Wednesday 17 January 2018

Farmers vow to oppose changes to college grants means test

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FARMERS have pledged to mount a vigorous campaign of opposition to plans to include farmland in the means test for college grants – which is causing growing tension within the coalition.

Government backbenchers are warning that there will be trouble in the coalition if Education Minister Ruairi Quinn pushes ahead with his plan to change the means test.

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.

Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan said it would mount a vigorous campaign of opposition to the new system being proposed by Mr Quinn.

The Irish Independent first revealed the divisions in Government over the issue last August and more recently outlined the tensions mounting again this week.

Fine Gael Waterford TD John Deasy told RTÉ today that there would be trouble in the Coalition if Labour pursued the issue. But Labour Dublin North Central TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin hit back by saying it appeared Fine Gael backbenchers had no interest in a fair distribution of student grants.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan are all understood to be opposing Mr Quinn’s proposal to include farmland or business assets worth more than €750,000 in the means test – on the grounds these assets are not always producing any income.

Mr Quinn’s department has confirmed that he is currently in renegotiations about the proposal.

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