Friday 15 December 2017

Conferences provide the opportunity for everyone's viewpoints to be heard

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

RUAIRI Quinn was asked yesterday if he wasn't at the teacher conferences next Easter where would he be. He didn't hesitate to say Roundstone (Co Galway), a favoured holiday destination.

The thing is, Ruairi Quinn wants to be at the teacher conferences next year.

For starters, it will mean that he has survived the reshuffle and has retained his role as Minister for Education and Skills. But there are other reasons too.

Despite the often bruising encounters between ministers and delegates about the controversial policy issues of the day, a lot of business gets done at conferences.

The megaphone diplomacy that often characterises relations between ministers and unions – and brought to a new art form by one ASTI delegate this week – is only one side of the story.

What newspaper readers and radio and television audiences don't witness is how these gatherings provide useful space for informal contacts between the various stakeholders in education.

Conferences work for all concerned.

Delegates may not like what a minister has to say, but at least they are hearing it out of his or her own mouth. And this gives them the chance to let their views be known first hand.

TUI delegates lapped it up for a full 53 minutes yesterday as their president Gerard Cruaghwell told the minister to his face the error of his ways.

As well as the delegates, their union leaders and the minister, the regulars at a typical education conference represent a who's who of the movers and shakers in the sector.

If you want to know what is really going on and where there might be scope for a bit of movement here, or a slight shift in policy there, there is often a lot more to be gleaned in chats over lunch or dinner, or even a glass of wine on the fringes of a conference than in formal meetings in the Department of Education headquarters in Marlborough Street.

So there would be a lot of disappointment if this annual ritual was to change, not least in Marlborough Street.

Irish Independent

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