Bruton defends efforts to prevent school closures

Education Minister Richard Bruton has defended his efforts to prevent industrial action shutting hundreds of schools indefinitely, in response to criticism in the Dáil.

As a third consecutive day of talks between Department of Education officials and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) was concluding, Fianna Fáil education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, said it is not good enough that the minister says deciding whether or not to open next week is down to local schools.

Such a decision is likely at around 500 of the country’s 730 second-level schools, where ASTI’s 17,500 members will refuse to do supervision and substitution duties.

That dispute centres on non-payment of an increase being given to other teachers because ASTI members last month stopped working extra hours that the department says they are still required to do.

The talks between the union and Mr Bruton’s officials are due to resume either this afternoon or over the weekend, after ASTI’s standing committee has been updated today on this week’s negotiations .

Mr Byrne said it is not good enough for the minister to “pass the buck” to schools about deciding whether to open next week or not.

Up to 250,000 students could be affected, with most of those schools likely to close indefinitely due to the ASTI action.

“Students are deeply worried, parents are stressed out wondering about what’s going to happen next week. Quite frankly, most people are in the dark,” he told Mr Bruton. “If this goes on beyond next Wednesday, I think people will be just fed up and they will be [saying to] the Government, what have you done to make sure their child is educated in accordance with their rights,” Mr Byrne said.

The minister said the decision of being able to open or not next week is each school’s responsibility, based on whether it can provide the level of supervision needed to ensure students’ health and safety.

“We have leaned over backwards to try and put them in a position that they could do that. We sought to have such an agreement with the ASTI and that agreement was not forthcoming,” he said.

Mr Bruton pointed to the refusal of the union to allow enough lead-in time for their industrial action for schools to hire temporary supervisors, or to allow principals an exemption from the directive so those staff could be rostered and managed.

At schools that remain open, ASTI members plan one-day strikes again next Tuesday and in each of the following few weeks as part of its separate industrial action in pursuit of equal pay for teachers hired on lower salaries than colleagues since 2011.

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