Row over early retirement pledge

9th June 1995 at 01:00
The Irish education minister Niamh Breatnach must rue the day she said that she would introduce an early retirement deal for teachers. Her promise two years ago has led to an increasingly bitter row between teachers and the Government.

It caused a strike in half of the nation's primary and secondary schools last week and one of the biggest demonstrations in Dublin for years when 15, 000 teachers paralysed city centre traffic for nearly an hour.

Further strikes are threatened but more damaging is the teacher unions' policy of non co-operation with the education ministry on curricular reform.

Breatnach had hoped to introduce a sex education programme in all schools starting this autumn. She had also planned major reforms of the Schools' Leaving Certificate programme.

Now all these reforms are on hold because the unions refuse to allow their members to attend necessary in-service preparation and training.

The minister insists that she has delivered her promise but the unions clearly do not think so. Instead of a general scheme of early retirement she initially offered a limited scheme for "stressed out" teachers or those deemed surplus to requirements (as the result of school mergers, for example).

The unions continued to press their case and she agreed to extend a concession to secondary school teachers already enjoyed by primary teachers who can retire on less than full pension at age 55 provided they have 35 years' service. She also agreed to a number of other smaller claims for increased allowances for different groups of teachers. Matters became more complicated when the ministry demanded increased productivity for these various concessions. In effect it sought a longer working year by all teachers in return for a package deal that would benefit less than half of them. Not surprisingly it was rejected.

The unions have modified their original demands but still want a general scheme whereby teachers can retire on full pension after 38 years' service with two years' pension "enhancement". The Government has balked at this as well because of the "knock-on" effects.

Already nurses, doctors, civil servants and other groups have signalled their intention of seeking early retirement deals and their case will be strengthened if the teachers get a general scheme.

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