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Lessons learned Norma Foley says U-turn on special schools reopening leaves Ireland 'an outlier in Europe'

While she acknowledged that the recent surge in cases is a moment of “high anxiety for everyone”, she believes providing education for children with special needs “must and should be” an essential service.

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Education minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Education minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Education minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA)

Education Minister Norma Foley has said the scrapping of the plan to resume school classes from tomorrow has left Ireland an “outlier in Europe”. 

It comes after the Government ditched the idea to re-open special needs schools on Thursday.

The Government last night said the decision was based on "a lack of co-operation by key staff unions in the primary sector".

Unions said the core issue was “inconsistent advice about safety in schools” but the minister insisted the Government had responded to all of teachers unions' concerns.

On today's Newstalk Breakfast, Minister Foley said the main issue unions raised was around public health advice.

She said: “The unions made clear they would act and accept public health advice. The public health advice was provided to them.

“When you want clarification on a health basis and you receive it, I do believe it’s very important you accept it from expert professionals.

“It’s important to reiterate everything they have put on the table and asked us to work through we have done."

While she acknowledged that the recent surge in cases is a moment of “high anxiety for everyone”, she believes providing education for children with special needs “must and should be” an essential service.

Meanwhile, the head of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has appealed to all sides to “work towards finding a solution”.

John Boyle, General-Secretary of the INTO, told Newstalk Breakfast this is not the time for blame.

"I don't think... that the culture of blame is going to sort this out, it's a waste of time.

"We need to focus on fixing the problem here and finding a solution".

He added that INTO members "asked for a re-think in relation to this week".

"And I think it behooves everybody now to get back in... and instead of blaming each other, to work towards finding a solution.

"So that all of the children of Ireland get back to school as soon as possible - and I believe that that is possible".

However, he questioned whether a February 1 target date for this "was achievable or not."

"But certainly if the numbers continue to drop then we need to be optimistic about this."

Mr Boyle said there is a "heightened level of anxiety among everybody in Ireland at the moment."

"Everybody is devastated that their country is in the state that it's in, where last week we were at the highest levels in the world."

"So need to get the numbers down".

"It's really disappointing that it came to this impasse last evening after all the work that we did with Government over the summer."

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