MARCHING SEASON Over 2,000 people were in protest mode as they marched down the Main Street of Castlebar to the Taoiseach’s constituency office on Tucker Street last Saturday. Pic: Alison Laredo.
‘Shame on you’
Teachers rallying cry at protest march
A PRIMARY-SCHOOL principal has accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his coalition government of overseeing educational cutbacks that would lead to a ‘scorched earth’ policy in rural Ireland. The principal of Partry primary school, Tom Byrne also accused rural government TDs of ‘hiding in the bushes’ and of becoming ‘invertebrates once they crossed the Shannon’. His comments were made on Saturday during a protest that saw over 2,000 protesters march on the Taoiseach’s Castlebar offices, many chanting ‘Shame on you’.
Mr Byrne told the gathered crowd that this country’s schoolchildren, and its rural communities, were more important than ‘the bondholders of Europe, the €70 million EU presidency bill or the €28 million legal bill for NAMA’.
Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn has said repeatedly that savings must be made after cuts were reversed elsewhere. Last week he conceded that the cutting of 428 resource teaching posts in disadvantaged or DEIS schools was a mistake. “So if I have to keep those positions in place,” he said, “I have to take resources from somewhere else in my budget.”
The Castlebar protest was part of the growing Save Our Small Schools campaign, and it attracted teachers, parents and children from schools all over Counties Mayo and Galway. Carrying placards, including one which stated, ‘If you can read this sign, thank a teacher, not a politician,’ they convened on Saturday afternoon at the town’s Mall, once the cricket lawns of notorious landlords, the Lucan family.
Speaking from the back of a lorry, Tom Byrne said: “Our meagre and scarce resources in rural Ireland are being plundered while the bondholders of Europe grow fat on the labour of people like you … Our children do not have the luxury of services on their doorstep, they do not reside in Dublin 4 like the children in Mr Quinn’s constituency … Remember, he does not need your vote.”
He observed that the constituents of Mayo had placed their trust in Enda Kenny and in his statement last April that his government would not pursue a policy of shutting down small rural schools. Mr Byrne warned that no government deputy was given a mandate to close down rural schools or implement these cutbacks.
He referred to the closure of post offices and garda stations, and to the septic tank charges and the household tax.
“In God’s name, haven’t we taken enough without this onslaught on our rural schools, Enda Kenny, our Taoiseach, and Eamonn Gilmore, our Tánaiste, both attended rural schools, both know the value of rural schools, both know that rural schools are essential to the future wellbeing of our children and the survival of their communities,” Tom Byrne continued.
Afterwards to chants of ‘Enda Kenny. Shame on you’, the protesters walked through the town to the Taoiseach’s constituency office, where a formal letter was handed in to his assistant, Cllr Ger Deere.
‘Heartbeat’ of communities
SPEAKING to The Mayo News, Mary Calvey, the principal of Drumgallagh primary school, Ballycroy, said the proposal ‘downgraded the whole educational system’.
“Enda Kenny came from a rural school himself and should know that schools are the heartbeat of their communities,” Mary Calvey said.
Sinn Féin’s Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh said a number of the 19 schools in the isolated Erris region of north west Mayo would be affected.
“The parents and teachers are asking Enda Kenny to listen to them. After all he is familiar with each and every one of these schools. These people not only supported him in the last election but they have supported him over the last 30 years,” she said.
Cllr Conway-Walsh said it was ironic and ridiculous that he was attending a big Fine Gael celebratory function, to honour the local organisation and its electoral successes, the same night (Saturday) in Castlebar.
Meanwhile, Máire Nic An Fhailghigh, the principal of Fahy NS, a seven-teacher school near Westport, recalled how she had met Enda Kenny at a rural school function just two days after he was appointed Taoiseach a year ago. “I spoke to him as gaeilge and said ‘Ná dean dearmuid ar na scoileanna tuaithe’, and he replied, ‘I never will, I attended one in Cornanool and I taught in one’. Well, a year later our school may lose two teachers due to the ten per cent cutbacks in special education needs and to the ludicrous arrangements for general allocation funding.”
Forced closures denied
FINE Gael TD, Michelle Mulherin told The Mayo News yesterday that she has discussed the issue with Minister Ruiarí Quinn and he has no agenda whatsoever to close rural schools.
“Nobody is going to be forced to close schools,” she said.
“With 92 per cent of his budget going to teachers’ salaries – that cannot be touched because of the Croke Park Agreement – he has very little room to manoeuvre. Remember the pupil-teacher ratio was increased in urban schools a few years ago. The proposed changes for rural schools are not going to revert to the ratio that existed a decade ago. In the past rural schools needed in excess of 28 pupils to qualify for a second teacher,” Deputy Mulherin said.
Continuing, she observed:“ I think we need a broader debate, throughout our parishes and communities, about rural schools. Perhaps this could be carried out under the auspices of the patron, who is usually the bishop. We need a proper forum to explore the future educational needs in rural communities and this must not just be a response to the present proposed cutbacks.”
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