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(en) Workers solidarity, 72 Sep. 2002 - Dunboyne Sacking - Union Failed To Act

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 27 Sep 2002 23:31:35 -0400 (EDT)


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At the end of July, the principal teacher of
Gaelscoil Thulach na nOg in Dunboyne, Co.
Meath was sacked by the school's patron body,
An Foras Patrunachta [*] after a dispute about
the teaching of religion. The sacking was a
victory for bigotry and intolerance and a defeat
for democracy, diversity and - most worryingly
of all - the concept of trade union collective
action. 'An injury to one' was not taken on as 'an
injury to all' and the position of all teachers is
weaker as a result.

Gaelscoil Thulach na nOg was established as an
'inter-denominational' school a number of years ago
and Tomás O Dulaing was appointed as its first
principal. 'Inter-denominational' - in the context of
Irish primary education - means that there are
children from the two main religions - Roman
Catholic and Church of Ireland, taught side by side.
When the school was established, the question of
how to deal with the teaching of religious doctrine or
truths was not clarified. The principal, teachers,
parents and Board of Management - with the
agreement of the patron body - set about a long
consultative process aimed at formulating a policy
acceptable to all.

At the conclusion of this process, a policy was drawn
up and agreed by all involved in the consultations.
This policy stated that all matters common to both
religions would be taught during normal school hours
to all pupils, but that matters of 'truth' (ie matters
accepted as truth by only one religious denomination
such as First Holy Communion for Roman
Catholics) would be taught outside of school hours.

However when this policy was submitted to the
patron body for their approval, they insisted that such
an approach was not acceptable and that all religion
should be taught during school hours. What this
would in effect mean would be that the non-Catholic
pupils would be made to sit in the classroom while
matters particular to the Catholic doctrine were
taught, thus showing up in the most obvious way
possible to the majority that these children were in
some way 'different'.

Democracy

As an anarchist I obviously have very strong views on
the proper place for religion in education and
elsewhere - outside the door to put it politely. The
issues at stake in this case were not however a refusal
to teach religion, in fact all teachers expressed a
willingness to do so. What was at stake was a straight
question of democracy - were this patron body to be
allowed to overturn a decision arrived at after long
consultation and agreed by all the school community
- parents, teachers and Board of Management?

The first result of the patron's decision was a shift in
the balance of power on the management board, with
a majority backing the patron's stance. O Dulaing as
principal however stood by the
democratically-arrived-at policy and wrote a letter to
the parents outlining his stance. It was ultimately for
writing this letter that he was sacked, with the patron
claiming that his sacking had nothing to do with
religion but was purely an industrial relations matter.

Despite retaining at all times the support of all the
teachers and 80% of the parents in the school, O
Dulaing's suspension in April was followed - after a
series of so-called appeals that looked to the outside
observer to be mere window dressing - by his
dismissal. It was ultimately the failure of his union,
the INTO (Irish National Teachers Organisation), to
treat the matter as 'an industrial relations matter' that
allowed the dismissal to happen. This despite the fact
that this year's INTO annual congress had given
unanimous backing to O Dulaing.

When the sacking took place, INTO general
secretary John Carr responded by describing it as
'disproportionate' and 'unreasonable' and live on
RTE News demonstrated just how seriously the
INTO leadership was taking the case when he
announced that it would be discussed as a matter of
urgency by the Central Executive Committee - three
weeks later!!

What Should Have Been Done??

Words of regret after the sacking, even meetings,
pickets or rallies which might be organised (at the
time of writing - over a month later - just one public
meeting has been called) are all well and good but the
fact remains that had effective industrial action been
taken the sacking would not have taken place. In
short if the INTO leadership had fought the issue on
an industrial relations/political level rather than on a
legal/'keep your head down' one, O Dulaing would
still be principal of the school.

At the very least, the following should have
happened:



   A conference/meeting of all teachers working in
   schools under the patronage of An Foras
   Patrunachta should have been called. This
   meeting was asked for by the teachers in the
   school, and was supported by motions passed at
   several INTO branches. A motion at this meeting
   calling for industrial action in the event of the
   dismissal going ahead would have been passed
   and would have been a strong bargaining tool in
   showing the patron that they would be met with
   collective action in the event of them attempting
   to take on a union member.



   The Central Executive Committee should not
   have waited until the dismissal to discuss what to
   do about it. A plan of action for such an
   eventuality should have been outlined as soon as
   O Dulaing was initially suspended in April. The
   patron body should have been left in no doubt as
   to the chain of reaction which would result from
   an attempted dismissal This could have involved
   - as well as strike action in all schools under the
   patronage of the Foras - industrial action in all
   schools in the local union branch spreading to
   involve neighbouring branches on a rolling basis
   Furthermore, it should have been made clear that
   the teaching of religion in all schools would
   become a major issue. A threat that all teachers
   would withdraw from the teaching of religion
   would have sent shockwaves through the
   religious establishment and would have led to
   pressure being brought to bear on An Foras
   Patrunachta to back down.

This dismissal raises many questions for teachers
about the role of religion in Irish primary education.
Even further it raises serious issues for INTO
members about the failure of the union to defend its
members from bullying and intimidation by the
unaccountable 'owners' of the schools in which we
work.

                            Gregor Kerr

     Member Dublin City North Branch Committee
            INTO (writing in personal capacity)

* Primary schools are managed by Boards of
Management which are answerable to patron bodies.
In the case of denominational schools (ie the vast
majority of all primary schools) the patron is the local
bishop. The patron body for
multidenominational/non-denominational schools is
an organisation called 'Educate Together' while
about 40 gaelscoils (schools in which teaching is
done through the Irish language) are under the
patronage of An Foras Patrunachta. A couple of
these are multidenominational and 8 of them are
'inter-denominational'.

See also

   Workplace struggles and the unions
http://struggle.ws/wsm/unions.html
   anarchist analysis of the unions alongside
   specific coverage of strikes and workplace
   disputes in Ireland

   Anarchism and eligion http://struggle.ws/wsm/religion.html
   Anarchists traditionally have a hostile attitude to
   religion, summed up by the slogan 'No Gods, No
   Masters'

    This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers
  Solidarity'.  http://struggle.ws/worksol.html

We also provide PDF files of all our publications for you to print out
 and distribute locally http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf.html




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