Focus on a return to primary school education as Government formation talks persist

I want to especially say hello and Godspeed to people who, like myself, have come out of lockdown and who are experiencing the bit of freedom, small as it is, which we have now got.

I know every day when I get into my car, I say to myself “Oh thank God I can drive, I can look through the town, I can wave at people, I can drive out to the Hodson Bay, I can move about.” Oh, there is no disguising how terrible and how horrible lockdown was.

But enough of that; we have now moved a cautious bit more to another bit of the freedom, and I wish good luck to all who experience that this week. During the lockdown, over a period of time Aengus brought in the children who would stay out in the garden while he came in to me, and I would wave and pretend to kiss them all through the glass of the window. Then last week, I saw Sarah for the first time. I had seen the other three – Luke, James and Scott – but I had not seen Sarah, and I was amazed, when she got out of the car to stand in the garden, how tall and how slim and sort-of grown up she had got in the period since we had last met. They’re looking forward to meeting with three of their friends together with suitable physical distance between them, and I can just imagine the talk they will have and the memories they will have.

All the talk last week on radio and TV, and particularly among the health steering group and the Ministers, was of education. Now, readers of this column will know that I did not approve at all of the giving up of the Leaving Cert. But I do wish all who are doing the new Leaving Cert, such as it is, every success at it. What I couldn’t quite understand about all that conundrum was the fact that we know Leo Varadkar said the Leaving Cert will take place “by hook or by crook”; that was a month ago and then there was never another word heard until doubts began to grow in the last two weeks.

Enough for the moment about the Leaving Cert. The concentration should now be on of the opening of the primary schools to young pupils from the beginning of September. Minister Joe McHugh tells us that he has set up a concerned group of parents and school managers and all involved to see the best way about it all. I would also suggest that the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon should be involved in such a group. I am strongly of the opinion that all young people who have lost out on primary school education so far will lose out much more so if they cannot get back to school at the beginning of September.

There are now three full months of June, July, August and what’s left of the month of May for all the planners to get at it and to do it. I also would think that they should look at European countries which have already opened up their schools at primary level, to see how they are faring and what lessons can be learnt from their experiences. Young people at that age need very much the stability and, dare I say, the sense of comfort and of belonging which being in school gives them, and I truly hope that the opening up of the primary schools will not lead to more prevarication, hesitation and wrong decision-making at the end.

All concerned can surely put a proper shape on it all in three full months. I hope there is no such thing as delay or hesitation as they go about their deliberations.

With all of our concentration on coronavirus and with its daily press briefings and nightly TV briefings, we have taken our eye off the ball with regard to Brexit. But already, reports are emanating from the EU/UK talks that all is not well.

I had hoped that Boris Johnson’s tone would have mellowed after his severe dose of coronavirus, but not a bit of it.

Michel Barnier and the UK Ambassador to the talks, Sir David Frost, are locked in combat again. Yes, some very slight progress has been made, particularly, I understand, on the fisheries issue, but the demand that recognisable progress should be made by the end of June is not at all in sight. By the end of June, the UK can look for a further one to two years of talks before they sign off, but there isn’t much chance, I think, of that happening now.

So in the midst of all of our economic and social woes arising from coronavirus, we will have the added and painful distraction of a No Deal on Brexit, and the subsequent damage to our economy and to our society when that ensues.

What do the readers make of the Government talks? To my mind, they’ve gone on far too long and as yet with no discernible outcome. We are told daily that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are deep in these talks, ranging over issues like justice and housing and climate change and all of the other items which we were told were so important to the country, and yet the election was back in February and we’re now into more than mid-May, and as yet no white smoke.

Within the next few weeks, there is a need for urgent legislation, particularly with regard to budgetary matters. And yet, there cannot be full legislation until the Seanad is fully formed, meaning that the new Taoiseach, whoever it is, will have the right to appoint 11 nominees.

There will have to be a new government formed soon, or else a declaration leading to a new general election. I do not at all think that the wellbeing of the country will be served by having a general election in these very troubled health times. In fact, diverting attention from the very necessary health steps which have yet to be taken does not sit easily with electioneering, and of course there would be the obvious distraction of would it be a full postal vote or what would it be?

I’m at a loss to know what is needed to put an injection of life into the three-party talks so that the participants therein recognise fully the urgency of their slow pace of discussion and subsequent non-delivery of ideas to definitely form a government. The lingering doubt in my mind: are Fine Gael fully engaged in this process, or are they in fact biding their time until they can declare we can go no further with this three-party talks arrangement? The people of Ireland demand action, and I hope that those engaged in this process will get their act together quite soon and face reality.

Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely. Yes, stay at home, but do go out for short excursions now that we are allowed, but go safely.

Slán go fóill.


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