February 23, 2024


Built General Tough

Foley accuses union of being ‘disingenuous’ on school reopening claim

Minister for Education Norma Foley has said claims by a teachers’ union that it did not instruct its members to stay out of schools are “incredibly disingenous”.

Ms Foley made the statement after John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said his union “most certainly didn’t” instruct its members not to go back schools on Thursday.

Talks between the Department of Education and unions over the resumption of classes for children with special education needs collapsed on Tuesday night.

Staff representatives cited concerns about the safety of such a move amid high levels of Covid-19 transmission in the community.

Ms Foley will make a statement in the Dáil on Thursday and answer questions on the row over the re-opening of special needs schools and classes .

There have been calls for Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene in the controversy, with Labour education spokesman Aodhán O Riordáin claiming that Ms Foley and Minister of State Josepha Madigan had “lost control” of the situation and were now part of the problem.

The department had been seeking an accommodation that would allow for the return to class of 18,000 pupils, out of a school population of 1.1 million. Most of those classes had just six students, the Minister said.

Ms Foley told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland it was a matter of deep regret that the unions representing teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) had not accepted public health advice that it would be safe to reopen schools for children with special needs.

“Everything we did was underpinned by public health advice,” she said. “It’s a matter of deep regret that the unions did not accept public health advice.”

Great anxiety

Ms Foley said she understood there was great anxiety in the sector, but other essential workers such as healthcare workers, ambulance personnel, gardaí and supermarket staff were going to work every day. There was nothing more essential than providing education, she said.

The Minister said she and her department would continue to work with the unions, but that there needed to be good faith.

Earlier on the same programme, INTO general secretary John Boyle denied that the union had instructed teachers not to return to work on Thursday.