Quinn shown red card at INTO congress

Primary teachers vent anger at cutbacks with jeering, heckles and sarcastic laughter

Teachers of primary school children failed to present  a birthday card to the Minister for Education and instead gave him the red card at the INTO conference in Cork. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Teachers of primary school children failed to present a birthday card to the Minister for Education and instead gave him the red card at the INTO conference in Cork. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 15:57

INTO president Anne Fay may have wished Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn a happy birthday during her welcoming remarks, but that was as good as it got for the 67-year-old Labour TD during his 30-minute address to primary teachers at the INTO congress in Cork.

Instead of a birthday card from the INTO, Mr Quinn was shown the red card as a majority of the 800 delegates at the conference held up 10cm by 15cm crimson cards detailing the various cutbacks teachers and education have suffered since 2010.

Not that Mr Quinn was too fazed, later remarking he had endured worse at Labour Party conferences - but even allowing for the pantomime nature of teachers’ conferences, with the Minister cast as the villain, there could be little underestimating the anger felt by delegates.

In 2011, Mr Quinn came over all visionary when he evoked Martin Luther King at a TUI conference in Tralee - but two years later, even the less militant INTO are weary of cutbacks and cynical about ministerial promises and pledges.

"We must have the bravery to imagine the classrooms of the future," declared Ruairí, only for his attempt at the vision thing to be roundly rebuffed by a resounding chorus of guffaws that eloquently captured the mood among Ireland’s primary teachers.

The jeers, heckles and sarcastic laughter reached such levels that at least twice Ms Fay had to call for a bit of ciúnas, reminding delegates that INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan would be responding on their behalf and getting their spake in.

The only time Mr Quinn managed to get any applause was when he pledged to deliver on repealing Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 which the INTO has argued has discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual teachers.

"I look forward to seeing an end to this discrimination and I pay tribute to the INTO for ensuring that this matter remains on the political agenda," said Mr Quinn, who looked almost startled at the warm round of applause he received.

But the respite was temporary. His ill-judged attempt at a bit of solidarity when addressing delegates as "comrades in education" provoked the loudest sarcastic laugh of the day.

Even Ministers for Education, it seems, still have things to learn.