Address by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, at the INTO Congress
25th April, 2011
I want to start by thanking you for your invitation to join you at your annual congress today and for your warm welcome.
I’m delighted to be here.
I consider myself to have been given the job I wanted in what is, in effect, a National Government.
I am anxious to ensure that all of the education partners are in no doubt of the very difficult road that lies ahead.
In my opening remarks therefore I will set out the challenges we face as a country and what that means for the education sector.
My party respects the role of the trade union movement in this country.
I understand how an annual conference must discuss and debate the issues that matter to you, whether those are issues that concern you as individuals or issues that come from your concern for the primary school system generally.
In your classrooms you strive to teach children the truth.
I want to be equally frank about the resources that are likely to be available for education in the coming period.
I am not going to pretend that that the resources available for education can be improved, earlier decisions reversed or further difficult measures avoided.
The bottom line is that Ireland has to reduce its expenditure on public services and that means further difficult and painful decisions.
We must all come to terms with the extent to which our reliance on EU/IMF funding means that we operate without economic sovereignty.
The parties that have formed the new Government have done just that.
On the back of a historic election result Fine Gael could have sought to form a Government with the support of independents.
The easy road for the Labour Party would have been to take up the role of the largest opposition party for the first time in the history of the State.
Both parties instead chose to form a National Government precisely because the gravity of the situation demanded such a response.
The position is stark.
I have repeatedly made the point that the country is akin to being in receivership.
Ireland is unable to borrow in the markets the money that is needed to fund services and provide for capital programmes.
To put it bluntly, the money dispensed by ATMs to all public servants, including public representatives, to enable us engage in our daily activities and purchases comes from ECB monies provided to our banking system.
That money is made available to Ireland by the European Central Bank at fortnightly intervals.
Every two weeks, the Governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, has to confirm to the ECB that Ireland is meeting the terms of the EU/IMF bailout as they presently stand.
Michael Collins, the State’s first Minister for Finance, had in 1922, more room for manoeuvre than Michael Noonan has today!
In forming a National Government we have one overriding objective – by hard work and carrying through difficult decisions, to regain our economic sovereignty.
Only when we do so can we return to the position where an Irish Government can make unfettered decisions.
My words sound harsh but it would be dishonest of me to diminish in any way the struggle that lies before us.
Let me also say very clearly that I fully realise that very many of you in your own lives have experienced the real impact of the current financial problems that have faced and continue to face this country of ours.
I know that you have all had to deal with significantly reduced income and living standards.
Many of you or members of your family have experienced and are experiencing negative equity and difficulties in making ends meet.
I also know that you are not insulated from the wider impact of the current recession on those children and families with whom you relate in your daily working life.
You see at first hand the devastation that the economic crisis has brought to families in your communities.
You meet the fall-out from struggling homes in the classroom every day – job losses, reduced salaries and crippling mortgages are all too common a reality.
I want to thank you for the very valuable support, encouragement and stability that you provide in the daily lives of children in your care at a time of great uncertainty.
You do so in the best traditions of public service.
I also want to take this opportunity to stress my own personal commitment to the concept of public service and to the role of the public servant in the life of this country.
More than ever it is vitally important that those of us in a position of political leadership affirm the contribution of public servants to the wellbeing of this country.
My first job was as a public servant in the housing architects’ department of Dublin Corporation and today as a public representative and Minister, I too am in public service.
I retain a tremendous respect for that calling and for all that is honourable and good in the concept of service to the wider community.
I also want to emphasise my strong view that at this time of national emergency it is vitally important that we look to unity across our population as opposed to promoting division and sectoral interests.
This is not a time for confrontation but rather of working together.
Times of adversity such as those that we now live in have the potential to bring out the best in people and can spur us all to make a greater contribution to the common interest.
The core purpose of the Croke Park Agreement is to allow us to manage better with less.
Because, make no mistake about it we have to manage with less.
I want to acknowledge the very positive and constructive approach of the INTO in relation to this agreement.
You were one of the first to conclude detailed and significant arrangements with the Department and are now implementing those changes.
I think that it is vitally important, and I am sure you will accept, that implementation must be real and meaningful on the ground.
It must be clearly visible to pupils and parents and the wider public and it must bring real value to our education system.
As you know a fundamental purpose of the changes agreed under the Croke Park Agreement is to provide additional time for schools and teachers to engage in essential activities such as planning without intruding on the tuition time of students.
