Thursday 18 April 2019

Education Minister gives Budget lesson

WE are just over a month away from Budget 2014, and the manoeuvring by ministers to escape the harshest of spending reductions gathers pace. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is under pressure to find €100m in cuts next year.

Since entering government, Mr Quinn has reversed some planned cuts, such as cuts to disadvantaged state schools and cuts to resource teachers earlier this year.

Those in the Labour Party are right to point out that the reversal of the cuts to special needs assistants and resource teachers was an all-government decision.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fine Gael pushed for the decision as much as the Labour Party did.

Mr Quinn was given no extra money for this move. He had to make do with what he had, and is now being asked to find €100m savings for next month's Budget.

Those in Labour argue that Health Minister James Reilly has consistently failed to reach his budgetary targets and had to be provided with supplementary funding.

Some believe he may do so again this year, while others in Fine Gael maintain Dr Reilly has largely got his house in order and it is now for Labour ministers to follow his lead. Mr Quinn, Dr Reilly and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton oversee the biggest spending departments.

It is natural there will be tensions between the three as the preparations for the Budget intensify. In all likelihood, there are also political games afoot as one side of the Coalition attempts to portray the other as ineffective in order to protect its own ministers.

However, there must be fairness in the amount of cuts made to education, health and social welfare.

Ms Burton has yet to show real reforms in her department, while Dr Reilly's troubles are well documented. Mr Quinn has shown appetite for reform while struggling with austerity.

If he reversed a cut because of pressure from the entire Government – with no extra money – then he should be shown some leeway for next year's Budget.

WE HAVE A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT THE TRAGEDY OF SUICIDE

The unflinching and indeed very moving appearance on the 'Late Late Show' of Stephanie Meehan, whose partner – the Priory Hall campaigner Fiachra Daly – took his own life, has once again brought the whole question of suicide into sharp focus.

She showed exemplary courage and honesty in highlighting the issue of Priory Hall and the part it played in driving an ordinary, hard-working man, over the edge.

While we must avoid in any way normalising suicide, we must learn much more about what lies behind the growing statistical evidence amassed by various groups working in this area.

One such organisation, Console, is holding its annual conference in Dublin today. Its founder, Paul Kelly, has been to the forefront of raising awareness that in this country we do have a major suicide problem on our hands.

Recent research has shown that alcohol and unemployment, two major issues in post 'Celtic boom' Ireland, play a major part in suicide.

But as Mr Kelly writes in an article in today's Irish Independent when trying to explain the complex issues surrounding his own sister's death: "In truth, I've never arrived at simple answers, and most people bereaved by suicide, never will."

We can only hope that the organisation's annual conference and indeed many other events surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day will help in some way to alleviate this largely unexplained modern-day scourge.

Irish Independent

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