Education Ministers part of the problem – Taoiseach must intervene to find solutions
- Return to schools for all students now in jeopardy
- Comments from Minister Foley and Minister Madigan deeply disrespectful and unhelpful
- Urgent consideration must be given to prioritising teachers, SNAs and all school staff for next round of vaccination
Speaking at Leaders’ Questions, Labour spokesperson on education, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, urged the Taoiseach and his Department to swiftly intervene in the education mess that has spiralled completely out of control.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:
“The Labour Party are attempting to deescalate the tensions that have arisen on the return to schools for special education students. Blaming, or pointing the finger will not help now, nor will joining the attempt to create division between special education teachers, the students, their parents, and the Government. However, I put to you Taoiseach, that now is the time for you to get involved, because quite clearly, Minister Foley and Minister Madigan have lost control of the situation.
“We were quite supportive of Minister Foley and Minister Madigan in investigating the possibility of reopening schools for certain cohorts of students. We believe that the closing of schools is a profoundly, profoundly negative thing to happen to all children. But it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable children in our society, including those with additional needs, and those in areas of disadvantage.
“However, from the start of this year, the situation has gotten worse and worse. Let’s just look at a timeline of what happened here. On January 6th, an announcement was made on school reopening – with no consultation. Our trade union leaders confirmed this.
“On January 14th, another announcement was made – before an education debate in this house – about the reopening of special schools and special classes. Again, this announcement was made with no agreement.
“Then, on January 15th, at eight o’clock on a Friday evening, a letter was suddenly sent to every school in the country that special schools would reopen in less than a week. Again Taoiseach, this was done without agreement.
“The spiralling is continuing today. Last night, we received an extremely ill-advised communication from the Department of Education with quotes from both Ministers, which was pointing fingers all over the place – and squarely at the unions. Then, the unions issued a joint communication, saying that they remain at the table and still willing to talk.
“We then have Minister Foley this morning suggesting that comments made by one of the union leaders were disingenuous. To add further fuel to the fire, Minister Madigan wades in to make a comparison between this situation, and the Mother and Baby Homes, less than a week after she says that non SNA students are ‘normal’ students.
“We have been doing our best as a political entity to try to be constructive and solutions focused on this issue. In the spirit of being constructive, I urge you Taoiseach to get your office involved in this situation immediately. You must appreciate the severity of the situation and the potential damage for young people to be out school for this length of time.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin continued:
“Taoiseach, you must recognise that the entire reopening of schools is now in jeopardy because of the bad faith shown by the Ministers in their public comments.
“I now call on you Taoiseach to comment on the potential for these vital workers to be added to the next round of vaccinations. That would give some level of comfort to all teachers, parents and students alike.
“Minister Foley and Minister Madigan are now part of the problem. Taoiseach, you and your office can be part of the solution.”