Minister for the Department of Education and Skills Joe McHugh has said that his department “continues to intensify” its work to prepare for the UK’s exit, stating that officials have engaged with the UK’s Department for Education.
Responding to a request from Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Thomas Byrne TD for a report on the preparedness of his department for a no-deal scenario in Brexit negotiations, McHugh stated that “the maintenance of rights and privileges under the Common Travel Area” was central to all planning scenarios.
McHugh also noted that, “notwithstanding the type of Brexit, the [Common Travel Area] will still be in place.”
“Naturally, I do not wish for a disorderly Brexit but, prudently, I am preparing for this.”
McHugh assured the Meath East TD that the Government would continue to provide certainty to the UK and Northern Irish students studying in Ireland, and vice versa, who are in receipt of SUSI grants.
“An amendment to the Student Support Act 2011 has now been included as one of the parts of the proposal Miscellaneous Provisions Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on the 29th March 2019 Bill”, the Minister told the Dáil.
“This will facilitate the continued payment of SUSI grants to Irish students attending UK and Northern Irish higher education institutions, and to UK and Northern Irish students studying in Irish higher education institutions.”
McHugh stated that there are over 200 students in Ireland from the UK and nearly 1,500 Irish students in the UK and Northern Ireland whose interests need to be protected. Byrne stated that such a move would “send out a signal” and would likely be reciprocated ensuring, at least, that there would not be a “hard educational border” in Ireland.
Byrne, however, criticised the “ad hoc” basis on which student support policies were applied and urged the Minister to take a “unilateral administrative measure to say that students from NI and indeed the UK ” will be guaranteed supports into the future.
“Students are not going to make that decision [to study abroad] 6 weeks before the CAO deadline and I don’t think they’re going to make it just because you’ve made a decision in January”.
The Minister said that his department would continue to monitor all Brexit developments very carefully, stating that “we don’t have any guarantees of any variety…we’re trying to control what we can control.”