Friday 25 May 2018

Union reps enjoy five-star trip

Seminar at top hotel after Dail protest against special needs assistants cutbacks

Anne-Marie Walsh

UNION representatives enjoyed a five-star trip at an estimated cost of €10,000 immediately after a Dail protest against drastic cuts facing special needs assistants, the Irish Independent has learnt.

Members of IMPACT's special needs assistants branch committee travelled to the luxurious Europe Hotel in Killarney for an event, funded by members, following the demonstration the week before last.

The 11 union representatives went to the upmarket golf and spa hotel to attend a one-day training seminar and stayed up to three nights. Some were accompanied by family members.

Nine members of the group availed of an optional boat trip on the lakes of Killarney.

Insiders last night vented their frustration that the subscriptions of vulnerable workers and other union members were spent on the trip.

"It is laughable that the representatives of those who care for the most vulnerable members of our society should drive to a five-star hotel with little reason," one special needs assistant, who did not want to be named, said.

"Why could these issues not have been dealt with when they were in Dublin? Special needs assistants are losing their jobs all the time and new recruits have taken a 10pc pay cut."

Their union subscriptions are based on 0.8pc of their basic salary, or 80 cent for every €100 they earn.


The group travelled to the seminar after a march last Wednesday week by more than 700 assistants to special needs children and their parents over feared cutbacks to services in the new school term.

Some special needs assistants, whose pay starts at just €12.50 an hour, have had their working weeks slashed to just five hours and face further cutbacks and job losses due to a government cap on numbers.

IMPACT confirmed the "one-day end-of-year branch training and planning seminar" took place last Thursday week and was paid out of union coffers. However, the union refused to disclose how much it cost.

When asked why it did not opt for a cheaper hotel, the union said its members could only claim back a set rate on expenses no matter how much the room cost. It also said it had negotiated a discount with the hotel.

The union rejected claims it paid for the full cost of the hotel.

IMPACT stated that those who stayed a third night did so at their own expense, while extra family members paid their own expenses in full.

The union confirmed that 11 members of the branch committee travelled to the seminar after the march that ended at around 5pm last Wednesday week.

It said they were addressed by a psychologist the following morning and IMPACT assistant general secretary Stephen O'Neill in the afternoon.

There was a separate hour-long meeting that night with deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan.

A union spokesman said the training and planning event took place from 10am to 5pm, but up to nine people -- a mix of delegates and family members -- who were not involved in one of the training modules went on a "privately arranged" boat ride.

Sources said the lake jaunt began at around 3.30pm.

It is understood the group was made up of delegates from counties including Cork, Meath, Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Dublin and Tipperary; and their guests included four husbands, two sisters and two children.

The special needs branch has previously held its end-of-year sessions at the same venue.

Rooms in the stunning 187-bed hotel, which cost more than €200 a night, have either lake or golf course views.

It boasts a variety of sumptuous suites, five restaurants and bars and a large spa.

"All rooms are finished to the highest standard and include satellite television, fully stocked mini-bar, soft bathrobes and slippers," says the hotel's website.

Irish Independent

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