The party’s education spokesman, Paul Gogarty, said “it wasn’t supposed to be this way”. He said the Greens had fought to keep such hikes out of the revised Programme for Government last year, but the economic climate had made it impossible to protect the sector.
“This year, in the light of the huge economic pressures we face, a rise is unavoidable. But talk of an increase to €3,000, or even €2,500, is untenable and would have an immediate negative impact on student participation and on struggling families already hit in other ways.
“We believe that €2,000 is a more realistic figure. And even that will hurt.”
Students leaders’ hopes had been hanging on promises made by the party to oppose fee hikes, but Mr Gogarty admitted yesterday those promises could not be met.
However, in accepting the inevitability of up to €500 in additional registration charges for university students, he said other parts of the education sector must not be hit.
Mr Gogarty said the size of classes could not be cut in the effort to find savings, and support services for vulnerable children will have to be retained.
He said the party believed the investment in young pupils had to be retained and projects promised under the schools’ building programme would have to be delivered.
Budget negotiations had suggested cuts of up to 500 special needs assistants and a 10% cut in capitation grants.
“I believe that a cut in class sizes is non-negotiable. The value of capitation grants to schools must not be reduced, so that the spending power available is retained, even if the baseline figure is reduced slightly.
“Special needs allocations must not be slashed, as newspaper articles suggest,” he said.
“NEPS psychologists must not be decreased. Investment in school buildings may have to take a hit in real terms, but it must not fall below the value of the reduction in tender prices.”
It marks the second time in less then a week the Green Party has gone public to tell its senior Government partner there was a no-go area in its budget negotiations.
On Sunday, its deputy leader, Mary White, warned Finance Minister Brian Lenihan that the state pension would have to remain intact.
Union of Students of Ireland president Gary Redmond said a €2,000 registration fee suggestion was a vast improvement on the possible €3,500 fee mooted last month.
However, he said that would still involve a €500 increase on last year and this was not something students or their parents could afford.
“I have been speaking to parents who cannot afford this and could be left in a position where they have to decide which, if any, of their children they are going to send to college.”
Mr Redmond said the USI would continue its series of protests which will arrive on the streets of Galway and Cork.
Last week, 25,000 people arrived at the Dáil as part of a series of marches against the proposed budgetary measures.