Hanafin vows action to tackle class sizes

AN EXTRA 400 primary teaching posts will be created over the next two years to help reduce class sizes, Education Minister Mary Hanafin promised yesterday.

She will be asking schools to focus on allocating these posts, in addition to 100 already earmarked for disadvantaged schools from early next year, to infant classes where the Government's commitment to reduce sizes to 19 pupils per teacher remains a focus of teacher and parent campaigning.

While the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said the announcement was a step in the right direction, general secretary John Carr said this alone would not provide the solution to problems faced by overcrowded schools.

National Parents Council Primary chief executive Fionnuala Kilfeather welcomed the class size initiative, an extra €75 million for special needs education and increased grants for schools, which may ease the fundraising burden on parents.

At both primary and second level, grants for running costs such as heating and energy have been increased by €12 per pupil to €146 and €298, respectively. An extra €10 per pupil will be given to the 400 religious-run secondary schools but the Joint Managerial Body representing these schools said this was not enough to catch up on other schools whose costs are partly met by the Department of Education and city and county VECs.

Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) general secretary John White said the estimates failed to address key second level issues such as large class sizes, while €2m provided to begin implementing the imminent report of the Task Force on Discipline would mean less than 40 extra teachers to address the growing problem.

Ms Hanafin said there was no question of every school needing assistance for this issue, but Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) president Paddy Healy claimed most schools would at least need a specialist teacher or counsellor.

The TUI and the Irish Vocational Education Association bemoaned a lack of funding to implement a 2002 report on restructuring further education.

Minister of State Síle de Valera said the estimated €50m cost is not available but talks are ongoing on prioritising some elements.

At third level, the Irish University Association and the Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology welcomed increases for pay and other current funding of 7%. An extra €12m brings the budget for third-level research to €81m, facilitating the start of the latest phase of the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions.

However, uncertainty surrounds the size of a third-level strategic innovation fund, which will be announced by Finance Minister Brian Cowen on Budget day.

Also due to be announced in the coming weeks are details of extra places on medicine courses for school-leavers, which Ms Hanafin is finalising with Health Minister and Tánaiste Mary Harney.

Fine Gael education spokeswoman Olwyn Enright criticised low increases for the National Educational Welfare Board and the National Educational Psychological Service, while her Labour Party counterpart Jan O'Sullivan said modest funding increases for schools do not inspire hope the Government will properly address literacy problems faced by children in poorer areas.

Quotes

"This Government's fiscal and economic policies have transformed the Irish economy. We will continue these policies. " - Finance Minister Brian Cowen

"You will search in vain in today's Estimates to see any sign of serious reform. The Government's alleged conversion to value for money rings hollow. These Estimates have been put together through the same old horse-trading - a case of the same old team, no new ideas." - Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton

"There is very little new in the Estimate for the Department of Health and little to indicate that the Tánaiste appreciates the scale of the problems facing the health services." - Labour health spokeswoman Liz McManus

"This money will go to the places that matter: hospitals, schools, the gardaí. This is not about spending money for the sake of it." - Progressive Democrat Senator Michael Brennan

"Overall, this is a hugely disappointing Book of Estimates, with a Minister for Finance and a Government playing ducks and drakes with the electorate." - Green Party finance spokesman Dan Boyle

"The spending estimate for Overseas Development Aid, while implying a welcome increase in this State's assistance to developing countries, falls short of a genuine effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals." - Sinn Féin spokesman for International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh

"The Minister for Finance did not see fit to announce any new allocation for the Labour Inspectorate - and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment declared himself content with that fact." - SIPTU general president, Jack O'Connor

"This is a long awaited development which has the potential to very much increase the supply of midwives and paediatric trained nurses available to the Irish health service." - INO general secretary Liam Doran

"Unless the minister unveils some other fairly comprehensive new measures in the actual Budget, we would be worried about the direction he seems to be taking." - ICTU economic adviser Paul Sweeney

"Additional funding of 9%, as revealed in the estimates, barely keeps pace with inflation. With medical inflation running at 9%, it would appear Government policy is to leave the health services languishing in crisis." - IMO vice-president Dr Christine O'Malley

"This Government is fond of making grandiose promises but when the time comes to back them up with investment they fail to deliver." - USI president Tony McDonnell

"The council appreciates the significant support offered by this Government to our work and to the further development of sport in Ireland. " - Irish Sports Council chairman Ossie Kilkenny

"The Competition Authority is delighted the minister has provided significant extra funding for our work. In particular the extra resources for criminal investigations reflects the serious nature of cartel offences." - Ted Henneberry, director of Competition Authority's cartel division

"In the current difficult and highly competitive international tourism environment it is essential that adequate funding is available to sustain effective marketing efforts and to support new air and sea access. Today's announcement is a welcome boost for tourism interests." - Irish Hotel Federation chief executive John Power

"Minister Hanafin's failure to even pay lip service to our sector is not only disappointing, but also somewhat discouraging." - National Association of Adult Education director Berni Brady

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