Saturday 21 October 2017

Widespread school closures are now inevitable next week

Teachers from Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, (from left) Jennifer Kelly, Carol O’Leary and Gemma McInerney protesting for pay equality for young teachers at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Teachers from Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, (from left) Jennifer Kelly, Carol O’Leary and Gemma McInerney protesting for pay equality for young teachers at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Widespread second-level school closures on Monday and beyond are now inevitable as talks in the dispute over the teachers' pay row drags on with no sign of progress.

Up to 250,000 students, and their parents, all over the county are facing massive disruption and uncertainty as the mid-term break comes to an end.

Hundreds of schools face indefinite closure if members of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) go ahead with their plan to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties on Monday.

While the ASTI has told teachers to turn up for work on Monday, their lack of availability for supervision and substitution raises health and safety issues, forcing up to 500 schools to close indefinitely.

Some schools are set to open on a partial basis, such as mornings only or exam classes only.

Many schools that will manage to open on Monday will close on Tuesday for the second in a series of one-day strikes, also involving the ASTI.

The ASTI action will cripple the second-level education system, with about two in three schools expected to be hit by some form of closure from next week.

Discussions between senior officials of the Department of Education and ASTI leaders continued for a third consecutive day yesterday, without any breakthrough.

There is no arrangement for further talks today, as the ASTI has internal business, including a meeting of its governing body, its 23-member standing committee, which will be briefed on discussions to date.

Contacts between the sides are expected to resume this evening and talks are likely over the weekend.

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne challenged Education Minister Richard Bruton in the Dáil yesterday about the impasse and said there was "considerable confusion" among students and parents about what was going to happen next week.

He asked why the Government had not taken the opportunity last week to respond to a request from ASTI president Ed Byrne for a commitment to restore pay equality for young teachers.

"Who could be against equal pay scales? It can't be a negotiating tactic, surely," said Mr Byrne.

Mr Byrne said there was "considerable merit" in the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) - which started the process of post-austerity pay restoration in the public service - the rejection of which by the ASTI is at the root of the dispute.

Mr Bruton said they were "working really hard" to try to find a resolution to the dispute and said he had tried hard to explain the benefits that were on the table for the ASTI.

Irish Independent

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