Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said they are giving the Minister for Education "the space to work with the partners in education" on the issue of schools reopening, initially for students with special needs.

Speaking at a briefing this afternoon following the announcement of additional Covid-19 measures, Mr Martin said Norma Foley and the Department of Education will "work with the partners" to make provisions for children with special needs.

"Obviously the Leaving Cert cohort has to be addressed", he said. "We're going to give a bit of time to work that out and the details of that. Space will be provided to the department, the minister and the partners in education to work those issues out in terms of a phased reopening."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it is reasonable to project that in ten days' time, the country could be down to 500 or 600 Covid-19 cases per day, and half that figure again in 20 days' time.

"That is optimistic, but it is our current trajectory", he said, adding that case numbers would then be down to levels much lower than they were when schools were open.

"I do think that allows the prospect for a safe reopening on a phased basis across February and March, starting with children with special needs."

Mr Varadkar said their preference for a phased basis is because of the threats of the new variant, and not wanting to take the risk of all one million school students moving on one day.

He said it is something they are keen to agree with everyone in education, not just unions, but to also include students groups and management bodies. 

"That work is very much under way."