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The debate about the reintroduction of university fees in Ireland is ignoring a large and crucial group of people. They are being lost in poorly informed references to class and the kind of failure to understand the complexity of the term, “to afford”, which suggests that many commentators are very well off indeed.

The main beneficiaries of the abolition of university fees are not the rich. They are those who previously struggled and, yes, suffered; they paid fees, which they could ill afford.

Of course aiding the rich in any way is difficult to defend. That’s why those who want a return to fees emphasise the point. However, in this context it is irrelevant as the amount of money is not significant. Let those who are serious about gross inequality in income, talk about tackling it. Of course the number of students from poor families reaching university remains a disgrace that needs to be addressed.

None of this should divert attention from the reality that thousands of families were liberated from years of scrimping and saving by Niamh Breathneach’s progressive initiative.


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