General Secretary’s Address to Annual Congress – key extracts

By piofficer, Tuesday, 2nd April 2024 | 0 comments

General Secretary’s Address to Annual Congress – key extracts

TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie addressed over 500 delegates and guests at TUI’s Annual Congress in Killarney, Co Kerry today. Some extracts from his wide-ranging speech are set out below.

‘Let us advocate for a world where no children face the horrors of war’

As we gather here today for our Annual Congress, I am compelled to address the sombre realities that persist in our world. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza have cast a long shadow, affecting millions of lives, particularly those of innocent children. These young souls caught in the crossfire endure most of the cruelty of the conflicts. In Ukraine, the invasion has exacted a devastating toll. Children have lost family members, fled their homes, and witnessed unimaginable horrors. The trauma they endure will echo for decades, affecting their development, mental health, and physical well-being. In Ireland we play our small part in mitigating the effects by welcoming over 15,000 students from Ukraine into our schools.

Meanwhile in Gaza 14,000 children have already perished, countless others are injured, and their education has been completely disrupted. The relentless bombing continues. Humanitarian aid has been reduced to a trickle, leaving children starving, ill and deprived of clean water and sanitation. Famine looms – which has grim resonance for Irish people. The basic human rights we take for granted of life, health and education are tragically denied to them. As we convene to share knowledge and insights let us remember these young souls especially. For their sake, let us advocate for peace, for their right to safety and for a world where no children face the horrors of war. Together we can be their voice, their hope, and their chance for a brighter tomorrow.

Pay and the cost of living

The TUI, after a ballot of members has approved acceptance of the new public service pay agreement 2024 to 2026, with 82% of members voting to accept the agreement. On Monday the 25th of March the Public Services Committee of The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) ratified the Public Service Pay agreement by the aggregation of the ballots of the 19 affiliated public service unions. The new agreement will cover the period from the 1st of January 2024 to the 30th of June 2026. There were sizable majorities in favour of the new pay agreement in most unions.

The new agreement marks the end of an era of industrial relations conducted under the terms of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest legislation better known as FEMPI. This was introduced initially during the financial crash of 2009. Unions had sought the full and final unwinding of this legislation in these negotiations to reestablish normal industrial relations processes and procedures. We must be vigilant here and be clear of our view of “normal” which may be different to government department’s view. Most currently working in government departments have only ever operated under FEMPI legislation and it will be a job of work to change that mindset.


As outlined last year, the initiative taken by the TUI was to give impetus to the talks on amalgamation, a long-standing TUI policy. Amalgamating the TUI and ASTI is the right thing to do. It is worth the generosity; it is worth the effort for the prize of a bigger, stronger union with a bigger voice which will have more power and say. We will work hard to achieve this long held TUI ambition. The President will update Congress later in terms of the next steps in the process. Personally, having taught in a dual union school, I have believed in this for all my teaching and trade union career.

Third level/Higher Education

The TUI has an ambitious vision to create a strong TU sector; to develop and build on the strengths, traditions, and achievements of our members in the higher education sector. But for this vision to be achieved there must be full commitment by the government, DFHERIS, the HEA, HEI management - and by TUI members - to create a distinctive TU sector.

DkIT and IADT must be included in this evolution.

Given the need for cohesion and direction, it was disappointing to say the least that industrial action had to be initiated by TUI members to make progress in working with MTU management to facilitate consultation on issues in MTU and its development. We hope this is now close to a resolution.

A national ballot of TUI members at third level also had to be undertaken in relation to a DPER decision to pay administration grades and academic staff with similar levels of responsibilities, different rates of pay – rates that are lower than the rates paid to staff in similar roles in TU Dublin. No rationale or explanation was given for the differential, other than a general statement that it was up to DPER to determine rates for higher paid public servants. This numbskull economics must end. If there is to be a grading structure of any kind. there needs to be a clear rationale established by consultation with the TUI, the only union that represents the academic grades. Relying on DPER’s unilateral assessment is not sufficient or acceptable and would lead to rapid degradation of terms and conditions in the sector and diminution of the sector's vision, to the detriment of all concerned.

