It follows agreement with school staff unions over the safe reopening of the schools.
Sources told The Irish Times that the aim is to reopen special schools and classes late next week from Thursday, January 21st.
Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State with responsibility for special education Josepha Madigan met with school staff unions and school management bodies to discuss the measures this morning.
In addition, the sources say there is growing hope that the wider education system – primary and secondary – will be able to reopen in February if a downward trends in infection rates continues.
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The Government was recently forced to drop plans to reopen special schools and classes following safety concerns among staff unions including Fórsa, which represents SNAs.
However, Fórsa said on Wednesday it will advise its members to co-operate with the “phased resumption” of school for children with additional needs if a range of Covid-19 measures are taken to underpin the safety of students and staff.
Advocacy groups representing students with additional needs welcomed the union’s statement as a “significant step in the right direction.”
“Today’s announcement is a positive signal, and the onus is now on the Government to re-double their efforts to clear the remaining obstacles standing in the way of re-opening schools for students with special educational needs,” said a group spokesperson, which includes Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, AsIAm and Family Carers Ireland.
Covid-19 exposes failures in prison service – report
Covid-19 measures were introduced in Irish prisons last year to prevent the spread of the virus, including a reduction in prisoner numbers and cell-sharing.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said that addressing the overcrowding in prisons in a short period of time was an “extraordinary achievement”.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, 75 prisoners were sleeping on mattresses on the floor because of a lack of space.
A report carried out by the IPRT found that coronavirus measures improved some standards within prisons.
The report – Progress in the Penal System: Assessing progress during a pandemic – is the fourth annual review of standards in Irish prisons.
It found that the Covid response revealed that the majority of closed prisons across the State were “overcrowded and unsafe”.
Trying to capture penal reform in 2020 has been like trying to catch a fast-flowing river with your hands – but @IPRT team has done it! I’ve never met a more hard-working bunch of people. Thank you! @MartynMichelle @PamDrumgoole @lorrainetwhitty @mmjjoyce @LynFallon #PIPS2020 pic.twitter.com/gFokXHeUOq
— Fíona Ní Chinnéide (@fianna71) January 25, 2021
At the outset of Covid-19, there were more than 4,200 prisoners in custody in Ireland.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice reduced the prison population by 10% to 3,807.
Executive director of the IPRT, Fiona Ni Chinneide, said the physical improvements in the prison system are at risk of being reversed.
“We definitely don’t want to see a return to that when the courts return and deal with the backlog in cases,” she told PA news agency.
“There were sometimes two prisoners sleeping on beds and one on the floor.
“We don’t want to see a return to the high number of people who are committed to prison for very short sentences.
“Over three quarters of sentence committals in 2019 were for sentences of 12 months or less.
“This is the clearest demonstration of the over-reliance on prison as a response.”
She said an increasing number of prisoners’ families have contacted the charity about concerns for their loved ones in prison, particularly around isolation, mental health and welfare issues.
“(Prisoners) are confident they are protected against Covid-19 but the lack of in-person visits have been very difficult for families, particularly children,” Ms Ni Chinneide added.
“Covid-19 has exposed all the issues across the penal system, including running over-capacity and the lack of access to technology.
“Video calls were introduced but we would like to see every prisoner have a tablet so they can continue on with their remote education.
“The vast majority of people who were released were serving sentences of 12 months or less, and the fact they could be released into the community does beg the question: why were they in prison in the first place and not serving community service orders?”
She also said that a reduced prison population saw a near-end to prisoners sleeping on mattresses on floors and a move towards single-cell occupancy.
“Single-cell occupancy is a key measure in supporting men’s and women’s dignity in prisons,” Ms Ni Chinneide added.
“The Covid response demonstrates that the majority of closed prisons across the State were overcrowded and unsafe in the first instance. It also suggests that prison was not a necessary sanction for all of those imprisoned before the pandemic hit.”
The IPRT report also welcomed the introduction of video calls and in-cell phone provisions to enable prisoners to speak to their families.
