Sunday 26 March 2017

Minister refuses to rule out further education cuts

John Walshe Education Editor

Education cannot be sheltered from any further cuts, Education Minister Mary Coughlan warned yesterday.

She said it would be dishonest to say otherwise, given that the bulk of public spending was accounted for by health, education and welfare.

"The reality is that this country will have less to spend on public services for the foreseeable future. This is a fact and we cannot afford to underestimate the challenge it will pose," she told the INTO congress in Galway, where a minority of delegates heckled and booed her speech.

She said that more had to be done to stabilise the public finances. A further €3bn of adjustments will be required in the next Budget, €1bn of which will come from capital spending and the remaining €2bn from reductions in the cost of public services and through taxation.

But Ms Coughlan also gave the country's 55,000 teachers an assurance that she was not looking for a cut in the length of their summer holidays in any revision of their contracts.

"I'm not taking out the machete," she quipped at a news conference after her congress speech.

The assurances were given to allay fears that a renegotiation of teachers' contracts will hand the minister a "blank cheque".

Such a revision is provided for in the draft pay agreement worked out last month in the Croke Park discussions between the public services committee of ICTU and the Government.

"We are clearly not in a situation where we are going to create a huge imposition on teachers, but we would like to work through issues raised by boards of management and by teachers themselves," Ms Coughlan said.

Ballots will be held on the deal but Ms Coughlan would not make any recommendation on how the members should vote, saying this was a matter for the unions.

She also confirmed that an easing of the moratorium on filling middle management posts in schools will be announced at the TUI congress in Ennis today.

But, she told reporters, while it would go some way towards addressing the problems it would not be the panacea for resolving absolutely everything.

In response, the new general secretary of the union, Sheila Nunan, launched a strong attack on the Government's policies.

"The price of NAMA and other state gifts to the swindlers we used to respectfully call the financial services industry will bleed as much from our country this century as the landlords did in the 19th century," she said.

"Six years from the centenary of 1916, that is some betrayal of their heroic struggle for independence -- of which the trade union movement of the time was a part.

"Eighty-four years of patriotic endeavour to build a republic where the green shoots of liberty and equality had just begun to take hold have been overturned in a decade.

"Truly your Government has done the State some service. James Connolly must be turning in his grave," she added.

"For because of light touch regulation of the banks -- a euphemism for letting the lunatics run the asylum -- the education system will remain under-funded and our classrooms overcrowded. Child poverty will increase and ordinary working men and women face the challenge of making ends meet," she concluded.

Irish Independent

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