Coughlan denies she is being ‘hidden away’

TÁNAISTE Mary Coughlan denied she has been “hidden away” by Fianna Fáil during the election campaign in case she causes further damage to the party’s reputation.

The Education Minister made her first appearance at a party policy launch yesterday outlining plans for an overhaul of teacher-training colleges and to cap the amount a family pays for third-level fees to €3,500.

She said teachers are not equipped with the “requisite skills” needed in the classroom — especially for helping children with numeracy and literacy. And she pledged to increase the teacher-training courses from three to four years.

Fine Gael claimed the Education Minister had “disappeared from the radar” and only “came out of hiding to criticise teachers”.

But asked if she has become “The Dick Roche” of the campaign — referring to efforts to keep the Europe Minister out of the second Lisbon Treaty campaign, Ms Coughlan said: “I certainly don’t look like him.”

Fianna Fáil has defended its education record, saying it funds 10,000 special needs assistants and would protect these and other jobs in schools.

Party leader Micheál Martin said: “Special education is a personal priority for me, it is a national priority for my party and we have the record to prove it.”

The party said it would cap student fees at €3,500 per family and ruled out a “graduate tax”.

Fine Gael has proposed a graduate PRSI contribution scheme, whereby students would pay 30% of the cost of their education after they leave college.

But Mr Martin said this would “facilitate an acceleration of a brain drain from the country”.

He also denied the Tánaiste had been hidden away during the election. “Absolutely not,” he said.

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