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Thursday 19 October 2017

Quinn set to compromise over college grants after FG resistance

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has signalled that he is willing to compromise on controversial changes to the means test for college grants.

There are growing signs that he will focus on means-testing assets classed as 'non-productive', such as significant savings and second homes – but exclude 'productive assets' valued at less than €750,000, such as farmland and business premises.

It comes as Fine Gael Senator Michael D'Arcy brings a motion to the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday calling for all members – including the Fine Gael ministers – to ensure that farm and business assets are not included in the means test.

"If the minister had listened earlier, this motion wouldn't have been put down," he said.

Reality

Mr D'Arcy insisted that if Fine Gael backbenchers supported the motion, that would be the "end of the matter".

Fellow Fine Gael senator, Fidelma Healy Eames, invited Dublin-based Labour TDs who have called for the changes to visit her husband's farm in Galway to see the reality of farming life. She said the proposed changes were an "outrage".

Mr Quinn has faced a storm of Fine Gael opposition to his proposal to include farmland and business premises worth over €750,000 in the means test.

Around 38pc of third-level students currently qualify for a grant at a cost to the State of €336m per year.

But Mr Quinn has signalled that he is willing to negotiate on the changes, saying that there should be a "national debate" on the issue of getting more fairness into the grants system.

"I hope there will be change, but that will be a matter that has to be decided by Cabinet," he told RTE's 'Week in Politics'.

Mr Quinn said the cross-departmental working group had made a clear distinction between working capital assets that were "essential to the operation of the business itself" and other assets such as savings accounts.

He made reference to a student who had got a college grant – even though the person's parents owned €300,000 in savings bonds. "This isn't about farmers, it's about fairness – the present system is not fair," he said.

Similarly, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar emphasised the need for the new means test to cover people who had "€200,000 in the bank, or €100,000 of shares".

"We're obviously not going to have a situation where farmers are going to have to sell land to put their kids through college," he told RTE's 'This Week' programme.

A spokeswoman for Mr Quinn insisted the inclusion of farmland and business assets in the new college grant means test could not be ruled out.

However, she said it had always been the intention to look at including a broad range of capital assets, such as large savings accounts, share portfolios and second homes.

Irish Independent

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