In 1966 Donagh O'Malley was the standing Minister for Education. The vast majority of children at the time were finishing their education at primary level, as the financial burden of secondary school was too much for their parents to bear. The prohibitive pricing of education meant that second level, and consequently third level, education was a privilege reserved for the wealthy. This lack of education for young people had the knock on effect of an increase in emigration and a drop in the number of skilled workers in the country.
In an effort to combat this and bring equality to the Irish education system, Minister O'Malley delivered a powerful speech at a dinner held for the National Union of Journalists. In this speech he declared that starting with the following academic year, September 1967, second level education would be free for all children in Ireland, regardless of their parent's background. He did so without the prior knowledge or agreement of the Department of Finance. He also further detailed financial aid systems and modes of school transport which would also help to remove barriers to education.
Though it is something which we now take for granted, universal free secondary education was a huge turning point for the country, as it gave working class children a better chance at grasping opportunities in life and helped to soften the class divides in our country.
The speech was published in full in the Irish Times on the 12th of September 1966.
As part of an advertising campaign, Allianz Ireland filmed a re-enactment of the speech in its entirety. The part of Minister O'Malley was played by his son, Daragh O'Malley.