Minister for Education Norma Foley has been sharply criticised over the failure to include a budget for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in revised spending estimates for her department.
Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told the Dáil it was “farcical and unacceptable” and said it reflected a department that had failed to get to grips with the impact of the pandemic.
During a Dáil debate on education funding for 2020 on Thursday evening the Minister said, however, that it would be “premature” at this stage to give any figures because discussions are still ongoing.
Ms Foley said she expected announcements on the reopening of schools “will come at the end of this month”.
She added: “I imagine that the costs will be available at that time, though perhaps not all of them will be.”
The 2020 education budget is currently €10.569 billion, about €9.647 billion in current expenditure and €922 million in capital expenditure. The budget will change with the formation of the new Department of Higher Education, the costs of which are still also under discussion.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said the department was “behind the curve” in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Schools had been closed for four months and are due to reopen in six weeks. A roadmap had been promised on June 12th.
“It was put off and now seems to have disappeared from the agenda. We have a roadmap that governs restaurants, clubs, sports, pubs and a million other things but no roadmap for education.”
Social Democrats education spokesman Gary Gannon said the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht had provided its estimates last week and included some additional estimates for what the arts sector would look like over the next few months. "I cannot for the life of me understand why that could not have been done for this set of estimates as well."
Fianna Fáil TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor said a school principal in Carlow did not know where she would put her young students because she has been told by the department that no prefab would be provided.
“If there is no funding for these projects, if there is not enough to give sufficient funding to, say, repair of a roof, how can schools expect that there will be funding to return to schools.”
The Minister told them she was considering the associated costs of reopening schools with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
She and department officials had also been working with stakeholders on the requirements for reopening schools including sanitation and other cleaning and hygiene requirements, teachers and special-needs assistants, substitution and support for school leaders.
Ms Foley insisted, however, that she was “absolutely committed to the goal of reopening our primary and post-primary schools as normal at the end of the summer”.
There were many components involved but “my officials are working closely with all stakeholders to achieve this goal, which is so important for all our students”.