Confusion at Cabinet over reports schools would re-open on March 1

One minister said: "We were all a bit shocked and we looked up from our phones, when people began to ask questions.” 
Confusion at Cabinet over reports schools would re-open on March 1

Some said Taoiseach Micheál Martin was “taken aback” at the suggestions when clearly no plan was in place. Photo: Julien Behal

There was considerable confusion and annoyance at Cabinet today as ministers were confronted with reports about a plan to re-open schools on March 1, which they had not been told about.

Several ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, expressed their “shock and surprise” at media reports about a proposal for children return to the classroom.

It is understood that ministers pressed Education Minister Norma Foley about the reports and some said Taoiseach Micheál Martin was “taken aback” at the suggestions when clearly no plan was in place.

Ms Foley is due to update the cabinet sub-committee on education on the matter on Wednesday. It is hoped she will be in a position to announce concrete plans for the Leaving Certificate when she goes before the committee, but there are no guarantees.

“Nothing of what was reported to have happened occurred,” said one minister.

“We did not discuss it, there was no plan. We were all a bit shocked and we looked up from our phones, when people began to ask questions,” said one minister. 

Norma, who is a good minister, said she had no idea where such briefings to several media outlets would have come from.

Another minister said: “Maybe someone was a bit premature but what was reported certainly did not happen."

At lunchtime, several media outlets reported that the Department of Education was planning for a phased re-opening of schools from March 1 and that was what Ms Foley had told her Cabinet colleagues.

Newspapers were told that Ms Foley was expected to brief her ministerial colleagues that school re-opening will not happen next week as had been reported over the weekend, with students returning in phases throughout the month of March.

Leaving Cert students and those with additional needs will be the first to return, it is understood. However, talks with unions to finalise the agreement are still ongoing, sources said. They added that nothing has been agreed just yet.

Ms Foley is also expected to update ministers on the Leaving Certificate exams. It is understood that students will be offered the choice of written exams or calculated grades.

The Taoiseach said that there would be clarity on the issue this week. He told reporters at Government Buildings that a decision would be forthcoming after "intensive talks".

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