INDEPENDENT TD Jackie Healy-Rae has refused to rule out dropping his support for the Government unless his concerns on the growing pupil-teacher ratio in south Kerry schools are addressed by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe next week.
With the Government coming under pressure from all sides to row back some of its heavy budget cutbacks, Mr Healy-Rae said he would be meeting Mr O’Keeffe to raise specific concerns about the expected fall in teacher numbers in local schools.
While falling short of stating that his long-standing support for the Government was on the line over the issue, the Kerry South TD refused to rule out such a course of action and said he hoped the minister would not let him down in tackling these “extremely desperate” cases.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr Healy-Rae said two schools in his constituency — Holy Cross in Killarney and St Oliver’s in nearby Ballycasheen — are set to lose 11 teachers between them.
He said the situation was exacerbated by the estimated 109 foreign national children attending both schools who require extra help and special needs teaching.
“The main problem that I have is the loss of teachers in several schools,” said Mr Healy-Rae. “I will talk about the support [for Government] after, but what I want to do is I want to talk to him and see how he will address the very exceptional bad cases that I have.
Mr Healy-Rae said the minister had not previously let him down and he hoped it would remain so.
“I’m saying that I hope he’ll make some changes anyway,” he said.
Following the medical card controversy and concern over other cuts in areas such as farming, education has also become a focus for voter ire, with even independent TDs coming under pressure from constituents.
Mr Healy-Rae said: “I have places that we’ll have to get answers for and that we’d want to get answers for, whether it is the same all over Ireland I don’t know, but I know down here in south and southwest Kerry things are extremely desperate. I’ll say nothing about ‘withdraw’ here for the time being.”
Mr Healy-Rae added that other cutbacks in agriculture, such as cuts in installation aid and farm retirement aid, were “terrible”.
Elsewhere, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said protests will take place at the constituency offices of Government ministers this weekend. Calling on all Dáil deputies to vote in support of next week’s private members motion to reverse the Government decision on class sizes, she said the cuts were “not necessary” and that the Government “had other options”.
Meanwhile, about 300 teenage students at a school in Tánaiste Mary Coughlan’s constituency are writing individual letters to her to describe how education cutbacks will affect them.
Foreign pupils among the 286 students at St Catherine’s vocational School, Killybegs, Co Donegal, are posting letters written in their own languages.
Siobhan Galvin, English and social studies teacher at the school, said: “A rise in exam fees, in addition to other budget cuts in education, will put considerable pressure on resources. The increased annual [transport] charges for students — up to €300 from €168 for juniors and to €300 from €234 for seniors — are incredible.”
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