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Rural schools row marks end of Kenny honeymoon in Mayo

Rural schools row marks end of Kenny honeymoon in Mayo

Áine Ryan

THE HONEYMOON is over for Taoiseach Enda Kenny here in Mayo as teachers and parents who attended a public meeting in Partry last week point the finger at him about his government’s ‘scorched earth’ policy regarding rural Ireland.
The public meeting, convened by the Principal of Partry National School, Tom Byrne, regarding proposed cutbacks in rural schools, attracted teachers and parents from all over the area.
“It was an exceptional meeting with parents and teachers in attendance from Partry, as well as Drummin and Tourmakeady. Basically there is a deep sense of outrage. The feeling is that the policy of the present government towards rural Ireland is – to use a military term – a ‘scorched earth’ one,“ Tom Byrne told The Mayo News yesterday. 
Mr Byrne continued: “There was not a single parent or teacher at that meeting who voted for our Dáil representatives to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio or to close schools. They cannot understand how our Taoiseach Enda Kenny, a former teacher himself, is not fighting for these small schools. They cannot understand either how Michael Ring, the man of the people, is not fighting for us. They feel deserted and are asking why are our rural TDs are being dictated to by Dublin TDs.”
He said that last week’s meeting, which was attended by up to 300 people, was only the beginning and that ‘the people of Partry are prepared to do what they have to do to ensure their school maintains its third teacher’.
Mr Byrne has taught in St Mary’s National School in Partry for 26 years. He explained that because the government has retrospectively upped the pupil-teacher ratio for a three-teacher school to 51, the 49 pupils in his school were now due to lose a teacher at the end of the school year.   
“The pupil-teacher ratio was set at the current figure because it provided the best education that could be delivered. We are not going to let the government away with this budgetary move. The government is not the slightest bit concerned but if our children were bondholders they would be protected.” 
Speaking also to The Mayo News last week,  Mr Byrne said Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn did not understand the complexities of rural communities.
“It is Minister Ruairí Quinn and his assistants who are sitting around a mahogany table in Dublin and making these decisions about the future of rural life. We are already losing our garda stations, our post offices. The rural school breathes life into a parish, it is the soul of every village. When you take a school out of a community you destroy it.”

No comment – Ring
WHEN contacted yesterday by The Mayo News, Junior Minister Michael Ring declined to comment on the matter.
A spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “No small schools will be forcibly closed due to the changes that have been announced.  I’m aware of the concerns people have but we have to ensure the very valuable but limited resources we have available in the education system are used in the best and fairest way across the whole system.” 
Meanwhile, a statement by Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony confirmed that he was a member of a delegation of Government TDs that met with Minister Quinn last Thursday..
Deputy O’Mahony stated: “We discussed the pupil to teacher ratio and the impact of the changes announced in the budget on teacher allocations. Ways to alleviate the impact of the changes on the schools were discussed and the Minister agreed to take on board all of our views.”
He added that the minister was ‘left in no doubt about the value of small schools in rural Ireland from our delegation’.