Jonathan O’Brien is the Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central. In 2011, he topped the poll in Cork North Central to become the first Sinn Féin TD in Cork in over 80 years. Before that, Jonathan was a member of Cork City Council since 2000. He is the party’s Education Spokesperson.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party remove the embargo on the filling of middle management posts in primary schools?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Sinn Féin commit to provide for posts of responsibility in schools and have allocated funding for same in our five year financial plan.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s position on church control in Irish education, the divestment process and the place of religion in school enrolment policies?
Jonathan O’ Brien: We will end the laws that allow for religious discrimination in school admissions and we will support increased diversification of patronage.
Seomra Ranga: How will your party support the development of technology in primary schools, including meaningful access to quality broadband and the updating of basic technology hardware?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Students suffer when they have poor or no access to broadband and it immediately puts them at a disadvantage when carrying out their daily activities. Increasing aspects of teaching are done online and all students must have access. There must be continued engagement with rural communities to identify black spot areas specifically affected and investment should follow to remedy the problems.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party restore the pay of entrants to the teaching profession since 2011 to that of earlier entrants and end the scandal of a two-tier pay scale?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Sinn Féin is opposed to two-tier pay scales. In future pay negotiations, we will prioritise public sector workers on low to middle incomes, work towards pay equalisation and tackle the casualisation of employment, including for newly qualified teachers.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party end the public service pension levy?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Sinn Féin have made provision for payment of the LRA in our election manifesto proposals and will honour the agreement in Government. In future negotiations our first priority with regards to pay and pension restoration will be low and middle income workers and pensioners. We believe that the excessive pay and pensions paid to a tiny minority of top level public sector workers and pensioners must be remedied.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party increase funding to primary schools in order to help them adequately meet the day-to-day costs of running a school?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Sinn Féin are committing to increase the capitation rate by 10% as we are aware of the difficulties faced by schools in meeting their basic running costs, such as providing heat, light and insurance for school buildings. Government cuts have put an undue burden on parents by way of voluntary contributions, as school management boards try to make up the decrease in funding.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party further reduce class sizes to the average EU levels of 20 per class?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Many children are taught in overcrowded classrooms. Sinn Féin agrees that smaller classes benefit our children and are committed to incrementally moving toward a PTR of 20:1. (and in the case of DEIS schools 15:1). Our Election Manifesto commits to beginning with a one point reduction in year one and a further point in year two. During these first two years we will conclude an analysis of the impact of continuing to reduce the PTR in terms of the need for additional classrooms and schools arising and introduce a capital programme to facilitate the further reduction of class sizes.
Seomra Ranga: Will your party reverse the cuts to pupils with special educational needs and allow them their full access to additional teaching supports?
Jonathan O’ Brien: We will increase resource-teaching hours for children by 15% and provide 1,450 extra SNAs to facilitate greater access by children with special needs. We will increase the number of psychologists in NEPS by 10% and ensure cover for maternity and other forms of extended leave.
Seomra Ranga: What is your party’s vision for primary education in Ireland in the 21st century?
Jonathan O’ Brien: Sinn Féin believes that education is a basic and fundamental human right and should be available to everyone on the basis of full equality as such over a term of government we commit to a combined Current and Capital spending increase of €1.9 billion
Editor’s Note: All political parties/groupings were sent the same set of questions on the same day and given five days to respond. To make a comparison, the responses from the other parties are also now on the site – except for Fine Gael, People Before Profit and Anti Austerity Alliance. None of these parties responded to the questions, despite a reminder email also being sent.