Belfast Telegraph

Unions criticise education reforms

Fresh calls have been made for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to stop taking money from schools.

The Labour Party man took a second day of bashing from teachers' unions, which have accused him of mishandling education reforms.

Mr Quinn addressed the annual Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) conference, where he reiterated his claims that the education budget cannot stretch and that cuts may be unavoidable.

But TUI president Bernie Ruane accused the Minister of taking the cheap way out.

"Many of us grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s when there was even less money than today," said Ms Ruane at the conference in Wexford. "Yet the people of Ireland knew the value of investing in education as being the best way out of the difficulties then. In the 1960s the then Taoiseach used to remark that it was not that Ireland was too poor to invest in education, it was that it was too poor not to invest in it."

Mr Quinn told the congress that the financial crisis has left his department with no option but to shake-up the education sector, which could result in cuts to small and rural schools, with some being amalgamated.

He also announced a restructuring of State scholarships, which will see the Government hand out a total 120,000 euro this September to 60 Leaving Cert pupils from Deis schools who hold medical cards. They will each receive 2,000 euro.

"I believe this is the only equitable manner of distributing the limited funds we have available for bursaries - focussing them on the students who most need our support," said Mr Quinn.

Earlier, Mr Quinn told RTE that he plans to carry out an audit of some provincial towns to make the most of what educational resources they have and to determine what they need.

However, Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames argued that closer smaller schools would lead to fewer young people living in the countryside: "He is ripping at the structures of rural life. There are ways to find the savings elsewhere in the system. This policy of ripping up the face of Irish rural life should be way down the rankings."

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