Do we let airline pilots dictate our national aviation policy?  Do we let ESB technicians decide what we as a country should do about renewable energy?   Would we think it reasonable for nurses to take strike action against Minister Reilly’s policy on health insurance?  I think not, in all these cases.

So why does nobody seem to find it unacceptable that teachers should threaten strike action to change government policy on how the examination system (in particular the Junior Certificate) should be organised?

ASTI  General Secretary Pat King said that his union members were “not prepared to implement educationally unsound proposals which are being unilaterally imposed on them. Teachers believe the Minister’s proposals will undermine education standards. They are demanding genuine consultation on their concerns. The Minister has an opportunity to make sure this happens before industrial action begins to impact on schools.”

I have no view as to whether the Minister’s proposals are educationally sound or otherwise (in fact my gut instinct is that they are unsound), but that is not the point.  The teachers are threatening industrial action to influence or dictate what is a government policy decision.  Their jobs or remuneration are, as far as I can see, not under threat.  What we are talking about is what is the best way to organise our examination system.

I agree that the Minister should talk to the teachers and gain the benefit of their experience and views.  But if, having done that, he (and his cabinet colleagues) are still of a mind to carry out the reforms, then that should be the end of it.  The role of the teachers’ unions should be to try to ensure that their members’ pay and conditions are not adversely affected by any changes, and indeed to lobby for what they believe is the best policy; but to take industrial action against legitimate government policies of which they disapprove is a step too far.

 

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Those who can, do;  those who can’t, teach.  So the old saying goes.  But in Ireland it seems that the noble profession of teaching is not only a refuge for the can’t-do-it brigade, but it also is a stepping stone to occupying a seat in Dáil Éireann. 

I invite you to study the breakdown of our current TDs by profession (for instance by visiting this Google Doc).  It is a bit alarming.  There are 39 who are/were teachers or lecturers, 16 lawyers, 19 farmers. And very few with real business experience.  No wonder we are in a mess.

Part of the reason why the Dáil is infested with teachers is that they can get indefinite leave of absence from their permanent teaching job to chase and occupy a Dáil seat, and their cushy post will be kept warm for them by inserting a series of poor unfortunate temporary teachers.   This can go on for years, even decades.

This over-representation of teachers in parliament, and lack of people with business experience, is another reason why our electoral system needs to change.

Ed Walsh wrote tellingly about this problem last July, in the Irish Times:-

“………… The intense crisis that now engulfs us highlights the deficiencies of Ireland’s system of governance. Talent is the glaring deficit. The 15 people who currently serve as Government Ministers are well-intentioned, hard-working people but generally undistinguished in terms of expertise, experience or achievement. Not one of the many Irish people who have proven themselves internationally serves in government…..

There is some management experience at the Cabinet table: Éamon Ó Cuív managed a Gaeltacht co-operative; Eamon Ryan has a commerce degree and ran a bicycle shop and tour business; and John Gormley owned a language school. But more than half the members were in education (six teachers, one guidance counsellor, one lecturer), one is a social worker and three are lawyers.   …… I can find no evidence that a Fianna Fáil Minister has a business qualification. A company with such an unimpressive board of directors would find it difficult to attract investment or be taken seriously.

An analysis of Opposition front benches suggests that a change of government would not much alter the talent and experience deficit. Similar large numbers of primary and secondary teachers would dominate…..

None of the new democracies of central Europe chose to adopt the Irish electoral system. All decided to introduce some form of list system, which provides a means by which national movers and shakers can be brought into government. Typically half the seats in parliament are reserved for those who are elected, as in our case, from local constituencies and the other half from lists of well-known national figures.

As a result, when the prime minister goes to appoint ministers a wide range of proven talent and experience can be drawn upon. The list system reduces clientism and ministers can take difficult decisions with less concern about re-election. They are released from the distraction and burden of constituency work and can give undivided attention to the ministerial job and the challenge of government……”