The announcement of new Tertiary Education course at the end the last academic year took TUI by surprise – in spite of the fact that we had been repeatedly promised by Minister Harris and his Department that there would be no surprises. The lack of consultation on the introduction of these new pathways which involved joint delivery by ETBs and the higher education sector was astounding, as the TUI was the only Union involved and crossed both sectors involved.

In response the TUI lodged the same grievance about the rollout of the proposed courses with each relevant employer, both in ETBs and the higher education institutions. This resulted in high level negotiations. The negotiations concluded with the required guarantees being secured by the Union in relation to terms and conditions. However, we must be vigilant. Adherence to the guarantees by ETBs and HEIs needs to be monitored locally. TUI agreed to cooperate with the pilot after the Minister committed publicly to what TUI had requested.

The TUI recognises that these alternative pathways into higher education are valid pathways and lead both to future opportunities for learners and the development of the further education base. Alternative pathways into tertiary education chime with our commitment to local and regional educational opportunities which can especially facilitate students coming from DEIS schools. However, standards and access arrangements must be agreed with us. The terms and conditions of our members must always be protected. There must be parity of esteem for the various pathways with the required resources and investment. The pilot will be reviewed regularly throughout the implementation phase.

It will need to be as the tendency of some ETBs to lose the run of themselves is not helpful. Some of these trouble-addicted outliers recurringly contrive to the muddy the waters in relation to the joint delivery model. This is not helped by the kind of local, delusional empire building that we have witnessed around the grandiose but nebulous concept of the FET College of the Future.  Nobody knows what a further education college of the future looks like. Is it the building? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It is spoken about all the time with no clarity as to what it is or what it is to become. In this vacuum some ETBs are puffing hard and getting high on their vision. This is no way to do serious business. For further education to be successful there must be parity of esteem across the sector within all ETB's. The quality of and structures for this education service must be similar in all ETBs and must be developed in consultation with us, with the TUI, at local and, where appropriate, national levels If members feel that something is afoot or amiss in their ETB, they must be ready to act.

Adult Educators

Part of the problem of course is that, too often, the experts – our members in the various further and adult education services – have been treated with scant respect. The long running story of adult education tutors and finalizing their terms and conditions has been fraught difficulty and with inexcusable delays. Despite the chairman's note from previous national agreements, a Labour Court recommendation, despite even the support of the Minister and his Department the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform delayed the approval of the offer that was so keenly awaited. Then other issues emerged which had to be dealt with. I am delighted to say that those issues have now been sorted. The text of a final agreement was published last week, finally giving certainty to this group of members who have spent an age on the margins. Potentially, this is an agreement to build a future on for the grade. I would like to thank all involved for their persistence and endeavor in reaching an outcome.

Youth reach members have for many years outlined at Congress the lack of recognition of their valuable work with some of our most vulnerable students. Delays in processing legitimate claims and other industrial relations issues are frustrating for all involved, a frustration made worse by a litany of lame excuses for these delays from the department.

Recruitment and retention

Colleagues, as the world and his uncle know, TUI had warned over several years that there were severe recruitment and retention issues building in the system. The TUI has made suggestions over the years as to how to alleviate this problem. The reduction in the PME from 2 years to one year would have an immediate impact as also would a circular letter on incremental credit for post primary teachers to help bring our teachers home from serving abroad. The payment of allowances for SEN qualification, Teaching through Irish and Island allowances may also help in the recruitment and retention of teachers in these areas which were abolished by Government in 2012.

The various training and re-training initiatives are welcome as they help provide additional teachers where qualified teachers are scarce.

TUI has also noted an increase in teachers who are teaching out of field to fill holes in the system.

