17 May 2019

Elections 2019 - Supporting our Members

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AONTAS has engaged with EU candidates, and assisted our members to engage local candidates across the country, in order to make them all aware of the importance of adult and community education. Our latest blog outlines some of the ways that we have been supporting our members to engage with candidates in the lead-up to election day on Friday, 24th May.

On Friday, 24th May, constituents across the country will go to the polling stations to elect local Councillors and Members of the European Parliament candidates that share their values and vision for Ireland and Europe.AONTAS believes in the right of every adult to have access to quality adult learning throughout their lives.

We work every day with our members and likeminded organisations to ensure that politicians and policy makers across Ireland and in Brussels understand the importance of lifelong learning for creating a more economically prosperous, but also socially inclusive society. As advocates for the sector, we want to make sure that the issues facing learners and practitioners in adult and community education in Ireland are on every candidate’s radar as they seek election to Local and City Councils and the European Parliament.

Why are Local Elections Important to Adult and Community Education?

Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are regionally based democratic structures created for the governance of the state-run and state-funded Irish education system –a system that extends from childhood through to Further Education and Training (FET) in later stages of life. There are 16 ETBs in Ireland made up of 12 County Councillors and nine representatives of various stakeholder groups.

In the coming local elections, 949 Councillors will be elected to County and City Councils across the country. Once elected, 12 Councillors from the Councils within an ETB area will take seats on the Boards of each ETB. Occupying more than half of all seats on every ETB, locally elected Councillors have a significant impact on the policy development and implementation of adult and community education provision across the country.

The AONTAS Toolkit for Engaging with European and Local Election Candidates

To influence local and EU candidates, AONTAS has created a purpose-built policy tool for those in adult and community education, supporting them in highlighting the importance of their work and lobbying to harness the power of lifelong learning to create a more compassionate, equitable and prosperous society.

Some of the key areas the Toolkit focuses on for engaging with candidates include:

You can access the Election Toolkit here.

The European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) Manifesto for Adult Learning in the 21st Century: The Power and Joy of Learning

AONTAS has asked MEP (Member of European Parliament) candidates about their position on adult learning based on the EAEA Manifesto 2019. Using the EAEA Manifesto AONTAS has outlined to MEP hopefuls where adult education can play a key role in tackling many of the common challenges facing Ireland and other European societies.  

The manifesto communicates the EAEA’s vision of a Learning Europe that is accessible to all, and which centres on gaining necessary skills, knowledge and competences. It proposes a Europe-wide effort to develop a knowledge society that can deal with the challenges of our time. Included are nine challenges facing Europe which adult learning helps to address:

The questions put to candidates:

As of Friday 17th May seven candidates have taken the time to consider the future of adult learning in Ireland and Europe and responded to AONTAS. All candidates who responded spoke about the importance of investing in adult and community education and lifelong learning as a tool for developing a more equal Ireland. The questions put to candidates were as follows:

  1. What does adult and community education, and lifelong learning mean to you?
  2. How will you as a Member of European Parliament work to promote adult education and lifelong learning? (eg policies, seeking a position on the Education Committee, etc)
  3. From your experience and opinion, how can marginalised groups (eg elderly, migrants etc) be included in lifelong learning in order to support their social inclusion?
  4. What do you see as the role for non-formal (non-accredited) adult education in helping to implement EU educational policy considering the challenges posed by Brexit, and the wider benefits of education beyond employment as identified in AONTAS’ lifelong learning for all policy briefs?
  5. As an MEP will you, and how will you, support the work of civil society actors like AONTAS and the EAEA as we work to advocate for a quality lifelong learning service across Ireland and Europe?

Candidates who responded to AONTAS


Candidate Name and Affiliation


Fidelma Healy (Independent)


Brendan Smith (Fianna Fáil)


Clare Daly (Independent)


Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party)


Breda Gardner (Independent)


Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party)


Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil)

Note that AONTAS does not endorse any candidate for election. However, the names and constituencies of the candidates are listed for transparency.

Learn more about the specific candidate responses

Before Election Day on 24th May the EAEA will be posting the responses of candidates that have responded to their member organisations across Europe: check out the full response on the EAEA website here.