Education spokesperson Seán Crowe
Our country is in crisis;
It is a crisis that has been created by the unbridled greed of speculators, gamblers and their politician friends.
We find ourselves in hock to the IMF and European Bank; our economic sovereignty lost and the future investment for our children’s education the subject to the whims of the Troika.
Just this week a survey showed Trinity College falling 22 places behind Cambridge, the highest ranking university.
The Head of Trinity said: “That the quality of Irish higher education faced a speedy decline unless the funding crisis is addressed by introducing fees for those who can afford to pay.”
Apart from my obvious indignation that such an elitist institution as Cambridge University is used as a benchmark for Irish third level education, he is right about fees for those who can afford to pay.
Quite simply, those who can afford to pay fees at private “elite” schools should also pay fees at third level.
For too long in education, as in our health system, workers of this country have subsidized the rich.
Many schools are in an appalling state with class sizes increasing to unmanageable levels.
Yet thousands of unemployed construction workers are currently without work while many children spend their entire school life in rundown prefabs.
So-called ‘voluntary’ fees are forced on parents. The cost of arbitrary uniforms combined with having to pay for essential text books, are increasing the burden on parents, many with reduced incomes or without jobs.
So does Minister Quinn have a plan to address this hardship?
Possibly, but don't hold your breath as you might have to wait a year or two for any progress.
Hundreds of children with special needs or behavioural difficulties are losing their Special Needs Assistants.
They are being callously cast aside and viewed as an unnecessary burden on the State. This is clearly wrong.
Development, Integration, Inclusivity and Mainstream in education are the usual buzzwords peddled at election time. Yet six months into its term, the FG/Labour Government continues to implement the same slash and burn policies of its predecessors with our most vulnerable citizens considered fair game.
Access to our education system , at all levels, is becoming a privilege not a right.
And will only lead to even greater inequality.
And now in the midst of this latest crisis, we are ever more dependent on our paymasters in Europe. If the current situation continues then the outlook for people, and society as a whole, is looking bleak.
Sinn Fein believes that funding for Education needs to be mainstreamed and linked to directly to our GDP and not reliant on mood swings of Finance Ministers
Another casualty is the Irish language. An Teanga Gaelige
The heritage of our nation is increasingly seen as dispensable.
Continuing attacks on Gaelscoileana remain government policy when a more progressive and sensible strategy would be to concentrate on immersion in Irish language education in the context of a sea of English.
More recently, increasing numbers of teachers are being unfairly redeployed in Gaelscoileana without having the adequate standard of linguistic competence to discharge their responsibilities in the classroom.
Let us be clear about this, it is not a question of forcing the Irish language on anybody.
But parents who wish to have their children educated through the medium of Irish should be supported and encouraged.
Instead, we have a Government that is hell bent in trying to prevent them from doing just that.
And this is happening against a background where we have been striving to gain full acknowledgement of the rights of Irish language speakers in the six counties.
Speaking here in Belfast, at this historic Ard Fheis, I am conscious of the all-Ireland dimension in education.
This is an area of huge potential and opens up real opportunities, especially at third level, for co-operation throughout the island.
Different institutions have different specialities and these can aid student exchanges and student mobility.
We must avoid unnecessary duplication and ensure greater coordination in various public services across this small island.
Finally, with November’s budget fast approaching people are fearful that education will again bear the brunt of unsustainable cuts. We don’t want to see an already dire situation made even worse.
Those on low and middle incomes have been hammered enough. There is a better and fairer way forward to improve our education system.
Budgets need to target the rich; in property and cash tax evaders and tax exiles should be held to account.
Sinn Fein views Education as a right not a privilege.
We will be using our increased strength to make that aspiration a reality.