Government wins key Dáil vote on education cutbacks

 

The Government had a comfortable victory in a series of Dáil votes today on a Labour Party motion condemning the education cuts announced in the Budget.

The Government won by 80 votes to 74 on the crucial vote in which TDs had to walk through the Yes and No lobbies in Leinster House to vote on the Government amendment to the Labour motion.

Green Party TD, Paul Gogarty, who sent an e-mail to a friend in recent days raising doubts about the long term survival of the coalition, spoke in favour of the Government amendment.

“This matter relates to our economic and social well-being and also to our children. I am happy the Labour Party is fulfilling its obligations as a party of opposition. The Green Party is also fulfilling its obligations as a party in government. That is why I am satisfied to stand over the Government amendment which the Green Party played its role in framing,” said Mr Gogarty.

“The amendment recognises that we are in tough economic times and that progress has been made in some areas, while cutbacks have been made in others,” said Mr Gogarty.

“Is this a climbdown or a fall down?” asked Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe.

Green Minister Eamon Ryan said he was totally committed to working with his colleagues, including Mr Gogarty and others in Government as well as TDs from all sides to create the right financial environment to allow investment in education.

Earlier the Fine Gael Education spokesman, Brian Hayes, dubbed Mr Gogarty a “rebel without a clue” and accused him of posturing on education cutbacks.

“Everyone knows Paul Gogarty is the original rebel without a clue, but I’m seriously beginning to worry for his mental health as he continues to lead a double life. It’s extremely rare to see one person play both good cop and bad cop, but Gogarty is managing to pull it off,” said Mr Hayes.

Winding up the debate the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, said that in the past he had some respect for the Green Party but he now had to ask himself what it stood for.

“The Green Party went to the people at the last general election saying that they were going to look after education and they were going to look after children. They have let them all down. They have failed to honour that pledge and to stand up for education and for the children of the country.

“If a party cannot stand up for the very issue it put in biggest highlights in its party political broadcast and in its pre-election promises, is it any surprise that such a party drives a motorway through the Hill of Tara, that it builds incinerators which it told people it was never going to allow build or that it allows prisoners to continue to be rendered through some of our airports? The Green Party is dead; the Green Party is beaten, and this is a sad day for this country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Independent Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae said he would continue to support the Government for the rest of its term. In a statement, he said Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe had assured him that educational needs on a school-by-school basis would be reviewed in a better economic climate.

Earlier Fine Gael Mayo TD John O’Mahony claimed the proposed cutbacks would lead to a lack of cover being provided for school games “impacting negatively on the physical and social development of students”.

Cork Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath, speaking in support of the Government’s counter motion, said that conventional political analysis suggests that the departments of social welfare, health and education should be protected from cutbacks.

But he claimed this analysis ignores the fact that these three departments account for 78 per cent of current gross Government expenditure. “The reality is that it is impossible to bring the Government finances under control without addressing these three departments," he said.

Dr Peter Duffy, a physics lecturer in UCD and also a member of the board of management of Moyle Park College in Clondalkin, had e-mailed Mr Gogarty about the Greens' position in the Dáil debate on education.

In one of the e-mails, Mr Gogarty wrote: "We may eventually have to pull out of Government on this or combined issues, but it's not going to happen until we have exhausted all avenues. I will just have to take the flak and put up with it for now."

Mr Gogarty said last night the e-mails were part of a discussion on the education cutbacks. "I said that we may eventually have to pull out of Government. I was just acknowledging that possibility. I was not saying it was a definite possibility or it was our intention.

"I feel it was inappropriate for that private correspondence with a member of a school board of management to be leaked in that manner," said Mr Gogarty.

The party's spokesman in Government said that Mr Gogarty's comment were entirely consistent with his own statement and that of party leader John Gormley that the Green Party is in Government for the long haul. Talk of anything else is purely hypothetical," he said.

Despite the large demonstration outside the gates of Leinster House last night the political temperature dropped as it became clear that the Government had got over the scare caused by the defection of two TDs last week and would easily survive the vote today.

Green Party TDs had insisted over the past few days that they would have an input into the Government amendment but they came under strong attack from Opposition TDs who claimed that they had failed to have any impact on the wording.

Mr O'Keeffe last night accused the Opposition of whipping up "hysteria" and said they were being dishonest with the Irish people.

"Much drama and quite frankly, hysteria, has been whipped up about protecting our children's future and the impact, in particular, of increases in class size," he said. "I'm from Cork, a county that knows a thing or two about hurling. Jack Lynch was a great hurler. But Ruairí Quinn, who this morning refused to say where he'd make the savings, is the most skilful hurler on the ditch I've ever encountered," said Mr O'Keeffe.