December 6, 2008 / 4:56 PM / in 9 years

Some 40,000 protest against Irish education cuts

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Around 40,000 people protested in Dublin on Saturday against spending cuts in education, police said, part of a growing number of demonstrations at government measures to stem the sharp rise in Ireland’s budget deficit.

The government expects the 2009 budget deficit to reach 6.5 percent of gross domestic product, more than double the level allowed by European Union rules, despite cutting spending and raising a range of taxes in October.

Tens of thousands of teachers, students and parents have held a series of protests against staff shortages and increased class sizes in recent months. Pensioners have demonstrated against cuts in healthcare entitlements.

The government this week gave in to one of the teachers’ demands and allocated additional funding to hire substitute teachers in secondary schools.

“That is an indication of the government being under pressure, the fact that they were forced to back down,” said Michael Murphy, 36, who protested with his primary school-age daughter.

The government presented the 2009 budget in October, almost two months earlier than usual, to respond to a rising shortfall in tax revenues after Ireland slid into recession first among euro zone countries this year.

This week it said a further deterioration in public finances showed it would miss some targets set out in the 2009 budget.

“We have to be realistic about what the country can afford,” Education Minister Batt O‘Keeffe said in a statement before Saturday’s protest.

Despite the downturn, Ireland’s 4 million inhabitants are among Europe’s richest after more than a decade of economic boom.

The head of a primary school in County Kildare said economic policy should spare education from spending cuts.

“When we hopefully come out of this recession then we’ll need the next generation ready to build up the economy,” said Deirdre Ni Dhuillearga, 51.

Editing by Elizabeth Piper

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