DEIS Schools in massive protest at Department of Education: Campaign continues for reversal of budget cuts

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Over 6,000 members of Dublin DEIS school communities – parents, teachers and children – protested outside the Department of Education & Skills on Marlborough Streetin Dublin’s city centre on Thursday 19th January.

The protest was organised by the 4 Dublin Districts of the INTO (Irish National Teachers Organisation) to deliver a very clear message to the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and his government colleagues that cuts to teacher numbers in schools in the most socially disadvantaged areas of the country announced in the December budget (see not going to be accepted.

When the government announced their proposed cuts to DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools) schools, they presumed that because these schools serve socially disadvantaged communities there would be no organised resistance.  How wrong they were. 

The response from the INTO leadership was pathetic as they issued a statement on publication of the budget which merely said that the “proposed changes” would be “examined carefully” and that the union would be “looking for an appeals procedure with some alleviation for the worst affected schools.”

But within days school principals and staff reps were organising meetings to discuss the ramifications of the staff cuts and to organise resistance.  In Districts 14 and 15, covering the North side of Dublincity and county, a packed meeting of principals and staff reps resolved to fight the cuts and to resist attempts to hoist even more of the costs of the financial crisis on the shoulders of disadvantaged communities.  Similar meetings were held on the southside of the city and in Waterford, Cork, Limerickand other areas affected.

Political Pressure

In the couple of weeks before Christmas and in days immediately afterwards Labour party and Fine Gael backbenchers came under massive pressure from the school communities.  Their constituency clinics and Dáil offices were literally bombarded with letters, emails, phonecalls and personal visits from parents and teachers from the affected schools.  This was no polite lobbying, this was a direct message to these politicians that they could expect the heat of people’s anger if this decision was not reversed.  Plans were also announced for a protest by Dublin DEIS school communities on Thursday 19th January.

In the 10 days leading up to the protest the heat was stepped up even further on government backbenchers, and they began to wilt.  This resulted in Minister Quinn stating on Morning Ireland on Friday 13th January that he had made a “mistake” and that he had ordered a “review” of the proposed cuts.  But Quinn failed to announce a reversal of the cuts and campaigners immediately announced that the protest and the campaign would continue until a full reversal of the cuts was announced.

By announcing a “school by school review” of the cuts Minister Quinn was opening up a dangerous path whereby local politicians would be able to be seen to be the saviours of ‘their’ schools.  This approach was rejected by those opposing the cuts who demanded a clear and transparent process and the complete reversal of all cuts.  Indeed the farce of looking for a “review” was highlighted by the fact that the Department had in its possession reports from its own inspectorate and from the Education Research Centre which proved that the extra supports allocated to pupils through the DEIS scheme were having a positive effect on literacy and numeracy levels and on school attendance and retention.

Massive turnout

The massive turnout at the protest on Thursday 19th showed that school communities are not content to be bought off with promises of reviews, and will not allow the Minister’s divide-and-conquer tactics to prevail.  In their thousands parents, teachers and pupils turned out to demand a complete reversal of the cuts.  Protestors were addressed by the president of the INTO, by 2 school principals, by a number of parents and by District 14 INTO CEC representative, Brendan O’Sullivan.  The protest was good-humoured but determined and delivered a very clear message of defiance.

Union members and parents are aware that one protest will not change the government’s mind and plans are currently in train for the next phase of the campaign.  The demand for a complete reversal of the cuts stands and a meeting of school principals and staff reps from all DEIS schools in Dublinis to take place on Thursday next, 2nd February, to plan the next steps.

One proposal going before that meeting will be for an intensification of the lobbying of the backbench government TDs who can expect that they will be hearing a lot more of the people’s anger in coming weeks.  A further proposal is for a national day of protest.  The details of this are currently being discussed with representatives of DEIS schools around the country but it is hoped that on the same day (most likely Thursday 23rd February) a series of protests will take place in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick  and other areas where there are DEIS schools.

Simultaneously school communities in small rural schools – where staff cuts which will leave many of them devastated and force a number of small schools to close and others with huge classes – have also begun to organise.  Huge protest meetings are being organised across the country and school communities – teachers, parents and children uniting together – are getting organised to resist the attacks on the fabric of their communities.

Grassroots organising

What is most significant about the emerging fighting spirit against these education cuts is that the campaigns – while being organised though the union structures – are being organised by grassroots union members.  It is staff representatives, local principals and members of local branch and district committees which are the driving force behind these protests. 

This is what real trade unionism is about.  When we go to union meetings, too often we spend our time criticising the leadership and their lack of action.  What this campaign has proven – and will continue to prove – is that when that necessary giving out is done if we roll up our sleeves and get on with the hard work of organising on the ground we can move our campaigns forward. 

For a fantastic flavour of the Thursday 19th protest see this video from Trade Union TV.

by Gregor Kerr Chair District 14 INTO (personal capacity)

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