Niamh Bhreathnach, education minister who abolished third level fees, dies aged 77

President Michael D Higgins has expressed his “deepest sympathies” to Niamh Bhreathnach’s friends and family following the announcement.

Former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach who ‘changed countless lives’. Photo: Laura Hutton

Niamh McGovernIndependent.ie

Former Labour Party TD and Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach who was responsible for abolishing third level education fees, has died at the age of 77.

President Michael D Higgins has expressed his “deepest sympathies” to Niamh Bhreathnach’s friends and family following the announcement.

He said: “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 one their own would reflect a significant term of office.

“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.

"This would later becoming the Deis programme. Her period as Minister for Education saw marked reductions in the pupil teacher ratio.”

“Niamh acted as Minister for Education, the first Labour politician to hold the post marking a historical significance in the country.

“Her period as Minister for Education also saw appropriate recognition of the importance of technology and technical training and, as Minister, Niamh oversaw the upgrading of Regional Technical Colleges to Institutes of Technology,” Mr Higgins said.

Ms Bhreathnach was born in 1945 and was one of five daughters to Breandán Breathnach and Lena Donnellan.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton said: “I wish to express heartfelt sympathy with her husband Tom, with her two children and with her colleagues in the Labour Party on the death of Niamh Bhreathnach.

"She was a Minister for Education who made a real difference to the lives of Irish people, and the benefits of her work endure to this day, notably the abolition of third level fees and the upgrading of Colleges of Technology,” he added.

Labour TD, Ged Nash Tweeted his condolences: “A true reformer and radical in the proud Labour tradition has left us. From Breaking the Cycle and Early Start to the Leaving Cert Applied, Niamh changed countless lives. Sincerest condolences to Tom, Cliodhna and ⁦Macdara Ferris. Rest in peace.”

Fianna Fail TD Cormac Devlin said: “Saddened to learn of the death of former Minister and DLR Cathaoirleach Niamh Bhreathnach. Niamh espoused a passion for politics and a desire to improve the lives of all those she represented. Condolences to Tom, her family, friends and party colleagues.”

She is survived by her husband Tom Ferris, her two children Cliodhna and Macdara, son-in-law Bryan, grandchildren Tom and Alice, sisters Síghle, Fionnuala and Eadaoin.

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