Education role created ‘for political expediency’ says FF spokesman

Educationspokesman Thomas Byrne says new higher education super-junior role has ‘led to uncertainty’ in sector

Fianna Fáil spokesman on Education and Skills, Thomas Byrne. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil spokesman on Education and Skills, Thomas Byrne. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil has called on the Government to “clearly define” the role of the Minister of State for higher education following the appointment of Mary Mitchell O’Connor to the role in last month’s Cabinet reshuffle by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Claiming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had created the post “for political expediency” Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on Education and Skills, Thomas Byrne, said the appointment has “led to uncertainty” and had “not done anything to reassure the sector that someone is in charge”.

“The post is very ill-defined and there are real concerns in the sector that higher education will not have a powerful minister advocating on their behalf in Budget 2018,” Mr Byrne claimed.

He said the appointment gave “no assurance” that Mr Varadkar “fully appreciates the gravity of the crisis” facing the higher education sector.

“To add insult to injury, we are yet to hear a word from the new junior minister on her plans for higher education. The Government do not even have a strategic policy document on the higher education sector and I see no evidence of a roadmap for resolving the severe financial difficulties.”

The Fianna Fáil spokesman said he has yet to be contacted by Ms O’Connor to discuss a commitment in the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the restoration of postgraduate student loans.

“The resurgence of the right-wing within the Fine Gael Party is leading to fears among students that the new minister may attempt to ramp up student fees and introduce a new student loan system,” he said.

Mr Byrne said “I can say categorically that student contributions cannot be increased” and added that the bulk of funding for Universities and Institutes of Technology should come “from the Exchequer and other sources” and “not from additional student contributions.”

The appointment of a third “super-junior” Minister of State was criticised last month by Fianna Fáil and Labour.

Two super-junior ministers are allowed for under existing rules and further legislation would need to be passed by the Oireachtas to create the position of the third super junior along with the associated salary and allowances.

Mr Byrne said he would be raising the issue with Minister for Education Richard Bruton in the Dáil on Thursday.