Minister for Education Norma Foley has said that there is "an absolutely clear agenda to reopen schools" at the end of August or early September and that there is no confusion or ambiguity about this.

Minister Foley said this is the "common and shared objective" of all education stakeholders.

Addressing the Dáil on revised estimates for her department, Ms Foley said final issues were being "ironed out" and she reiterated that there would be additional costs in relation to teacher and Special Needs Assistant substitute cover, additional support for school leaders, and for school sanitary and hygiene measures.

Any additional costs would be covered, she said.

As well as interdepartmental discussions, she said she was also discussing the matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Ms Foley said some savings were likely to arise as a result of Covid-19.

She instanced costs associated with the fact that the State Junior and Leaving Certificate exams had not as yet proceeded this year.

But she said there would be additional and more substantial costs too.

Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said it was "farcical" that the minister was talking about a revised estimate that had no additional "Covid money".

He criticised the fact that additional funding had yet to be made available, and that questions about reopening were not being answered.

"We have a roadmap that governs restaurants, clubs sports, pubs and a million other things but no roadmap for education," he said.

He said if schools did not receive Covid-19 funding from the State, then they would have to pass this on to parents and that would be unacceptable.

Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats said he did not accept and could not understand why revised estimates related to Covid-19 expenses could not have been presented today.

He asked when this budget would be brought to the Dáil.

Ms Foley said the budget was currently being worked through and it would be premature to bring costs before the house today.


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Richard Boyd Barrett of Solidarity/People Before Profit said there were buildings in the hands of the Department of Education that were sitting empty, and in a situation where there was a desperate need for extra space and workers should be sent in to make such buildings available for use as educational facilities.

He also called for third level fees to be dramatically reduced or abolished given the curtailment of face-to-face learning this year.

Traditional college life not possible this year - Harris

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said his first priority was getting colleges up and running, and then to look at how the costs facing students could be addressed.

Minister Harris said the decision to not proceed with Phase 4 of reopening the country increases the ability to ensure that children return to education in September.

Mr Harris said he believes it would have been grossly irresponsible to ignore public health advice and move forward with Phase 4 in spite of "knowing that we have a huge body of work to do as a country to get our kids back to school and to get our learners and third level student back as well".

Speaking at the publication of a strategy for further education and training, Minister Harris said it was down to "every single one of us now as citizens to give our children the very best chance now by keeping the virus as low as possible".

He said he did not want to see a situation where the virus has re-emerged at the same time as trying to get children safely back to school.

"I've seen in my own constituency and with family and friends the negative impact that it has on a child being out of school and that goes well beyond learning."

Mr Harris said the Minister for Education was leading "a huge body of work" to get schools reopened and he said his own department was working on a framework document for the reopening of further and higher education.

He said the framework would be published later this month.

Simon Harris said the traditional college life, "the packed bar etc", would not be possible this year, but that did not mean that students could not have a college experience.

He said it was the Government's intention to be able to move forward with Phase 4, but said people could not forget that the rise in the R number meant that the virus was growing again.

Regarding foreign travel, he said nine out of ten cases of Covid-19 in Ireland had nothing to do with people coming from abroad.

People need to "redouble" our efforts to keep ourselves and others safe, he said.

Mr Harris said that his worry was that if we did not stem the growth of the virus among young people that in a number of weeks we may see the virus being transmitted to older people.

He said there were enough warning signs for us to "press pause".

He said there was "a little bit" of encouraging news regarding international third level students, who bring in much relied upon revenue to the sector.

He said universities were reporting that people were viewing Ireland as a country that had handled the pandemic well and was taking public health seriously, and that this could be of benefit to us in terms of attracting students.

Mr Harris said we did not as yet know what the financial impact of any shortfall in international students might be.

The minister said the framework that his department is working on will help inform further and higher education institutions as to how they could safely provide education.

It is understood that the framework will include some financial support for universities to help them cope with the direct financial impact of Covid-19.

It has been drawn up by a working group comprised of the department and representatives from the sector such as the Higher Education Authority and university and institute of technology representative bodies.

It is currently being examined by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and is expected to be approved by Government in coming weeks.