Joe O’Toole: Demise of the Lansdowne Road agreement greatly exaggerated

ASTI nearly took door off hinges in their rush to get back into parlour of conciliation

Don’t believe that tosh about Lansdowne Road being dead in the water. Not a bit of it. The truth is that Lansdowne Road is only getting its second wind. And it will need all that because there is plenty of heavy lifting ahead.

Oh yes, commentators are lining up to tell us that the Garda deal breached the agreement. Opposition politicians are telling us it is finished.

Last week, the Government, sounding somewhat unconvinced themselves, coined the phrase that the Lansdowne agreement was the only game in town.

This week, the Government, sounding slightly desperate, insisted that Lansdowne was fit for purpose.


The Government is lucky. The fact is that the State's highest arbiter of industrial Relations, the Labour Court, took the Government off the hook when it stated on the record last week that the Garda deal was within the parameters of the Lansdowne agreement. That is the end of the de jure debate. Lansdowne lives!

It just might be more rubbery and bouncy and flexible than we thought but you know, we’ll learn to live with that and the smart ones will exploit it.

The Government needs the Lansdowne agreement. And analysis of the ASTI situation illustrates that.

All three teacher unions – ASTI, INTO and TUI – set out with identical objectives seeking equality for newly qualified teachers and full pay restoration. Eventually they had squeezed an offer from Government.

It was progress, a step on the road and it would put some money in the pockets of young teachers especially. The INTO and TUI decided to trouser the money on the table on the strict written understanding that they would continue to fight and campaign for full restoration.

ASTI, however, inexplicably decided to strike out alone and continue the campaign without taking the money on the table. They walked away from the collegiality of the INTO and TUI and the shelter of the wider public sector unions within the Lansdowne agreement.

Unfortunately, while going it alone they have shown no evidence of having a coherent strategy to deliver their demands.

This week we saw so much energy expiated on presenting a massively solid strike day. They delivered that in spades with maximum effectiveness and wall-to-wall media coverage. But that was Tuesday. The day after the strike is like the day after the wedding. Bit of a downer. People are running on empty. Questions are what now and what next?

They had backed themselves into a corner and presenting their increasingly uncomfortable membership with the bleak prospect of more strikes and significant salary losses.

And public support was drifting away.

Parents are generally well disposed towards teachers but try explaining that the school closure on Monday was not connected to the strike on Tuesday and that the campaign against the junior cert reform is something else entirely.

No wonder the public were confused. The 30-second rule that a union’s grievance, its campaign of action and proposal for resolution be whittled down to fit a half-minute slot on the Six One news was forgotten.

Post-strike, the ASTI were thrashing about for an escape route. There were hints in the media from them and others about bringing in a third party mediator or the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). That would have been a disaster for the Government.

The handling of the dispute had to be kept within structures recognised by Lansdowne. A third party or the WRC would be waving the white flag to opponents of the agreement.

It was then that Government took the initiative and invited the ASTI to come into the parlour of conciliation and you’d have to say that that they nearly took the door off the hinges in their rush to get in.

So now the ASTI is back in the fold, back to where it all started, sitting in conciliation snuggled up with with the INTO and the TUI. Conciliation, of course, can’t breach the terms of Lansdowne so all is well there.

Meanwhile, the public services committee of the ICTU will undoubtedly be entering into talks with the Government. Yesterday’s announcement by Siptu, that it will ballot its 60,000 public service members for strike action unless the Government agrees to early talks on a new pay deal, makes this a certainty.

Those talks will be more about “whither Lansdowne” rather than “Lansdowne is dead”.

The opinion formers within the public sector unions will be quietly testing the waters through the traditional back channels. Those unions shouting loudest over the past week about the Garda deal will be told to lodge their claims through the Lansdowne processes.

The ASTI are upstanding members of the public services committee so they will be around the table too. Factor in also that every one of the ASTI issues can be addressed within the Lansdowne agreement as proven by the INTO and TUI.

So, far from being a problem, the Lansdowne agreement can gift wrap the solution!

Joe O’Toole is a former senator and past president of the ICTU