Labour & FG. Supporting Inequality

A lot of us remember the gloomy days near the end of the previous government.  Brian Cowen was in power, and was denying anything was wrong – even though every economic commentator was warning of a crash.  The optimists, God Bless ’em, were talking about a soft landing.

Around this time I became politically active for the first time in my life.  I joined FG, I canvassed for my local guy, went to the meetings and did my part.

My part included believing that FG would be good for people across the country.  They had a plan for free health-care, for better services, to turn the economy around.

It all ended as so many love affairs do.  With Disillusionment on one side, and confusion (What did I do wrong?) on the other.  I left Fine Gael in 2013.

As we face the final week of the latest General Election Campaign, I’ve decided that I cannot give a #1 to Fine Gael or Labour.

And why?  Well, I see inequality has greatly increased during the tenure of this government.  And, rather than put that in vague terms, lets look at how far this inequity has spread.  You see, despite the claims that the recession is over, Austerity still rules in Education.

In Education the cuts of the past 5 years have been brutal.  But these cuts have not hit everyone equally.


School budgets have been repeatedly cut

But if you go to a school in a middle-class area, then the school can ask for “voluntary contributions” that will go a long way towards making up the shortfall.  In a poorer area schools don’t have this option, or at least the amount that they could legitimately ask for is far less.  So, a school in a disadvantaged area will be hampered in what it can offer its students.

Students with Special Educational Needs.

These students are hit in two ways.  The most obvious is that the number of Special Needs Assistants was cut.  The criterion were tightened up.  Think about this.  These students are already disadvantaged, and this particular cut could only affect those who were already at a disadvantage.

The other way in which these students were affected is in the area of class sizes.  Prior to 2007 secondary schools operated with maximum class sizes of, usually, 24.  Very often this maximum is exceeded, with class sizes of 27, 28.  At primary level it’s worse, with class sizes of over 30 being relatively common.  Again, those at an educational disadvantage are hit hardest by this.  Think of trying to give individual attention to a child with dyslexia when you have 27 other students to keep engaged.  Certainly they may have ‘access’ to an SNA, but the reality is that the same SNA may be working with a number of students across different class groups.

Access to Educational Supports

How do you know if someone has dyslexia?  Their teacher may suspect it, based on a student’s written work.  But a teacher’s word is not enough to get access to an SNA.  No, for that you need a report from an Educational Psychologist.  The National Educational Psychological Service provides these assessments.  And this assessment goes to the DES to get access to an SNA approved. But guess what?  NEPS have had their resources cut as well.  So a given school will be allocated a certain number of assessments each year – and students with needs may have to wait longer – and fall behind further – because of a lack of funding.

Being Ireland there’s always a back-door.  If you can afford it you could get your child a private assessment , then that assessment will work for the DES.  Those who are better off are less affected by the cuts.

Student Supports

One of the bluntest instruments used by the current government was getting rid of Guidance Counsellors.  Another was the removal of posts of responsibility.  These posts provided teachers with the option of taking on extra responsibilities in a school, and getting paid for them.  Year Heads, Programme Coordinators, Special Duties.  They are all being cut, and other teachers have to pick up the slack, or the buck is passed onto school managers who are already being overloaded.  But, if you are in a school that can afford it, the Trustees will find some extra money to provide the needed supports for students.

This is nothing against these trustees. They are doing the right thing by their students.  It’s just that schools in poorer areas often don’t have these resources.

I could go on.  And on.  The point is that even though the same cuts have been applied across the country, the cuts have had a greater affect on the poorer among us.  Simply because they don’t have the safety blanket of spare money.

Suffice to say I’ve been disillusioned.

I look at the parties vying for my vote, and I find it easy to dismiss lots of them.

From what I can see only one party is actually talking properly about reversing some of the damage done to the public service.  That party is the Social Democrats.  I’ll be voting #1 for them.

As for #2, I’m open to suggestions!


Dear Joan, or Alex

On July 4th the Labour Party will begin counting votes on who will get to be the new leader of the party. This will hopefully be a fairly straightforward and quick poll, and we will know who will lead the party from its worst electoral defeat.

Add to the new leadership in Labour is the likelihood that there will be a cabinet reshuffle during the Summer.  This, I once hoped would be a cause for joy, but I’m beginning to get a bit cynical now.

You see, Joan (or Alex), people who had previously believed that Labour would stand up for them are sadly disillusioned.  Cutbacks and austerity in health, education and social welfare are being touted as achievements.  Surely they are the exact opposite?  Labour ministers have led the charge to cut back in their own departments in the name of keeping the Troika happy, in the cause of shoring up the gambling debts of Ireland’s elite from the Tiger Era.  Is not keeping rich investors happy the very antithesis of what Labour stood for?

And here’s the thing.  The Troika recently called for the government to keep on track with a further 2 Billion Euro in cutbacks this year.  They announced this in the middle of your leadership campaign.  This, to me, is a clear signal as to who really calls the shots.

To take a note from Minister Quinn’s playbook, it seems that the Troika think Labour’s job is to consult on the cutbacks, not to negotiate them.  So I wonder how much will actually change.

From a teacher’s point of view, I used to hope that a cabinet re-shuffle would rid education of Ruairi Quinn, and that we would have a minister who would listen to teachers, rather than his own fabled advisers. I hoped that we could get a minister who would listen to concerns around Special Needs Provision, around concerns with the JCSA, around concerns with Pupil Teacher ratios; around management of schools, around the proper resourcing of education.  Now I doubt that much would actually change.  Yes, we may get a minster who talks a better talk, but I’m beginning to think that nothing will actually change.

You see, Joan, or Alex.  I think you have forgotten the marginalised in this country.  I think that you have forgotten about just how much hardship has been endured by normal people.

I really hope that I’m wrong.  I really hope that you heard the very clear message given by the Irish Electorate in May.  I really hope that you will finally realise that Austerity has run its course.  Ireland should not be just about balancing the books.  Ireland should also be about the quality of life of all its citizens.  More so for the most vulnerable among us.

Or, to quote Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

In very many cases recently Joan or Alex, we have failed this test of greatness.  What are you going to do about it?