Greens warn FF: transport, education off limits
THE Green Party last night warned it will demand that its promises on education and transport be delivered upon, despite the expected cutbacks in the Budget.
The firm stance was adopted as tensions rose between Fianna Fail and the Greens because several priority areas for the junior coalition partner appear set to be sacrificed as the Government tries to find over €5bn in cutbacks by December.
College fees look set to return by the back door -- through a massive increase in third-level registration charges.
A doubling of the college registration fee from €1,500 to €3,000 is being examined by the coalition, according to government sources.
An increase in the pupil-teacher ratio is also on the table -- again contrary to commitments secured by the Greens in the renegotiation of their coalition deal last year.
The building of the Metro North transport system remains in doubt with both Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan being lukewarm when asked about their view on the project last week.
Following Green Party leader John Gormley's demand for further cuts to politicians' pay, there is speculation about a 10pc pay cut for ministers coming in the Budget.
Green sources expect the issue of ministers' cars to be examined with their proposal for a car pool for ministers in Dublin a possible option.
But party figures would not be drawn on whether the withdrawal of state cars for former Taoisigh, such as Bertie Ahern, would be looked at.
However, cutbacks to politicians' perks would be regarded as a fig leaf for the Greens if their major commitments on education and transport went down in flames.
A senior Green Party source said last night the party believed the renegotiated Programme for Government could not "be ditched".
While the party expects some areas to be cut, the vast majority must still be honoured, as far as the Greens are concerned.
And Green Party TD Paul Gogarty, the party's spokesman on education and chairman of the Oireachtas education committee, said the key areas of the coalition deal in relation to education spending were "non-negotiable".
"There is a huge range of issues that are up for grabs, that we've been told may face cuts by both the Minister for Education, the Tanaiste and indeed by the Department of Finance.
"What we are saying is: Yes we will take some of the pain in the education department. But some of the provisions in the Programme for Government will have to be non-negotiable," he told RTE's 'The Week in Politics'.
But Fianna Fail ministers are clearly stating that everything is on the table for cutbacks in the Budget.
Defence Minister Tony Killeen refused to rule out substantial increases in third level college registration fees.
"We have a very difficult challenge. No area is exempt from consideration. The challenges are very, very difficult," he said.
The minister said the Government was seeking "to concentrate on preserving the quality of our education system".
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said his party remained committed to the introduction of a graduate tax which could raise around €500m a year.