22 July 2004 Edition

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Proposal for primary school exams should be dumped

Speaking at the Patrick MacGill Summer School, in Glenties, County Donegal, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin sharply criticised the proposal from the Minister for Education and Science Noel Dempsey for state examinations in primary schools. He said it bore all the hallmarks of a Minister "whose brainwaves inevitably go wrong".

"The Minister for Education and Science Noel Dempsey's proposal for compulsory State testing of seven- and eleven-year-old children in our primary schools is a very retrograde step which would seriously damage the positive ethos of the primary system," said the Cavan/Monaghan TD. "State exams in national schools would infect them with the pressurised exam-oriented ethos of the post-primary sector.

"Where did this proposal come from? It was announced during the Dáil recess. There was no Government white paper, no green paper, no promised legislation, no consultation. This proposal bears all the hallmarks of a brainwave from a Minister prone to brainwaves that inevitably go wrong. He was, after all, the originator of the fundamentally flawed electronic voting system. The proposal for exams at primary level should be dumped without further ado."

Ó Caoláin, speaking on the theme, 'TDs — messengers or legislators', said a factor which works against effective lawmaking is the lack of cohesion and piecemeal approach of Government, in which each Minister acts independently in his or her own domain.

He said: "Since I was first elected in 1997, I have seen the begrudging approach of two Fianna Fáil/PD administrations to opposition participation in lawmaking.

"Constructive opposition amendments are rarely adopted. More and more legislation is pushed through with the aid of the guillotine. Promised legislation is repeatedly delayed while reactionary legislation — such as the citizenship referendum — is sprung upon us.

"In order to facilitate the bureaucratic changes in the health services which the Government wants to implement, a whole range of health-related bills have been postponed, some of them without a promised publication date. All of this makes the job of opposition much more difficult but also more vital in holding the government to account."

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