Quinn receives frosty reception at TUI conference

Minister for Education acknowledges concerns of teachers

Minister for Education  Ruairí Quinn. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 21:09

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn received a frosty if largely courteous response as he addressed over 400 delegates at the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) annual conference this afternoon.

In a wide-ranging speech which broadly echoed his statement to the Asti union yesterday, the Minister addressed teacher and lecturer concerns over new proposals on public service pay and reform, acknowledging that teachers were concerned about an overload of new initiatives.

Delegates largely restrained their anger, with most expressing their opposition to Government policies on public service pay and education by loudly applauding and cheering TUI president Gerard Craughwell’s response to the Minister’s speech. Mr. Craughwell also received a number of standing ovations throughout his speech, during which he said that the TUI had delivered an emphatic rejection of the new Croke Park proposals, and he hoped other unions would follow.

The union’s treatment of the Minister stands in stark contrast to the reception he received at the INTO and Asti conferences yesterday, where he was met by placards, red cards, walkouts, and persistent loud heckling. At the TUI, only two members held up placards, following a reluctant consent by delegates to TUI general secretary John MacGabhann’s request to afford the Minister professional respect. Mr. MacGabhann reminded delegates that they were representing teachers nationwide.

The Minister sat stony-faced as Mr. Craughwell accused the Minister of being concerned with his own posterity and following Fine Gael’s agenda. Mr. Craughwell said the Croke Park proposals were a “sham”, and that he firmly believed trade union members across the country would reject them.

Mr. Quinn was challenged to confirm whether the TUI would be allowed to have a representative on the board of SOLAS – the new further education and higher education authority which is set to replace FÁS – to which the Minister responded simply and emphatically: “No.”

Earlier, the Minister said that, or too long, the State had treated the further education and training as “the backwater of the education system”, and that SOLAS would change this.

The Minister also confirmed that legislation to restructure Education and Training Boards, which will see a reduction in the number of vocational educational committees from 33 to 16, will be introduced by May.

Closing his speech, Mr. Quinn said that there was “no alternative” to the current Government policies, at which point he was interrupted by some heckling and boos. However, the Minister clarified that he was referring to the need to build a “new economy, because by 2020 there will be more young educated graduates in China than in the entire third-level systems of Europe and the United States combined.”

The TUI’s President also hit out at the trade union movement. To sustained applause, he said that they were complicit in negotiating a further billion euro of cuts for its membership. “The trade union movement seems to be in thrall with their captors, suffering from Munchausen’s Syndrome,” he said. Yesterday, the TUI voted not to re-enter any negotiations on the new Croke Park proposals and not to be bound by any vote of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) when it meets on April 17yj.

Returning to the Minister, Mr. Craughwell cited a 2010 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) which said that spending on education was essential in times of recession, adding that “wages are an essential part of education.”

He welcomed Mr Quinn’s announcement of a new admission system for second-level, which will prevent schools from implementing selective enrolment policies but, in a further jibe against state support for fee-paying schools, said he hoped it would “come with a grant so they can send their children to private schools.”

Mr. Craughwell also hit out at proposals for Junior Cert reform, argued against the casualisation of the teaching and lecturing profession, and criticised proposals to reduce the pupil teacher ratio in the further education sector.

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