EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn yesterday took a second day of bashing from teachers' unions, which have accused him of mishandling education reforms.
Mr Quinn addressed the annual Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) conference in Wexford. There, he reiterated claims he made earlier this week that the education budget cannot stretch and that cuts may be unavoidable.
But TUI president Bernie Ruane accused the minister of taking the cheap way out.
"Many of us grew up in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when there was even less money than today," she said.
"Yet the people of Ireland knew the value of investing in education as being the best way out of the difficulties then.
"In the 1960s the then Taoiseach used to remark that it was not that Ireland was too poor to invest in education, it was that it was too poor not to invest in it."
Mr Quinn said the financial crisis had left his department with no option but to shake up the education sector, which could result in cuts to small and rural schools, with some being amalgamated.
He also announced a restructuring of state scholarships, which will see the Government hand out a total €120,000 this September to 60 Leaving Cert pupils from DEIS schools who hold medical cards. They will each receive €2,000.
"I believe this is the only equitable manner of distributing the limited funds we have available for bursaries, focusing them on the students who most need our support," said Mr Quinn.
The bursaries will be awarded regionally and will also be determined by students' Leaving Cert results.
They will completely replace any existing scholarship schemes and will only be available to students undertaking mathematics or scientific subjects.
Earlier, Mr Quinn said that he plans to carry out an audit of some provincial towns to make the most of what educational resources they have and to determine what they need.
"In many cases, the Department of Education has not got on a single sheet of paper what the educational infrastructure resources are of town A, B or C," said Mr Quinn.
"No rational planner, no business organisation would contemplate making changes unless it knew what the actual physical resources and man power resources were in that situation."