Quinn pledges spending review


Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn today warned of further cuts in spending as he pledged to carry out a detailed review of  expenditure in his department.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Quinn said he needed to reduce expenditure in terms of services and facilities.

"We are doing a public expenditure review at the behest of Brendan Howlin. What that means is that every programme of expenditure in every government department is looked at and we ask the fundamental question do we need this or can it be eliminated, reduced or transformed. This has worked in Canada and other countries," he said.

Mr Quinn said it would not be a "slash and burn" approach but rather a critical review of programmes.

"There’s a difference between pruning a rose bush and digging out the plant," he said.

Mr Quinn was heckled by parents of special needs children and by newly qualified young teachers as he made his way into the INTO conference in Sligo yesterday. Primary school boards of management were informed last month that there would be no further allocation of special needs resource hours from September. Pupils who qualify for special needs support hours will retain those hours, but no applications for new school entrants, or newly diagnosed pupils, can be made. The announcement has led to concern and confusion in schools and anxiety for parents.

He reiterated this morning hat there would be no reversal of controversial cuts to special needs classes. "The cap will stay. What we will look at is how to better redeploy the 10,500 special needs assistants across the spectrum," he said.

"My heart goes out to any parent with a child with special needs," he said this morning. "I’m blessed that I’m not in that position. One couldn’t but empathise with the anguish and the energy that parents with a child with special needs display. Any mother, any father would go through the wall for their child and I understand that.

"What I’m saying is the amount of special needs teachers has grown exponentially since the time they were introduced and we're going to look at how to use them more effectively.

"The Republic of Ireland has lost its economic sovereignty. We are effect in receivership. We don't control our financial destiny at the present time. We can only get the money to pay a lot of people based on the terms of the troika bailout deal," he said.

Addressing the INTO conference yesterday, he warned teacher union delegates of a stark and difficult road ahead. In his first address as Minister for Education, he outlined the range and extent of the economic crisis and said he wanted to be frank about the resources available.

The Minister said that “the budget figures for 2011 will stand and will not be reviewed” and there was no commitment to reverse the 10,575 cap on the number of special needs assistants.

The Minister stressed that resources for education would not be improved, and that earlier decisions would not be reversed.

“To put it bluntly, the money dispensed by ATMs to all public servants . . . is made available to Ireland by the European Central Bank at fortnightly intervals. Every two weeks the governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, has to confirm to the ECB that Ireland is meeting the terms of the bailout,” Mr Quinn said.

He reminded delegates that there was a trade-off to be made for the Croke Park agreement that included a net reduction in teacher numbers in 2011.