A FINE GAEL TD is giving half of his salary to a school in his constituency to allow it to hire a teacher after cuts in the education budget meant its teaching numbers were reduced.
Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin is using half of his €92,000 salary which he pledged to give the Exchequer last year and is now donating it to Fybough National School in the Dingle Peninsula in Co Kerry so that it can employ a third teacher.
The primary school lost one of its three teachers following changes in the last Budget affecting small schools which meant that 51 pupils was the required number for a three-teacher allocation. The school currently has 50 pupils, just below the threshold.
At a meeting last week, the school’s board of management agreed to a proposal whereby Griffin would give half his salary to it it to employ a third teacher privately on a fixed term specified purpose contract from next September.
The move is an interim measure until the school hopes to have sufficient pupil numbers to secure funding for a third teacher.
Griffin told TheJournal.ie: “What it is fundamentally is that it’s putting a teacher in the classroom in front of the children. What I see here is a very worthy cause to ensure the best possible education standards are maintained for the children affected by this.
The deputy, who was elected to the Dáil last year, denied that he was being hypocritical in supporting government cuts to the education budget while ensuring that a school in his local area is able to maintain more teachers than other schools with a similar number of pupils will be able to.
Griffin said he had no affiliation with the school other than living in the locality: “I wasn’t educated there. I’ve no relatives attending there or anything like that.
“I will continue to work on a national level to find the best possible solution to the problems facing the future of small rural schools and actively seek alternative areas where savings could be made that don’t affect teacher numbers,” he added.
Griffin made headlines last year when it emerged he had hired two family members as staff and got another elected to his vacant council seat.
‘A very worthy cause’
He explained that education cuts meant that two schools in the local area had seen their teacher numbers cut. While one was able to earn a reprieve following an appeal to the Department of Education Fybough did not.
Where previously he had been donating half of his Dáil salary – around €43,000 – to the Department of Finance he will now draw down his full salary and after tax around €30,000 will be made available to the school to pay the new teacher.
“I think it’s a very worthy cause,” he said. “There is a far greater benefit to Exchequer in the long term. The long term societal impact of this far outweighs any current monetary impact.
“We’re all doing our best in terms of our constituencies and here is a situation where I am able to assist in a situation where it is unique. This is the only school that is losing a teacher in South Kerry and I am glad to assist. It’s very, very positive news for the children involved here.
“I won’t make any apology for helping to put an extra teacher into a school.”
The chair of Fybough’s Parents Association, Willie Evans, told TheJournal.ie that parents were “thrilled and delighted” with the outcome.
“It’s been a very difficult six months for us. Being a parent when something like this happens I think it does a lot of things for parents.
“Now it means we have a teacher for next year. On a wider more political debate, this really gives us back confidence in public representatives,” he said describing Griffin’s action as “hugely symbolic”.
Evans, who will have three children in the school by September, added: “Whether you are in Donnybrook or in Donegal we need to turn around the literacy standards of our children.
“We still have a lot of children leaving education with poor literacy standards and removing teachers is a counter productive measure.”
Local Fianna Fáil councillor Michael O’Shea said that he found the decision “hard to understand” given Griffin was a government TD but added that he was supportive of it.
“It’s unfortunate that they lost out by one to retain the teacher that they had but I’d definitely be supportive of it,” he said.
Fybough NS said that the new post will be advertised for in due course and said it was “extremely grateful” to Griffin whose support had been “unwavering” since the changes to teaching numbers were announced last December.