SIR – The announcement of an initiation of the reversal of the discriminatory pupil-teacher ratios in small schools by Minister Jan O’Sullivan has been welcomed with a sense of relief here in West Cork, and indeed throughout rural Ireland.
The policy of incrementally increasing the staffing schedules in schools of four teachers or less was put in place in Budget 2012. It immediately sparked protest meetings amongst isolated and threatened districts, who understood the pivotal role the local school plays in community formation and preservation. One of the largest of these was the 700-strong Dunmanway gathering in February 2012
Since these initial rallies the campaigners’ demands for a rescinding of this destructive measure had fallen on deaf Department of Education ears. Fears grew in many indigenous rural populations, which were also being denuded of their post offices, garda stations, ambulance services that the last vestiges of their culture and identity would disappear with the demise of their local school.
The campaign to restore a level playing pitch for our small schools continued, however, and was driven on by these entrenched schools’ staffs and parents, the INTO (led by Clare president Seán McMahon) and indeed outraged local communities, such as the recent 500-strong assembly in Caherciveen, Co Kerry, only two weeks ago.
West Cork can claim a not insignificant amount of the credit in securing reversal of this detrimental policy. Thanks to the intensive lobbying of our local politicians, those with their hands on the tillers of power were invited to experience the situation first hand here in West Cork.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Ms Jan O’Sullivan, was brought to the Cork SW constituency by Michael McCarthy, TD, following an earlier visit by Ms Ann Phelan, Minister of State for Rural Development. On the same day, Minister for State in in the Department of Education, Mr Damien English, toured the Beara Peninsula.
They were met by campaigners who left them in no doubt about the crisis in these unjustly treated schools. The day was won and a partial reversal of the cuts was announced by the Minister.
The reversal is not complete or sufficient, however, and this is just a signal that the rural communities, must continue to fight the shutdown in their services especially in education. This is a ‘tosach maith’ but only ‘leath na hoibre.’