SDLP Crotlieve councillor Karen McKevitt has said DUP Minister Michelle McIlveen must do more to keep pupils and staff safe in school.
Mrs McKevitt was speaking after the Assembly was recalled on Monday to discuss the Covid-19 situation in schools, and the inaction from the Minister to take steps to mitigate the current spread of the virus.
The SDLP wrote to Minister McIlveen before the end of term suggesting measures to allow schools to reopen safely and has consistently highlighted the concerns of parents and school staff.
Mrs McKevitt said:
“It’s deeply regrettable that we have ended up in the situation where the Assembly had to be recalled so Minister McIlveen could be taken to task for her failure to adequately protect our school pupils and staff from the threat of Covid-19. This situation could have been avoided if the Minister had done her job, for months the SDLP has been raising the concerns of parents and principals and even put forward a number of proposals for the safe reopening of schools, unfortunately all of this was ignored.
“We have heard directly from pupils who feel unsafe in their schools and staff who are at the end of their tether. The coronavirus pandemic has been handled shambolically by successive DUP Education Ministers and the department and it’s our school community who have paid the price. Young people’s education has been significantly disrupted and unimaginable pressures have been heaped on staff. While we recognise the significant challenges posed by Covid, at no stage has the Minister appeared up to the task.
“Even when other parts of these islands have introduced measures to mitigate against the threat of Covid-19, there has been no effort to implement them here. We have seen the impact HEPA filters have made in the South and in Britain in providing ventilation, and two years into the pandemic all we have done is place an order. The blame for this must be shared by Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy who has failed to provide schools with the financial support needed. We have seen Minister Murphy reject bids for Covid-19 preventative measures and no funding has been forthcoming for air filters.
“I was also extremely disappointed that some within the DUP attempted to turn this debate into an orange and green issue. We backed the recall because we were concerned about the safety of children, something we have consistently highlighted and these comments were nothing more than a cynical attempt to deflect from their own Minister’s failings. Omicron doesn’t differentiate on the basis of religion or anything else, the current crisis affects everybody and the comments in the Assembly were disgraceful. We’ve had 15 years of this Executive playing orange and green politics, delivering little and people deserve better.
“It’s time Minister McIlveen learnt her lesson – the current chaos playing out in our schools cannot be allowed to continue. The Minister needs to do everything she can to ensure that our pupils and staff are kept as safe as possible and their education suffers no further interruption. The pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for everyone in our school community and all too often when challenges have arisen, the Minister has failed to meet them.”