Tuesday 23 July 2019

State must review education for Travellers

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan


There is a lot right about the current admissions policies used by the majority of the country's 4,000 primary and second-level schools. But when demand exceeds supply of places, as it does in 20pc of schools, then bottlenecks and complaints from parents can arise.

These over-subscribed schools are not free to pick and choose pupils at will, nor should they be if they are in receipt of public funds. They are obliged to take account of the laws of the land in terms of potential discrimination against individuals or groups.

The Education Minister, Jan O'Sullivan, is planning to bring forward legislation to make the system fairer and more transparent. We will have to wait and see what exactly the minister is proposing before we can pass judgment. In the meantime, the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday would seem to allow the existing practice of giving priority to children of former pupils. But the minister has indicated that she remains to be convinced of the reasons for allowing schools to retain 25pc of their places for children of past pupils, as her predecessor Ruairi Quinn was disposed to do. This could yet prove to be a very contentious piece of legislation.

Some schools fear her forthcoming legislation and regulations and particularly that the penalties for schools found to be in breach of any new law will be draconian and unnecessary. But parents do need greater clarity on the rights of their children to enrol in schools of their choice.

The case taken by Mary Stokes, with the backing of the Irish Traveller Movement, was worthwhile, even if their claim of discrimination against Travellers and her son John was not upheld. The movement's spokesperson, Brigid Quilligan, said afterwards that there was not a level playing field for all children to access education.

But it's not just about access. Too few Traveller children stay the course when they get into second-level education and the numbers continuing into higher education are still too low. It is high time the whole issue of provision for Traveller education was looked at again.

Education and training provision for Travellers has been hit by severe cutbacks over the past few years, which have largely gone unnoticed and remain under the radar.

Good news for credit union members

After seven years of austerity, it is welcome news that the credit unions are now back on their feet - and have got there much faster than the other financial institutions.

With €12.8bn in assets, the credit unions have proved the strength of people power, in that people feel a connection to their local credit union and appear to have been much slower to default on loans. It would also appear that credit unions have been nimbler at restructuring loans for troubled borrowers and working with them to prevent default.

Ironically, but perhaps understandably, the biggest problem now facing credit unions is that members have been paying down their debts and are showing a marked reluctance to take out new loans. This is hitting the profitability of the institutions.

But the good news is that many credit unions will pay a dividend this year and some will also reward loyal members with an interest rebate. A little good news goes a long way - and it's not very often that the financial sector has provided such news over the last seven years.

Irish Independent

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