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Taoiseach hints at school closures beyond 1 February and says 'focus' is on special needs education

Micheál Martin says the issue will be discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee on Monday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government’s focus is on a return of special needs education, suggesting that a wider return of schools is not currently in train. 

Schools have not returned since the Christmas break and the government confirmed on 6 January that they would remain closed for this month as the country remains under Level 5 restrictions. 

Speaking to reporters today, Martin said there is “no talk at the moment in terms of any relaxation or reversing of restrictions”. 

He said restrictions would be continuing into February but that this would be discussed by the Cabinet’s sub-committee on Covid-19 on Monday and by Cabinet on Tuesday.

“We are looking at a continuation of restrictions into February. I think you can take it that we’ll take stock every four weeks of the situation,” he said.

Given the high level of community transmission out there still – and it is very high out there – I don’t think one can envisage any significant relaxation of restrictions at this particular point in time. 

Asked whether the level of restrictions he was referring to included school closures, the Taoiseach said that it includes “all areas” but that schools are an essential service. 

I really don’t want to pre-empt the Cabinet Committee meeting on Monday, but clearly community transmission levels are very high, the focus right now and the attention of the Minister for Education is on special schools and special education, working with the partners in education to see if we can develop a proposal around special education provision.

Last week, the government had announced that agreement had been reached to begin a phased return for special education but that plan was abandoned this week after unions said they opposed the move due to fears raised by parents and staff. 

Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Education and various stakeholders about the return of special education and the Taoiseach said this evening that was the priority.

I met with the Minister for Education and her officials this morning, with my officials, to take stock – they are continuing to work, the minister is, with the partners in education and all still share an objective, a combined objective, to make provision for children with special needs as soon as that’s possible.

“That work is ongoing. On the wider schools issue, that issue will be discussed by the Cabinet committee on Monday, and we’ll await the input of ministers and the other party leaders on that.”

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