The lack of substitutes in our schools is a chronic problem. The use of student teachers at all levels is supplying much needed help in this area. It is noteworthy that this effectively reduces the PME from two unpaid years to one – with no adverse effect on quality of teaching! The additional 140 paid substitution hours available to serving teachers is helping but at the cost of adding to the considerable workload of these teachers who are time-poor to begin with. The failure of some schools to implement these alleviation measures correctly is also causing problems.

In our pre-Congress survey of post 2011 teachers who entered the profession only 12% were offered a permanent position; 88% were not. Only 35% received a contract on full hours; 65% did not - a scandalous statistic in the teeth of a recruitment crisis, 20% took three years to get a contract on full hours and 34% took longer. What is expected? That these teachers will wait around at management’s beck and call to make up time as substitutes.  The idea that can eat the False Promises of some managements. These teachers are forced to get additional part-time jobs, work summer jobs moonlight just to make ends meet. These are rational young men and women who will make rational choices - and leave. Where they go, the pay and other conditions are better – even the weather is better. Why would they stay to endure both poverty and disrespect. They are not abandoning Ireland. Ireland – more specifically the Department of Education and DPER – has abandoned them.

We need to give these graduates full-time jobs – now - from day one - to have any hope of keeping them as teachers. Other jurisdictions are recruiting aggressively – just go to any careers fair in a HEI - giving full time jobs ahead of effective commencement dates - in October for the following September. Why are we not able to compete with these jurisdictions. Our children suffer because of the failure of the relevant departments to engage with reality. They do not have subject teachers – sometimes any teacher - in front of them, subjects are lost, life opportunities dwindle. The serving teacher are required to take up the slack which makes the job too damn hard. So, we retire early or leave the profession.

Departmental ducking, diving and deflection needs to stop. Measures that hold out the prospect of real progress need to commence – now. For everybody’s sake  

Another morale-sapping factor is the hollowed-out career structure. Since the great plunder of 2009, posts of responsibility have been as rare as canine teeth in maw of a hairy hen.

Therefore, the 500 additional posts of responsibility given in budget 2024 are to be welcomed. They are a much-needed restoration of some posts lost due to the moratorium on the filling of posts. The fact that they are only available from the 1st of September 2024 is a pity. And, of course, more is needed in Budget 2025.

In conjunction with the Department of Education it has been agreed that there is no reason for the posts not to be interviewed for in the last term and filled. Members will be ready to start the positions on the 1st of September 2024 but more importantly members will get paid for the post from the 1st of September 2024. If your school board of management or your ETB does not advertise the posts, then we need to know why.

When considering the recruitment and retention crisis it is important to realise that it is no longer confined to the second level sector. As the bulge in demographics moves to further education and into higher education, recruitment is also proving challenging, especially in the apprenticeship area. The recruitment and retention crisis is a direct result of the policy of successive governments of making education do more with less even as student numbers have increased.

Senior cycle redevelopment

In September 2023 reform changed to “redevelopment”. The proposed move to teacher-based assessment was halted by the Department of Education due to concerns in relation to AI. This was accompanied by an announcement that Senior Cycle Redevelopment would be accelerated, with an immediate consultation on five subjects’ Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Classical Studies, and Arabic to be completed by the end of the year. These are the subjects to be rolled out in the school year beginning 2025. Other changes were announced such as the sidelining of the proposal for network schools, roll out of CPD for teachers a year ahead of the introduction of any new subject or specification. Sample papers would be available during the CPD.

All students can have a place in transition year, with a financial package to be made available in schools from September 2024 to facilitate any additional places required.

