Farmers fear deal will hurt student grants campaign
FINE Gael TDs are insisting that the new public sector pay deal will not affect their campaign against Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's changes to the means test for student grants.
Farmers fear that the new deal will damage their chances of resisting his plan to include farm and business assets in the means test for the first time.
They had been relying on the support of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan to resist Mr Quinn's proposals.
But a source in the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association said the Labour Party had taken on its core constituency of public sector workers in the new pay deal. They fear that Mr Quinn and Labour ministers will now be far less willing to let Fine Gael ministers make a concession for farmers
"The timing of this is bad for us. I'm not sure they will be willing to let the Blueshirts give us this one," the source said.
The current test for third-level grants is based on income only but Mr Quinn has complained in the past that farmers and the self-employed are able to "manipulate their income" to get student grants for their children.
However, Fine Gael TDs have insisted that the new public sector pay deal will make no difference to their opposition to his changes. They are due to discuss the matter today at their party's internal education committee, which is chaired by Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor.
Fine Gael Carlow-Kilkenny TD Pat Deering said the plan to include farm and business assets in the means test would be "very discriminatory".
"Bringing capital assets into the system is totally wrong. And that attitude is something the Fine Gael parliamentary party, to a man and woman, would be very supportive of," he said.
And Fine Gael Galway East TD Paul Connaughton said he still had huge concerns about the proposed changes.
"I believe the fairest system is based on income and it should remain on income," he said.
Mr Quinn is expected to bring his proposals on changing the student grants means test to Cabinet in the coming weeks. He has committed to change the means test to include the "value of certain capital assets" as well as income.
These assets could include second homes and large savings accounts.
Any changes are expected to apply to the coming college year.
The cross-departmental working group on capital assets set up by Mr Quinn was originally supposed to report last year. But a decision on the issue was delayed due to the scale of opposition to the changes from Fine Gael backbenchers.