This has been a major historical deficit within our system and one which we must now deal with for once and for all.
In saying this I do not for a moment take from the tradition of volunteerism among our teachers.
This strong tradition of our teachers contributing generously to the many out of school activities such as sports, music and the arts is one of the real strengths of our education system. It contributes greatly to the breadth and experience of the education given to our children.
I am well aware of your worries about a range of issues.
I know that your concern about maintaining services is not just one of self interest but that you also have the education of pupils at heart when you react to reductions in resources.
The reality is that the Government is equally concerned about the future for the children in schools.
But we know that we can only secure the future and sustain front line services if we can regain our economic sovereignty by being able to find lenders prepared to lend to us in the markets.
They will do so only if they are able to see that we have taken the difficult decisions and have made the necessary fiscal correction.
This is why the Government has decided to adopt the specific budgetary targets under the EU/IMF programme that must be met in 2011 and 2012.
The importance of meeting the targets cannot be overstated.
It is only by meeting those targets that EU/IMF funding will continue to arrive in this country.
It is only by meeting those targets that teachers and other public servants can continue to be paid and that those relying on social protection can continue to receive weekly support.
There are specific EU/IMF commitments and targets in relation to a reduction in the overall number of public servants on the payroll including teachers.
In the Education sector the task of managing our budget is complicated by the fact that enrolments will continue to increase over the next few years.
While the Government is committed to protecting front line education services to the greatest extent possible, we must not underestimate the challenge in doing so against rising enrolments.
The recovery plan provides for a net reduction in teacher numbers in 2011, notwithstanding the need to provide for additional posts to meet increased enrolments.
The detail on these measures was outlined in the 2011 budget.
These budgetary measures have been notified to schools and will be proceeding as planned to take effect from September 2011.
The recovery plan also provides for consultation with the education partners in relation to how best to achieve a further reduction in teacher payroll costs from 2012.
In the coming weeks my Department will be inviting the INTO (TUI/ASTI) along with the other relevant partners to work on identifying such savings.
I appreciate that the measures we have had to take this year to ensure that the primary teacher payroll costs remain within budget have caused concern and anxiety to young teachers who have held temporary positions or are seeking jobs.
But there is a trade-off here for members of this union.
The Government is prepared to honour the Croke Park commitment in relation to no redundancy for those holding permanent posts.
However, to deliver on that commitment means that this year we will need to redeploy teachers into positions that traditionally have been filled by teachers on fixed term contracts.
We also need greater flexibility in redeployment across panels and between schools of different patronage.
The reality is that we can no longer afford to leave a teacher surplus in one school while filling permanent or temporary vacancies in other schools by recruitment.
The normal panel process has been operating over recent weeks. There is a need to complete the redeployment process as quickly as possible.
This is only fair to teachers still awaiting redeployment and to deal with the anxieties of those seeking permanent or temporary teaching jobs.
It is only at that point that my Department can then allow schools to make those appointments.
My Department will continue to meet with your officials and with school management and patron representatives in order to finalise as quickly as possible the precise arrangements that will be needed to expedite the redeployment of any teachers that remain to be redeployed.
I am aware also of the concern among your members who teach in small schools about the Value for Money exercise being conducted by my Department on the resources provided to such schools.
Let me say that this study is part of an overall requirement across all Government Departments to have a rolling programme of such studies.
It was initiated last October and is not driven by any ideology.
The study is simply about ascertaining the facts to inform future decisions.
It does not mean that any policy decision has been taken at this point or that any particular outcome is sought.
In fact, under Brendan Howlin’s recently announced Comprehensive Review of Expenditure All Government expenditure and programmes will come under similar scrutiny.
I want to be honest with you today and tell you clearly where we are at as a country.
I need to set out the reality of the challenges that we must face over the next few years.
My vision for the primary system is not simply about saving money.
It is about making sure we deliver the best education we can for all our children.
And that is why I believe that improving literacy and numeracy skills is so important.
While the PISA results present a wake up call they should not be regarded by any party as a judgement on teachers.
Rather they challenge us all to refocus on the primacy of literacy and numeracy as the prerequisites for wider learning.
Being able to read and write is a vital life skill for every individual.
It is the foundation on which future learning is built and can fundamentally change a person’s life chances.
A person’s horizons are forever narrowed without that foundation.
