Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Deputy Jonathan O’Brien has said this week’s protest organised by the three main Irish teaching Unions, The Association of Secondary School Teachers (ASTI), The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) is a timely warning to the government that the education sector is unable to endure any further cuts.
The Cork North Central TD was speaking after highlighting his party’s position during a debate this week in the Dáil on the economy in advance of December’s budget.
“The large protest organised on Wednesday by the ASTI, TUI and INTO served to highlight the growing opposition to the succession of cuts that have impacted across the entire education sector in recent years.
“Even during the so called boom years of the Celtic Tiger the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance report suggested that in 2007 Ireland was spending 4.7% of its income on education compared to an OECD average for that year of 5.7%.
“Since then the situation has worsened greatly and as the General Secretary of the ASTI Pat King correctly stated, there have been four successive budgets that have devastated education and now there is nothing left to take. Many others believe that education in Ireland is nearing breaking point.
“Despite these warnings, the government still intends to press ahead and slash a further €77 million from the education budget which is being gutted at a time when we need to be investing in our schools and higher level institutions.
“During a recession, most countries recognise the importance of prioritising and ring-fencing funding for education in order to produce a highly skilled and flexible workforce that is so necessary for our future economic growth and prosperity. Yet the opposite is happening with the government continuing to implement the policies of its predecessors resulting in punitive cuts being directed at a range of frontline services.
“Added to this has been the unfair targeting of newly qualified teachers, with cuts to their pay and allowances discouraging many capable candidates from choosing teaching as a career option whilst many others will be forced to immigrate.
“The progressive measures announced by Minister Quinn, such as the reform of the Junior Cert Cycle and improving literacy and numeracy standards are essential for the future of the Irish school system but they can only be realised if the necessary resources are found to implement these changes.
“As we approach December’s Budget,” concluded Deputy O’Brien, “there is little left to take from the Education budget unless the minister looks at cutting the wages of high earners, or ending the state subsidies to private fee paying schools.”