No tears shed as lamentable Coughlan is gently demoted
TANAISTE Mary Coughlan was finally moved out of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment after a much-lamented performance.
But Taoiseach Brian Cowen gave her an extremely gentle let down with the plum position of Education Minister.
The Tanaiste's handling of the job-creation, business and training sectors has been severely criticised and she was involved in a series of controversies, ranging from the FAS debacle to her representation of Ireland on the international stage.
Ms Coughlan will also be taking the training elements of FAS with her to the new Department of Education and Skills.
The transfer of the training activities of FAS will be linked to the further education and training activities of the VECs, the institutes of technology and other programmes, such as Youthreach.
But the often fraught relationship between the Government and the teaching unions was immediately illustrated by the dilemma now facing one of the unions.
The ASTI executive had previously decided not to invite Ms Coughlan's predecessor, Batt O'Keeffe, to its annual convention in Galway next month as a protest over the ban on filling middle-management posts.
A union spokesperson said that in view of Ms Coughlan's appointment, it would now be open to reviewing the decision.
The education sector is hoping to get its hands on some of the millions of euro spent on FAS training activities.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin said the distinction between education and training was an artificial one and that its elimination was long overdue.
VECs and institutes of technology were ideally placed to upskill the population, in particular those recently made unemployed, he said.
The restriction on student numbers in post-Leaving Certificate colleges should be abolished as a matter of urgency and funding for institutes of technology raised to tackle the vastly increased demands, added Mr MacMenamin.
The employers' body IBEC said that moving responsibility for skills-development policy to the department would provide further impetus to the higher education and VEC sectors, which had a crucial role to play in developing the skills of those at work and those looking for jobs.
"The closer integration of the social welfare system and FAS should also provide a better response to the challenge of getting people back to work," said IBEC's director-general, Danny McCoy.
However, Fine Gael's education spokesman, Brian Hayes, was critical of the addition of new roles to the Department of Education, which he said was already too big.
He said: "This makes no sense. How can FAS be split between several departments?"