The Department of Education decided to close schools in several counties over the last two days due to the threat posed by Storm Barra.
We asked readers for their views on whether the decision was justified and how it affected them.
This is an edited selection of your responses.
‘Another example of the contempt that this Government treats parents with’
The late-night decision by the Department of Education to close schools in Dublin today is just another example of the contempt that this Government treats parents with. Much like the last-minute mask decision fiasco the Government takes no consideration of parents ability to choose what might be best for their children or give parents time to deal with the fallout from the decisions. I would hope that in future they could consider parents in their late-night decision making.
‘Does the Department of Education have any cop-on at all?’
A ham-fisted, behind-covering, one-size-fits-all decision that has greatly inconvenienced parents and deprived children of yet another day’s valuable learning. It was nothing more than a very windy day in south central Dublin on Tuesday. It was even less inclement on Wednesday. Does the Department of Education have any cop-on at all? Why not delegate the decision to school principals. They are on the ground and best placed to make a call on local conditions. What will prompt the next enforced closure? The wrong type of wind?
‘This is just not acceptable’
In Galway city, Tuesday was a bit breezy; Wednesday was calm and the sun was shining. There is absolutely no reason why schools in Galway city should have closed. We will have a long winter, and negative implications on our children’s education, if schools close every time there is an orange weather alert. We are both trying to work from home whilst our children are home from school, and the school did not roll out any online learning or send home any materials for the children to work on. This is just not acceptable, or sustainable long-term.
‘My exams were postponed’
I am a third-year student in NUI Galway doing exams. They were planned to be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but due to the college closure the Tuesday and Wednesday exams were postponed to Saturday and Sunday. This creates a very stressful period as they have been placed in the middle of other exams. I now have four exams in a row from Friday to Monday, also with exams on the following Wednesday and Thursday. Six exams in seven days is not ideal. Both Tuesday and Wednesday did not display any strong winds that would prevent such exams taking place. This is not the type of pressure my course colleagues and I want in the run up to Christmas.
‘I’ve no back-up. The pandemic has taken away all my unpaid supports’
I’m a separated mother of two small children working a four-day week. Working from home (WFH) has its benefits and generally I work a hybrid model mostly. However, when the preschools & schools are closed and I’ve no back-up, I’m actually parenting from work at my kitchen table rather than working from home. And I have no back-up. The pandemic has taken away all my unpaid supports – mainly my elderly parents – and the housing crisis, resulting in ever increasing rents, keeps pushing me further and further away from the city where my friends and family live. I do not live long enough in one place to make lasting friendships with neighbours that I could approach for help. My childminder is wonderful, but I pay her €70/full day when I earn €95 net. I borrow to work the school summer holidays, I cannot afford any unplanned or unexpected curveballs like these last two days of red weather alerts and school closures. And with end-of-year deadlines, calling in sick is not an option. My workload would only be waiting for my return. Furthermore, I worry about the lasting developmental damage this frequent ‘WFH’ is forcing upon my young children. Both have been sick a lot lately and I cannot send them to school with even a snivel anymore. When they are sick I can no longer take time off to mind them because I am now able to ‘WFH’. So the frequency of this scenario of me at the kitchen table on the laptop ignoring them has increased.
When there are two parents, they can help one another, give each other a break. I on the other hand, cannot even go to the shop for milk without packing us all out the door! Lets not forget that we’ve had long runs of school closures in the very recent past in this pandemic. And, in isolation these two days of red weather alerts and school closures would be manageable. However, within the context of this pandemic, a housing crisis and only the beginning of a long winter, it feels like the last straw.
‘At 11pm we got the email the creche would close’
I was okay and scheduled all meetings to next day as I have toddler at home and it was difficult to work with him around. On Tuesday, weather was not bad in Dublin 16 and I thought the decision to close schools and crèches were uncalled for. They should have access the severity and took the decision only on affected areas and not generalised the decision. We got an email from the creche that on Wednesday it would be be open but at 11pm at night got the email that it was closed due to Government decision. Weather was not bad at all, as I have seen much worse weather than these two days. Has the crèche refunded us two days’ fees?
We have already had enough stress due to Covid-19.
‘Probably the right decision at the time’
In our area of east Cork, the storm, thankfully, didn’t hit us as hard as other parts of the county or other counties. The decision to close the schools for the second day proved to be unnecessary in our part of the county, but it was probably the right decision at the time, and was no doubt influenced by poorer conditions in the west of the county. The decision was made in good time, 5.30pm and it was flagged for a few hours before the official decision was made.
There was strong wind here for a couple of days. Nothing to worry about, yet two children home from school. Complete nonsense. Children packed into Mcdonald’s yesterday, and packed into indoor play centre today. It was NOT dangerous to go out. Stupid decision.
I’m astounded at why the schools were closed when they have had ample opportunity over the past two years to operate online. It reinforces that those accountable for education in our country are not of a proactive or progressive mindset and take the easy option. Very disappointing.
