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Restless Ruairi forced to endure an epic 51-minute scolding

The last of the 'Bold Triangle' to be visited by Ruairi Quinn – the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) – wasn't particularly impressed by the carry-on of the two other unions during the Education Minister's speeches on Tuesday.

It had all gone a bit Bash Street Kids at the INTO and ASTI conferences in Cork and Wexford respectively, with rowdy scenes involving jeers and boos and red cards and uncomplimentary posters.

And so before Ruairi arrived into the hall in the Clayton Hotel in Galway yesterday afternoon, the TUI's general secretary John MacGabhann issued a warning to the 450 delegates crammed into the hall.

He appealed to the members to desist from rattling Ruairi by holding aloft any of the posters lurking around the room which declared 'No to Croke Park: 86%, No to Labour: 4.5%' – "in the absolute spirit of democracy that this union stands for and holds dear", he urged.

The fact that the union has given a resounding clip around the ear to the Government, with 86pc of its members rejecting the proposed Croke Park II deal is, he insisted, "the bell-clear eloquence of an overwhelming vote".

When the minister entered the room he was met with a silence which managed to be both stony and disapproving, with merely a small handful of buachailli agus cailini dana holding up placards.

Even references to the reviled Croke Park proposal failed to raise a hackle or a heckle, and Ruairi was left undisturbed until a couple of minutes from the end of his speech when he veered off-script and began to talk about the Chinese.

"Let me give you one statistic, because it rocked my head when I heard it: by 2020 there will be more young educated graduate students in China than there will be in the total combined of similarly educated students in Europe and the United States," he declared.

"So what?" shouted one unimpressed muinteoir.

"So what it means is the world in which we have to earn our living is totally changed and the dominance that Europe had had for the last 500 years is over and we're going to have to earn our way in the world," retorted a feisty Ruairi, as a hubbub rose from the floor before it was quickly hushed.

But alas for the minister, he wasn't getting away that lightly. For then it was the turn of the TUI President Gerry Craughwell who had a couple of (hundred) things to get off his chest on behalf of the TUI's 14,000-plus members.

For 51 minutes, Gerry got stuck into Ruairi and the Government – albeit with that opening disclaimer, "It's not personal, minister, it's business" – before giving him a less-than-hearty welcome.

"It's very difficult for us to welcome to our annual congress you, or any minister, from a government that is hell-bent on driving a coach and four through our conditions of service again and again and again," he declared.

"The chilling zeal with which the present Government is cosseting the elite few at the expense of the vulnerable many, suggests the complete abandonment of principles," he added.

Gerry's reservoir of grievances was bottomless (and seemingly endless). But it was a crowd-pleaser, and four times the delegates rose to give him a standing cheering ovation.

Ruairi, on the other hand, had the semi-resigned, semi-irritated expression of a restless lad trapped in double maths on a sunny Friday afternoon.

He shrugged. "This is democracy in action. It is people holding their public representatives and their office-holders to account.

"It's a listening exercise – I don't necessarily always like what I hear, but I need to listen to it."

The teachers had a good moan, and then headed off for a spot of golf, or whatever. Sure they're in no hurry home – school's out 'til next week, after all.

Irish Independent