Scowls speak louder than howls in frosty reception for Minister


A lone cry of ‘treason’ at the mention of further ‘adjustments’ to public expenditure was all that cut the silence that greeted Mary Coughlan’s speech, writes LOUISE HOLDEN

THERE WAS an eerie silence as Mary Coughlan walked into the West County Hotel yesterday. One distracted TUI delegate standing in the doorway was momentarily star struck and raised his hands to clap but quickly masked the gesture with a stroke of his beard.

Amid worries that extreme elements in the union might combust, the TUI presented a united and very cold front to the new Minister.

It could have gone either way.

By midday there was a marked rise in temperature in the hall as delegates began limbering up for Coughlan’s arrival.

“We are not overpaid babysitters!” shouted an angry Michelle Walshe from Ballyfermot College.

“We have been asked to take one step back to take two steps forward. There’s not enough room in our overcrowded classrooms to do this little dance,” said a hot-under-the-collar Bernie Ruane, TUI vice-president.

The executive tried hard to quash suggestions for a suitable Minister’s welcome from the podium, but delegates used motions on everything from lab assistance to high-speed broadband to cloak calls to action (and inaction) on the Minister’s arrival.

More coals were thrown on to the fire. “We don’t want another Celtic Tiger. We don’t want to pay for anyone’s pink palaces or private jets.

“We will not tolerate the yellow packing of the teaching profession . . . We do not want any more talk of pampered teachers in the media.”

The speakers were crackling but as local gardaí started to appear at the doors Peter MacMenamin, TUI general secretary, doused the flames.

“I fully understand the desire to protest but for pragmatic reasons let’s give the Minister a respectful welcome today,” he soothed. “As a union you have got yourselves into prime position – a position of leadership. There is only one direction we can go.”

Silence fell. Scowls spoke louder than howls as the Minister took to the podium. The teachers remained schtum throughout her speech apart from a lone cry of “treason!” when she mentioned further “adjustments” of €3 billion to expenditure on the public service.

The ice did not melt as Coughlan finished her speech and returned to her seat, but as president Don Ryan stood up to speak the delegates couldn’t contain themselves any longer. If they couldn’t boo the Minister they were bloody well going to big-up the president.

And he didn’t disappoint. Delegates jumped up for ovation after ovation as Ryan gave Coughlan an absolute roasting.

“This is totally and absolutely your fault, Minister, and your Government’s fault,” said an incandescent Ryan, referring to the collapse of the economy. “Treacherous behaviour has been going on for decades in this country, mostly under the watch of a political party of which you are now the deputy leader.”

When Coughlan tried to jump out of the frying pan she landed straight into fiery public servant with the head of Seán FitzPatrick. It must have felt like a bad dream.

Out in the corridor there was more to come. Angry delegates topped with “No to Nama” placards got a bit hot and heavy and had to be removed by gardaí.

Coughlan managed to keep a cool head throughout but as she climbed the stairs to a stuffy press room she could be heard letting off some steam at photographers.

Wouldn’t you if you’d just been scalded for bringing down an economy?