[Sinn Fein]

2nd March 2002

Address by Councillor Nicky Kehoe at Sinn Fein Education Conference

Sinn Fein Councillor and party candidate for Dublin Central Nicky Kehoe, speaking at the launch of the party's Education Discussion Document "Educate that you may be free" said that 'Tackling educational disadvantage is, in my view, essential if we are to address social and economic disadvantage in the North Inner City.

Full Text

A Chairde, Education is the cornerstone of society. I believe that a country's prosperity and the well-being of its citizens can be directly linked to the success of its education system.

The so-called Celtic Tiger, which no doubt improved the financial lives of many, can be attributed to the educated workforce that this state is rightly proud of. It is no co-incidence either that those who benefited least from the Celtic Tiger are those areas where poverty and disadvantage are rife and where education facilities are minimal.

In this very constituency, just a few minutes walk from this conference hall - one can witness conditions which we should have been left behind in the mid twentieth century. There is no doubt in my mind that the disadvantage which exists goes hand in hand with the lack of government investment in local education opportunities.

Dublin's North-East Inner City has suffered extensively from long-term educational disadvantage. This is evidenced by a number of indicators including higher than average early school leaving, lower than average participation in third-level education, and poor literacy levels.

Tackling educational disadvantage is, in my view, essential if we are to address social and economic disadvantage in the North Inner City.

The establishment of the Social Inclusion Unit in the Department of Education and Science was a positive first step and is an important recognition of the need to adopt a specific, targeted and integrated approach to respond appropriately to the education needs in disadvantaged areas.

The proposal to establish an Education Task Force, as part of an overall education strategy, first proposed by ICON in 1998, should be implemented as a matter of urgency. An Education Task Force would work from a life-long learning perspective. Consequently, the Task Force structure would include sub-committees reflecting the needs of those in pre-school, primary, secondary, adult and community education.

The early school leaving age which is a hall-mark of inner city education is a statistic that must be reversed. Many young people feel forced to leave school as a result of the poverty that exists in the home and the need to contribute to the household income. Others simply find no reason to remain in the education system, witnessing as they do on a daily basis, the never-ending cycle of unemployment and poverty in their communities.

A fundamental shift in the focus of education is required if this is to be resolved. I believe that students from low-income households who wish to remain at school should receive financial assistance to do so.

Facilities themselves are seen by many as an indication of government commitment to education in North Inner City areas. School buildings are in a terrible state in most inner-city areas. If the government is to convince young adults in these communities that their education is important; then at the very least they must invest in the infrastructure and facilities.

So too must class sizes be reduced. Despite repeated assurances, teacher/ student ratios have yet to be reduced to an acceptable level. Again, this is a matter that needs to be resolved immediately.

Just as with so many other areas, this government's record on Education is marked by wasted opportunities. The unprecedented resources available to the government have not been invested in the youth of our country.

Sinn Fein has a strategy to transform Irish education. The document that we launch today is a fine one and one that I feel has the potential to be the blueprint of a new ere in Irish education. We are also proud to stand by our record. Across the state Sinn Fein representatives have participated on VEC boards and have made a positive difference.

We are also, for the first time, in a position to point to the record of work that our Minister for Education has been involved in the six Counties. Even our most bitter critics accept that Martin McGuinness has surpassed the expectations of everybody through the radical and people centred approach that he has adopted in the Department of education.

There is no doubt that Martin and his team have done this party proud. But he has also shown that things can be done differently. Despite working on a budget, that I'm sure he'll agree is inadequate, Martin McGuinness has managed to show us all that with effective leadership and proper management Education can be a success story that will ultimately benefit the entire island of Ireland.

It is my pleasure to introduce to you, and to welcome to Dublin and the constituency of Dublin Central, Minister Martin McGuinness. Tá fáilte romhat a Aire.

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