TWO Clare men lead two of the country’s major teaching unions and both were pleased with how their members observed Tuesday’s strike.
Corofin school principal Declan Kelleher is President of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation and he said there had been strong backing for industrial action. “Nationally, we have had a huge response and in Clare as well. There was an 86% vote in favour of industrial action and hundreds of teachers from Clare were protesting today outside the Department of Education offices in Limerick.”
He said that the union had offered support to the flood relief effort in Ennis and that a decision had been made not to picket schools in the centre of the town, given the conditions. Reflecting on the strikes, Mr Kelleher said that he believed the Government might have underestimated the public sector union’s capacity to carry out a large-scale strike. “We believe that the Government felt the public sector were not capable of organising to the extent that it has proved to be. We’ve had 100% adherence across the country and that sends a very strong message to Government.”
He said that the Government would need to re-engage with the public sector quickly, with an open mind. He also said that he felt public sector workers were willing to share some of the burden of the State’s economic collapse. “In the next four to five days there is a need for intense negotiation and we have a clear understanding that we can’t emerge with everything that we want as well, there is a need for compromise. We have to see a spreading of the burden, the introduction of a third rate of tax and the Government has to be prepared to tackle the wealthy.”
He was dismissive of surveys that have pointed to large pay gaps between private and public sectors and denied that Irish teachers are particularly well paid by international standards. “That’s rubbish and likewise the reports from Ed Walsh that teachers in Ireland are better paid than in the UK.”
Ultimately, he feels that the public need a plan they can believe in, if the tide of recession is to be turned. “The only way forward is if people in whatever sector buy into a way forward that can bring us out of the current morass.”
Don Ryan of the Teachers Union of Ireland said that his union’s members had observed the strike very well and that they had kept up pickets outside institutes of technology (where some of its members work) until late in the evening.
He was critical of some reportage in the national media, which he accused of anti-public sector bias. “There’s always someone waiting to ridicule the public sector. Obviously, there is an orchestrated campaign in the national media to demonise the public sector and to create division.”
Mr Ryan echoed the view of other union leaders that another rate of tax should be introduced. “The Government, and in particular the Taoiseach and Mr Lenihan, have said that there is no alternative to pay cuts. Clearly they have not engaged with the public sector or listened to the alternatives put forward. There are people on very high incomes and our members have already been hit with a 7% levy.”
Mr Ryan said that 77% of members who had voted on strike action were in favour of it. The union has around 250 members in Clare.
Theresa Dwyer, assistant general secretary of the CPSU, visited Clare on Tuesday and told The Clare Champion that some of the union’s members couldn’t afford to take more cuts, following on from the pension levy. “We have already contributed 7% and if there are more cuts, some of our members are at risk of losing their homes. They are on the borderline now. That’s the reality of it.”
She also said that her members were prepared to make a contribution towards recovery. “We haven’t said that we aren’t going to contribute. The difficulty we have is that the public sector is being targeted in a way that we feel is unjust.”
She echoed the view that tax increases for very high earners are needed. “If individuals who earn €100,000 or more were taxed at 60% it would generate €1 billion a year,” she added.