Cog Notes: ASTI youth outflank militants

Two delegates from Fermoy branch make influential contribution at conference

The dust is still settling after conference season. An alliance of ASTI grandees and left-wing militants suffered a surprise defeat in their bid to have the next general secretary appointed by plebiscite. Success would have required a two-thirds majority, and the ASTI fightback, led by Mark Walshe and "megaphone man" Andrew Phelan, didn't come close, garnering 119 votes in favour to 153 against their motion.

The militants got predictable support from vice-president Ed Byrne, backed by retired ASTI presidents Bernadine O'Sullivan, Sheila Parsons and Pat Cahill. But there were eyebrows raised at president-elect Máire Ní Chiarba voting in favour of the plan, a move that doesn't augur well for her relationship with general secretary Pat King as he winds down his term of office, nor with his successor, who is due to be appointed early next year.

There was some embarrassment for the Trotskyites when delegates pointed out that the plan to re-elect the general secretary on an annual basis would have breached employment law, and ran counter to the union's stance on casualisation. While outgoing president Philip Irwin stayed out of the debate, former presidents Joe Moran and Henry Collins were left to ask the obvious questions.

But, by all accounts, the most influential contribution came from two young delegates from the Fermoy branch – Pa O’Driscoll (a former president of Young Fine Gael) and Richard Terry – who said the general secretary called for a different set of skills to the classroom teacher.


A union concerned about losing touch with its youth might take note of their contribution. There was a lot of talk at the conferences about turning teachers into a “fighting force” against reforms, but young teachers also want a professional outfit batting on their behalf.

The ASTI standing committee is to agree the terms for appointing the next general secretary – and may still impose conditions to narrow the field of applicants.

TUI puts leadership under the spotlight

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland had a lively debate on internal democracy at its annual conference, leading to the narrow defeat of a plan to publish the voting patterns of executive members.

A motion tabled by the IT Tallaght branch asserted that “members have a right to know how executive members vote at executive meetings”. It sought that their voting history be made available to branches on request except where disclosure could compromise ongoing negotiations.

There was fierce debate in private session over the appropriate scope of such a plan and its likely impact on the running of the executive. That the motion was defeated by just a handful of votes was not exactly an expression of confidence in the current leadership.

It’ll be Albright on the night

It may have slipped past many people that Ireland has been appointed along with Kenya to lead international negotiations on the United Nations’ sustainable- development goals, which will set binding targets for countries worldwide in areas such as education, health and social protection.

The Irish Coalition for the Global Campaign for Education, an alliance of teacher unions, development NGOs and other lobby groups, is seeking to kick-start the debate domestically with a conference on Friday, April 24th at the Mansion House in Dublin.

Keynote speaker is Alice Albright, executive director of the Global Partnership for Education, which is partnering with nearly 60 developing country governments on developing educational strategy. Albright, who has served in the banking sector for the Obama administration, is a daughter of Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state under Bill Clinton.

The event also seeks “to alert Irish civil society to the significance of the sustainable-development goals in education for Irish education policy”. For more details email Eileen O’Rourke at

Multicultural debates

The Lantern Intercultural Centre is hosting a series of debates in memory of former lecturer Dr Kieran Flynn, who died last year.

Speakers this evening on the subject of “Freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs” are TCD academics Prof Roja Fazaeli and Dr Rosemary Byrne, Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, and Christ Church Cathedral canon Patrick Comerford.

The series continues on April 28th and May 5th, addressing issues of Muslim-Christian dialogue and the participation of Muslims in public life in Ireland. It takes place at Lantern Centre, 15 Synge Street, Dublin, 7.30pm-9.30pm.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column