Friday 20 April 2018

Crisis talks to patch up cracks in Government

Fianna Fail anger over Fine Gael row-back on guidance counsellors

Row: Micheal Martin is angry over guidance counsellor issue Photo: Gerry Mooney
Row: Micheal Martin is angry over guidance counsellor issue Photo: Gerry Mooney
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will hold crisis talks in the coming days as the first chinks in the confidence and supply deal have emerged over plans to hire more guidance counsellors for secondary schools.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is understood to be furious that Fine Gael is ­rowing back on what he believed was a commitment to fully restore the number of guidance counsellors in schools to pre-­financial crisis levels.

The issue of guidance counsellors was a sticking point during government negotiations with Fianna Fail insisting it form part of the agreement for facilitating a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The agreement states that Taoiseach Enda Kenny's government will commit to "reintroduce guidance counselling to secondary schools"

However, the parties are now at loggerheads over how this should be achieved.

The Fine Gael/Labour ­Coalition abolished so called ex-quota guidance counselling hours and included counsellors in pupil/teacher ratios.

Fianna Fail is insisting guidance counsellors should be reintroduced in all secondary schools and the roles should be excluded from pupil/teacher ratios when funding is allocated.

Fine Gael believes guidance counsellors should be included in pupil/teacher ratios and schools should have the power to decide on their own staffing resources.

A senior government source said school management and principals hold a "very different view" to Fianna Fail on guidance counsellors.

"There is also a big difference in what school management would say and what the lobby for guidance counsellors say about this," the source said.

Fianna Fail's education spokesman Thomas Byrne is to meet with Education Minister Richard Bruton this week to discuss the issue.

Mr Byrne told the Sunday Independent reintroducing guidance counsellors is a ­"priority" for Fianna Fail.

"It's very clear in the confidence and supply agreement but more importantly this service has never been more necessary in our schools," he said.

"Mr Bruton will simply have to deliver what Fine Gael has already agreed to in the confidence and supply agreement and I look forward to meeting him this week to get confirmation on that," he added.

The minister's spokesman said he is also looking forward to meeting Mr Byrne to discuss "how to best implement the commitment on guidance counselling".

"Minister Bruton will be keen to listen to views as to how best implement this commitment through future budgets," he said.

"In deciding the best approach, the best interests of the child and the best means of providing guidance counselling will be paramount," he added.

In response to a parliamentary question last week, Mr Bruton said to fully restore guidance counsellors it will require an additional 300 teaching posts at an estimated cost of €19m per year.

Mr Burton is understood to have scheduled meetings with all of the opposition ­education spokespersons.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail is preparing a raft of new legislation which it hopes will get cross-party support in the new Dail.

The party is set to introduce up to 20 bills in the coming weeks. Last week, the party's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan introduced a private members bill which will strip the power to rule on parole hearings from the ­Justice Minister. Parole hearings would instead be heard by an independent review body.

Sinn Fein's justice spokesman Jonathan O'Brien said he agreed in principle with the bill and said his party is likely to vote for it in the Dail.

Fianna Fail is also bringing forward legislation to clamp down on abuses of the au pair system. It will introduce a cultural exchange programme which will take in au pairs and ensure they do not work more than five hours a day and have two days off a week.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry has drafted a bill to ring-fence tax from alcohol sales for mental health services, and legislation to prevent repossession of the family home.

The Government is set to discuss re-introducing bills drafted by the last administration at this week's cabinet meeting. New ministers are also expected to draft new ­legislation in the coming weeks.

Sunday Independent

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