Northern Ireland

Calls to speed up roll-out of air infiltration units in schools

There were calls last night to speed up the roll-out of air infiltration units in schools in Northern Ireland
There were calls last night to speed up the roll-out of air infiltration units in schools in Northern Ireland

THERE were calls last night to speed up the roll-out of air filtration units in schools in Northern Ireland as the DUP leader also challenged Finance Minister Conor Murphy to commit to funding the equipment.

The NASUWT teaching union said schools "desperately need" air filtration systems and urged Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to "act and get control of this situation".

The units, which clean the air and could help avoid exposure to the Covid-19 virus, have been rolled in the Republic and Sinn Féin has accused the DUP minister of failing to act.

But Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday said Ms McIlveen was "working urgently on plans to provide air filtration and ventilation equipment to schools".

He said that "will come at significant cost" and urged Mr Murphy to provide funding.

"Will the finance minister foot the bill for the enormous cost that there is going to be in providing that kind of equipment?" he asked.

"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 Féin 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."

The assembly will sit on Monday with Ms McIlveen expected to outline the steps being taken to support schools amid the increasing Covid case numbers due to the Omicron variant.

But Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said Ms McIlveen needs to immediately engage with air infiltration unit suppliers.

"We see them being rolled out rather slowly in England but we don’t have them at all," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.

"I feel very let down on behalf of our members that they haven't been afforded the same protection as their colleagues in the Republic of Ireland.

"We want to keep schools open and we want to do it as safe as possible so we should be putting all mitigations in place.

"My big fear was when the air monitors - CO2 monitors - were rolled out, is that they would just tell everyone what they already knew, which is their classroom is unsafe.

"We have teachers at the minute sitting in rooms and getting feedback from monitors that there’s no circulation in their room. There are teachers at schools where the windows don’t open and they're looking at an air monitor that’s sitting on red all day.

"Those schools desperately need infiltration systems otherwise there’s no air circulation. If Covid is in that room everyone is going to get it."

A Department of Finance spokesperson said it 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".