McHugh gets mixed response from Irish teachers during Gulf visit

Minister for Education visits United Arab Emirate as part of ‘fact-finding’ mission

Irish teachers gave Minister for Education Joe McHugh a mixed reception during his two-day "fact-finding" mission to the United Arab Emirates. according to those who attended meetings.

Mr McHugh met with hundreds of Irish teachers in meetings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday and Thursday this week at a time when many schools in Ireland say they are facing a "crisis" in teacher supply.

The Minister said he was not in the UAE to “recruit teachers or convince anyone to come home” but to see what practical measures could be taken to make a decision to return home easier.

Teachers interviewed by The National newspaper in the UAE following a meeting in Dubai said that while they were glad that their voice was heard, many felt disappointed at the lack of solutions.


"It was worthwhile in the sense that we got to tell the minister what the challenges were that are preventing us from returning home," Karen Kelly, a 34-year-old teacher in Dubai, told the English-language daily newspaper.

“However, it is clear there is still a lot of work to be done if teachers are going to be persuaded to give up what they have here to return back to Ireland.”

Jennifer Forde (29) felt the minister should have offered solutions rather than merely hear what needed to be done.

“He came over here to see us but it felt like we were the ones offering solutions,” Ms Forde told The National.

Aisling Fennell (45) from Raffles World Academy, said she was returning home permanently in July but Thursday's meetings has made her doubt her decision.

“I am starting to think I shouldn’t be based on what I heard tonight,” she said.

David Keating, a 28-year-old-teacher with Raffles World Academy in Dubai, also said he had mixed feelings about the meeting.

“I was already aware of most of the problems we spoke about tonight and it is clear that any progress in attracting teachers back to Ireland is going to be slow,” Mr Keating told the National.

There was criticism by some teachers on social media who said they were told “not to discuss pay inequality” at the meetings.

One teacher, Brian Ó Súilleabháin, tweeted: “We were told not to discuss pay inequality and increments… this is a disgrace that they will not listen to us.”

However, a spokesman for the Minister insisted that “all issues” were up for discussion.

He said a moderator at the start of the Abu Dhabi meeting noted that the issue of pay inequality was due to be discussed in upcoming public sector pay talks.

“Any suggestion that this was being taken off the table is not the case,” he said. “In the end, it was aired openly by some teachers. But there was categorically no suggestion that anything was off the table for discussion.”

The spokesman said the Minister’s position is that there is “unfinished business” on the issue of pay inequality and the issue will be examined in upcoming pay talks.

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