C of I head criticises education cuts


The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin has severely criticised the Government over plans to cut funding for three teacher-training colleges and for the decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio in voluntary Protestant secondary schools.

In his presidential address to the Dublin and Glendalough synod this evening, Dr John Neill accused the Government of mounting a "very determined and doctrinaire effort...to strike at a sector which some officials totally failed to understand" .

He also criticised the Government’s plan to phase out funding for three teacher-training colleges – Marino, Froebel and the Church of Ireland College of Education.

Dr Neill said the designation of these as “small colleges” used by the Department of Education in relation to these teaching facilities was “a failure to grasp the point that these colleges are distinctive, each in different ways”.

“To group colleges merely by size is meaningless in this context.”

The Archbishop said previous governments, whether single-party, or coalitions including different combinations of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats, "each understood and treated these schools in a fair manner".

"The same cannot be said of the present Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition."

Dr Neill noted the State had been dependent on religious communities to contribute to education “down the generations, and still is to a large extent”.

“But widespread dependence on schools of the majority religious ethos requires that alternatives are catered for. A minority is as entitled to schools under their own patronage as much as the majority,” he said.

He said the Protestant community in Ireland was “very mixed”, ranging right across the very mixed, “ranging right across the sociological spectrum and in terms of income”.

“This attempt by the Minister to place all Protestants into a category of privilege - suggesting that they have chosen private education is manifestly unjust.”

Dr Neill said he was not objecting to cuts in principle, so long as such cuts were “fair and just, and not simply to wipe out a whole sector”.

Dr Neill also criticised “the amount of money wasted by the HSE in the recent years of plenty on grandiose projects, and doctrinaire reforms, leaves us now with a greatly weakened and struggling health service”.

On the economy, Dr Neill said the problem with the period of affluence enjoyed by so many was that “values were turned on their head”.

“People began to feel like commodities, and success was judged in the most materialistic terms.

“The tragedy is that those who had been sucked into this scenario when all began to unravel began to feel worthless and utter failures."

He said there was an onus on all in Irish society to make proper use of the resources that we have.

“It is all too easy to make the assumption as one moves from a period of intense materialism, to suggest that material things are of no value.

“The waste of a period of affluence, the lack of respect for creation, and the general ‘must have’ culture has been brought to a sudden halt – and we must instead recover good stewardship of material things, as well as of the created order itself.”

He said good stewardship had to be exercised at every level, and this was the task of government “in a very special way”.

“It is easy to hit out at the cuts that most directly affect us as individuals, or our own special concern. No Government can govern by simply heeding the pleas of every pressure group and we have to recognise that.

“But good stewardship must also be exercised by a government, and it is both necessary and right that we should decry cuts which affect the weakest in society, and those which are not fairly shared right across the board.”

Dr Neill said it was “all too easy” to lose any sense of direction by a lack of clear and informed thinking, and that this was “simply bad stewardship”.

“The amount of money wasted by the HSE in the recent years of plenty on grandiose projects, and doctrinaire reforms, leaves us now with a greatly weakened and struggling health service. The health service is in danger of being totally demoralised.”