WAR-weary from an attack by rebel forces on home ground, Batt O’Keeffe emerged visibly shaken from the melee of a mutinous teachers’ union conference in Cork yesterday.
A truly uncomfortable spectacle to witness, it was fitting that the Education Minister received the most revolutionary reception of all three teachers’ conferences from his own former union, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, and on home turf.
While the revolt first appeared muted — the minister faced 400 silent delegates, 50 of whom walked out in protest — once he reached his preaching podium, the battle cries began.
“Shame, shame” the delegates roared, as a nervous Mr O’Keeffe shuffled on stage, keen, no doubt, to get the job done with as little pain as possible.
But although he pressed valiantly on with his speech, peppered with the usual lines of “sharing the pain”, “global crisis”, and “no easy options”, it was continually interrupted with shouts of shame and calls for resignation from the riled-up crowd.
But there is a “massive gap to be closed”, the minister, red-faced, pleaded.
Tax increases are “regrettable, but necessary”. These are not “normal” times.
But this rebel force was in no mood to be appeased and uproar finally broke out with the declaration that the budget had been “fair and balanced”, and “everyone” had been asked to contribute.
Finishing on the usual call to patriotic duty, the minister urged the troops to think about a “generational responsibility” to successfully address the economic challenge head on.
As he sat down to a once-again muted crowd, president of the TUI Don Ryan stood up to receive rapturous applause — and deliver the final blows.
In a lengthy and rousing speech, Mr Ryan dramatically implored the minister to stop spinning, stop cutting and stop discrediting teachers. He called for restoring grants, re-training, upskilling and begged the minister to row back on education cuts.
He ended with a call to arms: “Minister, we will not give up our campaign until the resources taken out of the education system are restored.
“Never, minister. Never.”
With the speech concluded, all that was left was for a final thunderous and telling standing ovation.
And, bang in the middle was a lonely figure, swamped by a crew of his former comrades, all baying for his blood.
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