Tuesday 25 October 2016

A water spat cannot spoil government deal

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil called for a long term suspension of water charges (stock photo)
Fianna Fáil called for a long term suspension of water charges (stock photo)

As we move deeper into 'Week Nine' without a government, there were hopes that the coming days would finally yield a result. Then Fianna Fáil pumped up the volume in its demands on water charges and Fine Gael dug in.

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Fianna Fáil, looking nervously at Sinn Féin, repeated its mantra about upholding its election promises. It insisted upon a lengthy suspension of water charges and the abolition of Irish Water.

Fine Gael said that six out of 10 people had paid their water charges and there was no point in risking the established principle of everyone paying for water. The party also said it was not reasonable to abolish Irish Water and waste taxpayers' money already spent on it.

The issue became a potential deal-breaker over the weekend and it led to doubts about whether the two big parties can resume talks, and forge a necessary deal to allow a minority coalition be formed sooner rather than later.

Yet again, the prospect of an early General Election looms. That would cost taxpayers €40m, which would be far better spent on a host of necessary services. But, worse again, while it might change some details and vary parties' and Independents' fortunes, it would not deliver a remedy for the national dilemma. It would not yield an overall majority for a clear-cut party grouping.

As time drags on, there is only one real positive outcome available here: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil must forge a realistic compromise on the issue of water charges and the future of Irish Water. They must banish all doubt about their willingness to resume negotiations from today and hammer out a deal.

Water charges were an issue in the February General Election. But they were nowhere near as important as homelessness and housing, health and mental health, education provision, and other key issues. Months after polling day, that hierarchy of political urgency remains. We must have compromise on water very soon.

Super-sized classes will blight too many futures

It is some 40 years since folk singer Mick Hanly wrote about the harshness of the primary schools in which he noted there were "sixty wild boys to a room". It evoked teachers doubling as classroom riot police, which obliged prioritising keeping order over imparting knowledge.

We know things have improved since then - but we also know that pupil-teacher ratios, hovering around 30:1, are far from good enough.

In fact, today we report that one in four primary school classes have more than 30 pupils per teacher. This is not acceptable, especially when you consider that primary education shapes many people's entire lives, for good or ill.

We also know that even at an average of 25 pupils, Irish classes are the second largest in EU, after the UK, where teachers also have classroom assistants to take on some of the workload.

The sad reality is that in over-sized classes, it is frequently pupils from poor and problem backgrounds who suffer and lose most. In too many cases, these young pupils never get to the starting-gate of life.

Our future citizens deserve much better than this.

Irish Independent

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