The possible introduction of a Green Card System to attract highly skilled employees into Ireland is another clear indication of the economic developments and progress Ireland is experiencing. In order to remain a competitive player in the international market and maintain our economic success we must attract an international work force.
The need for highly skilled workers in areas such as science and technology, IT, health services and engineering will inevitably draw immigrants into Ireland who will enhance our rapidly diversifying demographic composition. The options of applying for citizenship after 5 years will encourage more and more people to choose Ireland as their home and place to bring up their family.
The provision of an educational system where all children are equally respected and welcomed into the school community is vital for this new and progressive labour force. Social cohesion and preparing our future generation to live together is essential. Over the past three years, Educate Together has been consistently making the case that there is an urgent need to put the provision of multi-denominational education in Ireland on a firm financial footing. Parents all over the country are seeking this form of education. They have a Constitutional right to it and it is essential for the future of our society that such education is available in all areas. In almost all democratic nations, the provision of such schools is properly a function of the State. Exceptionally in Ireland, this can only be achieved by huge levels of voluntary work and private fund-raising.
Educate Together is shocked that €500 million has been returned unspent to the Department of Finance from the Department of Education and Science over the last 8 years. A staggering €95 million was returned last year. It is unacceptable that these levels of available funds are not being made work hard for the benefit and integration of all children living in Ireland. The demand on the sector is constant and rapidly increasing. The Department itself states that half the new schools in the past three years have been Educate Together schools. Educate Together is now facing demand in 30 new areas and working with 39 existing school communities throughout the country. The sector is unable to keep up with the pace of demand.
Educate Together works with voluntary communities nationwide setting up schools on a mere 0.0000058% of the Department of Education’s annual budget, less than 6 one millionths of the total. This type of figure usually disappears in the ‘rounding errors’ of Government budgets. This month, the Department increased this grant by €1,000 to €40,800 per annum. Even the current minimal services that the organisation provides cost €500,000 p.a.. Despite being made aware of this need since 2002, no significant change of policy has been forthcoming. The current lack of State funding will result in Educate Together being forced to start reducing its services to schools and dismantling the small team of experienced professionals who have served the whole primary education sector and the Department of Education well over the past number of years. Such teams take years to train and build. It will be to the lasting historic shame of this government if this is allowed to happen due to lack of foresight, planning or timely decision making by a Government whose exchequer is awash with unspent funds.
This can be avoided. It is necessary for the government to act immediately. Multi denominational classrooms must be a part of the future, and changes in attitude and policy must be welcomed.