Sligo-Leitrim Fianna Fáil Senator Marc Mac Sharry has said: “Low income families should not be penalised by the Government for having their assets assessed as part of the vetting for third level grants for students. Farming families and small business owners in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal are extremely worried about the inclusion of assets in means-testing.
“Students in the north-west who have received their Leaving Cert results and will be considering the CAO offers next week have been left in the dark by the Government about what criteria will apply to grants in the future. How can students be expected to make decisions about their college course for the next few years when they don’t know if the Government is going to pull the rug from under them when it comes to grant support?
“Minister Ruairí Quinn confirmed in May that the Government was including capital assets in the means-testing for third level grants. Since then we have heard nothing, leading to confusion for many families.
'A Retrograde Step'
Senator MacSharry continued, “Families doing their best to ensure the best possible education for their son or daughter need assistance not punishment from the Government. Many farm families are still on extremely low incomes and the difficulties being faced by the self-employed and business owners in Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and the wider region are evident. Costs remain high, business sentiment is weak and unemployment remains high. All of this is increasing pressure on businesses which now face having their capital assessed by the Government.
“I am calling on Minister Quinn not to go down this road. It’s a retrograde step. At the very least, and as a matter of urgency, the Minister needs to clarify that students will be able to apply for grants this year in advance of any changes and that the college-cycle will be taken into account. This would avoid a student getting a grant this year and starting college only to find the support is scrapped next year. However, I would stress that the Minister should simply abandon his plans to target students from low income families in this way.
“At a time when we’re encouraging everyone to increase their education and skills-base, particularly by taking up hi-tech courses that will benefit the knowledge economy, the Government should not be throwing up barriers for students and their families,” the Sligo senator concluded.SligoToday.ie
understands that Minister Quinn has already faced fierce opposition from Fine Gael TDs to the prospect of farmland and business premises being included in the means test for the first time.
Growing Coalition Rift
The Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was warned by Finance Minister Noonan to stop publicly opposing changes in student grant rules.
The warning came after Mr Coveney had joined Fine Gael backbenchers in opposing the prospect of farmland and business premises being included for the first time next year in the means test for student grants.
Mr Coveney's criticism has pitted him in direct opposition to the Labour Education Minister who has again insisted -- in his first public comment on the controversy -- that including assets in the means test was the "right way to go".
In a growing coalition rift it is now believed that more than a dozen Fine Gael TDs -- as well as Mr Coveney and Junior Minister Michael Ring -- have declared their opposition to the inclusion of assets in the means test.