If the Government was under any illusion in relation to the depth of anger felt by students, opposed to cuts in grants and increases in fees, that will have been firmly dispersed in recent days.
The young people of this country took to the streets in their thousands last week in a powerful demonstration of their determination to force Government Ministers to honour the pledges made to students just nine months ago.
At that time the Minister for Education, Mr. Ruairi Quinn publicly signed a USI pledge, stating that Labour would neither cut students supports nor increase student fees.
Specifically, at the time Mr. Quinn was quoted as stating “if elected, we will oppose and campaign against any new form of third-level fees, including student loans, graduate taxes and any further increase in the student contribution. Furthermore, we pledge to use our position in Dail Eireann to protect higher education maintenance grants from any and all cuts”
As a consequence much of the anger voiced at the student rally was, understandably, directed at Mr. Quinn, particularly given that he admitted that a hike in college charges is under consideration in the forthcoming budget.
Mr. Quinn argues that he did not know at the time what he now knows in relation to the public finances but that is highly unlikely to assuage the anger currently being vented.
The reality is that while the economic situation the world over has continued to deteriorate in the past year, the drastic financial mire in which we find ourselves was well known to all of the political parties as they courted favour in the General Election of just nine months ago.
The dire state of the nation’s coffers was the very platform of debate by all of the then opposition parties, as they continually pressed home the woeful mismanagement of the country by the previous Fianna Fail led administration.
It is therefore not acceptable to now suggest that pledges made should be abandoned willy-nilly and that those who backed this Government, based on the promises made, should be expected to meekly accept a blatant about face.
It is not difficult to understand the cynicism currently being voiced about politicians - who promised much in return for power but who are now reneging on the pledges which catapulted them into office. What a lesson it sends to the young people of today, many of whom will be the politicians of tomorrow!
Ireland has always prided itself on the excellent education it has given to its young people. It has a well earned reputation as a nation which traditionally places enormous emphasis on education. However, if increased fees and cuts in grants are to be imposed in the forthcoming budget, many young people will be forced to abandon their education and seek work abroad. That will be a disastrous consequence, given that it has been widely recognised that a well educated population is the very key to economic recovery.
All of those who made promises in the run-up to the General Election are under a moral obligation to fulfil the pledges they have made. To do otherwise would be unconscionable.
If we cannot educate our young or look after our elderly we are truly bankrupt - perhaps not financially but certainly in every other sense of the word.