Dermot Looney, the Labour Party candidate for this year’s local election in Tallaght Central, has slammed proposals by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to reintroduce third level fees or similar taxes on students. Looney's comments come in the wake of Minister Batt O'Keeffe's statement that he will bring forward plans to Cabinet to reintroduce fees, and Fine Gael's plans to abuse the social insurance fund with a convoluted and inequitable graduate levy.
Looney, 26, was a student activist during his time in UCD and was part of the successful student campaign in 2003 to oppose the reintroduction of fees. He has been working with students' groups in his campaign not only to oppose fees, but to extend and improve the grants system for those from ordinary backgrounds. The Greenhills-based candidate, who works as a teacher in Tallaght, has said that plans by the two major conservative parties for fees, whether by the front door or the back, are counterposed by the Labour Party's track record of promoting equality of access at third level.
"Despite claims to the contrary, the Labour Party's abolition of college fees in 1995 was a policy taken to advance universal education opportunities."
"It closed off tax covenant loopholes which enabled the rich to attend for free regardless, and allowed tens of thousands of young people from ordinary backgrounds a college opportunity they would never have gotten under the old system. I know - I was one of them," Looney said.
"Fianna Fail has always been suspicious of the no-fee model of third level education, and they are now cynically taking advantage of the adverse situation in our public finances to bring back fees - something they've wanted to do for years. Minister O'Keeffe's insistence that only the very wealthy will pay is complete nonsense. The net will need to be very wide indeed from the off to ensure the scheme is sustainable, and once fees are reintroduced, the income barrier will inevitably drop from one year to the next, until almost everyone is asked to pay thousands or even tens of thousands a year in fees."
"The pseudo-socialism of the Government in asking the rich to pay is galling. They never touched the incomes of developers, bankers and their other pals during the boom years. O'Keeffe is correct to mention Ireland's 33,000 self-declared millionaires, but those people should pay through a tax on their wealth rather than via a college fees scheme they will most likely have their accountants parsing through for write-offs."
"Meanwhile, Fine Gael's proposal creates poverty traps, and burdens young people with payments when they are starting out in their working life. The social insurance fund is intended to insure people against sickness, disability, accidents, unemployment and give them support in old age - it should not be used as a sneaky tax on education. Under their scheme a graduate, regardless of curcumstances, who is earning the average starting salary of €27,000 would be forced to pay an extra €2,280 a year on top of her or his tax, PRSI and other contributions. As usual, conservative economics is reduced to targeting those on lower incomes."
"The Labour Party believes in an education that is universally available from kindergarten to third level free of charge, paid for by taxation based on ability to pay. As a socialist I reject the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil's approach and the inequity of Fine Gael's. There is a better, fairer way on college fees - and it will mean a hike in taxes for the super-rich."