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SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Taoiseach suggests schools may be closed for another two months

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told his parliamentary party that school closures may continue until May, raising the prospect that Leaving and Junior Certificate exams could now be cancelled

Mr Varadkar also warned that the numbers of positive cases of Covid-19 will "continue to rise" in the days ahead.

However, the Fine Gael leader did not get a mandate from TDs, senators and MEPs to negotiate a programme for government with Fianna Fáil, as had been expected.

Party sources said the government formation talks process would "continue on the same path". This is expected to see the negotiations between the civil war rival parties stalled or even paused.

In a statement, Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon confirmed that Mr Varadkar warned that school closures and restrictions could remain in place for another two months.

But with the school exams in early June, this would almost certainly mean that pupils could not sit their tests if they have not returned to school until sometime in May.

The stark message to his party is expected to trigger debate about how education can be dealt with in community settings and about what will happen with exams.

Mr Heydon said Mr Varadkar spoke to members via telephone conference this evening, saying the numbers of positive cases for Covid-19 will “continue to rise over coming days”.

He added: “The Fine Gael President said there will be big increases in positive cases over coming days with increased testing taking place across the country. He said all of Government was pulling together on fighting the virus. He said the benefits of social distancing may not be seen for five to 10 days.

The restrictions on schools opening could be extended into April or May.

“Parliamentary party colleagues agreed to continue talks with other political parties regarding a future Government and negotiators will report to party colleagues with developments.

The two-hour phone meeting also heard Fine Gael will lead the rebuilding of the Irish economy again as the country enters an extremely hard time.

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The teleconference comes after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil held only one day of talks this week.

Earlier, a Fine Gael reference group also discussed today the issue of the two parties working together.

One senior party source said the process was a “slow burner” and that nothing immediately would be agreed.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil sources have also told the Irish Examiner that the emergency in fighting the coronavirus must be tackled and addressed before any new government comes in and new ministers take up roles.