January 23, 2021
Taoiseach thinking out loud on schools unhelpful – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has said the Taoiseach’s comments that schools will not be fully open before St Patrick’s Day must not be another instance of his Government thinking aloud without proper engagement and planning. 

Following the Taoiseach’s remarks in the media today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“I was astonished when I heard the Taoiseach state that schools would not fully reopen until St Patrick’s Day. I am sure hundreds of thousands of parents, students, and staff were similarly taken aback.

“Just days ago, the Government’s position was that schools would reopen on February 1st. While it has been apparent for some time that this was unlikely, the leap to a date more than 7 weeks away is extraordinary.

“It is a dreadful way for parents to hear that they may be homeschooling for another 7 or 8 weeks, a dreadful way for staff to hear that they may be mostly working remotely for another 7 or 8 weeks, and a dreadful way for children to learn that they won’t be seeing much of their friends for the next 7 or 8 weeks.

“I sincerely hope there is a plan of some kind underpinning this, and that it has been discussed with at least some stakeholders. Otherwise it is thinking out loud and flying kites.

“During the week, the Minister was using her interpretation of public health as a stick against school staff, in a very divisive manner. Yet the Taoiseach is now making statements based on what he is expecting the public health advice to be almost two months away.

“That’s not reasonable, it’s speculative, and it isn’t sensible. We cannot know what the picture will be then.

“We all want children to get back to school. It has to happen in a manner that is safe, and that is based on agreement with stakeholders.

“The Taoiseach would be better focusing on ensuring we get agreement on special education returning to the classroom as soon as possible, and if return to school will be phased, to lay out criteria and a plan for that. Not speculative statements on an arbitrary date far off in the future, but an evaluation on the situation at the time. 

“I sincerely hope that schools will be back by then, but I recognise that these decisions will be based on the best public health advice closer to the time. The Government needs to be intervening to improve safety in schools as soon as possible.

“It is also now abundantly clear that we need an urgent decision on the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert. Leaving Cert students deserve a choice, between an alternative and an exam, if it is possible to run them in the summer. But for that to happen, the Minister makes a decision now. 

“Given it now seems likely Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students will miss even more in-class time and completing the courses will be even more challenging, this is even more essential.” 

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