DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has challenged Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy to commit to fund equipment to keep children safe in school amid the latest wave in the coronavirus pandemic.
He said he had “no doubt” money would be made available.
Sir Jeffrey said his party colleague, the Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, will outline in the Assembly the steps being taken to support schools amid the record Covid case numbers due to the Omicron variant.
The Assembly has been recalled for a plenary sitting on Monday following a motion submitted by Mr Sheehan, which was backed by SDLP and Alliance Party members to discuss the return of children to schools.
The motion expresses “serious concern at the lack of planning” by the Education Minister.
Sir Jeffrey said his party’s objective is to keep schools open.
“The minister is working urgently on plans to provide air filtration and ventilation equipment to schools,” he told reporters in Co Fermanagh.
“That will come at significant cost. I note there is a degree of ambivalence from Sinn Fein. Will the Finance Minister foot the bill for the enormous cost that there is going to be in providing that kind of equipment?
“It is a priority for us but we need to know that we’re going to get the support of the finance department to cover the cost of providing schools with the equipment that they need to keep schools open.
“My challenge back to Sinn Fein is: ‘Do you want to keep schools open?’ Because we want to keep schools open and if you do then we need to Finance Minister to step up and provide the funding that the Education Minister needs to deliver the equipment that is required in classrooms to keep schools open during this pandemic.”
Sir Jeffrey said he wants schools to be a safe place for young people and staff.
The Department of Finance has not received a bid to cover the cost of air filtration and ventilation equipment
Department of Finance spokesperson
“I want to commend our school principals and teaching staff who are working very hard at the moment, making big sacrifices to keep schools open, we recognise that, we want to work with them,” he said.
“The Education Minister in the Assembly on Monday will outline further the steps that are being taken by her department to support schools at this time.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said: “The Department of Finance has not received a bid to cover the cost of air filtration and ventilation equipment.
“If a bid is received the Finance Minister will bring recommendations to the Executive.”