4th March 2019
INTO Northern Conference (Belfast, 1 March 2019).
A Uachtarain Joe, A Chathaoirligh Paddy, a Rúnaí Gerry, a Ard- Rúnaí Síle, a aoineanna speisialta agus a chomhghleacaithe uilig go léir,
Is onóir mhór domsa labhairt libh mar Rúnaí Ginearálta Tofa Chumainn Múinteoirí Éireann ag comhdhail an Tuaiscirt i mbliana.
First of all, I want to express my appreciation for the trust you demonstrated towards me by electing me General Secretary of INTO. It’s the single greatest honour of my life. I think it’s fitting that my first full day in the role of General Secretary designate is spent here at Northern Conference, as I’m well aware of the level of support I received from our members in the North.
Yesterday was my last day working as a principal teacher in St. Colmcille’s, Knocklyon. I believe that the close connection I have maintained with teachers and principals North and South will stand to me in my new role in the coming years. Since the election I have felt great responsibility towards you, and I commit to give all my best efforts to strengthening our union and as a result improving your working lives and the lives of the students you teach.
I’m really looking forward to taking up office and building on INTOs 150 years of achievement. The resolutions you make here this weekend will be our blueprint for the INTO Northern Committee over the next 12 months. I wish you well with your deliberations.
I don’t intend to speak very long but do wish to focus on the future for INTO members in Northern Ireland.
Seamus Heaney once said: “Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.”
Despite losing one fifth of my salary in the decade since the economy crashed in the South and having to cope with savage frontline education cuts at school every day, I never lost faith in the ability of our union to negotiate salary recovery or to reverse those draconian cuts. Our education system in the South has been under attack since 2009. But ten years on we have much success to report, so I feel that I am well positioned to mirror hope for members in Northern Ireland.
Colleagues, despite being treated disgracefully by your paymasters, you the INTO activists and our members in Northern Ireland have remained steadfast in your determination for fair pay and conditions. The Industrial Action on Accountability Workload and Pay has been protracted, but ultimately will prove productive. I thank you for your persistence. I have no doubt that our current campaign for better work and better lives will succeed. We have won bigger battles in our 150-year history and we will prevail again this time. We will succeed because we all agree with what Heaney said – that “there is good worth fighting for” and for us, that good is the education system in Northern Ireland.
The failed austerity policies of the UK government have hit Northern Ireland disproportionately than other parts of the UK. INTO members have gone way beyond the call of duty to support students, parents and communities through strident times. We have taken a strong stance against education cuts, making it clear that we are no longer prepared to put up with this austerity. By staying united in the face of huge challenges during the last
few years, we have achieved a process of meaningful engagement with key decision makers with a view to addressing our concerns and forcing a change in direction.
We urgently need a breakthrough from these protracted negotiations, which our INTO negotiators have led on so ably. Such a breakthrough would be crucial I believe, not only for our members in the next year, but more importantly I feel that we will also lay a platform for success in the decade ahead.
Of course, we are all very worried about Brexit, which may or may not happen in four weeks’ time, but hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no Brexit, back stop or none, INTO members in every county in Ireland will never stop campaigning for Irish teachers to be placed at the center of the best education systems in Europe.
We may not have control over Brexit, but we have been working hard to ensure that our concerns for the future of the education systems on this island are heard. In that regard I thank our Northern Chairperson and our President for their recent engagement with those of influence in Brussels.
Delegates, as we read clearly in our 150-year history, by working closely together we can positively influence our own futures. For my part, I intend to do everything in my power to strengthen the bond that has ensured we are the largest, longest- serving and only education union organising in the thirty-two counties of Ireland.
All trade union leaders in Northern Ireland have continued to work closely for the betterment of all who live and work here. Our recent joint leadership conference with the UTU and NEU is an example of that co-operation. Earlier this week I met with representatives of all education unions in these islands. Not one of them saw any merit in Brexit but come what may we are determined to realise our shared ambition- achieving the
best for our members.
