“Education cuts are an abomination”

Brian Cowen has departed for China taking Batt O’Keeffe with him.
Whilst the Taoiseach and Minister for Education are off gallivanting around the Orient,the Tainiste has escaped to Donegal.

Brian Cowen has departed for China taking Batt O’Keeffe with him.
Whilst the Taoiseach and Minister for Education are off gallivanting around the Orient,the Tainiste has escaped to Donegal.

On balance Batt and Brian can do less harm away in China than Mary can do by staying at home. Perhaps they should have taken her with them as a damage limitation exercise?

The economy is in a state of emergency. Recession has taken hold. The Budget has been a disaster. And two of those responsible have fled the country, leaving the country in the hands of a novice. “That’s confidence for you!” as Frank Cluskey used to say.

Batt will be roasted alive when he arrives home. Once the medical card crisis is resolved the education furnace will take off.

Cuts were needed. We know that. Yet how in the name of God did the two travelling ministers decide that education was a soft target?

Before the Budget, some of us specifically pleaded with the government not to make any cuts in education.
They ignored us .So they are about to see the mother of all protests erupt.

Why spare education?

I say that with deep conviction, not just because as a TCD senator, I represent an educational constituency but rather for solid, long-term commercial reasons.

Education is an investment, not just a fictional current spending item to be tinkered with.

Back in 1968 Minister for Education, Donogh O’Malley, announced free secondary education for everyone in Ireland. The number crunchers went ape. They insisted that the nation could not afford it.

Of course the nation could not afford NOT to do it. Certainly, that is true in retrospect.

No single political initiative provided the foundation for our faded economic boom more than O’Malley’s.

Free education offered young people the opportunity to change their lives forever. O’Malley’s revolutionary policy change gave birth to the knowledge economy.

The result was the arrival in Ireland -in the eighties and nineties- of multinationals galore. Of course, they loved the 12.5% corporate tax on offer here; but a competitive tax alone would not have enticed direct investment from overseas.

The tax would have been useless without the educated, young workforce ready to make Ireland a showpiece of the modern software industry, of cutting edge technology. Ireland’s generous supply of sophisticated young graduates perfectly matched the demands of modern global companies.

The major investment in education had paid off. Today the multinationals, the second leg of the Irish economic boom, are propping up the same economy in freefall. Now that the first leg –construction –has collapsed we need the second leg more than ever. The loss of more multinationals would mean the return of emigration, rising unemployment and a waste of O’Malley’s legacy.

As a result of the cuts in education the pupil-teacher ratio will rise. The present government had come to power promising that it would fall. But teachers will be laid off regardless. Estimates of redundancies vary between four hundred and fourteen hundred.

Fewer teachers means less individual attention, less learning and less competition with rival nations. If our education fails to match our European competitors, not only will fewer overseas companies locate here whilst those already embedded will ponder a withdrawal.

That is why spending on education should be regarded as capital, not current spending. Every penny spent on improving human capital is an investment in the future prosperity of Ireland.

It is extraordinary to think that the government has taken a bookkeeper’s axe to the economy. It has butchered schools and imperilled the future of Ireland.

Simultaneously it has failed to give the impetus necessary to one of the great tools of Irish education— broadband. Both are vital ingredients of a country that hopes to emerge from this recession lean and energetic. We should not be afraid of borrowing to fund education or telecommunications. No modern nation can afford to fall behind in these vital areas. It is madness to even consider axing their budgets . The dividends of investing in these crucial sectors will be paid to future generations

It is beyond comprehension that primary schools, secondary pupils and universities should be suffocated whilst semi-state bodies are allowed to sprout up with extravagant ease at the stroke of a political pen. How can FAS, with its absurd €1billion budget, be left untouched ? How can Enterprise Ireland be allowed to run its own independent show while the schools of Ireland are forced to curtail their activities? Don’t even mention CIE.

We were all happy to play a part in salvaging the economy from the wreckage, but an attack on education is going to make the long-term deficit worse.

Shane Ross is a Senator in the Trinity consitituency and Business Editor of the Sunday Independent.