Wednesday 16 January 2019

Fiach Kelly: Out of the frying pan ... Quinn mauled by two unions in a day

IT WASN'T so much the forest of placards that Eamon Gilmore predicted Labour would face in government, but more a hanging basket of banners.

A hardcore of ASTI protesters -- calling themselves 'ASTI Fightback' -- greeted Education Minster Ruairi Quinn as he stepped into the conference hall for his second teacher's conference of the day.

The dozen or so delegates stood with their placards and stared, while sheepishly waving red cards. One of their number then remembered they were supposed to be protesting and emitted a half-hearted "shame" in the minister's direction.

But if the small group he encountered entering the hall of the Silver Springs Hotel fooled Mr Quinn into believing that he would get an easy ride, he was quickly disabused of such notions.

Gone was the warm reception he had received at the teacher's conferences last year, when he was just settling into the job.

After the INTO had delivered a roughing-up to the minister in Killarney yesterday morning, the ASTI went for a full-on mauling in the afternoon.

"In Ireland we had a change in Government without any real change in ideology or response to our economic downturn," said union president Brendan Broderick, before warning that any changes to teacher's allowances would mean a possible withdrawal from the Croke Park agreement.

Mr Quinn looked glumly on, but was given a round of applause before he got up to speak.

"Of course there are emergencies," he told the teachers. "But you respond to them. And you solve them. No fuss. No drama. No headlines."

But plenty of moans.

"I salute you for the work that you do and the hope you inspire in your pupils, despite our present economic circumstances."

Joined by sarcastic groans.

"When I hear appeals at this conference or elsewhere for reversals of budget measures or calls for increased investment in education, it worries me that the gravity of the fiscal crisis is still not understood."

And that peach brought on hoots, at least one "f**ck's sake" and, it being Easter week, a battery of "Jesuses".

If that hadn't annoyed delegates enough, Mr Quinn then enthusiastically stumped for a Yes vote in the upcoming fiscal compact referendum.

"You are making a referendum speech -- you are abusing your platform," said one delegate. Another roared: "If we get it wrong, will we vote a second time?"

No, Mr Quinn replied, because we have no EU veto over the fiscal compact treaty.

But at the end of it all, he was still given a round of applause. He has long way to go until he gets the silent treatment, but yesterday was a start in being hated.

Irish Independent

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