There is to be no change in the percentage allocated to current second components of assessment, now known Additional Assessment Components (AACs). The NCCA has also agreed to provide more detailed specifications, including depth of treatment, in the light of lessons learned from the junior cycle specifications. A lot of what the TUI had advocated for Senior Cycle Redevelopment has now been taken on board by the stakeholders; but we must not be complacent. Senior Cycle redevelopment will have significant implications for the workload of all teachers. Additional Assessment Components will lead to almost bespoke teaching and learning for our students. In our pre-Congress survey 50% of respondents believe schools are not equipped to take on AACs or the revised 5 specifications already published. 66% indicated their school does not have the facilities to introduce Drama, Film and Theatre Studies or Climate Action and Sustainable Development from 2025/2026. We in TUI must be prepared to do what it takes to obtain the resources, particularly the time to implement Senior Cycle Redevelopment.

Time, colleagues, is key; time is a valuable currency that is in truly short supply.


Excessive workload and work intensification are making teachers and lecturers time poor. In every sector, you - our members - insistently state there is an ever-increasing workload and no time to do it - and when time is not available work intensification occurs. All of which is unsustainable for teachers. It constitutes a serious health and well-being issue for very many members. The hidden and additional work done on top of class contact time is not recognised.  TUI must demand that it be recognised, and we must campaign to this end.

Continual, additional, bureaucratic, and administrative demands for empty work from all sorts of sources mean accumulating workload and work intensification for teachers. A workload that is unfair, excessive, and unsustainable makes no sense – is a threat to the system. Members at all levels in the profession need to call a halt and start saying no. The TUI must move forward with policies that give our members back their personal time.

Who said it is ok to start correcting copies or Exams at 11pm or at the end of your weekend on a Sunday night. When were we asked to sign over the deeds of our private lives and personal time? What number of hours is unhealthy? Research states that anything over 55 hours can increase the risk of stroke by 35% or heart disease by 17%. If we continue to work the way we are doing, we will become unhealthy. If you suffer burnout, you become useless to your family as well as in the job. Who or what is to blame for this rapid erosion of your personal time? Is it the school, school leaders, Department of Education – or is it you? The union must encourage change in our schools, but you must also do it for yourself. We must all learn to say no so that we can do our jobs and stay well.

As a Union we also need a vision of what our work should entail and a workable strategy

My vision is a 20/20 vision for Post Primary education. Teachers need a maximum of 20 contact hours with no more than 20 students in any class - 20/20. We need at congress to make it our policy to reduce the workload, to alleviate the work intensification. We need something specific to aim for if we are to remain healthy and able to do the job that we are being asked to do. I urge that at Congress next year this becomes our policy - a 20/20 vision for Post Primary Education.

Teaching Council elections

All four TUI endorsed candidates were elected to the Teaching Council: Clodagh O’Hara for the Community and Comprehensive constituency. Ursula O'Connor for the ETB Midlands and North- West constituency. Noel Cronin and Claire Markey both in the ETB Dublin and South constituency. I offer my congratulations to all candidates and thank them for putting themselves forward. Thank you delegates for your support of these candidates.

I want to pay special tribute to the RMA members who worked extremely hard during the Teaching Council election campaign. I want to especially note Clodagh’s achievement, being elected by a margin of 36 votes in her constituency, which is always closely fought. TUI candidates have now won the seat for the third time in a row.

The ETB elections will take place in coming term. I would urge each branch to meet in their regional groups, during Congress, to agree their candidates for these up-and-coming important staff elections.


The TUI, made-up of teachers, lecturers, and other educators across second level, third level, further and adult education, gives TUI a breadth of expertise and experience that gifts us a unique understanding of the Irish public education system; an understanding that your President David Waters will share with two government ministers over the next few days. The TUI in the coming year will strive to protect and represent our members and their interests effectively and professionally.

Finally, I am pleased to report that, as you can see from the Annual Accounts, the finances of the TUI are in good order.

 I wish you well in your deliberations on the motions before you. I know you will consider them in a coherent and strategic manner. You will, through this Congress, show that the TUI is fit and able to meet the challenges over the next year.

It is my privilege as General Secretary to present this annual report of 2023 to Annual Congress 2024.