50 Years Since O’Malley’s Historic Announcement yet Secondary Education Is Still Not Free

30 Nov 2016 in Press Releases, Advocacy, Featured

Fifty years ago today Donogh O’Malley made his historic decree that all primary and secondary education would be free. Sadly, this vision has not been fully realised - but it could be, if the Government showed leadership on the issue, said Barnardos today.

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos, said, “It is 50 years to the day that then Minister for Education Donogh O’Malley announced the introduction of free education up to post primary level, yet as parents tell us each year education in Ireland is far from free. The move was rightly hailed as one of the boldest and most significant political education decisions and this Government could make a similar mark if it took action to realise this pledge.  

“Barnardos has calculated it would cost just over €100 million annually to give all primary school children free textbooks and workbooks, remove the need to pay for classroom resources and voluntary contributions, provide free transport for those availing of the School Transport Scheme and restore capitation rates back to 2010 levels. Extending this to second level students would cost just a further €127m per year. The impact of an inclusive, supportive education system reaches far beyond school grades. It means all children, regardless of their background, are given the same opportunity to learn and thrive.

“We know from Northern Ireland and other UK jurisdictions how to implement a truly free primary education system; but what is needed now is the political leadership to make it happen.”

Fergus Finlay, CEO, Barnardos, said, “Barnardos has been running its School Costs Survey for over a decade. The evidence from parents clearly contradicts the persistent myth that Ireland has free education. Fulfilling children’s right to free primary education is the Constitutional responsibility of our Government, one they have shirked for too long. A right is not a right if you have to pay for it.

“The investment required is miniscule in proportion to the overall Department of Education's annual budget of approx. €8 billion, and the benefit to children and society would be immense. It’s a question of prioritising resources and putting our greatest asset – our children’s education – first.”


Note to editors

We can make education free: find out more about Barnardos’ campaign

See table below for a breakdown of costs:


Free School Books

Removing Voluntary Contribution

Free Classroom Resources

Free School Transport

Restoring Capitation Grant Level


2014/2015 Current Exchequer Funding







Extra Exchequer funding to make Primary Education free







Extra Exchequer funding to make Secondary Education free







Total Exchequer Funding Required to ensure free education for all children