Ruairi Quinn is a Labour Party TD for the Dublin South East constituency. He represents Donnybrook, Sandymount, Ranelagh, Rathmines, Rathgar, Milltown, Terenure, Harold’s Cross, the south east Inner City, Ringsend, Irishtown and Ballsbridge. Ruairi has been a public representative for the area since 1973, and lives in Sandymount. He is a former Minister for Finance, Leader of the Labour Party, Chairman of the European Council of Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) and is currently Vice President and Treasurer of the Party of European Socialists.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party leave the Croke Park agreement intact or seek to abolish it?
Ruairí Quinn: The Labour Party supports the Croke Park Agreement. A Labour government will make the Croke Park agreement work, unlike the current government. We believe savings of €1.4 billion could be made annually if the agreement is fully implemented and real returns in productivity are delivered across the public sector. We believe public sector reform is the only way to ensure front line services in education can be protected.
Seomra Ranga: How will your party support the development of technology in primary schools, including meaningful access to quality broadband?
Ruairí Quinn: Labour believes we need a proper ICT Strategy for Education that will restructure the National Centre for Technology in Education, centralise control of all ICT purchases for schools using a single model and review the ICT hardware policy across the education system to ensure better value for money. We will also ensure existing broadband networks, owned by semi-state bodies, are accessible to our schools nationwide. This is the only way we can ensure all schools can have access to quality broadband.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party reverse cuts in the pupil-teacher ratio?
Ruairí Quinn: The Labour Party in government will not disimprove the pupil-teacher ratio.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party guarantee that there will be no further cuts to the salaries of primary school teachers?
Ruairí Quinn: The future pay scales of teachers are dependent on whether the Croke Park Agreement is fully implemented.
Seomra Ranga: How does your party propose to assist young, qualified teachers in securing gainful employment in Irish primary schools?
Ruairí Quinn: We support measures which will ensure graduates from the teacher training colleges can get the practical experience they need to complete their probationary period. If elected to government, we will direct schools to prioritise unemployed teachers for substitution until it can be shown that there is a shortage of qualified unemployed teachers. We will also introduce rigorous measures to ensure no teachers are displaced and that opportunities for substitution and permanent teaching positions remain open to newly qualified teachers.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party finally bring to an end the wastage of public money on prefab accommodation in primary schools?
Ruairí Quinn: Labour will prioritise school building projects in our capital budget and we will not tolerate any further under-spend in the school building programme. In cases where schools spend hundreds of thousands of euro renting prefabs, Labour will enable schools to build permanent school accommodation instead.
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?
Ruairí Quinn: The Labour Party believes all school children should be taught by professional teachers. We will review the role of the Teaching Council if elected to government.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s position on church control in Irish education?
Ruairí Quinn: The Labour Party believes the present situation, where 92% of our 3,200 primary schools are under Catholic patronage is a historical legacy which does not reflect the reality of modern Ireland. I am regularly contacted by parents from every part of Ireland, who cannot send their children to schools that reflect their beliefs and values. We believe this is a breach of the constitutional rights of parents to send their children to a school in accordance with their ethos and must be addressed. If elected to government, the Labour Party will establish a time-limited National Forum on Patronage in Primary Schools to ensure our education system provides a wider range of choice in ethos across Ireland. This will provide the road map to the future of our primary school system. At all times, our primary concern must be to ensure the maintenance of the continued quality of education for the children involved in our primary school system.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s position on the teaching of Irish? Should it remain compulsory?
Ruairí Quinn: Labour will maintain Irish as on the of the three compulsory Leaving Certificate subjects. However, we will undertake a thorough reform of the Irish curriculum in keeping with the aims of the 20 Year Strategy. Labour wants to create a virtuous circle where teachers and students are improving their spoken Irish on an ongoing basis. This can be done in part by reforming the curriculum so more emphasis is put on oral and aural skills. Our teachers will also need to be supported in this process.
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?
Ruairí Quinn: Labour will review how supports for children with special educational needs are allocated as the current system does not work and far too many children are denied the supports they deserve. We are committed to reversing the cut to the number of psychologists in the National Educational Psychological Service in Budget 2011 at a cost of €3 million. Labour will support schools, parents and children with special educational needs by ensuring that necessary supports follow a child from primary to second level, and achieving greater integration of special needs related services.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party remove the embargo on the filling of middle management posts in primary schools?
Ruairí Quinn: Removal of the moratorium on middle management posts will be dependent on full implementation of the Croke Park Agreement.
Seomra Ranga: Does your party support the current proposals to pension changes for new entrants into the profession?
Ruairí Quinn: We believe the changes to pensions for new entrants to teaching will have to be reviewed as part of the full implementation of the Croke Park Agreement.
Seomra Ranga: How does your party plan to support the 90% of deaf children in mainstream education in Ireland?
Ruairí Quinn: We have no precise proposals to deal with this issue at present. We will have discussions with the relvant stakeholders to see how we can address the needs of blind children in a mainstream setting.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s vision for primary education in Ireland in the 21st century?
Labour’s ambition is to build not just a knowledge economy, but a knowledge society. Education is at the heart of a more cohesive, more equal and more successful society, and it will be the engine of sustainable economic growth. Labour is committed to protecting children’s education, because we believe they deserve the best start their country can give them. Even in this crisis, we can make progress. Labour will put improving educational outcomes, from literacy to third level, at the heart of our education reforms.