Deputy Mayor of Drogheda, Councillor Michelle Hall.
The newly elected Deputy Mayor of Drogheda, Labour Councillor Michelle Hall has been dealt the first setback of her short political career. She has been denied paid time off from work to undertake council duties because she is a special needs assistant (SNA).
Everything seemed to be going just fine for Hall, she came from nowhere just a few weeks before the local elections and not only did she get elected on her first attempt but a few days later she was elected as Drogheda’s Deputy Mayor.
To cap it all, on the day she was elected Deputy Mayor, she also got the news that she had got a distinction in her degree, a BA in Applied Early Childhood Studies.
Councillor Hall reckons she is the first SNA in the country to be elected to a local authority and the management and staff at her school, Aston Village Educate Together School, are fully supportive of Michelle’s work on the Council but the Department of Education and Skills has denied her paid time off, which she could avail of if she were a teacher.
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“The Department of Education and Science informed both my supportive school and my union Fórsa that I must take unpaid leave" said Councillor Hall.
“So far I’ve had to take three unpaid leave days to attend meetings. It’s unfair, unequal and unacceptable,” she added.
The head of Fórsa’s Education Division, Andy Pike agreed. He said that the union had lodged a claim for SNAs and other non-teaching staff to get the same leave provisions as teachers in similar circumstances.
Teachers who are councillors are allowed up to ten days’ paid leave to attend meetings held during school opening hours.
“I was told yesterday that Michelle has been denied time off to attend council meetings, and the Department of Education thinks that's just fine. Well it’s not fine, and it’s not on” Mr. Pike said.
“This is yet another example of discrimination against SNAs and other non-teaching staff in our two-tier education system. And it potentially undermines our local democracy by making it hard – if not impossible – for lower paid elected members to carry out their representative duties,” he pointed out.