One determined protester doesn't miss a beat as sound of samba fills the air

 

IT WAS all about timing outside the Radisson Blue in Sligo yesterday as protesters lined up to get their issues into the sunlight.

A 30-strong group of newly qualified teachers had samba drummers, matching T-shirts, banners and balloons at the ready. However, the Minister arrived an hour early – just as the activists were kicking back in the glorious Sligo sunshine. Mr Quinn was out of the car and into the lobby long before a placard was waved.

Oops.

A slightly less organised group of parents and children profited from the mix-up and found themselves in the right place at the right time as Mr Quinn took to the carpet.

Tracey Holsgrove confronted the new Minister on the issue of special needs assistants. Her ambush was total; there was no room for journalists, newly qualified teachers or anyone else to get a word in – not even the Minister himself, who was (just about) heard to plead: “I’ve only been in the job for five weeks.”

This didn’t cut mustard with the dozen or so parents who had travelled with their children to Sligo to protest at the planned cap on special needs resources in September. The group claims to represent 2,200 Facebook friends who joined the cause after hearing Celine Ronan, mother of a five-year-old boy with Asberger syndrome, on Joe Duffy two weeks ago.

“We have dreams for our son,” said Fionn’s father, who brought the boy to Sligo yesterday. “We want him to go to university, not into care.” The Minister and the demonstrators moved from the drone of the samba drums through the bar where a traditional Irish string band continued the soundtrack.

Despite the difficult doorstep challenge, the new Minister was greeted warmly in the convention room. He settled down for a bit of break before speaking, little did he know the break would stretch to an hour as INTO president Jim Higgins took listeners on a tour of education that was lán le Gaeilge, Yeats, history and heart.

Mr Quinn obviously enjoyed the class and asked if he could send a copy to his muinteoir mates – Howlin, Enda and Noonan. His own speech was light on optimism and high on brutal honesty as he basically told teachers to expect nothing and do more with it. Nobody was surprised.

By the time Caitríona Ruane MLA took to the podium a significant number of delegates had drifted into the bar and were drowning their sorrows. Before they got too morose, however, the fiddler struck up again and the mood lightened. Overall, Sligo is doing its best to challenge the gloom with sunshine, music and pints-a-flowing.

You can only stay angry so long with a pint in hand and view of Inismulclohy in the sun. As Yeats himself said, too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart.