Tuesday 25 September 2018

Fine Gael accused of spin on education spending over 'inability to deliver'

Food for thought: Sorcha Ní Allúin, Education Minister Richard Bruton and Jessica Ní Chéilleachair at a Project Ireland event in Coláiste Ghlór Na Mara, Balbriggan. Photo: Maxwell Photography.ie
Food for thought: Sorcha Ní Allúin, Education Minister Richard Bruton and Jessica Ní Chéilleachair at a Project Ireland event in Coláiste Ghlór Na Mara, Balbriggan. Photo: Maxwell Photography.ie

Robin Schiller and Allison Bray

Fine Gael has been accused of spinning its latest announcement on education funding, with Fianna Fáil saying the extra spending will only keep up with the cost of construction inflation.

As part of the Government's Project Ireland 2040 National Development Plan, schools' capital funding will increase by 70pc while there will be a programme to build and modernise school PE halls.

However, Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the Government should instead focus on honouring the commitments it has already made.

"Parents have little faith in the announcements made by this Government considering its inability to deliver on the commitments that it makes.

"Take for example the announcement of 42 new schools last April. Approximately half of these schools were expected to open in less than a year, but the latest information available shows that the delivery of a single school remains a long way off.

"The patronage process has only been completed for four of the schools and there is no evidence of any site purchase agreements in place whatsoever. It's clear that Minister (Richard) Bruton is incapable of delivering on the deadlines that he set himself," he said.

"The headline figures behind the latest announcement sound impressive, but when you look under the bonnet you realise this is just more spin over substance by this Government. The increase in schools capital spending per year is €46m. For context, the increase in capital spend between 2017 and 2018 was €43.6m so in reality there has only been a small overall increase per year.

"This increase will just about keep up with the cost of construction inflation."

Speaking at the announcement of the spending plan at Coláiste Ghlór na Mara in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested new schools could be named after the signatories of the Proclamation.

He said naming schools after the founders of the State would be appropriate given the centenary of the establishment of the Irish Free State will be in 2022.

"I suppose my suggestions about naming schools after the founders of the State is an idea. In Ireland it was always name schools after saints, we don't do that so much anymore. It would of course have to be something that wouldn't be partisan, it would have to be named after founding fathers coming from all backgrounds, perhaps the signatories of the Proclamation, for example.

"The downside is they're all male, and I wouldn't like to see schools named only after men," said Mr Varadkar.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education last night said it remains "fully committed" to all the projects in its existing building programme and has the largest ever budget of €10bn.

"In relation to the 42 new schools announced, they are all on track for delivery in accordance with the timelines given. All schools announced to open in 2019, will open in 2019," it said.

Irish Independent

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