Minister blamed as classroom assistants walk out
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane was on the ropes last night as thousands of classroom assistants were preparing to take industrial action today over a 13-year pay and grading dispute.
As eleventh hour talks between the unions and the education boards last night failed to resolve the longest-running dispute of its kind in Ulster, the chairman of the Stormont Education Committee accused Ms Ruane of incompetence and said she was failing pupils in mainstream schools.
"It is breathtaking that she has failed to act on this issue and is another example of where she is hoping that by magic the problem will fix itself," said the DUP's Sammy Wilson.
"People say I am just attacking for political gain but it isn't just me. I have never heard the unions criticise a Minister the way they have been expressing their dissatisfaction about the Education Minister.
"I think she has completely lost control. That's perfectly clear when her own officials are sending out letters on her behalf that she doesn't know about. They're clearly not getting any sense out of her."
Mr Wilson continued: "She hasn't kept the promises she made to the Assembly on Monday. She has no understanding of the issues and she has made no attempt to find out what additional money is available, which is what is going to ease this situation."
Mr Wilson's comments came after representatives of Nipsa launched a blistering attack on the Minister and challenged her to a public debate on the issues surrounding the industrial action.
It remained unclear last night exactly how the planned one day strike would affect Ulster's schools, with many refusing to officially close their doors to pupils.
However, without qualified staff the majority of special schools across Ulster were advising parents to keep their children out of school today. Pupils at mainstream schools requiring assistance were also being advised to remain at home.
John Mason, head of human resources at the South Eastern Education and Library Board, last night confirmed that while none of the 10 special schools within its cachment area would be officially closed, they had informed the Board it would not be safe for pupils to attend school today.
None of the other Boards were last night able to say how many schools would be affected by the strike action but said they had issued guidelines to all schools who had informed parents whether children should attend classes today.
If no resolution is found, classroom assistants will walk out for a three-day period from October 2, with all-out strike action starting on October 8.