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Government must ensure reopened schools remain open, says Labour

Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain said any decision to send pupils back to the classroom needs to be taken in the wider context of Covid-19.

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(Brian Lawless/PA)

(Brian Lawless/PA)

(Brian Lawless/PA)

The Government needs to ensure that once schools reopen their doors that they remain open, Labour’s education spokesman has said.

Aodhan O Riordain said any decision on the resumption of classes for pupils needed to take account of the Covid-19 situation.

He made the remarks after reports said Education Minister Norma Foley had told her Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday that she intends to reopen schools on a phased basis from next month.

She was due to update ministers on the progress of talks with teaching unions about this year’s Leaving Certificate.

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Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

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Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government had hoped it would be able to announce details on Tuesday of a final plan for this year’s Leaving Cert exams and a reopening date for schools, but it was not possible with talks ongoing with the unions.

It is hoped a solution will be reached later this week.

Mr O Riordain said: “If we are opening on 1 March then we want it to be done in a safe manner. But we cannot divorce the school reopening discussion from the wider discussion about the suppression of the virus.

“That comes into discussions about quarantine and testing and tracing.”

The Dublin Bay North TD added: “We have to open schools and ensure that they can remain open.

“That’s key because it’ll be very disappointing if we open schools for a short period of time and then have to close them again for a prolonged period of time.”

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Aodhan O Riordain (Aoife Moore/PA)

Aodhan O Riordain (Aoife Moore/PA)

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Aodhan O Riordain (Aoife Moore/PA)

The Social Democrats’ education spokesman Gary Gannon said it was not helpful to announce dates for the reopening of schools when other deadlines had not been met.

“In the past we’ve been let down by dates. They give a date and then we don’t meet the date,” he said.

“What I’d actually like to see from the Department of Education and the minister is a metric about what level, when we’re at a certain level of numbers, can our schools reopen.

“That for me would give much more certainty.”

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Mr O Riordain said he was “disappointed” there was not going to be a decision on the Leaving Cert format.

“We expected a decision in early February and we’re still waiting on that decision,” he said.

“It’s a great disappointment for all those students who are anxiously listening to every news report and every utterance from government ministers to see if they’ll finally get some certainty.

“It’s also disappointing that there seems to be no mention of the Junior Cycle at all and no mention of the Leaving Cert applied. It is as if the concerns of Junior Cycle students and the concerns of Leaving Cert applied students are totally irrelevant to this process.”

He said a political decision needs to be taken on the Leaving Cert so students and teachers can move on.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting the Taoiseach said it was important that students know the future of this year’s Leaving Cert exams.

Micheal Martin said: “It’s very, very important that all involved in the talks do everything they possibly can to bring clarity now to the situation for the students of the Leaving Certificate class of 2021.

“I think that will happen. I think the talks have been intensive and they’re continuing.”

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