programme were inevitable due to the lack of State involvement in the provision of childcare facilities, he added.

Mr Finlay said that the staff in last night's programme were under extreme pressure and were given little support:

"It looked like, if you can believe the evidence before your eyes, a group of untrained people, who weren't happy in their work, who were under very considerable pressure and who were taking the pressure out on the children."

Early Childhood Ireland CEO calls for funding withdrawal

Chief Executive of Early Childhood Ireland Irene Gunning has said that State funding for childcare providers who provide the free pre-school year should be withdrawn if they are found to be in breach of HSE regulations.

Ms Gunning agreed that creches found to be in breach of regulations should be fined, while she said no childcare provider should be part of any State programme unless there was "basic compliance" with minimum standards.

"I think it is time to get very serious about serious breaches of the regulations and do something strong about it ... we all agree that you can't be part of a State programme unless you have basic compliance, that you are compliant to minimum standards, that means you are meeting the regulations," she said.

Ms Gunning said that "quite a substantial investment" is needed in order to improve services, in particular in relation to staff training.

She agreed that those working in childcare facilities needed training above FETAC level 5 qualifications, while she also called on a mentoring system to be put in place to help workers.

Meanwhile, the Government's Special Rapporteur on child protection has called for a national register of those working in child care services.

Speaking on RTÉ Six One, Geoffrey Shannon said more needs to be done to improve training standards for staff working in child care services

He said the Prime Time programme pointed to the absence of training in the area and that there is no requirement in the regulations for anybody working in the child care sector to have a qualification.

“The only reference to qualifications is a reference in the guide which suggests that 50% of child carers should have a qualification on child protection or child care", he said.

Please note, Breach of Trust will not be repeated or made available on the RTÉ Player. This decision was made in consultation with parents of the children featured in the programme.