ASTI warns of ballot on Croke Park agreement


SECONDARY SCHOOL teachers have warned that if reports of cuts to teachers’ allowances prove to be true, the union will ballot its members for a withdrawal from the Croke Park agreement.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) president Brendan Broderick, speaking at the union’s annual conference in Cork, condemned the “relentless denigration” of teachers and accused the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition of offering “no real change in ideology or response to the economic downturn”.

He called on the Government to honour its side of the Croke Park agreement which, he said, many ASTI members had endorsed with “a heavy heart”. His call for a ballot on withdrawal from the agreement was met with a standing ovation from delegates.

A muted protest met the arrival of Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn at the convention when about 20 protesters held up placards and red cards around the hall. About eight delegates walked out.

There was heckling when the Minister thanked delegates for handling the cuts with “No fuss. No drama. No headlines. No shutdowns”. However, he expressed concern that the full scale of Ireland’s economic problems was not yet understood by teachers.

“When I hear appeals at this convention or elsewhere for reversals of budget measures or calls for increased investment in education, it worries me that the gravity of the fiscal crisis is still not fully understood,” he said.

“As you are aware, almost 80 per cent of the current budget in education is allocated to pay and pensions. This Government has protected education as much as it can.”

There were objections to the Minister’s call for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the fiscal compact treaty. In response to heckles, he said there would be “no second time” for the referendum. One delegate accused Mr Quinn of using the convention as a pro-referendum platform.

The conference was also told that proposals to end discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers in schools would be published in the coming weeks. The secondary teachers union has led a campaign to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to remove discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers.

“Our programme for government contains a commitment that we will remove discrimination against gay people, which prevents them from taking up employment as teachers,” Mr Quinn said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power published a draft Bill last February designed to prevent schools from discriminating against gay, lesbian and bisexual teachers. Under current equality legislation, schools are allowed to claim that hiring a homosexual, lesbian or bisexual teacher would undermine their religious ethos.

The Minister told delegates that he was working with Ms Power, and with Senators Ivana Bacik and Katherine Zappone, to achieve progress on the issue.

“In order to move quickly to stamp out such discrimination, I am also in contact with Minister Alan Shatter and the Attorney General, and we will publish proposals in the coming weeks.

“This work to remove discrimination will also be underpinned by the forum on bullying which will take place on May 17th, and which will be supported by a working group on bullying which will initially focus on tackling homophobic bullying.”

On the subject of curriculum reform, the Minister gave assurances that the Junior Cycle reform programmes would be properly resourced.

“I will prioritise this to the best of my ability and despite the crisis in our public finances,” he said.