Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has strongly condemned a suggestion that corruption is so endemic in Ireland that teachers cannot be trusted to grade their own students in a reformed Junior Cert.
The issue of teachers taking on the role of assessing their own students is at the core of union resistance to Junior Cycle reform and is a root cause of the planned one-day strike in over 700 second-level schools next Tuesday.
A further stoppage is threatened for January.
But Ms O'Sullivan has taken exception to claims that teachers taking on responsibility for assessing their own students in the exam on the grounds that Ireland was a country "where connections matter, where rules are made to be bent".
"That, I think, is an entirely corrosive line of argument. It suggests that all Irish people are venal and corrupt," said Ms O'Sullivan.
She took the opportunity to deliver a robust response to the columnist during an address to the annual meeting of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI).
Ms O'Sullivan supported sentiments expressed in the column that fairness must dictate the approach to reform of the Junior Cycle and that the current exam system was "brutal and mechanical and depersonalising".
But, she said, in other ways the columnist was "entirely wrong" and she could not agree with the conclusion that "corruption in Ireland is so endemic that teachers cannot be trusted to act as professional educators".
She said people elected to public office become accustomed to regular insinuations that they were all corrupt. And while she completely rejected those insinuations, they had become part and parcel of our public discourse, she said.
But the minister said the column went much further "and extended that insinuation to include all of Irish society", adding: "I reject those ideas utterly".
She said no one lived in a perfect society, there is no fantasy utopia, where truth and justice always shone through, but equally, Ireland was "not some oddly-formed dystopia, where no good can ever win out".
Ms O'Sullivan also expressed disappointment that a strike, which will force almost 350,000 students to stay at home, was going ahead and she appealed to the unions to reconsider.
The public row over Junior Cycle reform started two years ago when former minister Ruairi Quinn announced the abolition of the State certificate for the Junior Cert and the replacement of the traditional June exams with teachers grading their own students.