The Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin has told a conference of party members that education is a top priority for Fianna Fáil in the coming months and years. Deputy Martin was joined by local Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins, among other members of the party’s front bench, for the party’s first policy conference since the general election.

More than 150 members attended the event in Birr, Co Offaly on Saturday to share their views on a range of issues, including school patronage, literacy problems, educational disadvantage, third level fees, reform of school curricula and protecting small rural schools, which are the heart of many communities in Co Limerick and across the country.

Deputy Martin told the conference: “There are very definitely problems with our education system which go well beyond resource levels.  There must be reform and it must inevitably be uncomfortable for some.  But we should never forget something: You cannot build up the education system by tearing it down.  You can never find an effective agenda if you fail to acknowledge strengths as well as weaknesses.

Speaking afterwards, Limerick TD Niall Collins said: “Fianna Fáil is focused on positive reform of the education sector. We should be proud of the strong reputation our education system has earned abroad and we must work to build on this to ensure that it is inclusive of all children living in this country.

“We have already seen worrying trends from the new Education Minister Ruairí Quinn who appears to have a blind-spot when it comes to the needs of rural communities. On top of this, he has been quick to abandon his promises on a range of issues including the introduction of third level fees.

“While Minister Quinn is figuring out his priorities, Fianna Fáil will consider the views of people in Limerick and across country on what direction we should take to build on the strengths of our education sector. We are setting realistic goals for reform that will have long-term social and economic benefits for all communities in Co Limerick.”