Leaving Cert talks between Government and teacher unions to continue

Construction industry representatives advise builders to limit work to projects permitted under Level 5 restrictions

The Department of Education said on Sunday that “confidential discussions” regarding the 2021 State exams continued over the weekend. Photograph: Getty Images

The Department of Education said on Sunday that “confidential discussions” regarding the 2021 State exams continued over the weekend. Photograph: Getty Images

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Intensive talks between the Government and teacher unions will continue on Monday in a bid to find agreement on this year’s Leaving Cert State exam.

Both sides held confidential discussions throughout the weekend, but Government sources said there was no certainty that agreement could be reached in time for Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

It had been hoped that Ministers would sign off on a new plan on Tuesday, but this could now be pushed out until later in the week.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin previously said that Leaving Cert students would have clarity this week around how the exams would be conducted.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) said “intensive engagement” was taking place again and would be continuing. “We are not making further comment at this stage,” a spokeswoman for the union said.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said, through a spokesman, it “continued to engage constructively and intensively with the department over the weekend in relation to the Leaving Cert”.

The Department of Education said on Sunday that “confidential discussions” regarding the 2021 State examinations continued over the weekend.

ASTI pulled out of the talks last week because it said it was unhappy that the calculated grades system was being prioritised over course work, orals and practical exams.

Following a “constructive” meeting with Minister for Education Norma Foley on Friday, the union announced on Saturday morning that it would rejoin the discussions.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said on Sunday that the Government did not think it was “helpful” to set deadlines around when agreement could be reached.

“We are not setting any artificial timelines on this. The most important thing for the students and their families is that we get agreement with their partners in education and the unions on a way forward.”

He told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics he believed agreement could be reached “in the short term”.

New strategy

The Government has signalled its priority is the reopening of both the education and construction sectors under its new strategy for living with Covid-19.

On Sunday construction industry representatives advised builders to limit work to projects permitted under Level 5 lockdown restrictions so the sector’s reopening is not delayed.

Tom Parlon, director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), said that there “isn’t much ambiguity” within the Government’s regulations on the building work that is permitted.

“Our advice to our members is work on the projects that you are allowed and do not work on the other ones because it is only going to delay the reopening of the industry further.”

He was speaking amid reports around the country of construction works taking place on private housing sites. Gardaí in Co Kerry said they had been dealing with “regular” reports of construction activity, particularly in the south of the county, on one-off housing, extensions, hotels and other commercial developments.

In some cases reports have been made by neighbours about breaches of the Health Act which under current regulations shut down most construction work to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Parlon said there was initially some construction work permitted such as the completion of work where foreign workers were in situ carrying out specific work.

He said he had also come across cases of frontline nurses requiring a house refurbishment to be completed so that they could return to live in their homes.

“Certainly there are individual cases where people have sought either local authority approval or ministerial approval to finish a job.”

The CIF chief said that building work on private residential sites was “off limits” unless emergency work was required, such as to protect work during the recent bad weather.

Private houses

A Department of Housing spokesman said the only exemption for construction work on private houses ended on January 31st when people had to have building work completed if they had a home that was under construction when the Level 5 restrictions were introduced and could be occupied by that date.

A spokesman for the Garda Síochána said that it had continued to carry out checks on construction activity in support of public health regulations.

He could not provide statistics on enforcement action taken against specific building sites or on the number of day-to-day checks on compliance with the regulations.

Killarney-based garda Supt Flor Murphy said that exemptions for construction sites included foreign direct investment sites and large commercial developments such as breweries, and depended on whether a dwelling was substantially begun or undergoing necessary repair work.

Several complaints had been made to the Garda in Co Kerry, and a number are under investigation.

Mr Parlon said he was hopeful that the industry could be reopened in full when the Level 5 restrictions are due to end on March 5th as the sector has been shown to be safe during January, with practically no clusters of Covid-19 infections detected on building sites.

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