Paul Maskey: We need to save St Mary’s from unfair cuts and a disinterested minister

Following the announcement of recent cuts to higher education and the threat of closure for St Mary’s College, the Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey writes for Slugger about why we need to save the college from what he calls discriminatory cuts, from a disinterested minister

St Mary’s College is facing closure and it has to be saved. Sinn Féin is committed to saving it.

Following a meeting I had last week with minister Farry it is my very firm view that unless stopped, he intends to close St Mary’s as a teacher training university college.

The college faces imminent closure because the minister intends to withdraw the special premia, which St Mary’s annually receives.

This premia is worth over £1m annually to St Mary’s. Due to the Tory government’s cuts to the block grant minister Farry imposed a 10.8% cut on Queens and Ulster Universities and FE Colleges. He imposed this cut on St Mary’s as well. Add to this the cutting of the premia this means St Mary’s is now facing a 30% cut in its annual budget. No other educational institution (except Stranmillis) is facing such a savage cut.

This is discrimination against St Mary’s. At the meeting I found the minister uncaring and indifferent to the consequences of his actions in withdrawing the premia.

He showed little interest when I pointed out to him that unless he withdrew his threat to withdraw the premia St Mary’s faced imminent closure.

In fact he showed even less interest when I reminded him that St Mary’s has been on the Falls Road for over 100 years in an area with high levels of deprivation.

I urged the minister to restore the premia immediately and to begin discussions with St Mary’s Principal Peter Finn, on how to secure the college future as an autonomous university.

St Mary’s will soon launch a ‘Save St Mary’s’ campaign and it will have Sinn Féin’s full and unequivocal support. I am urging the people of west Belfast and elsewhere to support this campaign.

I want to reassure the staff and students and the community of west Belfast that Sinn Féin will use its political power at the Assembly and at the Executive to save St Mary’s and it on a secure and solid foundation for the next 100 years.”

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.