[Sinn Fein]

16 January 2001

Taoiseach accused of ``throwing fat in the fire'' in teachers' dispute

Education Minister urged to open dilaogue with teachers

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has written to Education Minister Michael Woods urging direct dialogue with the secondary teachers' union, ASTI, to resolve the pay dispute.

The Cavan/Monaghan deputy has also accused the Taoiseach of deepening the teachers' dispute with his newspaper article claiming that the dispute is partly about an internal ASTI power struggle.   Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``The comments of An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern have thrown fat in the fire of a very difficult dispute. As Taoiseach, his role should be to secure a resolution so that pupils can receive the full service to which they are entitled and so that teachers are properly paid.

``The Minister for Education should immediately repay without preconditions the money docked from teachers. He should enter direct negotiations with the ASTI on the basis of their pay claim.

``It is difficult at this stage for parents not to focus their dissatisfaction on the teachers but, while understandable, this is a mistake. The government bears the primary responsibility for the resolution of this dispute.

``As a parent of a student facing examinations I know that there is huge pressure on exam-year pupils. In any normal year this pressure is severe but the current impasse is causing further deep dismay. Pupils are losing faith in the ability of the political and industrial relations process to resolve an issue which affects them most directly. When this dispute is eventually resolved it is this year's  students most of all who will feel the effects in the long term. If a resolution is not reached soon they fear that their further education and career prospects will be damaged. This must not be allowed to happen.

``The Taoiseach's comments would seem to indicate that the government is set on continuing this show-down with the ASTI in order to penalise them for non-compliance with the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. This would be a disastrous course and should be avoided at all costs.''

In conclusion Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out that further teachers strike action is due to take place in Connacht/Ulster next Tuesday 23 January. He said:

``This dispute could have been resolved before Christmas. Every effort must now be made by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education to ensure that a resolution is achieved before pupils, especially Leaving Cert pupils, are put under further intolerable pressure.''

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