I believe that literacy begins in the home and must be supported by the home.
Schools face particular challenges where this support is not available, for whatever reason.
Today, I’m asking each and every one of you to make improving literacy and numeracy skills a priority when you return to your classrooms.
And I want you to keep telling parents how important it is that they read with their children everyday.
I think that if we all make small changes we can really make a big difference over time.
Before I finish, I want to touch on an issue that the INTO has been calling on Governments to address for many years; that is the issue of patronage of our primary schools.
The sea-change in society in recent times has rightly made us question the basis of our approach to school provision.
We must aim to provide for diversity in our education system and ensure that different forms of patronage reflect the needs of our modern society and the choices of parents.
All of this must be done within the context of the restraints on the public finances, of course.
Aside from rapid social change, we must also address the continuing growth in demand for school places.
The tension between the growth in the level of demand for school places, the diversity of that demand and our current financial difficulties raises significant questions for our primary system.
One of the first tasks I addressed as Minister was to establish the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector to allow all stakeholders including parents to engage in open debate on change of patronage in communities where it is appropriate and necessary.
It was launched very successfully last week under the direction of Prof John Coolahan who started off his long and distinguished career as a primary school teacher.
It is clearly up to each local school community to decide whether they want to change patron.
The issue that we now need to address is how we can help to make this process work practically.
The focus of the forum will be very much on identifying the methods and processes by which schools can be identified for transfer and then be enabled to transfer.
I began by setting out the stark realities of our country’s current position.
Only by taking the difficult but necessary corrective action on our public finances can we create hope for the future.
I am confident that if we focus on our common objective – that of providing the best education for all children – we can make great progress.
You occupy that precious space of providing hope for the future for each child you teach by ensuring the best educational outcomes you can for that child.
You help shape and equip young minds to meet the future head on.
You impart the skills and preparation they require to make their way in a different world where higher levels of educational attainment will be needed.
Teaching is a noble profession.
You entered it to make a difference and you can do that every day in the classroom.
I believe that the best way to make that difference is through even greater attention to promoting literacy and numeracy.
I wish you well with the rest of your conference and above I also wish you well in your dedicated work in our schools in the year ahead.
Fairtrade Fortnight is currently taking place throughout the country to celebrate and promote Fairtrade in Ireland. On Tuesday 8th March the Youghal Fairtrade Committee welcomed cocoa farmers Stephen Boadi and Isaac Baido from Ghana to Youghal.
Stephen and Isaac work at the Kuapa Kokoo Co-operative of farmers in Ghana and sell their cocoa beans to make Fairtrade chocolate. On their trip to youghal they visited BunScoil Mhuire and talked to the students about Fairtrade and how belonging to this co-operative has improved the prices they get for their cocoa, and also how it has improved their quality of life by having access to education and healthcare. On the day the Committee also visited Moby Dicks, SuperValu and Green Barn Restaurant who are all fairtraded. They also did a radio interview on CRY. The Committee would like to thank everybody that supported us on the day and also the people of Youghal, businesses, schools, churches for becoming fairtraded.
Click below to hear Melanie Dray from Fairtrade Mark Ireland, Stacey Quinlivan from Cumann na Daoine and Growers Stephen and Isaac talk about Fairtrade Fortnight on Youghal Local Radio CRY – Audio courtesy of CRY
Business is Good – Fairtrade Fortnight 2011 (28th February – 13th March)
Contrary to what might be expected during the recession, Fairtrade sales continue to grow in Ireland. In 2010 consumer spending on Fairtrade Certified products grew by an impressive 17%, from €118 million in 2009 to €138 million in 2010. Ireland now has one of the highest per capita spends on Fairtrade Certified products anywhere in the world.
And in 2011 this growth is set to continue:
• the MACE retail group has just announced that 120 of their outlets are converting to Fairtrade Certified coffee provided by Bewley’s,
• Java Republic Coffee Company has seen growth of 7% in their Fairtrade coffee sales
• the Insomnia Coffee Company has announced the conversion of all its hot chocolate drinks to Fairtrade
• Other initiatives like the conversion of all Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream to Fairtrade by the end of the year support this trend
Peter Gaynor, Executive Director with Fairtrade Mark Ireland, said; “It’s good to see that people in Ireland continue to support initiatives like Fairtrade. Volunteer groups all around the country have committed their time over many years and we are delighted with how sales are holding up in the teeth of the recession.”
