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FF urges Government to scrap exam fee

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The Government is set to be forced to scrap the Leaving Cert exam fee this year, with Fianna Fail saying it should be waived for students whose exams have been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis.

Education Minister Joe McHugh has delayed the payment of the €116 fee until after the State exams take place later in the year.

But Fianna Fail, which is looking to form a government with Fine Gael in the coming weeks, said it should be waived entirely.

Fianna Fail education spokesman Thomas Byrne, who is involved in government formation negotiations, said: "We would like it to be waived. That will obviously form part of the talks."

Mr McHugh is also coming under pressure from government colleagues, with Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan, who is now retired from the Dail, saying a fee waiver "should be considered".

Two former education ministers, Ruairi Quinn and Mary Hanafin, have also called for the fee to be scrapped for Leaving Cert students.

"It would probably in the present moment be easier to waive the fee, but that's a decision for the minister," Mr Quinn said.

"It's just another complication. It's a very heavy burden to be putting on people at this point in time."

Mr Quinn, a former Labour TD who was Education Minister between 2011 and 2014, has already said the Leaving Cert should be cancelled this year because of the pandemic emergency.

Ms Hanafin, a former Fianna Fail education minister, said the exams should still go ahead but the fee waived. "People are in dire straits," she said. "The Department of Education should be able to waive it."

Mr McHugh came under pressure from TDs over the issue and hinted in the Dail that the fee could now be waived.

"I have changed the payment date requirement to after the exams, but I hear the message coming from the Chamber relating to the fee," he said.

At present, the €116 fee applies to students sitting the Leaving Cert. However, students whose parents or guardians are medical card holders do not have to pay. The fee is €301 for anyone repeating their exams.

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain, a former teacher, said: "Schools are saying it's impossible to administer because it's impossible to chase down the fee.

"I think the fee is an unreasonable ask in the current climate.

"It should have been scrapped well before now as a goodwill gesture by the department."

Around 60,000 Leaving Cert students are still awaiting a clear timetable for their final State exams.

Mr McHugh has said the Leaving Cert will start on July 29 but a comprehensive timetable will not be released until early June when it is hoped some public health restrictions will have been eased.

Meanwhile, the Susi college grant scheme has experienced a surge in applications this year as more students are likely to become eligible due to the impact of Covid-19 on household finances.

Just under 10,000 applications were received last Thursday, the opening day for grant applications for the 2020-21 academic year.

Susi said 59pc of these applications were from students renewing their grant for the next academic year, but the figure is up on the 6,469 applications received on the equivalent opening day in 2019.

Sunday Independent