We asked our TDs some very reasonable questions about fee-paying schools

A cliched image but it makes the point.

Trying to keep their students away from the rabble fighting climate change, this week fee-paying schools reminded the rest of the country of the ‘tad infuriating’ fact of their very existence.

There are 51 fee-paying schools, two-thirds of which have a Catholic ethos. Last year, they were subsidised by the public to the tune of €90m. Most of this went on teacher salaries, as well as capital expenditure, grants for computer equipment, and sports facilities.

Those 51 schools represent 7% of schools (and 7% of students). And yet every one of us is paying to keep those children separate to the rest of us.

LookLeft is a reasonable magazine. So we contacted each Dáil party’s press office with three reasonable questions:

(1) Do you think that it’s appropriate for the State to subsidise private education?

(2) Would you support the ending of State aid to fee-paying schools in the form of teacher salaries, capital grants, and grants for IT/sports?

(3) Would you support making it illegal to charge school dees?

Here’s how they responded.

Fine Gael

Apparently the “posh boy” nickname hurt the feelings of the housing minister. But it’s not difficult to see where the title comes from when so many Fine Gael TDs attended fee-paying schools, including Maria Bailey (St Joseph of Cluny), Seán Barrett (CBC Monkstown), Richard Bruton (Belvedere and Clongowes), Simon Coveney (Clongowes), Josepha Madigan (Mount Anville), Dara Murphy (CBC Cork), Eoghan Murphy (St Michael’s), and Leo Varadkar (King’s Hospital). Their Independent Alliance colleague Shane Ross attended Rugby School in England.

As the Department of Education is led by a Fine Gael minister, the party’s press office told LookLeft that the Department would give the Government position to our queries. The Department of Education did not respond.

Verdict: Well, the status quo has always worked for me.

Fianna Fáil

Fine Gael’s partner in the Confidence and Supply Agreement is also no stranger to paying for education, with both Jack Chambers (Belvedere) and Marc MacSharry (Castleknock College) having been sent off to fee-paying schools.

The Fianna Fáil press office did not respond to LookLeft’s queries. While their policy documents refer to equalising secondary school funding in terms of voluntary grants, there is little mention of the inequity of fee-paying schools.

Verdict: Why change a system that’s working so well for so few?

Sinn Féin

Both Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald (Notre Dame) and Eoin Ó Broin (Blackrock College) avoided the public system when it came to their education. But this hasn’t stopped their party coming out against subsidising fee-paying schools (even if they did ignore LookLeft’s emails).

Back in 2013, Sinn Féin proposed that public funding for fee-paying schools should be phased out over four to five years. They made an exception for small Protestant schools that depend on fees to offer children places in a school of their own ethos. Sinn Féin repeated the position this summer.

Verdict: Do as we say not as we do.

Belvedere College, Dublin

The Labour Party

Fine Gael’s former coalition partners did not respond to LookLeft’s request and has given some fairly mixed messages on fee-paying schools.

Back in 2013 the Labour Party backed a motion on stopping subsidies to fee-paying schools and while Labour was in Government subsidies to fee-paying schools were reduced (as part of overall cuts in the period).

However, during that very same time, the then Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn insisted that he did not want to close fee-paying schools:

“Do I want to close down fee-paying schools? No, I do not. Do I want to give parents a choice as to how they spend their money? Yes, I do. But that has to be tempered against the overall requirement to get equity and fairness in the country.”

The current education policy does not mention fee-paying schools.

Verdict: whose asking?

Solidarity-People Before Profit

The private education of Solidarity’s Paul Murphy (St Killian’s Deutsche Schule) and People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett (St Michael’s) is often brought up against them. But both of their parties have views that would not do well for their old schools.

Solidarity responded to LookLeft saying that “education should be seen as a right and be provided free from pre-school to third level, including adult education”. While supporting the ending of State aid, Solidarity wants to ensure that the pay and conditions of teachers and other staff are protected and guaranteed. On making it illegal to charge school fees, Solidarity responded saying that “Education should be genuinely free, this includes removing so-called ‘voluntary contributions’. Books and materials should be provided as part of a genuinely free education system. Education should not be a source of profit or privilege and we therefore fully support a public education system.”

People Before Profit responded that it is inappropriate for the State to subsidise private education. Similarly to Solidarity, People Before Profit would seek a “just transition”, with the State taking over existing fee-paying schools to guarantee teacher salaries and provide public education in those locations. They are also in favour of making it illegal to charge fees as they “are for 100% funding of schools from general taxation” and refer to voluntary contributions as “a fiction”.

Verdict: Class traitors and proud of it.

The Green Party

Eamon Ryan, the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Gonzaga), is yet another former public representative who attended a fee-paying school.

The Green Party didn’t respond to LookLeft’s queries, but their education policy says that “we will not alter current funding arrangements for fee-paying schools. All schools receiving state funding will need to meet clear goals for intake and support of students from wide social, ethnic, economic, special needs and faith backgrounds.”

Verdict: Change? Not for us thanks.

The Independents

Maureen O’Sullivan responded to say she didn’t think it was appropriate for the State to fund private education but that any abolition of State support would need a phased approach.