‘Conditions were not dangerous’
I am at a loss to understand why the schools in Dublin were closed. Conditions were not dangerous, it was indeed cold, wet and miserable, but it was also the same in December when I went to school 35 years ago. However, we just went to school and got on with it. Children have missed more school over the past two years due to the pandemic, on top of already the ridiculous amount of holidays for teachers, course days, etc. Of course, the decision to close schools was the one decision over the past number of years that the teacher unions accepted without question. I fear for the education of our children and their mental health.
I had not been advised by the preschool so on Tuesday I turned up to it and realised it was closed. I had hectic days trying to do basic things as I live alone with a toddler. The school closures have disrupted my days but finally it’s over.
‘These decisions should be taken lightly’
The weather didn’t seem severe enough to justify the closure, in Dublin at least. Children have missed some much school time with Covid closures that these decisions should not be taken lightly. Additionally, most working parents had to take two days’ annual leave or lose two days’ pay to mind their kids at short notice. Obviously this isn’t the case in the Department of Education but decision-makers should be mindful of the impact on private sector workers.
‘I don’t get this need to blame schools for the weather’
I would not have sent my kids on Wednesday even if the Government had not closed schools. The weather warning finished at 7am. We leave the house at that time so I had already decided to do the safest thing for my children and work from home. I don’t get this need to blame schools for the weather or the Government and I’m happy to blame the Government for a lot. I’m not sure sure I’d want to be a principal having to deal with that last night, but as a parent kids’ safety overrides my inconvenience. Even if in your particular area it seemed fine we all travel to work think how much more dangerous it would have been with school traffic and fallen branches.
‘Is this to be the new norm?’
Ireland is an island. Consequently, the weather is regularly wet and windy. In Bray today it is merely breezy and a status yellow warning has been applied. But somehow the local environs are deemed unsafe for school commutes. If navigating your way past fallen leaves and the occasional puddle is challenging, then the decision to close schools for a second day was indeed a wise one. If on the other hand, you consider the inclement weather to be a regular feature of life in this country, then the school closures are perplexing to say the least. Is this to be the new norm – school closures on the basis of oft-cited, but rarely challenged, health and safety concerns?
‘We don’t have a family to help in Ireland’
In Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, the storm was mild, with only leaves and bins being affected. My son, that is two years old, goes to a creche that closed Tuesday and Wednesday, with such short notice that I couldn’t make any arrangements. We don’t have a family to help in Ireland. This put massive stress over my partner and me to take the day off on Tuesday, move meetings and customers to the following days, only to be warned at 11pm on Tuesday that Wednesday would also have the creche closed. I found it unfair as I can see that the storm is not affecting my region, and I pay a hefty amount to the creche to help me take care of him so we can work. Moreover, it was clear in the note that the orange warning was only up to 7 am, with the first employees arriving close to 8.30am, they could definitely work on Wednesday. I’m mad and just hoping they can open on Thursday/Friday without any new surprise.
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College Park to remain in full use for Trinity sports clubs
The board of Trinity College has agreed to pursue an alternative site for the building of a temporary exhibition pavilion during the renovation period of its Old Library, saving College Park from what several affected sports clubs said would have proven “hugely detrimental” to their training and competition needs.
Concerns had been raised over the timing and level of consultation with regard to College Park being named the preferred site last November, three of Trinity’s largest and oldest sporting clubs – athletics, football and cricket – already raising considerable objections over the proposal.
A Trinity communications press statement on Wednesday afternoon said that, subject to statutory constraints, “the Board of Trinity has today (Wednesday) approved a proposal to renovate the Printing House building, which would house the Book of Kells during the period of renovation, and also create a temporary exhibition in New Square, at the centre of campus”.
The alternative proposal of the Printing House, coupled with New Square, “follows consultation within the Trinity community”; Trinity students have four representatives on the 27-strong board, three from the Students’ Union (SU), and one from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), their president Gisèle Scanlon, and all four had already expressed their dissent at the College Park proposal.
“A process of careful consultation across College has led to today’s agreement on how to proceed with this plan,” said Trinity provost Linda Doyle. “I want to thank those involved for their engagement. We believe this choice of location offers the best possible solution for our staff, students and future visitors to College.”
Trinity’s bursar Eleanor Denny added: “We are extremely grateful to everyone in Trinity who helped us arrive at this crucial decision. This innovative plan allows us to preserve public access to the Book of Kells, one of Ireland’s foremost cultural attractions as well as restoring one of the oldest landmark buildings on campus, the Printing House.”
A Trinity email first sent to affected clubs in October said: “Based on early discussions Trinity has had with Dublin City Council, the location with the best opportunity to secure planning permission is College Park.”
A feasibility study outlining the scale of the project allowed for the continuation of some sport at College Park; however, according to the three clubs, this would have effectively rendered College Park useless as a competition and match facility, while also depriving the wider college community the sort of green space it increasingly craves.
The Old Library renovation is expected to take between three to five years, costing around €120 million, which meant it could have been 2028 before the space was restored. The temporary exhibition project is still subject to planning permission.
“We were very worried about this, for a very long time, and spent a lot of time lobbying against this,” said Scanlon, the GSU president also starting a petition to Save College Park. “All other options weren’t properly considered, and I think there should be lessons learnt on this. And whatever happens with the planning from this point, College Park should not be on the agenda, and should never have been on the agenda.”
