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Education Minister facing growing pressure to publish school reopening plans

Labour leader Alan Kelly called for Norma Foley to appear in the Dail to take questions on the matter.

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Minister for Education Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Minister for Education Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Minister for Education Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

The Education Minister is facing mounting pressure to appear in the Dail to outline plans about how schools will reopen in September.

While the Government has asked the public to “bear with us”, there are rising concerns over how schools will be able to open fully with no advice or guidelines published.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said he was “not confident” schools would reopen, despite commitments from the Government that over a million pupils would return in the new academic year.

Mr Kelly called for Minister for Education Norma Foley to take questions on the matter next week.

“The minister has not in any way answered any questions,” Mr Kelly told the Dail.

“You have to be accountable as a minister. Hiding away in the department doing briefings and then issuing press releases about it is not acceptable.”

He appealed to Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to ensure Ms Foley would appear before the House to take questions.

Mr Varadkar said that Ms Foley would be in the Dail to answer oral questions next week, but Mr Kelly called for her to appear and answer questions in relation to the reopening of schools.

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was ‘crucial and essential’ that schools reopened in the new academic year (Niall Carson/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was ‘crucial and essential’ that schools reopened in the new academic year (Niall Carson/PA)

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was ‘crucial and essential’ that schools reopened in the new academic year (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said that parents, students and school transport operators had been left in the dark.

“We’re just over four weeks from the traditional date of reopening schools, and as it stands schools don’t know what’s happening,” he said.

“Here in the Dail we don’t know what’s happening and I would suspect that on your side of the House you don’t know what’s happening either based on the silence from the Minister for Education.

“By the time you’re talking about publishing your plan we may be just three weeks out from reopening schools. I get that some of this is complex but some of it isn’t.

“We know that we will need additional teachers, we know that more money will be needed, we know that we need more space, we know that we’ll need increased investment in cleaning and hygiene and other measures.

“We know that children will need buses to get to and from school and we know that other children with additional needs will need to be catered for in this environment.”

I've no doubt there is an aspiration to open schools, but an aspiration will not cut the mustard. We have to see the detailsCatherine Murphy, Social Democrats

Mr Varadkar told the Dail that it was “crucial and essential” that schools were opened in the new academic year.

He added: “A lot of work is being done by the Minister for Education, by the department, by the teachers’ unions, by principals and school partners to get everything in place that we need for the schools to open at the end of August.

“But we want to get all the details right before we share them widely because what would undermine confidence is to come out with a set of details and plans today, and then change them in a week’s time or 10 days’ time.

“We need a little bit of people bearing with us at least for the next couple of days, a couple of weeks, while those plans are put in place.”

Mr Varadkar also said other European countries that had a higher incidence than Ireland had been able to reopen schools.

“There are other countries that have suffered much worse than us in this pandemic and never closed their schools fully,” he said.

“I do think it would reflect very badly on us, as politicians, on the Government, and on the education partners, if we were unable to open our schools in August.”

Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said there was a “sense of panic” among parents and teachers.

She said: “My colleague Deputy (Gary) Gannon, with others, met with Minister Foley last week. The meeting didn’t provide one single piece of reassurance. There was no clarity whatsoever on what’s on offer …

“I’ve no doubt there is an aspiration to open schools, but an aspiration will not cut the mustard. We have to see the details.”

PA