26 February 2009 Edition
Minister Ruane commended
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2009
BY EMMA CLANCY
INTRODUCING the Education discussion, Senator Pease Doherty commended the work of the Minister of Education Caitríona Ruane. He compared the progress that is being made in the North under a Sinn Féin minister to that of the state of education in the 26 Counties.
“Contrast the £700 million Schools Modernisation Programme of investment in the schools estate over the next 3 years that Caitríona has launched to the chronic underfunding of education in the 26 Counties,” Doherty said.
He outlined the overcrowded conditions in primary schools, the cuts by the Irish Government to special needs programmes and its drive to introduce third-level fees, which would put higher education further out of reach for many students from working class or lower-income backgrounds.
“We will not accept third-level fees,” he said. “Education is not a commodity to be bought or sold.”
Caitríona Ruane discussed the ongoing struggle to replace the two-tier system in the North with high quality education provision for all. Recalling the pledge of the Proclamation of Independence to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”, Ruane said that Sinn Féin was not prepared to tolerate such inequality as was plainly evident in the system the party inherited.
REFORM AND MODERNISATION
Education Spokesperson John O’Dowd said that a pupil from a Catholic school in a socially disadvantaged area was twice as likely to go to university compared to a socially disadvantaged student in a state school.
“In just whose interests are the unionist politicians acting in opposing education reform?” he asked. “Because it certainly isn’t in the interests of the working class communities they claim to represent.
“Well Sinn Féin is not prepared to stand by and watch any section of society be disadvantaged by the system.
“Make no mistake, as a party of equality, education reform will be the most revolutionary thing we do in this term of the Assembly.”
The Ard Fheis commended the large number of achievements of Minister Caitríona Ruane, including “advancing a radical programme of modernising education, including the development of Area Based Planning to facilitate the development of post primary education provision”.
Delegates also noted that the education system in the 26 Counties is “grossly underfunded”. The most recent OECD report shows that it ranks 30 out of 34 states in terms of education expenditure as a percentage of GDP.
The Ard Fheis further noted that “the savage education cuts introduced by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government will have a devastating impact on children, parents and teachers”. The Ard Fheis commended teachers’ unions, parents and students “for their campaign against education cuts and accordingly calls on the 26 County Government to reverse these cutbacks immediately”.
Delegates supported an Ard Chomhairle motion which called on the 26 County Government to:
- Commit to reducing class sizes by one pupil per year to reach twenty pupils or less per teacher;
- Adequately fund a School Buildings Programme to eliminate the use of prefab buildings;
- Rule out any introduction of third-level fees; and
- To invest in a strategic and meaningful manner in education in order to bring it up to at least the European average and to build the knowledge-based economy that is so often talked about.