Name: Ciaran Cannon
Occupation: Galway East TD and head of SOLAS
Newsworthiness: Ciarán Cannon named the head of the implementation group that will pave the way for new further education and training authority SOLAS
As the head of the implementation group that will pave the way for new further education and training authority SOLAS (Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna), Minister for Training and Skills Ciarán Cannon is quick to defend the organisation from claims it is merely a FÁS replacement. Minister Cannon says such descriptions are “lazy” and “dishonest”, while the changes are far more substantial than that.
The new body will replace the soon-to-be disbanded FÁS and the Galway East TD and his team are responsible for developing an action plan to bring about the changes necessary to establish SOLAS. The new body will bring together the further education and training currently overseen by the VEC and FÁS respectively and will be “the most far-reaching, most fundamental, in-dept reform ever to occur of further education and training in this country,” he says.
SOLAS’ main focus will be on meeting the needs of those people who it has been set up to help and the Carrabane resident says the individual should, and will, be the centre of their work. Citing stories about people being sent on “nonsensical” courses that didn’t match their previous experience under FÁS, he insists “that will stop”.
“It is about ultimately responding to the individual needs of learners and job seekers. We haven’t been very good at that in the past. We need to be driven by people’s outcomes,” he says.
To anyone who knows the father of one, his appointment to a ministerial position only a few months after he entered the Dáil did not come as a surprise, as he has been quickly climbing the political ladder since he was first elected to Galway County Council in 2004. However, his appointment was very surprising to the Kiltullagh raised man, as it came unexpectedly over the phone while he was driving with his wife Niamh.
“My phone rang and I didn’t instantly recognise the number. The voice on the other end of the phone said ‘is this Deputy Ciarán Cannon?’ and I said ‘yes it is’ and he said ‘no it isn’t’. There was silence, as I didn’t know what to say and he said ‘no actually it’s Minister Cannon’. I asked who it was and he said ‘it’s the Taoiseach here, Enda Kenny’ and that’s how I found out, which was a nice way to find out,” he explains.
The first meeting of the SOLAS implementation group, which Ciarán will chair for the next few years, took place on Tuesday 30 August. The group will help to bring forward the “significant amount” of legislation that has to be drafted through both houses of the Oireachtas before SOLAS can take over responsibility for training and further education in Ireland.
Thanks to SOLAS, all future training and further education will be delivered through the already well-established VEC structure, which is currently being streamlined from 32 VECs to 16.
“It makes sense because they have a presence in almost every town and county in the country. They have incredible experience,” he says.
Ciarán says such streamlining is necessary to save costs and improve the efficiency of the training and further education sector, but is quick to point out that they will be avoiding the pitfalls of excessive spending and poor resource management that plagued FÁS.
“A lot of the profligate waste that occurred in the past won’t be tolerated in the future. This government faces an incredible economic challenge over the next couple of years, but bound up inside that challenge is the opportunity to carry out the sort of in-dept forensic analysis and scrutiny of public spending that should have been part and parcel of Irish public life anyway,” he says.
He says he also understands that he will face a tough task convincing the public that SOLAS is not just another wasteful FÁS after the stories of needless spending that have been splashed across the front pages in recent years.
“There is a public relations exercise to be done in restoring people’s faith and leaving everything that was negative about FÁS behind. But there is also, and always has been, a lot of excellent work done by FÁS,” says Ciarán.
The importance of the private sector will not be diminished by the new structure of the organisation, according to Ciarán. He says that about 85 per cent of the training done by FÁS is currently outsourced to private companies and this is likely to remain. “The private sector will still have a major role to play in delivering training in particular,” he says.