Speech by An Taoiseach:

Táim anseo inniu chun plean cuimsitheach í leith athocailt scoileanna uilig na tíre a fhógairt.

Ba mhaith liom mo buiochas ar leith a ghabháil leis an Aire Oideachais Norma Foley, Aire Stait Josepha Madigan, Oifigígh na Roinne agus gan amhras partneirí uilig in earnáil an oideachais.

I measc na mbeartas sa phlean seo beidh níos mo múinteoiri ar fáil, tacaíocht speisalta in réimse na folláine í scoileanna na tíre agus réimleathan áiseanna a thabhairfaidh seans do scoileanna a oscailt arís.

Tá ról ag gach aon duine sa phobal agus sa tsochaí obair le chéile chun on víreas a choiméad ag leibhéal íseal agus dá bharr sin na scoileanna a choiméad ar oscailt an t-am ar fad. Ní neart go cur le chéile agus an phlean seo a chur í gcrích againn.

The closure of schools on March 12th was a moment when everyone understood the dramatic nature of the pandemic which has claimed the lives of 2,320 people on our island in only five months.

For the rest of the school term teachers, students and their families got by as well as possible – showing incredible resourcefulness and resilience.

However, the harsh reality is that on every personal, social and educational level remote learning is not enough.

Equally, in terms of basic fairness we have to understand that many schools and families cannot keep up.

There is simply no substitute for students learning within schools in the presence of their peers and their teachers.

This is why the development of a comprehensive plan to reopen our schools and to keep them open has been a core priority for this government since its appointment four weeks ago.

Reopening our schools represents an unprecedented policy and logistical challenge – one which will be met by a wide range of measures which will begin to be implemented in the coming days. It will be backed by substantial resources and investment of up to €400m.

Following the publication of public health advice Minister Norma Foley has led an inclusive and detailed process of consultation and the examination of different options. This has included consideration of international learning, though the fact is that every country is facing unique challenges.

Our schools are at the heart of our communities and reopening them is a critical step in the journey of recovering from the worst impact of the pandemic.

The measures which we are announcing today are the product of intensive work over the past month. It is a comprehensive range of measures backed by major new resources. The combination of extra staff, extra funding, clear guidance and new supports will help every school to adapt to its own needs.

There is a lot to be done in implementing this roadmap, but it is a major piece of work which can ensure that our schools reopen at the end of next month.

The Roadmap which the Government has agreed goes into great detail in terms of the preparation and ongoing operation of our schools. In this it is far more extensive than the reopening guidance provided for any other sector.

The Roadmap provides major new resources in terms of adaptation costs, additional staff, ongoing hygiene and the provision of information.

However, what we have agreed goes well beyond just meeting the challenge of reopening at the end of August.

We are also publishing response plans which will continue to be adapted and updated as the course of the pandemic evolves. In addition, we are providing detailed guidance on curriculum issues in order to address the issue of both lost teaching time and ongoing uncertainty.

Major emergencies always lead to much higher levels of anxiety and other similar issues. We fully understand that we can’t just declare that the schools are open and carry on as if nothing has happened. This is why we are putting in place significant extra support for the wellbeing of staff and students.

There is no zero-risk scenario, but we can dramatically limit the risk of the spread of the virus through our schools. We must make special provision for very high-risk groups of teachers and students. This is addressed comprehensively in the Roadmap.

It is important to understand that while the measures we are publishing today are comprehensive and based on the best advice available, we understand that circumstances will change over time and we will need to adapt our response. We are ready to do this.

The Roadmap provides different ways for everybody within our schools to get information, seek clarification and provide feedback.

We all need to understand that the most effective way of limiting the spread of the virus in and through schools is to limit its spread in the community.

The latest figures confirm that things have improved since the increase in infections which delayed Phase 4 reopening.

As we can all see, the international situation is that many countries are experiencing substantial increases in the number of infections.

There is no basis for being complacent.  We cannot sit back and expect that everything will keep improving.

Fundamentally we must all continue to act responsibly.

Wear a mask in crowded situations, in shops and on public transport.

Practice proper hand hygiene and sneeze etiquette.

Protect those who are most vulnerable.

Act quickly if you develop symptoms.

Last week we published an unprecedented set of measures to limit the economic damage of the pandemic and to begin the recovery.

Today we are setting out a programme to adapt and reopen 4,000 schools serving 1 million students.

It is a major logistical and educational challenge which we are determined to succeed in.

For Irish society as a whole, reopening our schools will be a significant milestone.

It does not mean a return to normality – this will only come when the virus is permanently under control.

And today, as much as ever before, controlling the virus remains a responsibility for every one of us.

Want to get €5, absolutely free? Sign up to the ‘Smart’ Debit Card – Curve today, and earn a fiver on us! Find out more here.