The latest talks at the Labour Relations Commission to try and resolve the dispute at Irish Ferries have been adjourned and will resume tomorrow.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has said he hopes that talks on a new partnership agreement can get under way now that dialogue has opened in the Irish Ferries dispute.

Separately, the Department of Education has said it will issue a statement tomorrow on the situation for schools during Friday's planned day of national protest.

It follows the decision by teacher and other trade unions to advise members to attend the protests.

Primary school managers have said this will have serious repercussions for the safety of children both in and outside of schools.

The action affects not just teachers but also bus escorts, secretaries and lollipop ladies.

SIPTU negotiators have said they are not optimistic about the possibility of reaching agreement with Irish Ferries, as long as the company pursues its policy of reflagging vessels.

The comments came as the representatives arrived for separate talks at the LRC earlier today.

Irish Ferries management would not comment in advance of the talks. The dispute has halted Irish Ferries services for the past ten days.

The proposal for the talks was made by the country's top industrial relations watchdog, the National Implementation Body, which said they should be completed by Wednesday. 

SIPTU warning

Speaking earlier on RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, SIPTU's President, Jack O'Connor, said this represented substantial progress, but he warned that there were issues which needed to be clarified before the union could enter into new national pay talks.

With SIPTU on board the way would be clear for all unions affiliated to ICTU to enter negotiations on a new national agreement.

The employers' body, IBEC, has said the talks present the best opportunity for both sides to settle the dispute.

Among the key issues on the agenda are the pay and conditions for existing staff who choose to stay on at Irish Ferries. They were due to see their pay cut if they did not take redundancy.

The parties are also expected to discuss the pay and conditions of outsourced Eastern European workers who were originally due to receive less than half the Irish minimum wage.

It is hoped the two sides can agree mechanisms to ensure that whatever employment terms are agreed can be guaranteed in the event that the company proceeds with reflagging its vessels abroad.