A Cork TD has said the Taoiseach’s latest comments on the reopening of schools "must not be another instance of his Government thinking aloud without proper engagement and planning".
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire was speaking following Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s comments about schools not fully reopening before St Patrick's Day.
Speaking earlier to Brendan O' Connor on RTÉ radio, Mr Martin said that special education could return in February and that there was a failure in delivering on their return to school but “unions acted in good faith".
He said there is a "shared determination” to do something for families with children with special needs.
He said with that “the idea of mobilising one million people was the main reason not to open them” and that the Government would have to look at it differently.
Mr Martin said schools are safe but the movement of people around them is the big issue.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said: "Just days ago, the Government’s position was that schools would reopen on February 1. While it has been apparent for some time that this was unlikely, the leap to a date more than seven weeks away is extraordinary.
“It is a dreadful way for parents to hear that they may be homeschooling for another seven or eight weeks, a dreadful way for staff to hear that they may be mostly working remotely for another seven or eight weeks, and a dreadful way for children to learn that they won’t be seeing much of their friends for the next seven or eight weeks.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said that Minister Foley "was using her interpretation of public health as a stick against school staff, in a very divisive manner" in the last week and that now, the Taoiseach was "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.
“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," he said.