Labour accused of bias against rural Ireland

The Labour Party has been accused of a bias against rural Ireland as it examines plans to include farm assets in means tests for college grants from next year.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said this would rule out third-level education for thousands of children from farming families or those with self-employed parents.

“The average income of many farmers is less than €20,000 per annum.

“Eligibility should be based on income alone and not include the value of capital assets, as the latter does not give a true picture of income or ability to pay,” said the Clare TD.

Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, said farmers had enjoyed “a spectacular year of performance under this Government”.

The Department of Education has set up a review group to examine the issue and will be seeking “equality”, according to the Minister.

He referred to a report on accessing third-level education completed in the 1990s, when Labour’s Niamh Bhreathnach was the minister for education.

“There was found to be a discrimination against PAYE workers and others compared with the self-employed, including members of the farming community,” he said.

Mr Dooley responded: “It is interesting that the minister stated that this matter first came to light during the tenure of the former Labour minister for education. Clearly, it has been Labour policy to target rural Ireland and the self-employed.”

However, Mr Quinn siad there was no attack on any self-employed group.

“This will be done objectively and the conclusions will be published so that we can debate them in this House. The deputy can then decide whether it is fair or an attack on rural Ireland.” he said.

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