27 May 2010 Edition

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Where's the 'free' education?

Pearse Doherty and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Pearse Doherty and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

A proposal to charge a Û500 annual fee for school transport makes a mockery of the notion of free education in the 26 Counties. So said Senator Pearse Doherty, the Sinn Féin education spokesperson, as the news was announced this week. Doherty described the proposal to introduce a Û500 annual fee for primary school children and increase the current fee for secondary students from Û300 to Û500 annually as an insult added to the injury of overcrowded classrooms and dilapidated schools.
“Any parent with school going children will be aware that free education in Ireland is only a myth,” he said. “However, the proposal to introduce a Û500 charge for school transport makes a mockery of any notion of free education in this country.     
“How could the Government possibly justify such an extortionate charge for children to travel to substandard and understaffed facilities?”
Sinn Féin will be opposing the plan.
In another development, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has learned that people applying for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance are set to experience major delays this year unless immediate action is taken to speed up the system of processing the increased number of applications.     
“In my own constituency and across the State people who have sought application forms for the scheme have been told they are not available,” said Deputy Ó Caoláin. “The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance scheme assists families on social welfare and on HSE payments towards the cost of uniforms and footwear for children who are attending school. Many families depend on this scheme to ensure that their children are able to avail of education. With growing unemployment the number of people  qualifying is growing also.”
Ó Caoiláin said the scheme is supposed to operate from 1 June to 30 September. However, last year, forms were not available until the middle of June and many people did not receive payments until September.
“I understand that this year even worse delays are taking place,” he said. “I will be raising this matter in the Dáil with the relevant Ministers and demanding urgent action, including recruiting additional staff and redeploying staff, to have the Back to School Clothing and Footwear scheme delivered properly and on time.”

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