Labour promises €500 cut in third-level fees
Labour will cut third-level fees to €2,500 in September 2017 if it is returned to Government, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan promised last night.
This would mean a €500-a-year reduction in the €3,000 contribution students are paying this year. That figure is frozen for September 2016.
Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor, Ruairí Quinn, faced the ire of students following a broken election promise not to increase third-level fees.
Mr Quinn signed a pledge on the matter before the last general election - then fees were repeatedly hiked while Labour was in government.
Ms O'Sullivan said the proposed reduction would be introduced, pending consideration of an expert group's report setting out options around higher-level funding in the longer term.
She also held out a carrot to third-level bosses, promising that in 2017 Labour in Government would provide €25m to improve staff-student ratios, which are much higher than international norms.
The minister said the "significant increase" in the fees "was one of the many difficult choices that were made in recent years" but she now wanted "to begin a reasonable conversation about where we go next".
Meanwhile Ms O'Sullivan is facing a backlash from Labour Party colleagues - just weeks away from the General Election - over her plans to remove a rule giving privilege to Catholic teachings in national schools.
At last night's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, a number of TDs expressed concerns over how abolishing the so-called 'rule 68' will be perceived in the lead-up to the election.
The Irish Independent understands that TDs, mostly from rural constituencies, voiced objections to Ms O'Sullivan's plan to abolish a rule which states that religious teaching is "by far the most important" part of the school curriculum.
The minister will move to abolish the rule, which dates back to the 1920s, next week.
"It's a bit stupid doing away with the rule when we know it's going to be divisive during the election," a Labour source said.
However, a source close to the minister said there was a "modicum" of concern about how the move would be perceived, rather than opposition to abolishing the rule.
"It won't change the day-to-day running of schools" they said.