I sincerely hope that the stand-off between our political leaders in Northern Ireland, together with the shambolic scenes in Westminster come to an end very soon. We need everyone in powerful positions to be fully focused on the public good rather than on political point scoring. Imagine if our politicians were working to deliver an improvement in the quality and quantity of investment in education. Imagine if they were determined to
invest in children today in order to transform societies tomorrow and that investment started with education. Surely this is not too much to dream for.
Colleagues, it’s our duty and our obligation to campaign to ensure that teachers in Northern Ireland have better pay, better work and better lives. Teachers are the key resource in any education system. We must invest in them to get the best from them. As I see it, we need a SMART plan designed to deliver time to teach, time to think, time for ourselves and a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work in 21st century schools: TEACHERS’ PAY AND PROFESSIONALISM Teachers in Scotland, England and Wales are currently ahead of our members in Northern Ireland. This disparity must be addressed in any settlement.
A consolidated statutory and contractual framework governing teachers’ pay, and conditions has to be delivered. I want teachers to be properly valued for the essential work they do – educating the next generation. An agreed Statement on Teacher Professionalism is long overdue We must respect the professionalism of teachers.
I envisage an inspection system, which is tailored to school improvement; which is proportionate in its impact and works with, not against the teaching profession. The current inspection system creates fear and fright in the profession. Too many good teachers and school leaders have been driven out of the profession on the back of dodgy inspections.
We must also agree terms of reference for a review of workload burdens of the ETI inspection process; ETI is a major driver of workload, in an attempt to reduce this in regard to inspections, we need an agreed list of the documentation required for school inspections.
TEACHERS’ WORKLOAD AND CONDITIONS
Work-Life balance must be provided for our members.
All employment and staffing policies, and new initiatives must be subject to consultation and agreement with INTO with a Workload Impact Assessment should be applied to all new initiatives.
Applying the “Educational Value” test to all school procedures, especially accountability procedures is critical.
If teachers are left alone to get on with the work they love doing- teaching their students, there will be no need for Wellbeing Initiatives for school staff.
SCHOOL BUDGETS AND 21st CENTURY SKILLS
More money must be allocated to the education budget overall.
Schools must be given control over a greater share of the budget.
The basic amount given to every child to sustain the real costs of a child’s education must be increased.
And lastly an agreed strategy to promote and provide focus for a broader education including 21st century skills has to be centre stage from 2020.
After all isn’t that ultimately what we all want to be able to do in the 21st century – to teach our students and to help them to have brighter futures.
Colleagues, as always there will be challenging times ahead, but I believe from the bottom of my heart, that with all our strength, resources, capabilities, and by working together, using our intelligence, wisdom and experience, we will not just overcome these challenges, but we will secure the implementation of this plan.
Finally colleagues I wish to thank everyone in Northern office for the amazing work they have done this year. I’ve had the great privilege to work closely with them and with the members of Northern Committee in recent years and look forward to continuing that work as General Secretary. Our union has a great history in Northern Ireland and our reputation has been greatly enhanced in recent years under Gerry Murphy’s stewardship. I thank him and my colleagues on the CEC Seamus Hanna and Dorothy Mc Ginley, who have worked tirelessly on all your behalf and I acknowledge the tremendous work of our Northern Chairperson Paddy Mc Allister. I also wish incoming chairperson Kevin Daly the very best in the year ahead. And on all our behalf I express huge gratitude to our outgoing General Secretary Sheila Nunan, our first female General Secretary, for all she has done for our members during the very difficult economic times she spent at the helm. Sheila made a massive contribution to the education systems and to the trade union movement in Ireland.
Go raibh míle maith agat a Shíle agus gach rath ort.
I started with a quote from my favourite poet Seamus Heaney and I’ll finish with another
quote from him:
“When History says, don’t hope, On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme”
We need the type of political will shown by all parties in this city 21 years ago if our education systems are to thrive during the years ahead. Should that political will emerge, I am confident that the rights of Irish teachers to decent salaries, professional respect and dignified, fair, modern working conditions will be upheld all over the island of Ireland. I can assure you that I am certain that the INTO will go forward with strength, influence and
determination to do what it always has done – tireless work in the best interests of Irish teachers and Irish education. I urge you to continue your union activism so that our many hands will make light work.