Hike in college registration fees looms

CASH-STRAPPED universities will be left to increase registration charges to compensate for the Green Party winning the fight to stop the Government formally introducing third level fees.

The Green Party leader, Minister John Gormley, said while he did not want to see stealth fees by way of increased annual registration charges, he conceded he was powerless to stop it happening.

He said it was “primarily a matter for the universities” to decide how they generate their incomes.

“That is something that universities have to work out. (But) It is not our intention that you would get fees by another means because that obviously defeats the whole exercise,” he said.

Registration charges have already been increased from €900 to €1,500 by colleges seeking to plug funding shortfalls.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe had planned to introduce fees and was leaning towards a system that would see students pay once they started work after leaving college.

On Saturday, Green Party members voted overwhelmingly (84%) in favour of a new Programme for Government.

This contained as a headline commitment a promise to park the fees proposal for the lifetime of the Government.

The Green Party’s overwhelming decision to adopt a new Programme for Government has been dismissed as the actions of a party willing to prop up Fianna Fáil because it is afraid of losing an election.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the new Programme for Government represented nothing new and rather than risk going to the electorate, the Greens have decided to “cling to the wreckage”.

“Things that we were told only two weeks ago were crucial issues for the Greens, such as a single-tier health system, have been simply abandoned,” he said.

Mr Gilmore said there was nothing tangible in the document which 624 Green Party delegates endorsed by 84% to 16% on Saturday evening in the RDS.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it was a sticking plaster solution to help guide the “criminal” NAMA legislation.

However, Green Party leader John Gormley said it was a “blueprint for action” and the fact so long was spent discussing it was a testament to that.

“I don't think, frankly, we would we would have been negotiating into the small hours if this was simply aspirational,” he said.

The programme was delivered to Green Party members on Saturday morning, with a vote taken in the afternoon after Mr Gormley had addressed the conference.

The negotiation team of Minister Eamon Ryan, Senator Dan Boyle and Deputy Mary White was given a standing ovation by the crowd.

Members were told major concessions had been achieved in education, with a commitment to hire 500 teachers by 2012, maintain the pupil-teacher ratio and shelve plans to introduce fees for access to third level.

With these measures it is expected Deputy Paul Gogarty will be re-appointed as education spokesman in the coming days after resigning from the position in protest at the Government’s policy earlier this year.

Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin, who was on the Fianna Fáil negotiating team, yesterday reminded the Green Party that every promise in the programme was subject to a proviso in its covering letter which said everything was “subject to resources”.

She and Mr Gormley said difficult decisions were still on the cards for social welfare cuts and reductions in public sector pay.

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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