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Fears for class sizes as State faces €50m bill for abuse compensation

LABOUR TDs fear bigger class sizes could be on the way due to the massive €50m abuse compensation bill facing the Department of Education.

The department is going to have to set aside as much as €50m next year to cover the final bill for compensating victims of abuse in industrial schools.

This is putting it under more pressure to stay within its budget with education cuts of up to €100m required to balance the books.

Labour TDs are privately blaming the religious orders, who have still not contributed extra funds to pay for the cost of compensating victims of abuse in industrial schools.

They fear this could lead to increases in the pupil-teacher ratio from 28:1 to 30:1.

It comes at a time when almost a quarter of primary school children – or 121,000 – are in "supersize" classes of 30 or more.

From their discussions with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and his officials, Labour TDs believe the threat to the pupil-teacher ratio is real and is not just a "kite-flying" exercise.

Labour Dublin North West TD John Lyons said there were huge savings that had to be made in the education budget.

"We would be exceptionally concerned about the pupil-teacher ratio," he said.

The issue was discussed by Labour's budget committee this week and it was unanimously agreed that a clear message should be sent to Mr Quinn warning him of the party's concerns.

APPLICATIONS

The Department of Education confirmed that it was still obliged to set aside money for the final abuse compensation payouts – which have already cost the state €1.1bn.

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Although around 15,000 victims got compensation, there are still up to 2,500 late applications being processed which could cost a further €107m.

The department set aside €56m this year and will have to set aside up to €51m more next year.

The religious orders have pledged a total of €476m in cash, property and counselling support but this represents just 32pc of the estimated final bill of €1.46bn.

A spokeswoman for Mr Quinn said he had recently got cabinet approval to continue to pursue the religious orders for a 50:50 sharing of costs.

"The minister is pursuing these issues and continues to urge the congregations to make further contributions," she said.

Mr Quinn has been told that Labour TDs do not want a repeat of his first education budget two years ago, when schools designated as disadvantaged – known as DEIS schools – were hit with cuts to their extra teaching numbers. He later had to make a U-turn. Labour TDs want such DEIS schools left untouched, as well as protecting the pupil-teacher ratio in schools generally.

It comes as the health budget is also under pressure, with the HSE's most recent performance report in July warning of a deficit of around €107m at the end of the year.

But Health Minister Dr James Reilly said he had been in several long meetings over the past few days with HSE officials in a bid to meet savings.

"I am saying dum spiro spero, like our good friends the Romans used to say – where there's life there's hope – and we'll keep working until the last minute to try and make it happen," he told RTE.

"We are a demand-led service, we are given a finite sum of money – we get an increased demand – it's very difficult to square that circle," he added.


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