The ‘dirty dozen’ education cuts announced in the Budget and carried in the Dáil last night remain a source of deep anger to Waterford teachers and opposition politicians.

Primary and secondary teachers from both the city and county took their place among the thousands who protested outside Leinster House on Wednesday night, many still mystified by the Government’s strategy.

“It disgusts me that Batt O’Keeffe has adopted such a stance,” said Ursuline Convent teacher John Cummins.

“Given his own background and his own experience of the education system, I really thought that he would have known better. What has been proposed by the Minister simply beggars belief.”

The increase in class sizes would be to the detriment of the quality of education that teachers at both levels could provide, he stressed.

“Because of these cuts, some teachers will, for example, undoubtedly end up with a class of 36 pupils.

“Now the difference between teaching 26 and 36 is beyond description. If you’ve got a class of 36, then you’re primarily in the business of crowd control, of crowd management. Trying to deliver the desired level of education in such a crowded classroom will become increasingly difficult because of these cuts.”

A Waterford-based primary school teacher echoed sentiments expressed earlier that day on Today FM’s ‘The Last Word’ by INTO President Declan Kelleher, who was among the protest’s keynote speakers.

Children punished

“The teachers aren’t the ones being punished by these cuts, it’s the children, who are already in overcrowded classrooms,” she said.

“It’s the children who don’t have English as a first language who will suffer. It’s the children and their education that will suffer and that’s why we’re here tonight. This has nothing to do with teachers and their pay. Nothing.”

Senator Paudie Coffey, who recently assumed the chairmanship of Portlaw National School’s Board of Management, stressed that party politics had no place in the ongoing debate.

“At the moment in Portlaw, we have 34 in my child’s junior infant class and 36 in senior infants,” he said. “Those numbers speak for themselves.”

Added Senator Coffey: “Our children are the most valuable resource in our society, so by denying them resources and by making conditions more difficult for teachers in the manner that has been proposed doesn’t make any sense.

“We know that times are tough, I think everyone across the country recognises that. But these cut-backs aren’t the answer. They will serve only to create further difficulties.

“Brian Hayes’s (Fine Gael’s education spokesman) proposal to introduce a one year pay freeze for public servants earning €50,000 or more is, in my view, a more viable and sensible approach to tackling the problems which we know must be faced.”

He continued: “And if that were to be put to teachers, I believe that is something they’d be willing to work with.”

His Seanad colleague Maurice Cummins stated: “It is incumbent upon all of us to fight for our pupils and to oppose these cuts. If the Government thinks that this matter will be brought to a close any time soon, then they’ve got another thing coming.”