The Summer School programme of events began on Friday with the laying of a wreath at the memorial for the political activist Jim Gralton, in Effrinagh, county Leitrim. As well as trade unionists, family members of Jim Gralton were in attendance.

This was followed by a meeting in the Bush Hotel, Carrick on Shannon, county Leitrim, which was addressed by Dr Sheila Garrity of NUI Galway on the issue of professionalism within the Early Years sector. At the event, SIPTU General Secretary Designate, Joe Cunningham, outlined the importance of the Early Years sector for the development of society and the union’s ongoing Big Start campaign which seeks to secure improvements in conditions for children, parents and workers.

Markievicz/Partridge summer school coordinator, Ashling Dunne, said: “The recent RTÉ Prime Time programmes raised many important matters about priorities within the Early Years sector. The problems in the sector, and their solutions, were discussed in depth at the Summer School which was entitled ‘Equality and Early Years – the Right to a Public Service’.”

On Saturday morning in the Sligo Southern Hotel, county Sligo, the discussion was joined by Assistant General Secretary ASTI, Moira Leydon, and the Early Years educators John Davey and Deborah Reynolds who was a guest on a recent Prime Time programme.

Leydon compared the campaign to secure recognition for national school teachers with the Big Start Campaign to secure the same for Early Years educators.  

Davey who owns the Ballintogher Playschool and Afterschool gave a presentation on the difficulties of running an educational establishment when faced with often contradictory bureaucratic demands and dysfunctional policies which were introduced with no consultation with the people expected to implement them.

The difficulties experienced by Early Years educators was outlined by Reynolds, who said many spend thousands of euro of their own money on training only to find themselves earning less than the living wage, laid off during normal school holidays and unable to support themselves. 

SIPTU North West Area Big Start Campaign co-ordinator, Martin O Rourke, said: “We are very pleased with how our Summer Schools are progressing and are determined to continue the tradition of creating reasoned debate and building knowledge on issues which are important to our members.”