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Friday 22 August 2014

Megaphone teacher: “I am baffled by everyone's reaction”

Louise Kelly

Published 23/04/2014 | 12:04

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22/04/2014. News. ASTI Conference 2014. Pictured at the ASTI Conference at Whites Hotel, Wexford Town. Pictured are protesters during Minister Ruairí Quinn, T.D. Speech. Picture: Patrick Browne
Andrew Phelan at ASTI Conference 2014

The ASTI delegate who used a megaphone to disrupt Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn's speech yesterday said he was “baffled by some of the responses from the media this morning” - as divisions within the teachers union deepened today.

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Andrew Phelan, a Waterford man teaching PE in Lucan, Dublin told RTE Radio 1 that he believes “more people should be" taking this sort of action.

“What’s so extraordinary about that. Teachers up and down the country are struggling to pay bills. Why is someone taking a megaphone out at a conference so incredible”

Mr Phelan maintains that many of the union members were not interested in inviting Minister Quinn to speak at the conference in the first place.

“There is complete apathy in the trade union at the moment. People are really sick and tired of the government and what the trade union is up to.” 

When questioned as to how he would react to a student of his own producing a megaphone in class, Mr Phelan said “it would entirely depend on the context.”

“I don’t really have many disruptive pupils in my class. I get on very with my students and they get on very well with me.  I’m not one to shout down their neck; I try my best to encourage them and that’s the best that I can do.”

Mr Phelan, a former member of the Socialist party, said he no intention of listening to what Minister Quinn had to say as he had listened to him and other politicians “repeatedly” without solutions.

“This [megaphone incident] is entirely borne of pure frustration. Why should we listen to spin and guff and a pre-rehearsed speech?

All I asked was that [Quinn] take question from the floor. That’s a simple request, that he engage with teachers, in front of the cameras, in front of the media.”

The very reason there’s problems in education, said Mr Phelan, is because of the way society is structured.

“Kids from working class backgrounds are a hell of a lot more disadvantaged than the more privileged students and the government is doing nothing to act.

Their austerity policies are making that gap even bigger and that is having a knock on impact in the education system.

“To paper over that is not going to work. There is a wider societal issue to tackle and the minister needs to answer some of those questions.”

Meanwhile ASTI General Secretary Pat King (63) told delegates gathered for the heated secondary teachers conference in Wexford that it was "nothing short of a tragedy" that a small number of members had "overshadowed" the message the union was trying to put across.

He also told members that through his own role as a teacher union leader he had "been bullied" and "abused" with online death threats through a website.

"Included on a website and left on the website by moderators for several weeks was a clear death threat for me and worst still despicable references to my children and grandchildren," he said, as a teacher shouted "disgraceful" from the room.

Mr King said he had spent several hours trying to explain "how unrepresentative" the heckling in the room during Mr Quinn's speech was of the teaching body as a whole.

During an RTE news segment on the conference broadcast during the Six One news, there was a disagreement between rival factions within the union.

Many members of the union feel that focus has been shifted from education issues such as the reform of the Junior and Leaving cert by recent events.

Further Reading

- I've received death threats, and seen despicable references to my children

- Quinn says teachers heckling 'wasn't very enjoyable'

- Quinn sparks fury of women teachers over honours maths claims

- Quinn drowned out in storm over reforms to Junior Cert

- Government urged to raise salaries of student nurses

- Unions hint at historic merger Teachers are 'terrified' about disclosing their sexuality

- Ruairi's on the naughty step for using the f-word

- Staff have to shore up pay by working in McDonald's

- Students 'stripped of mental health supports'

- Minister refuses to halt cuts at small schools 

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