Belfast Telegraph

Enda Kenny 'disappointed' over school closures amid teachers' strike

The Taoiseach has expressed disappointment that more than 500 secondary schools have closed because of strikes by teachers.

However, Enda Kenny told TDs he was hopeful disputes over equal pay and conditions could be resolved.

The Fine Gael leader said: "I am disappointed that this strike has continued. It is not anybody's intention or the intention that the system should penalise ASTI members."

The action by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) comes a day after a separate row over substitution and supervision pay forced almost two-thirds of secondary schools to close.

That dispute centres on the refusal of ASTI members to cover break times, absent colleagues and free periods amid claims that the Government reneged on a deal to resume paying them for the additional duty.

If not resolved it could force schools to close indefinitely for health and safety reasons if trained and vetted replacement staff cannot be secured.

Responding to questions in the Dail, Mr Kenny also rejected claims that the Government and Department of Education had been "lax" in their response.

He said a deal on offer to the ASTI would see pay increases of between 15% and 22% for new entrants to the teaching profession.

"The people who suffer the most now are the 220,000 students, particularly those Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes who do not have the opportunity to avail of the teachers teaching them these days.

"I would hope that the talks that are taking place will continue and that conclusion can be reached pretty quickly where the schools can reopen, where you will have substitution and supervision (and) where the payments on the table can be paid to the teachers.

"I hope that the discussions that have taken place and successfully concluded in respect of new entrants' pay with new teachers with TUI and INTO could also follow suit with the ASTI."

On the first day of the stoppages over equal pay for newly qualified staff, on the Thursday before the Halloween mid-term, 507 schools out of 735 closed.

The walkouts are planned to run on five other days this month before culminating in a two-day shutdown on December 6 and 7.

Talks with the Department of Education over the mid-term break failed to identify a resolution.

The ASTI union refused to sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement public sector pay deal, prompting the complicated, protracted and increasingly divisive disputes over pay rates for recent graduates and for duties outside normal teaching.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said "hoping" would not solve the difficulties.

He also claimed a Government announcement on a pathway to equal pay could "go a long way" to resolving the dispute, adding: "A t the moment there is complete uncertainty."

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams said the contentious issue must be dealt with soon.

He said: "It is obvious that the provision of pay equality needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Putting it on the long finger is not going to solve the issue."

Independent TD Seamus Healy accused the Government of "locking out" teachers.

He said: "You are using students as pawns in order to bully the ASTI into an agreement."

Earlier, Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), urged union and Government officials to engage in talks.

"ETBI is concerned about the effect that an ongoing campaign of industrial action will have on students in particular, but also on parents, teachers and management, not merely in our sector, but across the education sector at post-primary level," he said.

"Continuing dialogue is necessary to seek to facilitate a timely resolution."


From Belfast Telegraph