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‘Anti-Irish’ remarks cast a shadow over teachers’ strike

<> on October 17, 2013 in Bristol, England.
Teachers and protestors take part in a rally organised by the NUT and NASUWT

IN-FIGHTING has erupted within a national teachers’ union after a boss was accused of making ‘anti-Irish’ remarks.

Teacher Rob Harrington tore up his National Union of Teachers membership card after Kent branch secretary John Walder claimed British schools should employ their ‘own people’ rather than the increasing number of Irish teachers filling the roles.

The Co. Cork native accused the NUT boss of anti-Irish bias, following the remarks.

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“This guy is supposed to represent all teachers equally and here he is, within his own ranks, drawing a distinction between who is and who is not welcome,” he said.

Following the backlash Mr Walder was quick to clarify his statement, praising Irish people for being “an essential part of our teaching force”, but branding Mr Harrington “an idiot”.

The row comes after revelations by The Irish Post that hundreds of Irish people are coming to find work in British schools every year due to a jobs crisis at home.

Mr Harrington spoke out after Mr Walder encouraged NUT members to strike, claiming Kent’s teacher shortage would worsen due to the many Irish teachers likely to return home once Ireland’s economy improves.

Rob Harrington
Rob Harrington

“This puts a negative focus on Irish teachers, the vast majority of whom, from my experience, are very committed and settled in the area,” Mr Harrington complained.

He added that Mr Walder was “generalising massively” and ignoring people such as himself who have been in Britain for over a decade and had set down roots here.

The teacher went on to explain that Mr Walder had previously singled out the Irish as a “subgroup” in the summer.

Then, referring again to Kent’s teacher shortage, the NUT secretary told a local newspaper: “One of the things I’ve noticed is when I go around schools I see Irish number plates into the double digits in the car parks.

“There are schools which are significantly staffed by people from Ireland.

“It’s been going on for a while; teachers are coming from other parts of the world and we get some great people.

“But the fact is that we should be worried – we should staff our schools with our own people.”

Mr Harington said: “If you substitute the word Irish in his comments for virtually any other ethnic minority in the UK, this guy would be in the national media.

“I have had kids on the back of that article mentioning the number of Irish plates in the car park. That directly undermines your standing, as if you are somehow a guest worker. That somehow you are flighty.”

He added: “Those comments have made me feel unwelcome and anxious as to how I am perceived by virtue of my nationality”.

In an interview with The Irish Post, Mr Walder fiercely resisted the criticism.

“This bloke has got it into his head that he is being targeted – he is an idiot,” he said.

“But this is simply a remark about number plates and the number of people who Kent – and the rest of the country – has to rely on simply to fill up the places in their schools, which I think is a scandal.”

He added: “If there is a narrative of ‘us and them’, I regret that. The fact is there is no intention to cause any aggravation or any sense of alienation.

“I am pretty certain that the rest of the things we do as NUT officers and the things I do as an NUT officer does nothing whatsoever to give any Irish person the notion that we think of ‘us and them’.”


Niall O Sullivan

Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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5 comments on “‘Anti-Irish’ remarks cast a shadow over teachers’ strike”

  1. kevin foley

    It is as it should be - free movement of workers within the EU. And the NUT Rep's comments are crass. But if you try and go in the opposite direction you find it's a series of hoops to jump through organised by the Teaching Council to deter outsiders - even those with Irish Passports courtesy of two Irish born parents. Your UK post-graduate certificate in teaching will be deemed inadequate and - if you survive all the initial hurdles - you will be asked to sit a test in ' the history of irish education since 1922'. I declined the pleasure and got paid as an unqualified worker, despite a couple of decades of successful teaching this side of the water. I went to a tribunal and took on the Teaching Council - and lost; they had an expensive brief - there was a lot at stake. I was told off the record that they would take it as far as the EU if I had won. This was back in 2006. They have closed the loophole now - they don't take on 'unqualified' teachers any more.

  2. Austin Harney

    Dear All,
    I have read this article and can, only, express my outrage as someone who is second generation Irish and has been taught by many Irish Teachers at English schools. I ask that Rob Harrington rejoins the NUT but simultaneoulsy, we should draw up a petition calling for the resignation of John Walder. Already, there are Representatives in other Trade Unions who have been suspended for making far less racist remarks. In addition, Rob should have the right to lodge a Formal Grievance Claim under the Equality Act within the NUT. Other Irish Teachers who have the same employer as John Walder have the right to seek legal advice and lodge Employment Tribunal applications under the Equality Act if necessary.
    Yours sincerely
    Austin Harney,
    Chair of CRAIC (Campaign for the Rights and Actions of Irish Communities) Fighting the Cuts.
    Secretary of the South East Trades Union Congress (SERTUC) Race Relations Committee.

  3. Seán Flynn

    Bloody Irish, they come over here and teach our children...they've some nerve...

  4. Austin Harney

    In reference to the last sentence, "Bloody Irish, they come over here and teach our children... they've some nerve..." it is amazing that it is allowed to be published at all. If this person made such a remark in my work place, the penalty would be instant dismissal. But the fact that we allow this message to be posted on this website goes to show that society is very soft on anti - Irish racism in Britain!

  5. Alan

    If Irish schools were packed with cars from England then we would be wondered why, wouldn't we? Let's be fair.

    I don't see why they need to bring their cars over to England. The public transportation is good.


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