Quinn slaps down new minister in row over means-testing of grants
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has reignited the coalition row over the means testing of student grants by criticising the newly-appointed Fine Gael junior minister Tom Hayes.
The development came after the Irish Independent revealed that Mr Quinn had shelved plans to include assets such as farmland and business premises in the means test for students, measures which had been due to come into effect this September.
Currently, the test is based on income alone.
Newly appointed Junior Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes yesterday said that Mr Quinn had "dropped" the plan entirely.
But Mr Quinn hit back by saying that he was going to bring a memo to cabinet about including assets for assessment from September 2014 onwards. And he asserted his authority over Mr Hayes, who had been a vocal critic of the move while on the Fine Gael backbenches.
"I'm just telling you what I know. I've been in this particular job for nearly two years and three months, the man hasn't had half a day yet," Mr Quinn said.
Farmers and Fine Gael backbenchers also lined up to join Mr Hayes in opposition to the plan.
Fine Gael Waterford TD Paudie Coffey said that Mr Hayes was from a farming background and knew the impact that any changes to the means test would have.
"It's another minor battle in the Coalition but it could become a major one if Ruairi pushes it. We have to keep the foot on the pedal," he said.
Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan warned that including such assets could make it more difficult for children from low-income farming families to get to college.
But Mr Quinn said there had been reports dating to the 1990s recommending that parents' assets should be included in the means test for student grants – as well as their income.
"I will be bringing it to Government and the Government will decide how to proceed. But the matter has not been dropped," he said.
Mr Quinn also said yesterday that it had never been intended that the changes would come in this year despite previously repeatedly telling TDs in the the Dail that the changes in the means test would be implemented in 2013.