Greens set to support fees of up to €2,500


NEGOTIATIONS ON the scale of the new student fees are continuing between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The Greens appear ready to back fees and/or charges of up to €2,500, representing an increase of €1,000 on the student registration charge. Fianna Fáil Ministers are pushing for total charges of €3,000.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday dismissed the suggestion of tension or division between Fianna Fáil and the Greens over budgetary measures.

“What’s going on are discussions. There’s no decision taken. The Government acts as one. What’s happening is discussions on the options,” said Mr Cowen.

The Cabinet is scheduled to hold two meetings today – its normal weekly meeting this morning and a special meeting on the budget this evening.

Ministers are also expected to work towards finalising the major elements of the four-year fiscal plan before the visit of the EU economic and monetary commissioner Olli Rehn next week, as well as the publication of the plan on November 12th.

Green Party TD and education spokesman Paul Gogarty said Fianna Fáil was not willing to tax as high as the Green Party. “We want more than a third of the revenue to come from taxation. Fianna Fáil is looking at less than a third.”

The Green Party vetoed any new student charges in the revised programme for government last year. In the past week Fianna Fáil sources say the party’s opposition to new student charges or fees softened significantly.

Last night Mr Gogarty said the party had done very well to hold off any increase in the €1,500 student registration charge last year but the Greens had to be realistic given the crisis in public finances.

He also conceded there was little prospect of the Greens walking away from Government on the fees issue as this would mean the party being portrayed as a group determined to protect a middle class and elite group.

He said maintaining and securing support for primary education and heading off cuts in school capitation were the main education priorities for the party.

However, student leaders accused the Greens of reneging on a commitment to oppose any new student charges.

Members of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said they were “dismayed” when Green Party leader John Gormley and Mr Gogarty refused to rule out increased fees and charges at a meeting last month.

The USI is holding a national protest march against any €3,000 student fee in Dublin tomorrow. USI president Gary Redmond said a further increase in the registration fee would mean the end of higher education for thousands. It would also prevent thousands of less well-off people from entering college in the future.

He said there would be severe repercussions not only for the future prospects of students, but the economy as a whole if the Government continued with its plans.

Any new €3,000 charge will apply to all students with gross household income of more than €51,000. At present some 50 per cent of all students receive a maintenance grant to fund their third-level education.

Teachers Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin said he was appalled by the proposed €500 fee to gain a place on a post-Leaving Certificate course.

Teaching union the INTO also raised concern about a reported increase in class size.