Over the last decade, the government made several cuts to the education budget. Very few have been fully reversed, especially to minority groups and vulnerable families. The cuts to SEN, for example, have been whitewashed away with the new model for allocated supports. However, what do our candidates believe would be the one cut they would reverse if they had a magic wand? Unsurprisingly, neither picked one!
The INTO is more than a trade union – it’s also a professional body. So I have to choose a) salary cuts and b) service cuts:
The deep cuts to new entrant teachers pay have been a sore on our profession since 2011. I have spent the last six years campaigning against these cuts and negotiating 95% restoration of the career earnings of new teachers. My presidency would be a failure if we did not restore the remaining 5% in the next pay agreement. We have won many equality cases in the past and we will win this claim very soon too, ideally through our equality claim at the Labour Court, otherwise through negotiation or failing that through industrial action or a legal challenge. A short pathway to full salary restoration and to income progression must be delivered for all our members North and South in 2017.
Having spent the first half of my career working in a DEIS Band One school and having been involved in that community ever since, I was extremely proud of the small part I played in the overturning of the DEIS cuts. Having led thousands of members, parents, and pupils from District VIII to the Marlborough Street protest, I felt that a high level political meeting was also required. Principal teachers from Tallaght and I met senior politicians including Minister Pat Rabitte. We received huge support at the meeting from Bishop Eamon Walsh. Within days Minister Rabitte convinced his party colleague Minister Quinn to admit his mistake. The DEIS jobs were saved. My biggest regret is that we didn’t succeed in protecting Traveller Education. I wouldn’t simply reverse the cuts to small schools – I would overhaul the approach to staffing small schools. No teacher should be expected to teach more than 20 pupils in a multi-class – full stop.
So cuts to new entrant pay, traveller education and small schools would be the first cuts I’d reverse. And as long as I’m involved with INTO I will never rest until all of the cuts we suffered during the recession are reversed.
I hope you won’t consider me to be evading the question by refusing to answer it on those terms. One of the problems with the way in which the trade union movement as a whole, including the INTO, approached the financial crisis was an acceptance that there had to be cuts. The union leadership then ended up trying to figure out which cuts would be most palatable to the membership and there were even cases of meetings being asked ‘Which cuts would be more acceptable?’
It didn’t have to be like that. At the start of the crisis the ICTU published a comprehensive alternative plan for dealing with it entitled ‘There Is A Better Way’. Unfortunately it ended up sitting on office shelves gathering dust while the unions, including ourselves, accepted cut after cut. And every one we took just meant that we were a soft touch for another one.
We saw similar at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017 with pronouncements from government ministers that if public service pay was to be restored it would be at the expense of services. And they will continue to say that as long as we continue to accept that there have to be ‘some cuts’. Do we really want to end up in a discussion about whether nurses or teachers are more deserving of pay restoration, whether reduction in class size or support for children with special needs should be prioritised?
Instead we should be saying that nurses, teachers and all public servants deserve pay equalisation and pay restoration, that class size should be reduced, that the needs of SEN pupils should be met. Any amount of money can be found to pay the banking debts but when it comes to funding for essential public services and the payment of public servants we have to accept that there is a ‘limited budget’!