EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn got the silent treatment from teachers today when he addressed a conference and warned that small and rural schools could fact cuts and that the gravity of the fiscal crisis is not fully understood.
About 40 angry teachers from these schools held a silent protest as Mr Quinn addressed the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) in Killarney, Co Kerry.
Other delegates held up posters and placards to highlight the roles that these schools play in rural society.
Mr Quinn warned that small and rural schools could face cuts.
He said there are limits on the number of teaching posts the Government can afford to fund, pointing out that 80pc of the current education budget is allocated to pay and pensions.
"This Government has protected education as much as it can," said Mr Quinn.
"Far greater reductions in the number of public servants are being made in other sectors relative to those in schools. But there are limits on the number of teaching posts we can afford."
The minister was speaking to delegates at the annual congress of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation - the union for primary school teachers.
He will also speak at the Association of Secondary Teachers congress today, before addressing the Teachers' Union of Ireland tomorrow.
Mr Quinn said that while the Government recognises the importance of small schools in the community and particularly in rural areas, "this does not mean that small schools can stand still or never have their staffing levels changed to something that is more affordable and sustainable in difficult and challenging times".
"Teachers in small schools cannot be immune from the requirement that is being asked of all public servants to deliver our public services on a reduced level of resources."
Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John MacGabhann said Government moves to cut teacher allowances would be in breach of the Croke Park Agreement.
He argued that cuts in education are continuing to affect the most vulnerable and schools that are already disadvantaged.
"If the Government departs from the commitments not to cut pay or to make members redundant, then all bets are off," warned Mr MacGabhann.
"Allowances are an intrinsic, indivisible part of teachers' pay. Teachers' pay is protected by the Croke Park Agreement. A cut in teachers' pay would constitute a breach of the Croke Park Agreement."
The agreement, between the Government and public sector workers, was made in 2010. The former promised no further reductions in workers' pay rates from 2010 to 2014 and no compulsory redundancies.
In exchange, public servants agreed to be flexible in their work to change the way the public service runs, to help improve how it works while reducing costs.