#Ploughing16: Education spending a key area for Fianna Fáil in budget talks

Investment in education will be one of Fianna Fáil’s top priorities when they meet Fine Gael to discuss the budget today.

An increased pension and investment in healthcare are also expected to be hammered out at the meetings between the two parties.

Yesterday Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said “everybody is looking for the deal breaker” when it comes to his party’s support for next month’s budget. “The deal breaker for us is fairness and decency,” he said.

Speaking at the Ploughing Championships, which had an attendance of 111,000 yesterday, Mr Martin outlined a number of reforms in both second-level and third-level education that would have to be implemented.

He said there was a “problem” at third-level and stressed that the recommendations of the Cassells report, which includes the possibility of a return to fees or increased state subsidies, would have to be introduced.

“In terms of education, there has to be a realistic response to the Cassells report. That’s centre to economic growth into the future and job creation. There is a problem there. There’s a problem at post- graduate level, where many young people now, and Peter Cassells would have said this to us yesterday, people working and families with kids, on low incomes or middle incomes, are finding it very hard to do the postgraduate,” said Mr Martin.

“So, people are coming out of the masters and not doing PhDs, because they don’t have the wherewithal to do it. Something has to happen there. We want the restoration of supports for postgraduate students.

“There has to be a realistic response to Cassells in this budget. What that means is an increase in the state subvention to the institutes of technology, so that we can begin the process of implementing Cassells.”

He called on supports for guidance counsellors, which were eroded through austerity measures during the last government, to be restored to second-level schools.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Fianna Fáil spokesman on finance Michael McGrath will begin budget discussions today. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe will also meet his Fianna Fáil counterpart Dara Calleary. It is expected that negotiations around the budget will continue in the coming weeks.

Also attending the Ploughing Championships yesterday was Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, who questioned how the Government would be able to implement all of Fianna Fáil’s requests within the budget available.

“We’ve heard Fianna Fáil flying a lot of kites in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“What I’d like to see them do is spell out exactly how all these promises they’re making and all these demand they are making actually add up, because, you know, the package that’s available to us is in the region of €1bn and they’re already making promises that exceed that,” said Mr Varadkar.

He added that the Government would “of course” take account of the wishes of other parties when drafting the budget.

“What we will do is honour the agreement that we had with Fianna Fáil. If we honour the agreement, we expect them to honour it too,” said Mr Varadkar.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said a longer-term plan to improve the regional road network and roll-out broadband nationwide would be among the suggestions his party would be making.

“We need a long-term plan to ensure that every part of the country shares a planned recovery that rural communities are allowed to stay in rural Ireland and they don’t become dormer towns to feed into the larger towns,” said Mr Howlin.

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