Irish people are being asked to ‘Show Off Your Label’ for Fairtrade Fortnight! The campaign will be supported by guests from Ghana, Isaac Baidoo and Stephen Boadi, who are cocoa farmers as well as by Miguel Mateo, a member of a Fairtrade coffee Coop in Guatemala.
Ireland has the highest number of Fairtrade Towns groups per capita of any country in the world. There are now 48 officially recognised Fairtrade Towns and Cities that have met the Fairtrade Towns criteria. Donegal and Carrick-on-Shannon will be officially recognised Fairtrade Towns during Fairtrade Fortnight. And 30 more towns are seeking Fairtrade Town status – adding up to a total of 78 volunteer Fairtrade Town groups around the country.
If you would like to know more about Fairtrade Fortnight or to arrange an interview please contact; Fairtrade Mark Ireland, Melanie Drea, email@example.com, 086 086 9778
/ See notes below
Some of the activities being organised during Fairtrade Fortnight are:
• Friday 4th March – Carrick-on-Shannon host a Fairtrade Carnival to celebrate being Ireland’s 47th Fairtrade Town and Leitrim’s First Fairtrade Town!
• ICTU at their annual international Women’s Day Conference are organising a ‘Show Off Your Label’ Competition amongst delegates.
• A Fairtrade Chocolate Wagon will be touring the country for the two weeks. Discover the history of chocolate, how it is made (the story from bean to bar) and meet two very special guests Stephen Boadi and Isaac Baido, cocoas farmer from Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana. Visit www.fairtrade.ie/fortnight for more events.
• Saturday 5th March – Donegal becomes Ireland’s 48th Fairtrade Town; there will be celebration at Farmer’s Market.
• 1,000’s of Fairtrade Cotton Bunting are being creatively designed by school children all over the country.
• Oxfam Ireland host a coffee morning with newly elected TD’s on Wednesday 9th in Dublin City Centre.
See www.fairtrade.ie/fortnight for a fuller list of activities.
• FAIRTRADE Mark Ireland was established in 1992 to promote justice in trade between Irish consumers and producers and workers in developing countries. Fairtrade products ensure the producer receives a fair and stable price for their products.
• The organisation is supported by all the main development agencies including Actionaid Ireland, Concern, Christian Aid, Comhlámh, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam Ireland, Trócaire, Amnesty International, and by the ICTU.
• The first two tonnes of Fairtrade coffee beans were imported into Ireland in November 1996. This increased to over 667 tonnes in 2010.
• An IMS consumer survey conducted in April 2009 found that 64% of respondents were aware of the Fairtrade Mark compared to just 16% in 2002.
• 48 Irish towns and cities have been awarded Fairtrade town status, they are: Athlone, Ballymun, Baltinglass, Bandon, Bantry, Belfast, Bray, Carlow, Carrick-on- Shannon, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Castlebar, Clonakilty, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Dundonald, Ennis, Galway, Gort, Greystones, Kilkenny, Kinsale, Leighlin, Limerick, Longford, Maynooth, Midleton, Mullingar, Nenagh, Newbridge, Newry, Portlaoise, Roscommon, Roscrea , Skibbereen, Sligo, Thurles, Tipperary, Tralee, Tuam, Tubbercurry, Warrenpoint, Waterford, Westport, Wexford & Youghal
• An additional 30 towns are working towards Fairtrade status: Banbridge, Bangor, Buncrana, Cavan Town, Clarinbridge, Clonmel, Clones, Coleraine, Derry, Downpatrick, Dun Laoghaire, Dundonald, Dungarvan, Enniscorthy, Kells, Kileagh, Kinvara, Leixlip, Limavady, Malahide, Mallow, Naas, New Ross, Portadown, Portarlington, Rathfarnham, Rathlin Island , Temple Bar, Trim & Tullamore
Youghal received its Fairtrade Town Status at the awards ceremony in the Town Hall. Mayor Olly Casey accepted the certificate on behalf of the people of Youghal from Fairtrade Ireland. – Photo Michael Hussey (YoughalOnline.com)
Youghal has met the criteria to be a fairtrade town. This included getting a motion passed by the town council to support Youghal becoming a fairtrade town. Quality Hotel became our Flagship business and local shops, restaurants, schools, library, Church’s and other businesses stocked fairtrade produce. Read more