14 April 2009

Batt O'Keeffe faced INTO 'Wall of Silence'

Irish primary school teachers are to call on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to hold a day of action before June, in order to defend public services and jobs.

During their annual conference in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, delegates of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) backed a motion on a 'day of action' and condemned what they call "a campaign of vilification against the pay and conditions of public service employees".
They also support the withdrawal of support for modernisation measures in schools in the event of an extended pay freeze.

Earlier today there was a very frosty reception for Batt O'Keeffe (right) from the teachers at the conference.
The Minister for Education was greeted with a 'wall of silence' as he arrived, and his speech was punctuated by loud moans and derisive laughter at times.

Around thirty of the INTO delegates walked out of the conference room when Batt O'Keeffe began speaking, while many others held up posters highlighting some of the issues that have provoked their anger: the pensions levy, the loss of teaching posts and the abolition of special needs classes (left).

When the Minister ended, there was almost no applause. Only a few of the invited guests, seated in the front row, felt obliged to clap mildly.

Later the delegates gave a long standing ovation to INTO General Secretary John Carr (right) when he spoke of the bitter resentment felt by teachers as their pockets were picked to bail-out bankers, speculators and developers.

To loud and frequent applause, Carr said that Ireland's children were "paying the price for a few capitalist criminals".

Yesterday evening INTO's President Declan Kelleher (left) accused the government of being dictated to by the employers' group IBEC and the right-wing of Fianna Fáil, at the expense of ordinary workers. Declan Kelleher also got a long standing ovation when he warned that "the government would reap its reward". He said that teachers were prepared to pay their fair share, but in the meantime, the rich were getting off scot-free.

The strongly expressed anger of INTO members gathered in Letterkenny reflects the current feelings among Ireland's primary school teachers, as well as the general mood in the public sector as a whole.

No government, regardless of system or political party, can rule or govern a country without the full support of Civil Service and administration.
And usually public service employees - the people with the safest jobs and best pensions in the country - are the slowest to anger when it comes to industrial disputes.

The fact that in the Republic of Ireland it is now exactly this group of people that spearheads the anger and protest against the government and its austerity programme is quite significant.

If - as we expect - the two government parties are hammered in the Local & European Elections in June and the pressure from public sector workers continues (while the number of unemployed in the private sector rises further), it is quite possible that Brian Cowan will have no other choice but call an early General Election for early Autumn.

Our government is by now only a shadow of what it was when formed by Bertie Ahern in the Summer of 2007 with confidence and aspirations. Less than a year after Ahern handed over to Brian Cowan, his own party Fianna Fáil is in tatters, the Greens are completely confused and 'lost in time', while the administration around them is cracking and crumbling at the edges.

The sooner the people of Ireland have a chance to elect a new parliament and government, the better.
Greeting a cabinet minister with a 'wall of silence' is only one step away from taking a wall apart and throwing stones at the government...

The Emerald Islander

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