‘No fixed date’ for the return of schools - Health Minister 

‘No fixed date’ for the return of schools - Health Minister 

Stephen Donnelly was unable to provide an answer when asked when schools would return. File picture: Larry Cummins

The Minister for Health has said there is “no fixed date” for the return of schools.

Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions about holding the Leaving Cert and bringing students back to classrooms.

The ASTI returned to the table this weekend after threatening to walk away in a move that spelled chaos for reopening plans.

But Stephen Donnelly was unable to provide an answer when asked when schools would return.

He told RTÉ’s This Week: “We don’t have that yet.

“I know Minister (Norma) Foley is involved in intensive talks and confidential talks with the stakeholders.

“It’s great that the special schools have reopened on a phased basis, it’s great that we’re going to see the special classes in mainstream schools opening up again from Monday week, from February 22.

“Obviously we need to get the Leaving Cert students back as quickly as possible, but my understanding is that there are no fixed dates as of yet.”

Earlier, Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien said that there is no set timeline for talks on the Leaving Cert between the Government and unions.

Government sources have indicated that a decision on the Leaving Cert — likely allowing for a choice between a written test and calculated grades — would be made at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

However, Mr O'Brien said that there would be "no artificial timelines" placed on talks.

Minister Donnelly was also unable to provide clarity on when lockdown restrictions will end.

The current set of restrictions are up for review on March 5, but the Government has played down the prospect of any widespread reopening.

The Cabinet is due to agree a revision to the Living with Covid roadmap in the week of February 22.

Asked how long Level Five restrictions will continue, Mr Donnelly replied: “I think that’s the six million dollar question.

“I would love to have an accurate answer, as would Government, as would Nphet.”

He said the uncertainty over the impact of vaccines on transmissibility of the virus, and the threat of new variants, made it “very difficult for anyone, including our experts in our modelling teams, to say exactly how long it’s going to take”.

He said the Covid numbers need to come down “much more” before society can reopen.

“The results just in for Ireland at the moment, they’re mixed.

“Steady progress is being made.

“We’re about mid table in Europe at the moment.

“Thanks to everyone sticking with Level Five, we’ve got the biggest fall in Europe at the moment in our 14-day rate.”

But he said there are concerns that the number of close contacts are increasing, positivity rates remain high and the percentage of new cases in Dublin are rising.

“So it’s far too early, unfortunately, given all of that, to be able to give accurate predictions as to when we can exit Level Five,” he said.

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