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NI schools reopening 'sensible' approach says Michelle O'Neill as Foster hopes to revisit matter

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Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

PA

Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said she believes the Executive has taken a "responsible approach" to phasing the return of school.

She made the comments after First Minister Arlene Foster said she hoped the Executive could revisit the issue after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to reopen schools for all in England on March 8.

Mrs O'Neill said advice from Health Minister Robin Swann and Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride was "very clear" on the need for a staged approach rather than the full reopening of schools.

"I think our priority very much is focused on making sure we get maximum return to school as quickly as possible. I think it's in the best interest of our children. It needs to be done in conjunction with teaching staff, strong communication with parents," she said.

"I think we've taken a sensible approach."

Some primary school pupils will return to class in Northern Ireland on March 8 with some older post-primary school children returning on March 22.

Arlene Foster said on Monday she hoped the subject of a date for school reopening for all pupils could be revisited.

She said Education Minister Peter Weir’s preferred option was to have all children back at school on March 8.

“Unfortunately, our health advisers didn’t think that that was the right way forward and I understand that we have to take a safe and sustainable way forward, but I hope we can now revisit that again because I know full well from my own personal experience that the kitchen table is no substitute for a classroom,” she told the BBC.

The Sinn Fein vice president said the Executive was focused on what was right for Northern Ireland rather than being guided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's four-stage plan for exiting lockdown.

"He's working on behalf of England and our job is to work on behalf of people here. All the decisions we take are based on the medical advice," she said.

Next Monday, the Executive is expected to set out a pathway to recovery, something Mrs O'Neill said would be a "slow and steady reversal out of the current situation" amid "excellent" developments in the vaccine rollout.

Mrs O'Neill said Covid fatigue was an issue and she appealed for the public to continue to be patient over the next few months.

"We want to avoid us going into endless cycles of lockdown," she said.

Belfast Telegraph


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