Republican News · Thursday 18 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

Ahern aggravates teachers' dispute

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has accused Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of deepening the teachers' dispute with his newspaper article on Tuesday claiming that the dispute is partly about an internal ASTI power struggle. The Cavan/Monaghan TD has written to the Minister for Education, Michael Woods, urging direct dialogue with the ASTI to resolve the dispute.

Ó Caoláin said:

``The comments of Bertie Ahern on the teachers' dispute are ill-judged and ill-timed. He has thrown fat in the fire of a very difficult dispute. As Taoiseach, his role should be to secure a resolution so that pupils can receive the full service to which they are entitled and so that teachers are properly paid.

``This is the second time the government has escalated the dispute. The disastrous decision to dock an average of 350 from teachers' salary cheques four days before Christmas dealt a fatal blow to emerging moves towards a resolution. Pay was docked from virtually all ASTI members, including those who had worked a full day with full attendance of students on the days for which they were penalised.

``The Minister for Education should immediately repay without preconditions the money docked from teachers. He should enter direct negotiations with the ASTI on the basis of their pay claim.

``It is difficult at this stage for parents not to focus their dissatisfaction on the teachers but, while understandable, this is a mistake. The government bears the primary responsibility for the resolution of this dispute.

``As a parent of a student facing examinations I know that there is huge pressure on exam-year pupils. In any normal year this pressure is severe but the current impasse is causing further deep dismay. Pupils are losing faith in the ability of the political and industrial relations process to resolve an issue that affects them most directly. When this dispute is eventually resolved it is this year's students most of all who will feel the effects in the long term. If a resolution is not reached soon they fear that their further education and career prospects will be damaged. This must not be allowed to happen.

``The Taoiseach's comments would seem to indicate that the government is set on continuing this showdown with the ASTI in order to penalise them for non-compliance with the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. This would be a disastrous course and should be avoided at all costs.''

Ó Caoláin pointed out that further teachers strike action is due to take place in Connacht/Ulster next Tuesday 23 January. He said:

``This dispute could have been resolved before Christmas. Every effort must now be made by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education to ensure that a resolution is achieved before pupils, especially Leaving Cert pupils, are put under further intolerable pressure.''

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