Norma Foley says union 'disingenuous' over school reopening claim

ireland
Norma Foley Says Union 'Disingenuous' Over School Reopening Claim Norma Foley Says Union 'Disingenuous' Over School Reopening Claim
Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
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Vivienne Clarke

The Minister for Education has slammed comments from a union head as “incredibly disingenuous” as the row over the return of classroom teaching in schools continues.

Norma 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.

Norma Foley said it was a matter of deep regret that unions representing teachers and special needs assistants had not accepted public health advice over the safe reopening of special schools this week.

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“Everything we did was underpinned by public health advice,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The Department of Education had been seeking an agreement that would allow for the return to school of 18,000 special needs students, out of a school population of 1.1 million. Most of those classes had just six students, she said.

“It's a matter of deep regret that the unions did not accept public health advice.”

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

Good faith

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

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Earlier on the same programme, the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, John Boyle, had denied that the union had instructed teachers not to return to work on Thursday. “Absolutely, we most certainly did not.”

Ms Foley described Mr Boyle’s comment as “incredibly disingenuous”. When asked why she herself did not instruct teachers to return to work, she said “the public health advice was categorical, unequivocal” and that unions had undertaken to support a return to school in that instance.

She said she thought they were working towards a shared objective to open the schools on Thursday and had accepted the unions’ bona fides, “but at the eleventh hour they said they cannot accept public health advice.”

There had been no guarantees from the unions that staff would turn up for work on Thursday, she said.

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