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Education sector should be exempt from cutbacks - Doherty

19 September, 2008

Speaking today as newspaper reports signalled the likelihood of cutbacks in the education sector Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Pearse Doherty urged the Minister to fight for investment in education as part of long term economic strategy.

Reacting to comments made by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe at the annual conference of the Irish Vocational Education Association, Senator Doherty said the Minister should not simply accept parameters set down by the Minister for Finance and should fight for investment in education.

He said, "Sinn Féin accepts the fact that we are in a new economic environment. However, we feel that the education sector should be exempt from cutbacks as part of an overall strategy to reverse the current economic outlook and to ensure the long term stability of the Irish economy. In fact we argue that significant investment must be made in education as part of a long term economic strategy to build the knowledge based economy that we so often talk about. If we have to borrow the money for capital investment then so be it.

"There is also the potential to stimulate the construction industry by investing in a school building programme to meet the demands of schools across the state. Currently we have a situation where building contractors with contracts to build school extensions are facing going bust as the department refuses to provide the funding for the building works.

"If the Minister was talking about cutbacks in an education sector which had been properly funded with significant investment over the past decade then some cutbacks might well be justified in the current climate. However, what we are actually talking about is cutbacks in an education sector which is suffering as a result of chronic under-funding over the past number of decades.

"How can the Minister justify further cutbacks in a system where children are being taught in make-shift prefab accommodation and temporary containers. And over the past couple of days we have heard of two schools which are facing the threat of having their children locked out of their temporary accommodation because the department has failed to pay the costs.

"While we are undoubtedly in a new economic climate and we all have to face new realities the Government look at long term solutions rather than simply applying cutbacks across the board. In an area such as education, which has the potential to help revitalise the economy, we should not be talking about cutbacks.

"I would urge the Minister to not simply accept the parameters set down by the Minister for Finance but rather to fight the corner for the education sector and to in fact insist on increased investment." ENDS

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