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O'Keeffe must tidy Hanafin's mess in Education - Doherty

7 May, 2008

Speaking on the appointment of Batt O'Keeffe as Minister for Education and Science, Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Senator Pearse Doherty has described his appointment as an opportunity to address the crisis in our education system.

Senator Doherty said, "Minister Hanafin as minister for education since 2004 has in no small way contributed to the crisis which is now plain to see in our education system. The appointment of a new minister in this portfolio provides an opportunity for this crisis to be addressed.

"The most noticeable element of problems in the Education system is to be seen right across the state in the appalling state of our school buildings. On a daily basis I receive pleas for help from schools, parents, and teachers and in some cases even the children themselves who have reached a point where attending school has become dangerous. Unfortunately reports of rat infestation in our schools, leaking roofs, windows that have to be nailed shut; faulty wiring and rotten floorboards have become the norm. The fact that after a decade of the Celtic Tiger today's children are been taught in converted toilets or in overcrowded classrooms is a terrible indictment of this government.

"Many of our children have never been taught in a proper classroom having gone through their entire primary education in damp and draughty prefabs. Although this government spends €39.8 million annually on the rental and purchase of prefabs today there is no knowledge of how many children are attending classes in these 'temporary' accommodations or prefabs, or indeed which schools are using prefabs as classrooms.

"If Minister O'Keeffe is to make any difference he must end the practice of using prefabs as classrooms and roll out a school building programme that meets the needs of our schools and addresses the fact that 1 in 3 of our 4,000 schools have applied for a new school or much needed building works on there existing school.

"A positive first step that I urge Minister O'Keeffe to take is to reverse the appalling decision of his predecessor not to reduce class sizes. There is no doubt that there is great anger at this government's failure to fulfil its promise to reduce class sizes leaving Irish class sizes the second highest in the EU. The reinstatement of this commitment and its delivery is essential if we are to have a new government approach to education.

"This Minister must adopt a new approach to the chronic under funding of our education system. Schools in this State are in financial crisis most especially in the primary sector. It is truly appalling that the average primary school is €30,000 in debt with this figure increasing by the same amount annually and parents and boards of management forced to fundraise to pay the heating and electricity bill of their schools. A first step must be the doubling of the capitation grant as promised by this government prior to the election.

"The appointment of Batt O'Keeffe as Minister also provides an ideal opportunity to end the Department of Education vendetta against the practice of early Irish language immersion in our Gaelscoileanna. There is absolutely no foundation for this proposal and I would urge Minister O'Keefe to reflect the commitment made to the Irish language made by the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen in his speech in the Dáil today.

"There are many challenges in education; these challenges must be met head on. I will be seeking an early meeting with the new minister for Education to address the issues that I have outlined and the many others that face us across all tiers of our education system." ENDS

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