| 18.2°C Dublin

Varadkar: 'It will reflect very badly on government and educators if we're unable to reopen schools'

Close

Tánaiste Varadkar said there's no reason why schools shouldn't be able to return at the end of August.
PHOTO: Gareth CHANEY/Collins

Tánaiste Varadkar said there's no reason why schools shouldn't be able to return at the end of August. PHOTO: Gareth CHANEY/Collins

Tánaiste Varadkar said there's no reason why schools shouldn't be able to return at the end of August. PHOTO: Gareth CHANEY/Collins

It will reflect "very badly" on the government and educators if schools are unable to reopen at the end of August Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

He reiterated the government's intention for schools to reopen at the end of next month and said he has "no doubt" teachers will "rise to the challenge".

Mr Varadkar's remarks came as Opposition TDs criticised the level of information available to teachers, students and parents about plans for reopening.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty claimed they have been "left in the dark" and raised suspicion that the government doesn't know what will happen either based on the "silence" from Education Minister Norma Foley so far.

He said many parents don't have confidence the government will get their kids back to school in a safe way.

Mr Doherty asked if all children will be back in school on a five-day basis in September.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of parents are concerned and more than a million children need to get back to school.

He said it's "crucial" schools are opened as planned provided coronavirus continues to be suppressed.

Mr Varadkar said the government want to get the decisions right and that confidence would be undermined if announcements were made and subsequently changed.

He said there are many other countries with higher instances of the virus than Ireland like Germany that have been able to reopen schools.

Mr Varadkar added: "There are other countries that have suffered much worse than us in this pandemic that never closed schools fully.

"I do think it would reflect very badly on us as politicians, on the government, and on the education partners if we were unable to open our schools in August."

Mr Doherty raised concern from some quarters that school uniforms would have to be banned as part of efforts to reduce the risk of the virus being spread.

Close

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said they have been "left in the dark" (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said they have been "left in the dark" (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said they have been "left in the dark" (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Varadkar said interim public health advice has been published for schools and there is an emphasis on hand and respiratory hygiene.

He said no issues have been raised about the wearing of school uniforms.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said his two children asked him to find out when they will be returning to school.

He said Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said reopening the schools is the government's priority but added: "I'm not confident that's going to happen".

Mr Kelly said guidelines for third level institutions includes two metre social distancing and limits on class times.

He asked where this leaves the opening of schools suggesting teachers will want to be treated the same as third level staff

He claimed Ms Foley not answering a Dáil question on when the Leaving Certificate results would be released was a "disgrace" and demanded that she take Dáil questions on the reopening of schools in the coming days.

Mr Varadar said Ms Foley is scheduled to take questions in the Dáil next week.

He said that shops, restaurants and barbers are open, the Dáil is meeting, and many countries in Europe didn't close schools at all during the pandemic.

He said there's no reason why Ireland should be the only country that doesn't have schools reopening.

Mr Varadkar said that children's healthcare operated throughout the pandemic and creches have reopened with specific coronavirus guidelines.

He said there are special regulations for restaurants and he suggested schools can reopen with their own specific guidelines.

Mr Varadkar added: "I have no doubt our teachers will rise to the challenge".

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said there's a "sense of panic" among parents and questions coming from teachers.

Mr Varadkar said that schools spaces will need to be used differently and libraries and gyms may have to be used in addition to classrooms.

He said the government is planning a "considerable financial support package" to assist schools.

Ms Murphy referred to Mr Varadkar's remarks about other European countries saying "we're not the same" and pointing to class sizes as high as 32 in some places.

Mr Varadkar said there's no reason why schools shouldn't be able to return at the end of August.

He said it "won't be the same" and it will be a "new normal for the duration of this pandemic".

He said he understands parents want information and it will be shared as soon as possible.

Online Editors