'Extraordinary legacy': President's tribute on death of former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach

'Extraordinary legacy': President's tribute on death of former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to the “extraordinary legacy of educational reform” achieved by former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach following her death.

Ms Bhreathnach, 77, died yesterday (February 6) at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, her family have confirmed.

The former teacher, who went on to become an Irish Labour Party politician, served as Ireland’s Minister for Education from 1993 to 1994 and again from 1994 to 1997.

During this time one of her most notable achievements was to abolish third-level education fees in Ireland in 1996.

Ms Bhreathnach served as a TD for the Dún Laoghaire constituency from 1992 to 1997.

President Higgins has paid tribute to political colleague, former Labour Minister for Education Niamh Bhreathnach (Pics: RollingNews.ie)

President Higgins, who became Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the same day that Ms Bhreathnach was appointed Minister for Education, spoke fondly of his former political colleague as he paid tribute to her this week.

“It is with a deep sense of sadness that so many people, former colleagues and particularly those who will have benefited from the inclusive reforms she initiated in terms of our education system, will have learnt of the death of Niamh Bhreathnach,” he said.

“Niamh became Minister for Education on the same day that I became Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and we were two of a number of people appointed to first Ministries on that day. I can recall that we were all possessed of a great sense of anxiety that we must take our opportunity to get changes done and Niamh set about that task with gusto.”

Regarding her many achievements over her years in office, he added: “Niamh was the first Labour politician to hold the post of Minister for Education, something which had historical significance in its own right.

“In her time in office she would go on to leave an extraordinary legacy of educational reform.

“That legacy includes the abolition of third-level undergraduate tuition fees and significant increases in education spending, the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme, and making the Transition Year Programme available to all second-level schools, any of which on their own would reflect a significant term of office.”

He added: “Influenced by her training as a teacher of those with special needs and drawing on her practical experience as a teacher in the Oliver Bond Complex in Dublin, Niamh emphasised a child-centred approach and her introduction of the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ programme led to targeted supports for urban and rural schools in disadvantaged areas.”

Ms Bhreathnach is survived by her husband Tom Ferris, the couple’s two children Cliodhna and Macdara, son-in-law Bryan, grandchildren Tom and Alice, sisters Sighle, Fionnuala and Eadaoin and her many relatives and friends.

She is predeceased by her sister Eibhlin.

Her funeral Mass will take place on Thursday, Februaury 9 at 10am at St John the Baptist Church in Blackrock, with burial afterwards at Shanganagh Cemetery.