ALL schools and colleges in Leinster and Munster are to remain closed on Thursday and Friday, the Department of Education has confirmed.
Officials have decided to close schools and colleges in the two provinces for safety reasons as freezing conditions continue to grip Ireland.
Met Eireann has a issued a Status Red alert for both provinces to begin on Thursday at 4pm and end at noon on Friday.
Schools in Connacht and Ulster will be make individual decisions, depending on the circumstances in their area, and the situation in those two provinces will be kept under review.
The decision was announced after a meeting of the National Emergency Co-ordinating Group today.
Education Minister Richard Bruton minister came in for criticism from political opponents for not issuing advice to close schools earlier.
The schools forced to close by the severe weather conditions may have to make up the days later in the school year.
It could affect the Easter holidays, or any mini-breaks that a school had planned to take in coming months.
It depends on how much time has been lost and whether the school can address the shortfalls in any other way, such as by cancelling a tour or other non-tuition activities.
Some schools may be facing three days closure this week because of the snow, bringing their total loss of time in the current year to a week.
In October, Storm Ophelia caused a two-day nationwide shutdown of the education system, and some schools may also have closed in December because of weather in their area.
After Storm Ophelia, education sources indicated that there would be no requirement on schools to replace those days, however, it is unclear whether a harder line will be taken in light of the cumulative effect of weather-related events.
Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted that a “red alert” cannot be an automatic trigger to close down schools.
He was responding to criticisms from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin during a Dáil debate on the authorities’ response to the extreme weather. Mr Martin said parents and pupils were entitled to more clarity and school management needed more support to decide on closure.
The Taoiseach rejected the call and also defended the handling of allocating an extra week’s fuel allowance worth €22.50 announced today to the surprise of some. Mr Varadkar said he had not rejected this idea of extra fuel money on Tuesday but had promised to consider the issue with Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty.
Mr Martin said there should be an automatic school closure in areas covered by the highest status “red alert” weather warnings.
“We would reduce the risk of accidents and traffic congestion,” Mr Martin told the Dáil.
The Fianna Fáil leader said he was trying to be as constructive as possible but he noted that there was widespread disruption and the threat of worse. He urged that Ireland learn from the experience of other countries which cope with far worse weather excesses.
“The entire country is coming to a halt, despite all the warnings, after one evening’s snow,” Mr Martin said.
The Taoiseach said that it was a matter for the National Coordinating Committee which included representatives of the Education Department. Mr Vradkar said some schools were not dependent on public transport.