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Meeting on guidance and counselling cuts in Dundalk is well attended

Pictured at the public meeting on guidance cuts that was held in Colaiste Ris on Monday were from left: Deputy Peter  Fitzpatrick; Craig McHugh; IGC President Betty McLaughlin and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd

Pictured at the public meeting on guidance cuts that was held in Colaiste Ris on Monday were from left: Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick; Craig McHugh; IGC President Betty McLaughlin and Deputy Fergus O’Dowd

An important and well attended public meeting on the crisis in guidance and counselling in schools at second level was held on Monday in Coláiste Rís in Dundalk.

The meeting was addressed by the President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors Betty McLaughlin. Ms McLaughlin said that the 2012 cuts were now making huge and deepening inroads into the mental health supports in schools. She said that it was quite clear that if the cuts were not reversed immediately that the guidance counsellor would be a thing of the past within five years.

Ms McLaughlin said that issue at national level was reaching a crisis point. She emphasised the mental health and vocational support that counsellors give in schools to their students. The president said that the counsellor was one of the main key frontline staff in any school.

Coláiste Rís principal Padraig Hamill also made a very passionate plea to the government to have the cuts reversed. He said that quite simply the guidance counsellor had a unique skill that is not possessed by other school personnel.

Mr Hamill also said that to preserve guidance in his school was the single biggest item that put principals under pressure in regards to the timetable planning of the school. His fear was how the preservation of guidance was being left at the behest of school principals to the detriment of other staffing areas that were also so vital. He stated that there was no guarantee that when a new principal in a school takes over that guidance and counselling at second level would be maintained within the school.

The former president of the Secondary Schools Students’ Union Craig McHugh called for the cuts to be reversed immediately. He said that the school counsellor was the person who directed the young person in the school on a particular career path. They were also there to act in a leadership and central pastoral role for the young people of second level schools. Young people he said need their counsellors and to be left without them was a very serious threat. He said that as the government have such an emphasis on job creation it was very foolish to slowly eradicate guidance counselling in school.

Local guidance counsellor Gerry Malone launched a scathing criticism on former Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. He said that the minister at the time who introduced the cut had at one stage even said that the job of a guidance counsellor could be done by the school janitor.

Mr Malone said that, with no disrespect to these key staff, they would most certainly not be qualified to do the job of a counsellor. Mr Malone also said that he was very disappointed at the time of the cuts at the lack of support that counsellors got from the ASTI union. He hit out at Ruairi Quinn, who he said had proved to be the most divisive education minister the country had ever seen. He said that as a result of his attempts at other changes in the education system he had left morale among teachers at an all time low.

Mr Malone also said he was very disappointed at the way the Labour Party had held the education portfolio.

Two Government TD’s who attended the meeting said that counsellors now had their full support in seeking a reverse of the guidance cuts. Deputies Peter Fitzpatrick and Fergus O’Dowd said that they would lobby hard to have the guidance cuts reversed. They said that the counsellor played a key role in the mental health support of young people and dealt with many issues and were a key member of personnel in every school.

Fine Gael Education Senator Jim D’Arcy has also pledged his support for the reversal of the guidance cuts. He is working away on the issue in the background.

At the end of the meeting it was suggested that counsellors and parents set up a committee to make the cuts a central issue in the General Election. This was agreed and it is hoped a meeting to set up such an organisation can materialise soon.

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