Ms Ni Chinneide said the changes are at risk of being reversed as the courts prepare to clear the backlog of cases.
“Furthermore, in recent years, the number of those held on remand in our prisons is rising at a concerning level. Imprisonment is not the only sentence option in the criminal justice system,” Ms Ni Chinneide added.
“It should not act as shelter for people charged with low level offences. It should not be a waiting room for those who need treatment in our Central Mental Hospital.
“Covid has offered us a brown-field site for a more humane penal system. There should be no reversal of that.”
Office worker wins compensation after employer would not let her work from home
Adjudication officer Kevin Baneham ordered the employer pay the Operations Co-Ordinator €3,712 compensation for her unfair dismissal on May 12th last.
An employment law expert, Richard Grogan, described the WRC ruling as “a wake-up call’ for employers.
Mr Grogan – who wasn’t involved in the case – said: “The amount of compensation isn’t high as the worker got new a new job within a short space of time, but the findings are important as it is the first ruling that the WRC has made concerning a Covid-19 related unfair or constructive dismissal. I believe that we are going to see an awful lot more of such Covid-19 cases going through the WRC”.
Remote working proposal
In an email to her employer, a university-based Facilities Management Service Provider last April, the worker stated that her employer’s refusal to accept the remote working proposal “has increased the infection risk with COVID-19 for all three Operations Coordinators”.
She stated: “In the event one of us gets sick I will be putting at risk my husband who is an asthmatic patient.”
In his ruling, Mr Baneham found that the university-based Operations Co-ordinator had “no real option but to resign” after her employer failed to take reasonably practicable steps to mitigate risk posed by Covid 19 in the workplace.
Mr Baneham found that the employer failed to implement the proposals made by three office workers that would have eliminated the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in the workplace.
‘Repudiation of contract’
In his findings, Mr Baneham found that the requirement by the employer that the Operations Co-Ordinator attend the workplace without adequate consideration of the elimination of risk posed by Covid 19 “amounts to repudiation of contract”.
He said: “As an infectious disease, Covid-19 constitutes a biological hazard. In this context and at the centre of this case are the duties of both employer and employee arising from the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and the underpinning health and safety principles.”
Some 1,000 students were stuck on the campus in March, some of whom were self-isolating and Mr Baneham stated that the worker and her colleagues dealt with the difficult task of managing thousands of students who vacated their accommodation at the start of the lockdown.
Mr Baneham stated that it was striking that the employer did not trial the “eminently sensible” suggestion by the three office based Operations Co-Ordinators that only one worker attend the office and the others work remotely at any one time.
The worker provided a ‘lock-down’ photo taken on April 17th last showing her and her colleagues working in close proximity in the small office.
In an email dated April 17th, the worker told her employer that she was not able to socially distance from her two colleagues in the workplace.
In a formal grievance lodged on April 30th, the three Operations Co-Ordinators stated: “All three of us have family members in the ‘at risk’ category, and we are concerned about the health of our family members as well as our own wellbeing.”
They stated that these concerns were brought to the employer’s line manager attention numerous times at the start and during the Covid-19 outbreak “but nothing was done about it and zero care and consideration was given back”.
They state: “Most of our work can be completed from home but if there are issues that require our presence there will be one coordinator in the office to address them. This measure will minimise the infection risk and will help us keep our family and ourselves protected.’
However, in response the employer rejected the work from home proposal.
In a letter on May 4th, the employer stated: “Prior to Covid-19 there was never a suggestion that the roles could be performed remotely, and the same situation pertains in a post-Covid situation. “Each person may absent themselves from work and check if they are entitled to a state benefit. The position will be kept under review, but at present the employer’s position is that the three roles are not suitable for remote working.”
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The employer stated that it had taken Covid-19 workplace precautions, including PPE; changing the physical layout of the office; the installation of screens and warning tape and moving desks.
The managing director of the facilities management company told the hearing that the worker was of the opinion that she should work from home, but the company’s client would not have allowed this to happen. He stated that her job was essential, and the client would not have allowed her to work from home.
