Covid-19: Some principals may defy plan to reopen schools for Leaving Cert students

Teachers, publicans respond as Government approves harshest lockdown since March

The Government on Wednesday approved the harshest lockdown measures since last March, with significant restrictions likely to remain in place into this spring.

The new restrictions, which will see schools closed until February 1st and the construction sector almost entirely shut down, could see up to 500,000 people on the pandemic unemployment payment by the end of the month.

However, plans to partially reopen schools for thousands of Leaving Cert students and special needs pupils were in doubt on Wednesday night due to growing opposition from teachers’ unions and principals’ representatives.

The groups are seeking urgent meetings with the Government over the public health basis for the decision, which they say risks jeopardising the safety of teachers and students.


“Has health and safety been abandoned?” asked Michael Cregan, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals. “There are lots of logistical problems. What provision is there for childcare for teachers?”

A number of school principals – who declined to be named – said they were considering closing and teaching Leaving Cert pupils remotely despite the Government decision.

Takeaway pints

There was disagreement, too, over Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s instance that takeway pints could not be served during the latest lockdown.

Mr Martin addressed the subject twice during Wednesday’s press briefing, unequivocally denouncing the sale of takeaway alcohol even though licensing laws allow it.

“Forget about takeaway pints, takeaway alcohol. No publican should be selling takeaway pints,” he said when asked for clarity on the guidelines.

However, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), representing publicans outside Dublin, said nothing had changed with regard to the law allowing off-premises trade. A spokesman said it remained a matter for individual pub owners, although responsible adherence to public health guidelines continued to be urged.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said businesses should prepare for the possibility that restrictions would be in place until the end of March. “If I was running a business now, I would be thinking there’s a probability I’ll be closed until the end of March,” he said.

Sources indicated last night that even if schools are reopened at the start of February, other sectors would still face slow reopening. Several senior sources suggested that it is likely that the lockdown, including the closures of schools, is likely to be extended beyond the end of January.

Arising from the restrictions, almost all construction activity will be stopped. Childcare will be closed to all except vulnerable children and those of essential workers, with creches asked to return or pause fees for the parents classed as non-essential, who will lose access to facilities.

It comes as the European Medicine’s Agency approved a second vaccine, Moderna, for use. However, Mr Martin said there was no clarity on when it would arrive in the State. “The numbers will be a help on top of Pfizer BioNtech,” he said, “but they’re not huge numbers, and we don’t have a clear timeline in terms of the release to us.”

As the number of daily Covid-19 cases hit a new high of 7,836, Mr Martin said the State may be entering “the most challenging phase of all”.

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now isolating in line with HSE guidance.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent