Long summer? Country's secondary students could face school closures in September
More than half the country's second-level students could be facing school closures from September after a teachers' union voted to stop working an extra hour a week.
Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) have voted by a majority of more than two to one - 69pc to 31pc - to withdraw from the 33 'Croke Park hours', in a move that puts them on a direct collision course with the Government.
If the row is not resolved, schools will return in September to a highly volatile situation that could quickly lead to closures.
The ASTI is the sole or dominant union in about 375 voluntary secondary schools, and also has members in 96 community and comprehensive schools.
The 17,000-member union has already rejected the Lansdowne Road public service pay and productivity agreement, and this ballot result represents a further hardening of its position. If its members are outside the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) - and also refuse to carry out certain duties - they will miss out on pay restoration measures and lose certain protections.
According to the Department of Education, if teachers withdraw from the 33 hours they will be deemed to have repudiated the LRA, which has been accepted by practically all public service unions.
The immediate impact would be felt in teachers' pockets, with, for instance, no restoration of supervision and substitution allowances - half of the annual payment of €1,592 is due in September 2016 - and a continuation of increment freezes.
In the medium to longer term, some teachers could also face compulsory redundancy if they are in a school with surplus teacher numbers or in a school closure situation.
There was a swift response from Education Minister Richard Bruton, with his spokesperson warning of "the implications for individual teachers, and the implications for major disruption for students and schools from September if the ASTI proceeds with the proposed action".
The spokesperson said it was a matter of "regret that the ASTI has not as of yet accepted an invitation to meet with the department to discuss their issues of concern, however this invitation remains open".
ASTI president Máire Ní Chiarba said the ballot result was a very strong statement from ASTI members to the Government that they were determined to reclaim their terms and conditions following years of cuts and reduced resources.
In relation to the Croke Park hours, she said members viewed them as unproductive and as having a negative impact on students' education.
The union was furious when the department posted information on its website ahead of the ballot claiming that the union was not providing a full picture of all the consequences.
That triggered a move by the ASTI leadership to call for a 'Yes' vote.
The turnout was 76pc, much higher than recent ASTI ballots - this is attributed to a decision to conduct the ballots in schools, rather than sending the voting papers to members' homes.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), which also represents second-level teachers, as well as lecturers in institutes of technology, has also rejected the LRA.
However, following discussions with the Department of Education, the union is now putting it to a new ballot, with a recommendation to accept.