Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has said that there is increasing doubt among the public regarding the proposed return to schools on the 11th January.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said that the meeting between Opposition spokespersons and the Government tomorrow needs to hear from NPHET.
Speaking this evening, he said:
“Personally, much as I regret it, I do not believe the Department is being credible when they say schools will open as normal on the 11th.
“It is hard to see how they can open safely. If the Minister for Education has advice to the contrary, she needs to outline that, and justify that.
“If not, the Minister needs to come out and level with the public.
“There appears to be growing scepticism in Government on this matter. It seems to me as if the writing is all but on the wall.
“If it is the case that Government, in truth, is about to change tack on this issue, then they need to come out and outline their plans as soon as possible. They owe it to families, school staff and our communities to be upfront about this and engage in the reality of the how circumstances and case numbers have changed.
“They need to be clear what the criteria is for schools to reopen, and if they are not reopening on the 11th what are the plans for remote learning, and indeed for the crucial issue of parental leave to facilitate parents who have to stay home with their children.
“Of course, everyone supports the prioritisation of education and schools being open where it is safe and sustainable to do so. But the Government have done nothing to demonstrate how they can make schools safe and sustainable, in the context of such numbers, on the 11th, and I do not believe that it can be done.
“Tomorrow afternoon the opposition meets with the Minister for Education regarding the situations in our schools. I have today contacted the Minister asking that we receive a briefing from NPHET at this briefing.
“It is crucial that we hear from them the specific public health advice regarding schools, not just for the next few days but the picture such as will be emerging over the coming few days.
“Currently, the meeting is framed as a meeting with the Department alone. Given that the public health advice is very clearly a vital component of any decision that might be made regarding when schools return, we need to be able to interrogate this advice to have a useful discussion on this.
“We also need the Minister for Education to level with us and with the public. The unfortunate but undeniable reality is that few school staff and parents currently expect the Government to persevere with the plan to open the schools as normal on the 11th.”