Unions taking 'unreasonable stance' over special schools, Minister says

Unions taking 'unreasonable stance' over special schools, Minister says

Vivienne Clarke

There is no justifiable reason for schools to stay closed on Thursday for students with special needs, Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan has said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Ms Madigan said the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and Fórsa had taken an “unreasonable stance.”

“We have given all the resources, all the reassurances for a number of months now, and we have given out guidelines. It's an extremely difficult situation. It's heart-breaking to hear the torment, the torture that some of these families are going through. It's just unprecedented.”


The Government had to make the decision for schools not to reopen on Thursday because they were left with no option when both unions said they did not have confidence in safety measures. Teachers and special needs assistants were essential workers like gardaí, supermarket staff and frontline staff, she said.

Ms Madigan said the Minister for Education would have to consider whether the Department of Education would ask these workers “to come to work” regardless of the collective views of their unions.

Public health advice

The unions had asked for public health advice, and they got public health advice “very, very clearly in the webinar”, she said. This was the first time that the unions had ignored the guidance, she added.

Both sides would have to continue to find a way to allow special schools to reopen, she said. “It is extremely disappointing that for only 18,000 students that we can’t seem to find a way.”


Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told the same programme that it was crucial that the reopening of schools for children with special needs was not rolled in alongside the general reopening, as there was still no guarantee that schools would fully reopen at the beginning of next month.

The Government had been “caught on the hop” trying to “cobble together” a reopening plan for such children in the space of two weeks. The issue was a mess which could not be allowed to rest.

“Twice in recent weeks there has been a plan that has collapsed because the groundwork hasn't been done. The Government's got caught on the hop, trying to cobble something together in two weeks. It didn't work. Tried to cobble something together and announced it before it was even agreed. It's a profound failure of Government,” he said.