While she follows in a long line of Fianna Fáil education ministers, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD became the first Kerry woman to sit at Cabinet when she was appointed in June 2020. The Minister sits down with Ciarán Galway discuss how the Irish Government is working to deepen all-island education connections and cooperation.
Sitting at a large conference table at the centre of her office off the ministerial corridor in Leinster House, Dublin, the Education Minister is overlooked by select scattering of children’s artwork exhibited on the walls, not least an homage to the woman herself. Naturally enough, these are complemented by picturesque County Kerry landscapes.
Norma Foley is equipped with over 20 years of teaching experience – first as an Irish and English teacher at St Aloysius in Carrigtwohill, County Cork and then at Presentation Secondary School in her hometown of Tralee.
Acknowledging that she has brought “a particular perspective” to the role, the Minister recalls: “I would always say to my own students that my ambition for them is limitless, there is nothing that they cannot do, and nothing that they should feel that they could not achieve. We need to make sure that they have the support and the opportunity, at all times, to realise whatever their dreams or ambitions might be.”
Discussing the Irish Government’s efforts to deepen all-island education connections and cooperation, Minister Foley indicates that “a significant body of work is underway under the auspices of the Shared Island Programme”.
“We are currently working on a north/south programme – and more of those details will unfold – but it is specifically in the area of education, and specifically in the area of [tackling] disadvantage in education and promoting equality of education.
“Look, we are one island at the end of the day.”
“I am a huge believer in the wisdom of the collective. We can garner so much more when we work with others and there are great opportunities in education for us to share expertise and wisdom and experience.
“We are in the throes of doing that now, and you can see it from a higher education point of view in terms of research and an infrastructure point of view. Financial supports have already been put in place. There is enormous scope. Look, we are one island at the end of the day.”
Asked if she has given consideration to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) calls for an all-Ireland teaching council to be established within the Department of the Taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit amid the “erosion of teachers’ conditions in the North”, the Minister is reticent.
“I am not going to comment on that,” she says, before adding: “Look, we have young people from Northern Ireland who are [living] on the border and working in the south, and we have people [living] in the south and working and crossing over.
“Obviously, the more closely we can work together, learn from each other, and support each other [the better]… Opportunities going forward in terms of the teaching council and all of that, I have no doubt that all these opportunities can be looked at going forward.”