I am a teacher, a committed trade unionist, an activist and public representative.
I grew up in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan and went to the local primary school there. I travelled to Monaghan for post-primary and at 16 succeeded in gaining entry to Coláiste Mobhí, an all Irish boarding school in the grounds of the Church of Ireland College of Education where I later went on to train as a teacher.
My teaching career
Graduating in the previous recession and unable to find a teaching job, I emigrated to Spain to teach English. While there I set up my own English language service and studied for a Diploma in Spanish.
With teaching opportunities on the rise in the mid-nineties, I returned to Ireland and secured a job in Our Lady Immaculate Junior School, Darndale, Dublin 17 (a Band 1 DEIS school), covering a maternity leave and then moved across the yard to Our Lady Immaculate Senior School, Darndale where I got a full-time job.
It was here that I first became involved in INTO, thanks to a colleague asking me to come along to a meeting and then supporting me as staff rep. On behalf of my Branch, I spoke on several motions to INTO Congresses, particularly those seeking additional supports for teachers and pupils in disadvantaged schools.
I was also an active teacher colleague in Darndale. I persuaded colleagues that the Board of Management should provide a dedicated smoking area (no smoking ban back then) away from those who didn’t smoke to allow all staff enjoy their lunch break. I also worked with colleagues and management to set up a 5th and 6th class Spanish teaching programme under the then Modern Languages in Primary School Pilot Project.
Wanting to experience a multi-denominational school, I secured a job in the newly established Swords Educate Together in 2001. Teaching here allowed me to experience the challenges and opportunities a developing school offers. In particular, it brought home to me the tangible benefits of collaborative leadership – my talents were acknowledged and put to good use and my weaknesses were accommodated (imagine a Junior Infant teacher that hasn’t a note of music in her head!!!). I continued with my INTO activism in Swords ETNS, in particular as Branch Organiser, Congress delegate and as the local summer course co-ordinator.
My INTO role
My INTO activism in Dublin North West Branch gave me the confidence to apply for a position as INTO Official with responsibility for INTO professional development in December 2004. While I miss teaching and the classroom this role allows me to work closely with practising teachers to develop and facilitate professional development courses and create classroom resources. This close connection keeps me grounded in the often challenging realities of our classrooms.
My key aim in INTO professional development is to put teachers’ need at the centre of what we do. Seeking to make INTO courses more accessible to members, I established online learning in 2005 which has enabled over 20,000 teachers to learn in their own time and at their own pace. Noting that most teacher classroom education footage was either American or of UK origin, and espousing the concept of teacher-led professional development, I began filming good practice in Irish classrooms to afford teachers participating on our courses a better understanding of new ideas, pedagogies and practices at work in their own context.
My responsibilities in INTO Head Office have expanded over the years. I was the INTO liaison official for the Visiting Teachers for Travellers Service and negotiated their redeployment following their 2011 disbandment. In 2014, I assumed responsibility for Officer Training and in this role I’ve expanded training opportunities, particularly for INTO Staff Reps, and introduced a more discursive element into training sessions.
In 2017 I assumed role of INTO Equality Officer and work closely with the INTO Equality Committee and the INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group to challenge inequalities as they relate to the nine grounds of discrimination in equality legislation as well as general social policies that negatively impact on teachers’ working lives. I also represent INTO on the ICTU Women’s Committee and the European Trade Union Confederation Standing Equality Committee.
I’m particularly conscious that over 80% of our members are female and a high proportion of those are working mothers often juggling teaching/principalship and nurturing a family. Having noticed a number of motions coming to Congress from members experiencing difficulties managing on-going fertility treatment, the trauma of early mis-carriage or other reproductive health matters that currently fall outside our current sick leave and pregnancy-related leave I’ve set up a sub-committee to explore how teachers in other jurisdictions are supported with regard to these reproductive health. I believe that given our very constrained school year and that time and space is needed for such matters that we need to negotiate a reproductive health leave scheme.
proposing on the INTO motion seeking universal public childcare at the ICTU Women’s Conference, June 2018
As someone who values evidence as an effective basis for policy and decision making, I completed a Masters in Education Management and Leadership with DCU researching a partnership approach to workplace learning across four Irish unions (CWU, SIPTU, Mandate and IMPACT (now FORSA). Last year I completed my doctorate in the School of Education in the University of Nottingham researching young teacher union (INTO) activists’ views and experiences of their involvement, voice and agency and its influence on their conception of professionalism. I’ve used some of my findings to inform my approach to trade union training and will be incorporating it into the work of the current INTO Taskforce on Participation.
In 2009, having become frustrated at shouting at the radio each time the news came on I knew I had to put up or get active so I joined the Labour Party. To me, trade unionism and Labour Party politics are two sides of the same coin – a means to strive towards decent work, an appropriately resourced, high quality public service, a welfare system that supports our most vulnerable in their time of need, a progressive taxation system and an inclusive society. While both sometimes fail, I’d rather me inside the tent fighting than moaning on the outside.
In 2014 I put my head above the parapet and ran in the local elections in the Beaumont/Donaghmede ward in the constituency of Dublin Bay North. This ward comprises Dublin 17, Dublin 13 and some of Dublin 5. Given the political landscape at the time it was a very tough and challenging campaign. However, I won a seat and took up the role of local Dublin City Councillor with drive and determination. I am Chairperson of the Special Committee for Fire and Ambulance Services and Emergency Management and a member of the Dublin City Council Strategic Housing Policy Committee. Ever conscious of trade union objectives, I successfully brought a motion to Dublin City Council seeking that it support the ICTU Charter on Workers Rights and facilitated ICTU to present its Housing Charter to the Strategic Housing Policy Committee.
on local radio talking about the impact of poor housing supply on families
My political involvement has allowed me to influence Labour Party policy, particularly in the areas of free universal childcare, equal welfare entitlements for the self-employed, the right to collective bargaining and the provision of housing and a fully resourced and funded education. It has also afforded me opportunities to work in cross party groups, given me an insider view of the political landscape and helped me develop a sharp political nose as well as good cross-party connections – no doubt beneficial in the role of INTO General Secretary. I would of course step down from my role as a Councillor if elected INTO General Secretary.