He outlined that it was the coordinators’ role to deal with the students and they were required to be on campus. He said no staff member, thankfully, contracted Covid-19, either in the university or elsewhere. In response to the proposal that some co-ordinators work from home, the managing director told the hearing that it was so busy at this time, so they all needed to be there.
Six years for man who held up court with fake pistol and hoax bomb
Sentencing Edmund Dunican (47) today, Judge Patricia Ryan said this was a planned and premeditated offence which has ongoing adverse effects on the victims.
During a court hearing in December 2018, Dunican told the court he had a “problem” with an opposing barrister, Lisa Daly, before he drew a “realistic” firearm from his briefcase and threatened her with it, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.
At the time, Dunican was wearing an elaborate device around his neck that resembled a pipe bomb. The court heard Dunican, a fitter by trade, made the fake bomb at home.
The judge in the court room refused to leave when Dunican told her she could go. Instead, she repeatedly appealed to him to drop the gun and attempted to defuse the situation.
The 17-minute siege ended after an armed garda negotiator persuaded Dunican to surrender the gun and let the women go. The court building was evacuated and surrounded by armed garda units during the incident, while an army unit was called in to assess the device.
Dunican of Stadium Business Park, Ballycoolin, Dublin, pleaded guilty to one count of carrying an imitation firearm with criminal intent at Smithfield on December 20th, 2018.
It is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Dunican has no previous convictions.
Judge Ryan reduced a sentence of eleven years to eight years after noting a number of mitigating factors including Dunican’s remorse and his state of mind at the time. Fiona Murphy SC, defending, had told the court that at the time he felt this was his only course of actions.
Judge Ryan backdated the sentence to the day of the offence, as Dunican has been in custody since then. She suspended the final two years on condition that he be of good behaviour and that he have no contact whatsoever with any of the three victims.
Detective Garda Shane Connolly previously told Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, prosecuting, that Ms Daly had had a number of dealings during court proceedings with Dunican, who was representing himself.
On the day in question, Ms Daly told the court that it was her last day as a barrister as she was going to become a solicitor.
When Dunican’s matter was called before the court, he drew the imitation firearm and told Ms Daly: “Did I hear you say today is your last day? You have no idea Lisa, you have no idea.”
As Ms Daly crouched in her chair, the judge repeatedly told Mr Dunican: “Put your weapon down sir, please.”
The court registrar pressed the panic alarm and gardaí were called to court over the tannoy system, while Dunican said: “It’s too late for the guards, judge.”
Dunican said the registrar and judicial assistant could leave the court and the judge too, telling her he didn’t mean her any harm, but the judge replied: “I’m not leaving.”
The judge continued to reason with Dunican until armed gardaí entered the court and a negotiator persuaded Dunican to surrender.
Ms Daly told gardaí it was a terrifying experience, and she believed Dunican was going to shoot her in the head or detonate a live bomb. Dunican’s wife said she was “petrified” and “frozen in fear” throughout the ordeal.
The court heard the bomb looked realistic and was fitted with a metal pipe and a functioning red and green light. The imitation firearm resembled a semi-automatic pistol.
The judge told gardaí that Dunican told her she could leave but that she remained “in order to defuse the situation as best she could”.
She told gardaí the incident was “surreal” and she had never experienced anything like it. She said that at no point did Dunican say why he was doing it or what he wanted to achieve.
Victim impact statements were handed into court from Ms Daly and Dunican’s wife, but the judge declined to make one.
Man held up judge and barrister in terrifying cour…
Ms Murphy said he “appreciates the serious nature of the matter before the court”. She handed up a detailed psychological report and a letter of apology from her client. The court heard Dunican previously ran a successful business but that his life “crumbled” in recent years.
Ms Murphy said Dunican had become increasingly stressed in the months before the offence, that he suffered from heart problems and was “at the end of his rope”.
“He was a man on the edge,” she said.
Judge Ryan said she was also taking into consideration Dunican’s serious medical conditions, as outlined in a psychological report.