Alarm at drop in ASTI membership to lowest in 15 years

Internal union report shows number of serving teachers at lowest level since 1995

Membership of country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years, according to an internal report.

This drop occurred last year during a dispute between the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Government, which triggered pay losses for thousands of members.

The report, drawn up recently for the union’s executive or standing committee, shows membership fell “significantly” by almost 2,000.

This saw overall numbers drop from 18,373 in 2016 to 16,440 last year, a 10 per cent decrease. This is the lowest membership recorded since 2003.


When retired members are excluded and numbers are based on serving teachers , the contraction is “even more alarming”, the report notes.

This shows membership has fallen from 16,943 in 2016 to 14,909 last year, a 12 per cent drop. This is the lowest number of serving teachers recorded since 1995.

The fall-off in membership comes as the ASTI is in dispute with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) over claims that some of its members were “poached”.

Under industrial relations rules, rival unions are not permitted to hire members from each other during a dispute.

The TUI’s membership increased by at least 1,200 last year, according to Department of Education figures on the number of subscriptions taken at source from teachers’ salaries .

Financial penalties

The TUI was not in dispute with the Government last year and its members were unaffected by these financial penalties. It has rejected claims that it knowingly hired ASTI members.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has confirmed that it recently established a special committee under its disputes procedures to deal with a complaint that had been made by the ASTI.

The ASTI’s internal report notes that the only membership categories to rise were retired teachers and those on leave.

This had the effect of accelerating the trend of retired members forming a growing proportion of the ASTI’s membership.

They represented 9.3 per cent of the union’s total members at the end of last year, up from 7.9 per cent in 2016.

Retired members account for a significant proportion of members at the union’s annual conference – anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent .

Such “emeritus” members are entitled to vote on most issues, with the exception of ballots on industrial action.

Overall, membership fell across most classes of membership such as full members (down 10 per cent), part-time holders of permanent contracts (down 14 per cent), associate members (down 23 per cent).

Striking differences

When the drops in membership are analysed by individual branch, there are some striking differences.

The biggest year-on-year drop in membership was recorded in Fermoy, Co Cork (32 per cent); followed by Tuam, Co Galway (23 per cent); Tullamore, Co Offaly, and Dublin north central (both down 19 per cent).

Other sharp drops were recorded in Wicklow (20 per cent), east Galway (18 per cent), Cork south and Desmond – the Limerick/Kerry region (both down 17 per cent) and Dundalk, Co Louth (16 per cent).

The only branch to record an increase was New Ross, Co Waterford, where membership rose by just one (up 0.5 per cent) to 184 members.

When the membership is examined by school sector, some of the biggest decreases were recorded in community and comprehensive schools.

Total membership in this category fell from just over 3,500 to 3,079 (down 12 per cent).


Fermoy, Co Cork (-32%)

Tuam, Co Galway (-23%)

Wicklow (-20%)

Tullamore, Co Offaly (-19%)

Dublin north central ( -19%).

East Galway (-18%)

Cork south (-17%)

Desmond [Limerick/Kerry]( -17%)

Dundalk, Co Louth (-16%)

West Mayo (-16%)

Source: ASTI internal report

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent