Labour split over Quinn's grant plans
EDUCATION Minister Ruari Quinn's plan to include farmland worth over €750,000 in the means test for college grants has exposed an urban-rural divide within Labour.
Labour TDs in Dublin are strongly supporting his stance on the grounds that farmers are "disguising their assets".
But rural Labour TDs are taking the same approach as Fine Gael TDs – they do not want "productive assets" such as farmland and business premises included in the means test.
The current test for third-level grants is based on income only, but Mr Quinn (inset) has complained in the past that farmers and the self-employed are able to "manipulate their income" to get grants for their children.
Tensions are mounting in the Government about the proposed changes. The Irish Independent first revealed the divisions in the Coalition over the issue last August.
Labour Clare TD Michael McNamara said assets such as farmland were producing an income for people and should not be treated the same as "non-productive assets" like savings.
Labour Longford-Westmeath TD Willie Penrose said assets such as farmland and corner shops should not be counted in the test because many of their owners were "losing money".
"If someone has €500,000 in the bank, that's a different thing," he said.
But in a sign of the urban-rural divide in the party, Labour Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys said there had to be some equality between urban dwellers and rural dwellers.
"There's a lot of people who have built up huge amounts of assets and they shouldn't be able to deny a lot of middle-income PAYE earners without that asset base," he said.
And Labour Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds said he believed some farmers had been good at disguising their incomes to qualify for college grants.
Fianna Fail agriculture spokesman Eamon O Cuiv warned that including assets would cut the number of grants given to farm families.
"It will put many farming families in a position where they must decide whether or not to sell some of their land . . . in order to fund college for their children," he said.
But there are not just differences of opinion in Labour. The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) said it would mount a campaign of opposition to the new system being proposed.
That prompted the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers' Association to issue a statement criticising 'grandstanding' – in an obvious attack on the IFA.
Its president John Comer urged all parties to allow Mr Quinn and his colleagues to come to the "correct conclusion".