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The Educational Cost of Stormont Rule

31/01/11

StormontA sustained series of attacks are under way in the Six Counties. They are attacks that will be targeted at the vast majority of the population, that will have no result other than to drive people into despair and misery and, yet, will be justified by their proponents through the avenue of every single major media outlet.

The attacks began with the publication in late December of the Six County executive’s budget proposals, alongside a four-year spending plan. The attacks mean that working people will face massive job losses in the public sector, repeated attacks on their employment conditions, a significant reduction in the level of public transport provision and the slashing of much of the funding for social and sports projects.

The message that came off the pages of Stormont’s budget was couched in politically correct, environmentally friendly bureaucrat-speak, but none of this could hide the real intent of the document.

A look at the proposals from one department is enough to expose the nature of the budget – the Six County Department of Education, run by Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane.

Probably the most shocking statistics of all are from the department’s proposals in relation to the capital section, which incorporates expenditure on school building, repair work and some maintenance requirements.

In the original December budget, Ruane signed up to capital expenditure cut backs to the tune of £42 million [€49 million], a reduction of 24 per cent on the previous year. This percentage figure would have meant that a Sinn Féin minister would have been presiding over cut backs of only marginally less than those proposed by the much-criticised Fianna Fáil-led administration in the Twenty-Six Counties. The Soldiers of Destiny drafted cutbacks of just over 29 per cent in its own capital budget in the education sector.

Shocking as this already is; this month, with the Six County Department of Education publishing its own detailed proposals for 2011-12, it now stated that another £41 million [€48 million] is to be sucked out of the capital budget to cover day-to-day costs of running schools. This means that Ruane has agreed to slash the capital budget by almost half.

In the same document where the cuts are proposed, she acknowledges the following: “The schools estate of over 1,200 schools has accommodation with an asset valuation of over £4 billion. The education estate has suffered from a lack of investment over a prolonged period with a maintenance backlog currently estimated at £300m and a backlog of minor works projects currently estimated at around £100m.

“There is a legacy of many old and deteriorating schools which are, in some instances, insufficient to meet the needs of the curriculum. In any year, there is investment needed in essential capital works to meet statutory requirements such as disability access, essential health and safety issues and to deal with crises such as the flooding resulting from the recent cold weather.”

The bottom line is that, in the coming year, no new school building projects will be started and only those that are already underway will be finished, with large numbers of already approved building schemes now to be put on the long finger.

The bad news for schoolchildren in the Six Counties doesn’t end there. A quick perusal of projected spending over the next four years shows that very few school building projects will be started in the medium term.

Pupils from Scoil na Fuiseoige protest for proper school facilitiesIn his recent speech attacked the Dublin government’s blood budget, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty asked the Fianna Fáil minister: “When was the last time you visited a school made entirely out of prefabs with 30 kids squashed into a classroom with one teacher?”

Clearly, from the above figures, Caitríona Ruane could be assailed in a similar fashion.

Behind all the talk in the British-inspired budget about equality, good educational outcomes and raising standards for all, many more vicious attacks are hidden in the Six County Department of Education’s proposals for the next four years.

Over £50 million [€58 million] is to be cut from the ICT budgets of schools; free school transport is to be significantly cutback, with the budget reduction of over £20 million [€23 million] meaning many students will now be unable to reach their schools on public transport; over £100 million [€117 million] is to be ‘saved’ by the short-sighted measure of closing schemes providing professional support to teachers; and the figure of £3 million [€3.5 million] is be gouged from school meals provision.

Classroom assistants and teachers will see many jobs lost on top of the hundreds already cut. The department also hopes to save money by attacking the right of teachers to appropriate sick leave and will be reducing the rates paid for substitute teachers.

What we are witnessing across Ireland is a vicious assault on public services and the living conditions of working class people, regardless of the claims of those who wish to be, temporarily at least, the party of protest in one state and the party of ‘power’ in the other.

The blueprints for the social and economic destruction of working class communities in Ireland have been carefully drafted by right-wing ideologues in the IMF and a British Tory government. Those tasked with implementing these blueprints, especially at Stormont, had a simple choice to make; either resign, challenge the wreckers to do their own dirty work and join the rest of us on the streets or meekly accept the diktats of the real power brokers. They chose the latter.

It now falls upon the working people in both states, those who have no vested interest in the set-ups at Stormont and Leinster House to build a genuine, powerful opposition to the anti-social cuts, from whichever direction they come.

 

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