Thursday, 7 May 2009
John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
I realise the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, does not deal specifically with this issue but was answering the question today. I do not accept a word of what was said. The reality is that the Protestant community is small and spread throughout the country. The majority of communities in Ireland do not offer Protestant education. I speak in particular about an area I know, Kilkenny. Kilkenny College is the biggest Protestant boarding school in the country and students come from all over to attend it because both parents and students want an education in a Protestant ethos to which they are entitled. I understand the retention of the Protestant block grant although I do not believe the Government should take credit for retaining it.
The €2.8 million quoted is a paltry amount. To make such a saving at this juncture sends out an appalling signal to the minority community in this country. I speak as a past pupil of the Augustinian Good Counsel College in New Ross. Throughout the country there is a large variety of Catholic secondary schools and a diversity of other secondary schools, including community and VEC schools. However, when it comes to seeking a second-level education with a Protestant ethos that diversity does not exist. The removal of this grant, namely, these additional funds which covered a range of support services as the Minister of State noted, will lead to staff being laid off. I know this will happen in Kilkenny College where it will lead also to increased class sizes and to a less diverse education for students.
It is a direct attack on the Protestant community in this country and I regret the Government sought this target when it was looking for cutbacks in the budget. I understand the financial situation the country is in but to single out a particular community for such a grievous assault was unnecessary, unwarranted and downright wrong. In the further discussions he will have with the Church of Ireland Board of Education, I hope the Minister may be in a position to look at this. The one positive note in the Minister of State's reply was that the Minister is open to suggestions. Perhaps there will be some light at the end of the tunnel arising from those future negotiations.