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Schools Rugby

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Sinn Féin policy would hurt the education system - and rugby would be the biggest loser

Neil Francis


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Neil Francis thinks a change to the state funding that goes to fee-paying schools could impact Irish rugby's player pipeline. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
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Neil Francis thinks a change to the state funding that goes to fee-paying schools could impact Irish rugby's player pipeline. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Wife’s diary: Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it.

Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but didn’t say much. I asked him what was wrong. He said: “Nothing.”

I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it.

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On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly and kept driving. I can’t explain his behaviour. I don’t know why he didn’t say “I love you too.”

When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent.

Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep; I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.

Husband’s diary: Who the fuck loses to Newbridge?

That joke was doing the rounds on WhatsApp last week. The reason I include it today is not to denigrate St Michael’s College or Newbridge or anyone who suffers from paranoid delusions. It is to make a statement that very few people outside the Leinster Schools Senior Cup bubble would actually understand the joke.

Newbridge College beat the strong Cup favourites St Michael’s in the semi-finals of the competition in a game that gives ample illustration as to the reason it draws huge support from its own constituency. The quality and commitment displayed in the game was sensational.

The fact, too, that there were two colleges competing at the semi-final stages that would not be considered as contenders this year and in all truth most years was refreshing. All colleges in the competition seem to be trying, and in most cases succeeding, to improve.

It is quite obvious that additional time, expertise and expense was put into their respective programmes and cup campaigns. Rugby sells — if the rugby programme is professional. It attracts boys to the school even if the parents and the school don’t like admitting it. It is a key selling point.

The bubble can also point to the fact that the week is barely over and yet another salmon is swimming upstream to the Irish senior rugby team as Ryan Baird pressed his credentials on the rugby watching public. Just how good is he? Well, watch. There will assuredly be more following him from this year’s competition.

I have lost count of the number of people from outside the country enquiring about the Leinster conveyor belt, the inexhaustible supply of quality year after year. How do they do it? Even the English clubs have started to try and replicate this model and have pushed into the school systems that surround them.

As long as the schools, particularly the Leinster schools, keep on producing Irish rugby will be strong.

Nothing to worry about so . . .

There is one inescapable fact that jumps out at you when you examine the composition of the Irish national team: Most of the squad went to fee-paying schools. Most of the people who watch international rugby in this country couldn’t care less what school any of them went to. There is a perceptible minority who grumble about the privileged and elitist nature of the sport. For some, it is deeply engrained. What grates is that those inside the bubble are blissfully unaware of any enmity towards them which, for the agitated, magnifies the perception of condescension.

Private schools — what to do with them?

Back in 2009, the ‘Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes’ (the McCarthy Report to you and I) proposed that the state subvention to fee-paying schools, which comes in at over €100m per annum, should be abolished on a phased basis of €25m per annum. This was a game-changer on many levels and the last Labour government in coalition seriously entertained the notion.

In an effort to circumvent any proposal of that nature, 27 of the 52 fee-paying schools instructed PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce a cost-benefit analysis to the state of where its children are educated. The 40-page report concluded that it costs the state €3,500 less to educate a student in a fee-paying school. It did not under any circumstances make financial sense to do away with the subvention.

In addition, the cost of acquiring the lands, buildings and contents would be substantial to the point of being prohibitive if a school went from being a fee-paying school to a state school. The report, although commissioned by private schools, is well researched and strongly indicates that the status quo be retained. Changing it would not make economic sense. To some, however, on a sociological or dogmatic level, it would make plenty of sense.

Successive governments have had a look and the idea has been played out in theatre, but there has been a strong lobby against any cuts because — with or without the advice of the PwC report — it just doesn’t make sense.

What if somebody got into power whose ethos would be to take out every private school in the country?

A Sinn Féin government would be a disaster on literally every single level in this country, but from an educational point of view the first thing on the slate — and it is in their manifesto — would be to cut the €100m subvention to fee-paying schools. Marxist-Leninist dogma and state-sponsored education for all whether you want it or not. They wouldn’t even consider the financial ramifications or the unintended consequences of their actions. They would glory in that cut.

The state does not pay towards the capital expenditure in any private school, nor do they maintain the buildings or lands in these schools. If the subvention, which pays the salaries of say 50-60 teachers, was cut it means that the school would have to either drastically cut other areas of current expenditure or they would have to nearly double their fees just to keep things as they are.

Either way, it would be too much for many parents and they would have no choice but to take their children out of these schools or take a drastic cut in some of the activities that the schools provide. If this happened then sport would be the biggest casualty and primarily rugby as the schools would not have the staff to run it.

Most of these private schools are run by religious orders, which doesn’t seem to go down well with any government. These orders might look at what is possibly coming down the line and sell up, which means selling all your sports pitches, and leave the state to buy just the school buildings.

The Spiritans Order had seven former pupils in the match-day squad for the Scotland game a few weeks ago. Imagine if they just sold up in the morning, or worse, were forced to sell up in the morning.

There are many elements of government expenditure that are questionable. Every cut has a knock-on effect for somebody in society. The homeless and the poor, the health services, the need to halt climate change, etc — every sector is clamouring for more money. But education? You can’t touch education. Or can you?

The next government’s hands may be tied or maybe we will have to wait for the barbarians to break through the gate. A Sinn Féin minister for justice or defence, or worse, for education?

If they were in the position and they cut the subvention there would be losers everywhere, but rugby would be the biggest loser. The bubble would burst!

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