ASTI members angry that legal feud is holding up union business

SENIOR figures in the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) are angry that internal problems are stopping the union from carrying out important business on behalf of members.

ASTI general secretary Charlie Lennon was granted an injunction in the High Court on Wednesday preventing the president, Pat Cahill, and the vice-president, Susie Hall, from proceeding with an investigation into allegations against him.

Mr Lennon strongly rejects the allegations, believed to involve claims he made for reimbursement of costs incurred on ASTI business between 1999 and 2001.

He has said the procedures employed by Mr Cahill and Ms Hall to deal with the allegations were flawed and unfair, and that the two officers involved in conducting the investigation had shown prejudice against him in the past.

The ASTI president said he was acting on a complaint made by ASTI honorary treasurer Patricia Wroe about expense claims. He had a responsibility to investigate it fully and in an independent way.

The union is believed to be preparing an opposition to the injunction at the next hearing on the matter on October 6. But this issue and other disputes between elected officials and the ASTI head office staff have held up important decisions due to be made.

The 17,000-member union, representing teaching staff at 450 of the country’s 750 second-level schools, is in dispute with the Department of Education over a revised Junior Certificate science syllabus.

“That is a very important issue for teachers and students alike, but there is other business, such as in-service training, senior-cycle development and pension issues, to deal with,” said a senior ASTI source.

“It is understandable that things have ended up going down the legal route, but we’re not taking care of the ordinary members whose views we should be putting across on important issues,” the source said.

A two-day meeting of the union’s powerful 23-member standing committee intended to deal with some of these issues was cancelled earlier in the week.

A meeting was called for today instead to allow the president and vice-president report on a matter of “considerable significance”, believed to concern the allegations against Mr Lennon.

However, that meeting has also been called off since the High Court injunction was obtained by the general secretary.

A meeting of the ASTI’s larger central executive committee is still scheduled for October 4 to consider reviewing Mr Lennon’s performance but it is unclear whether it might also be postponed or cancelled.

That meeting is also due to consider payment of expenses to more than 20 other staff, who have not been reimbursed for business costs for over six months. That and other difficulties staff have encountered with elected members of the union are due to be heard by the Labour Court next month.

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