Ray O’Malley, president of Dublin University Association Football Club (DUAFC), founded in 1883, also welcomed the outcome of Wednesday’s board meeting: “I think they [the board] misjudged the feelings towards College Park, from the general student base, and the clubs that use it,” he said. “Thankfully they appear to have belatedly realised that, and somewhere down the line the correct decision has been made, perhaps not following in the correct procedure.
“It’s our unique selling point, and the reason why we were fighting so hard for this. Even if it was only on a temporary basis, it’s too important for us. We all recognise the importance and value of the Book of Kells, but sport is a very importance part of college life too, and we’re extremely grateful for the role that people like Gisèle played in this, some of the club members, and that the powers that be accepted somewhere down the line that College Park simply wasn’t the right place for this proposal.”
Pandemic need for flexibility not reflected in draft laws
Draft laws on remote working mark an attempt by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to formalise radical work practice changes that were suddenly introduced when Covid-19 struck two years ago.
Back then, the force of the pandemic was such that procedural and legal niceties were swept aside in the rush to protect public health and keep the economy turning. Many tricky questions were avoided at that time but they can be avoided no longer now that most restrictions have been lifted.
“We’ve worked through for two years basically turning a blind eye to the whole thing but that will stop,” said Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor in Dublin.
“We’ve been working through an emergency which is slightly different. The emergency is now finishing.”
The new regime is supposed to open more choice for workers if they wish to work from home, giving them a right to seek such arrangements after six months. But in-built flexibilities for employers open scope for them to refuse permission to work remotely on 13 grounds.
Conflict appears inevitable. With key details still to be worked out, legal experts, employers and unions foresee many potential pitfalls and practical challenges when it comes to implementing the new arrangements in real time.
Many say the pandemic changed the world of work forever. A recent Central Statistics Office survey suggests that 80 per cent of workers worked remotely at some point since coronavirus struck, compared with 23 per cent before it. Two years later, with all signs suggesting the most acute phase of the health crisis has passed, these practices have bedded down to an extent that few might have expected at the outset.
Traffic and transport
Of those in employment who can work remotely, CSO data suggests 88 per cent want to continue after restrictions were removed: 28 per cent of them all the time; and 60 per cent some of the time. The proportion expressing that preference was highest at 93 per cent among respondents in counties Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow in the Dublin commuter belt, where workers often encounter long traffic delays and overcrowded public transport.
If all of that points to high demand to avail of new laws, considerable hurdles remain to be overcome. To name but a few, these centre on domestic health and safety legislation, insurance issues, European data-protection law and on the Workplace Relations Commission’s new role in determining appeals to decisions against remote working.
“A lot of the issues that are going to go to the WRC where there isn’t agreement will relate to things like health and safety of a premises or [General Data Protection Regulation] compliance or whether somebody can actually do their work remotely. The [WRC] adjudication officers aren’t trained in any of those areas,” said Grogan.
“They are not there to look at a work station and say: ‘Does it comply with health and safety? Is it possible to put a work station into this bedroom safely?’ So that’s a huge issue.”
Asked whether the WRC had enough resources, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said it would “work closely” with the institution to ensure it did. “Adjudication officers will receive appropriate information on the content of the legislation and the WRC was consulted on the heads of the Bill,” the department said.
Grogan suggested the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act might have to be “dumbed down” for remote work. “The only change you could bring in is if you’re working from home and you have an accident it’s your problem.”
He added that changes might also be required to the Civil Liability Act, which governs personal injuries. “There’s going to be a bit of nervousness overall about this,” he said, referring to employers.
But while the Government always has the option of amending Irish law, it can’t do anything on its own with European GDPR rules that impose stringent restrictions on how business uses sensitive personal data.
Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises business representative group, pointed to potential difficulties with remote-working where staff deal with such data. These include companies in the area of external payroll support – dealing with gross and net pay and issues like payments under maintenance agreements – and human resources support.
“There’s a few business that have been able to function remotely but reluctantly and with a lot of concern around what they’re doing,” McDonnell said.
“They basically have the innards of the company sitting on laptops. You could have someone doing HR support on their laptop in the kitchen – a bullying complaint, a harassment complaint or something of a sexual nature – and you have people who are third parties with no involvement in the companies walking past looking at that stuff.”
Employers were also concerned about the potential for claims for personal injury while working at home, McDonnell added. “We’re waiting to see something coming to court, or the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or the Health and Safety Authority.”
The plan has also come in for criticism from Fórsa, the largest public sector union, which said the “business grounds” for refusing remote working were too broad.
The union said the inclusion of grounds such as “potential negative impact on quality”, “potential negative impact on performance” and “planned structural change” would create loopholes that could allow employers turn down requests for no objective or proven reason.
“Employers must not have the option of simply turning down requests on spurious or vague grounds. Instead, they must be required to demonstrate, in a concrete way, that remote or blended arrangements are unworkable before they can turn down a request,” said Kevin Callinan, Fórsa general secretary.
Further questions are certain to arise as the law works its way through the Dáil and Seanad. The pandemic was all about ad hoc moves. Permanent arrangements are another matter entirely.
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