Irish voters riled

October 11, 2002

A hint of a return to higher education tuition fees in Ireland - abolished six years ago - has led to political confusion in the run-up to this month's referendum on the European Union.

Political parties, parents' representatives and other groups have denounced education minister Noel Dempsey for making the proposal. Members of Ireland's students' union occupied the education ministry before police removed them.

The minister's timing could not have been worse for the government - it came two days after a leaked memo indicated that the finance ministry was seeking big public spending cuts amid a deterioration in the nation's finances.

Worse still, Mr Dempsey has also been looking at how some rich farmers and the self-employed are able to get maintenance grants for their children thanks to clever accountants.

The government fears that the electorate will punish it in the second referendum on the Nice Treaty on October 19 by again voting against EU enlargement, plunging the EU into a crisis.

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