Mary Coughlan is TD for the constituency of Donegal South West. A former social worker, she was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1987 and has been re-elected at each subsequent election. She was appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Education & Skills in March 2010. She was appointed Minister for Health and Children in January 2011. She currently holds the roles of Tánaiste, Minister for Education & Skills and Minister for Health and Children.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party leave the Croke Park agreement intact or seek to abolish it?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is fully committed to the implementation of the Croke Park agreement.
Seomra Ranga: How will your party support the development of technology in primary schools, including meaningful access to quality broadband?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil invested an unprecedented €92 million in our schools’ ICT infrastructure in 2010 and is committed to the ‘smart schools’ agenda. For schools with inadequate broadband, we already have plans in place to go to the market in 2011 for proposals to replace current satellite connections.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party reverse cuts in the pupil-teacher ratio?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed at a minimum to maintenance of the current pupil-teacher ratio and, when resources again permit, the reduction of that ratio.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party guarantee that there will be no further cuts to the salaries of primary school teachers?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to the maintenance of current salary levels based on the full implementation of the Croke Park agreement.
Seomra Ranga: How does your party propose to assist young, qualified teachers in securing gainful employment in Irish primary schools?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil has exempted the recruitment of teachers from the impact of the general moratorium on public sector recruitment. Fianna Fáil is committed to funding a growing number of teaching posts in line with demographic need. Fianna Fáil is committed to the retention and support of our small schools and associated teaching posts.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party finally bring to an end the wastage of public money on prefab accommodation in primary schools?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to this objective and, having prioritised unprecedented investment in the schools’ building programme over the last decade, that goal is now in sight.
Seomra Ranga: The Secretary of State for Education in the UK, Michael Gove, said recently of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), “I believe this organisation does little to raise teaching standards or professionalism. Instead it simply acts as a further layer of bureaucracy while taking money away from teachers”. What is your party’s position on the Irish Teaching Council?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil established the Teaching Council on a statutory basis in 2006; is committed to its maintenance; and believes in the promotion and development of teaching as a profession.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s position on church control in Irish education?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to the principle of parental choice and to facilitating parental choice within the education system as it relates to the ethos and patronage of schools.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s position on the teaching of Irish? Should it remain compulsory?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil believes in the active promotion and development of the Irish language and is committed to it being taught as a compulsory subject in our schools.
Seomra Ranga: In government, will your party allow Learning Support Teachers provide appropriate support to pupils on the top end of the Special Educational Needs category (gifted) as indicated in the EPSEN Act?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to achieving this objective as we work towards full implementation of the EPSEN Act.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party remove the embargo on the filling of middle management posts in primary schools?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to reviewing the moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public service on meeting the conditions set out in the Croke Park agreement, which includes the moratorium on the award of ‘posts of responsibility’ allowances in our schools.
Seomra Ranga: Does your party support the current proposals to pension changes for new entrants into the profession?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to ensuring that the State is in a position to pay public sector pensions into the future, including the revised arrangements for new entrants to the teaching profession.
Seomra Ranga: How does your party plan to support the 90% of deaf children in mainstream education in Ireland?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil is committed to the provision of additional supports, including resource teaching and special needs assistance, for deaf children in mainstream education and also supports the provision of in-classroom ICT to support individual students’ needs, together with providing the necessary training for teachers.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s vision for primary education in Ireland in the 21st century?
Mary Coughlan: Fianna Fáil believes that education is fundamental to social and economic progress on this island. We view education as key to unlocking an individual’s potential and as an enabler of individual and collective social mobility. We believe that the best possible standard of education must be available to the many and not the privileged few. Primary education is the key building block in this regard and Fianna Fáil is committed to a modern primary education system that equips our children with the education and skill foundation necessary to ensure that each of them can live happy, successful and fulfilled lives in line with their own wishes and ambitions in 21st century Ireland.