I visited a group of nine and ten year olds in the city’s Our Lady of Mercy Primary School last week. The third class have recently started a school newsletter, The Primary Post and their teacher thought a chat with a journalist might give them some notion of what life in a newspaper entailed.

The Primary Post is a great initiative – a wonderful way to develop the writing skills of these young girls and give voice to their opinions. And though I would have thought the pupils were a little young to hold views on the newsworthy topics of the day, I was very much mistaken. During a chat with the class about well-known Waterford people who make the headlines, I was reminded just how pertinent the opinions of these future vote-holders can be.

Amongst others, the name of Social, Community and Family Affairs Minister Martin Cullen came up. “We don’t like Martin Cullen”, said a little cherub-faced girl who, to me, barely seemed old enough to decide what breakfast cereal she’d have in the morning. The rest of the class quickly joined in, lambasting Cullen for the educational cutbacks proposed by ‘his’ Government. They were able to demonstrate just what kind of an impact such cutbacks were having on their lives, indicating how cramped space was in their classroom and showing me the meagre few books on the shelf that constituted their library. Many of the students are of a far higher reading standard then those books catered for, their teacher told me.

The class informed me they had written a ‘very angry letter’ to Minister Cullen, telling him how they felt about the book-balancing efforts of the Government. They’ll also, presumably, be asking their parents to take them to the protest march against the education cutbacks organised for the city centre this Friday. And, who knows, maybe their parents will take all this discontent on board when election time comes around.

Now regular readers will know I don’t have political colours to wear on my sleeves. I wish to demonstrate no bias when I categorically praise all the good work that Martin Cullen has done for Waterford since he took his place in the Cabinet. Far better to have him there then to be without him, as far as I’m concerned. And I must also state that the proposed educational cutbacks are a travesty, pure and simple. What hope have we of dragging ourselves out of economic recession by stunting the educational development of those who will run the country tomorrow?

But isn’t it amazing how far public discontent is reaching, when school kids are putting aside their copy books to shout their complaints at Government. Surely this must be shaking the political establishment to the core? And if it isn’t then we have elected some seriously shallow individuals. Aside from the terrible job losses and hardship being experienced by many, the powers-that-be will undoubtedly have a serious PR job on their hands if they’re going to make any impact at next year’s local elections.

The next possible bone of contention in this area will be the privatisation of refuse collection, with about 5,000 homes in the city set to lose their bin waiver if the City Manager proceeds with his plans. Cutbacks must be made and he views the possible annual saving of €1.2 million too good an opportunity to ignore. Our own elected officials are up in arms over the situation, holding frantic meetings and grasping at any straw they can conjure up in their search for an alternative to the Manager’s proposal. Whether or not they succeed, they’re in for an awful time when they come knocking on doors for our votes next summer.