Taoiseach to be questioned on WIT status

An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern is expected to be quizzed on Waterford Institute of Technology’s application for university status during his visit to Waterford today, after a row broke out on the issue between two of his party ministers during a meeting between the Fianna Fáil TD’s and Senators earlier this week.

Mr Ahern was not present during the argument on Tuesday evening when Waterford TD Martin Cullen lashed out at fellow Fianna Fáil party colleague and Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin over her handling of WIT’s submission seeking upgrading to university status to the department in February 2006.

In November that year, Dr Jim Port was appointed to conduct a preliminary assessment of the college’s application that was given to the department over a year ago. This report has not yet been made public and senior politicians insist that his examination was very positive about WIT’s advancement.

At the meeting, the disagreement emerged after Wexford TD Seán Connick and Carlow/Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward put forward a motion urging the Government to grant university status to WIT. It was reported in the national press that the following exchange between the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mr Cullen TD and Ms Hanafin took party colleagues by surprise.

Ms Hanafin asserted that the issue was complicated because giving university status to WIT would have implications for other colleges. Many universities are opposed to extra universities being created and it is believed that if WIT was upgraded, then many other institutes would also seek a similar endorsement.

Ms Hanafin went on to say that the non promotion of WIT had not affected the numbers of students from the southeast in third level education or employment in the region.

However, Mr Cullen strongly disagreed with his Ms Hanafin and he accused the Department of Education of treating the Waterford application unfairly.

He went on to dispute Ms Hanafin’s claim that universities in Finland had been told to merge because there were too many of them, by indicating that Finland has 20 universities compared to Ireland’s seven.

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