Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he believes that industrial action by teachers over Covid-19 safety concerns in schools can be avoided.
Mr Martin moved to reassure parents on Wednesday that children would return to their classrooms on Monday as a large cohort of secondary-school teachers threatened strike action.
He said that schools will reopen as planned next week after the mid-term break as they are "essential" for children’s wellbeing and it is important this generation of children do not become “victims of this virus” in future years.
It comes as members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) voted yesterday to take industrial action as a "last resort" unless the Government “immediately addresses” concerns over Covid-19 safety in schools.
The union is calling for a comprehensive testing programme with 24-hour turnaround, a redefinition of close contacts for school settings and appropriate arrangements for teachers categorised as high risk.
Nphet and the public health authorities are absolutely clear – schools are safe.
Mr Martin said the Government will be engaging closely with the ASTI and he hopes industrial action can be avoided.
“I think many teachers don’t want to go down that route. Nphet and the public health authorities are absolutely clear – schools are safe,” he said.
“In fact, the chief medical officer said to me last Saturday week... they’re safer than being outside of schools, certainly for teenagers and that age cohort.”
The Department of Education has insisted schools are still safe places for both staff and students.
There have been 46 new outbreaks of coronavirus in schools in the last week, however, the positivity rate among close contacts is much lower in schools compared to the wider community.
The latest figures show a positivity rate of around two per cent for close contacts in schools, in comparison to a national average in the wider community of 10 per cent.