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Sunday 19 November 2017

Discontent in ASTI grows as members demand clarity on dispute strategy

Jacqueline Kearns, Dublin, and Denyse Hughes, Dundalk, attending the conference.
Photo: Don MacMonagle
Jacqueline Kearns, Dublin, and Denyse Hughes, Dundalk, attending the conference. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Growing demands from rank-and-file secondary teachers for clarity on their union's dispute strategy forced a special debate at the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI).

Normal business of the conference was suspended for much of the afternoon after several delegates spoke strongly of their need to be able to go back to school and tell colleagues "what we are doing".

A number of delegates also gave examples from their own schools of how the ASTI is losing members as the current dispute drags on.

The ASTI is the only public service union not to have accepted the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and is also refusing to co-operate with junior cycle reforms.

As a result of being outside the LRA, ASTI members are not benefiting from a range of past-austerity pay restoration measures and newly qualified teachers in the union also have to wait longer for a permanent contract.

The mood among delegates prompted a move by Noel Buckley, a member of the union's central executive committee, and a critic of the current ASTI strategy, to seek a special debate, in a private session.

He received overwhelming support, although it was opposed by several members of the ASTI governing body, its 23-member Standing Committee, who saw it as an attempt to overturn current policy.

Standing committee member Mark Walshe said a similar debate at a meeting of the executive committee in April was roundly defeated. He said the members had recently voted 52.5pc to reject proposals.

Analysis: Absent 'silent majority' speaking the loudest

Several delegates said their support for a special debate did not necessarily mean they wanted a different strategy, although in the opening session of the conference on Tuesday, it was clear there were tensions within the ranks about the wisdom of its go-it-alone policy.

One of those supporting the special debate, Brian O'Donoghue of the East Cork branch, said he wanted to fight but he wanted to be led. He said teachers had been crying - and screaming at him - this year.

He said they are concerned there was "no plan, no direction. We have lost up to 15 members in the last few months".

Anne-Marie Daly (Cork South), who works in a dual union school, said the number of ASTI members in her school had gone from 47 last September to 19 now.

David Flynn (Enniscorthy)said when he returned to school next week "the first thing people will ask me is what are the ASTI going to do, that is why I am supporting this motion. It is important to iron out".

Arising from the special debate, the Standing Committee was given the task of drawing up motions for debate at the conference today to reflect the flavour of the discussion.

In another sign of tensions within the union, earlier yesterday a delegate raised an issue about an internal dispute, which may see the union's staff taking strike action after a refusal by ASTI leadership to attend talks in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Elaine Devlin, Dundalk, took the opportunity of a debate on staffing in schools to say it was worrying to read about how attempts by ASTI staff to get into the WRC were being ignored. "It is very important that people at convention are seen to support the excellent staff in head office," she said.

Irish Independent

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