Quinn 'examining' education funding report


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn today told the Dáil he is examining the Higher Education Authority report on funding for higher education and will discuss it with Government colleagues “as part of our budgetary deliberations”.

As thousands of students protested outside Leinster House during Dáil education questions this afternoon, Mr Quinn declined to be drawn on his pre-election pledge to reverse the increase in student registration fees.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Brendan Smith highlighted Mr Quinn’s “commitment and strong pledge” to the USI that he would in Government reverse the 500 increase in student service charges and 200 charge for post-Leaving Certificate course and the Tánaiste’s commitment “a year ago that he was opposed to third level fees by either or front or back door”.

Mr Smith called on the Minister to give a “categoric assurance that the pledge he made to the Irish electorate, knowing full well the fiscal position of the State in 21st February 2011", would be honoured

The Minister said: “These matters are still under consideration. Budget decisions have yet to be finalised, and I will bear in mind what the deputy has said.”

The Fianna Fáil TD also highlighted the 60 per cent increase in third level education participation from 100,000 in 1997 to 160,000 in 2010. He called on the Tánaiste to “deny that the Government would consider putting a cap on student numbers in 2012”.

Mr Quinn rounded on the Cavan-Monaghan TD and said: “I don’t know how many times this has to be conveyed to the FF party. This country has lost its economic sovereignty. It was signed away 12 month ago by the Government of which you were a member.

“We don’t control either our cheque book or our policy in relation to a whole range of items of public expenditure, and we have to work within that constraint. Don’t really come in and ask questions the answer to which you know.”

Earlier today, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore refused to be drawn on whether the Government would reverse the €500 increase in student service charges or introduce fees.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning in advance of the student protest outside Leinster House, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of "cheating students" on the issue.

He said the Minister for Education "brazenly" went up to Trinity College four days before the last general and signed the USI pledge. "So did you, Tánaiste," he said.

Quoting Mr Quinn, who said yesterday "no such promises can be given, and any such promises would be misleading", Mr Martin told the Dáil: "Four days before the election he could sign any pledge students put before him."

However, the Tánaiste said the previous government had also signed a pledge, the memorandum of understanding with the EU and IMF troika, and he quoted the then government as "ensuring a greater contribution towards tertiary education".

Mr Gilmore said he could not release details on education funding in advance of the budget and that Mr Martin knew that. He insisted the "political commitments Labour made will be honoured, but we have to work our way out of the (EU-IMF) programme".

When Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams raised the issue and asked why the Government would not honour its pledges on fees, Mr Gilmore pointed to college registration fees in the North which were €3,837.

"Why is it okay to charge €3,837 in Belfast but not okay to charge about half in the Republic?" he asked.

Mr Adams said there had been and would be no increases in charges in the North.

The Government revealed earlier this month that an adjustment of €3.8 billion will be made in order to meet the EU-IMF targets to tackle the deficit. Some €2.2 billion of those savings will be made in public expenditure cuts and €1.6 billion on taxation.

The Dáil was also told the Smithwick Tribunal will conclude its work and present its final report at the end of May next year.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said this was fully in line with the request of the tribunal chairman Judge Peter Smithwick. It was hoped, he added, the tribunal could fulfil its mandate within the time frame set out in a motion approved by the Dáil today.

The tribunal, which was established in 2005, is investigating allegations of collusion by members of the Garda in the murder by the Provisional IRA of RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and and superintendent Bob Buchanan in March 1989.