21 January 1999 Edition

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Primary priorities

By Tara O'Liaith

News from the 26 County Department of Education of a new £1 million ``Walk Tall'' programme for Primary schools is a step forward in tackling the Country's drug problem.

The anti-drugs programme is part of a £30 million plan by the Department of Education to tackle drug abuse and will be in place by early February, with children as young as five being warned against the dangers of drug abuse.

The fact that the programme is being introduced into primary schools suggests that Minister for Education Michael Martin is aware that prevention is better than cure and the `get them while they're young' idea is what could save the next generation of Irish youth. Or so it would seem.

How ironic then that late last year teachers in a primary school in the north inner city of Dublin were forced to take a one day strike, with the full support of INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation).

Because of a shortage of four pupils on their roll books, the Department of Education removed a teacher from the staff of Scoil Mhuire, BNS, Dorset Street, Dublin. The school, assessed as one of the 33 poorest schools in the country, spent ten years fighting for extra funding and staff. Finally, three years ago they were granted it as part of the Breaking The Cycle programme.

Teaching Principal of Scoil Mhuire, Finian McGrath, says ``things went grand for two years and then because of a shortage of four pupils, which I could then guarantee would not be the case at the start of a new term, one of our teachers was removed''.

As a result, two classes have now been put together. Hardly an ideal situation in an inner city school where a minority of children with social and family problems are at risk, from the very thing Michael Martin is supposedly working against: drugs.

``If you invest in education at Primary level,'' says Finian McGrath ``it pays off in the long term, there should be no argument about spending money when it comes to spending money at this level''.

And spending money at the coal face, by supplying enough teachers, is, you would imagine, where it should start. What good is a £1 million anti-drugs programme, if the children aren't valuable enough to have a teacher to teach them?''

Finian McGrath is angry at the Department's decision, hence the one day strike and he says there are no qualms about doing it again. ``There's been talk of extra money to be spent nationally, but as yet there's no evidence. I won't believe we've won until the teacher we lost comes back.''

He is determined that if there is no change by the end of this month there will be another one day strike. ``We have the full support of the union and the parents on this issue,'' he said.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1