A threat by a Fine Gael TD to leave the party, potentially throwing the Government into crisis, has forced Taoiseach Enda Kenny to accept proposals for an education ombudsman.
The initiative, spearheaded by Cork South West TD Jim Daly, was accepted by the Government in the Dáil yesterday — but only after ministers climbed down from their opposition to the proposal.
Mr Daly last night said he was pleased his bill for a one-stop shop for education problems was accepted and that it “wouldn’t have looked good if he was thrown out of the party” because of it.
It is understood Mr Daly was willing to lose the whip if Fine Gael and the Government refused to back his bill, as he was refusing to vote against his own proposals.
The bill, which will proceed to committee stage in the autumn, proposes giving an education ombudsman legally binding powers.
Parents would have an option to make complaints and appeal decisions under the Education (Amendment) Bill. Complaints against schools could also be investigated. It could also address concerns about school fees or admission policies.
Mr Daly pointed out that education is one of the few sections in society not to have its own ombudsman.
The proposal was opposed by the Children’s Ombudsman, with concerns it could result in huge fees for schools. The Department of Education also had concerns.
Fine Gael sources said both Education Minister Richard Bruton and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone had reservations about the bill. Pressure had also been applied on Mr Daly not to table the amendment in the Dáil, with the warning that it would not be supported by the Government.
While Sinn Féin had concerns about the compellability factor in the bill proposed, Mr Daly ultimately said he was willing to concede this and remove any direction orders. There was then no call for a vote, which may have been put back to September, and the bill was accepted by the Fine Gael Government with the support of Fianna Fáil.
Mr Daly said he was delighted with the decision and looking forward to the bill proceeding to committee stage in the autumn. “It’s an example of how new politics works,” he said.
Mr Daly also revealed he very nearly faced being kicked out of Fine Gael, which would have happened if the Government had opposed his bill and he had defied the whip by supporting it.
It is understood Mr Kenny gave the direction at Cabinet this week that ministers and the Government were to accept the proposals.
Mr Daly said: “I let it be known I would not be voting against my own bill under any circumstances. The department had strong reservations on it but I made it clear that I was not for turning on it... It wouldn’t have looked good if I was thrown out of the party on this.”
His proposal came after he recently challenged Mr Kenny about the reappointment of James Reilly as deputy leader of Fine Gael.
His loss of the whip would have left Mr Kenny with 58 Fine Gael and Independent TDs, threatening the loss of Fianna Fáil support for the minority Government.
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