The Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations got under way earlier today with English Paper I.

Almost 59,000 students are sitting the Leaving and Leaving Cert Applied exams, while a further 56,000 candidates are sitting their Junior Certificate.

The English paper was welcomed as a fair paper by many students and teachers.

Cat lovers, tightrope walkers and incredible journeys were some of the subjects and themes that featured in this morning's paper.

The Home Economics paper was on the Leaving Cert timetable this afternoon, while Junior Cert students faced English Paper II.

While it is a big personal milestone for thousands of students, today also marked the start of what is a huge logistical operation.

Between now and 24 June and taking the different levels into account, a total of 105 subjects will be examined in written form between the Leaving and the Junior Certificates at more than 4,700 exam centres around the country.

This morning, Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn wished those sitting the Leaving Certificate every success.

In a statement, the Minister said he hoped their hard work would pay off and he paid tribute to the support received from teachers, parents and families.

Mr Quinn said that after many hours of study and preparation, the students were finally getting the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skill across a range of areas.

In a statement, ASTI President Jack Keane said: 'While it is perfectly normal to feel some anxiety, it is really important to keep things in perspective over the coming weeks.

'No one exam is going to make or break you as a person and while exams are important they are not everything. Your worth as a person is not tested by any examination.'

Barriers 'not desirable'

Speaking in the Dáil about the possibility of re-introducing third level fees, the Minister said it is not desirable for barriers to introduced that would harm access to higher education.

He said he is asking the HEA to other ways of funding to avoid the possibility of bringing back fees.

The Minister said every service comes with a price and the country has lost its economic sovereignty and control of its cheque book.

He said Michael Collins - the State's first finance minister - had more room for manoeuvre than Michael Noonan has today.

Quinn to meet book publishers

Minister Quinn has said he will meet with publishers of school books to discuss the apparent large mark-ups and high costs of their products.

He said traditionally the Department of Education said it had no role to play in the issue, but he said he intends to change that.

The Minister said he sympathised with families who have to pay a substantial price for school books.

He was replying to a question from Fianna Fáil's Brendan Smith, who said it hass been suggested that there's 'unwarranted profiteering' going on in the industry.

Both politicians agreed that schools also have a role to play to ensure the costs of books are reduced.