Origins of PDA

The origins of the PDA

This article is a summary of a report presented in 1986 by Seάn McCarthy to the Executive of TUI. Seάn was President of TUI from 1985 to 1987, Acting Assistant General Secretary of TUI in 1994 and represented the TUI Executive at PDA Executive meetings. He was a member of PDA from his appointment as Principal of Listowel Community College in 2002 until his retirement in 2011.

The precursor of the PDA was established in late 1969. The inaugural meeting was held in Athlone on 19th October of that year. Kevin  McCarthy represented the Executive of the Vocational Teachers’ Association (Cumann na nGairm-Mhúinteoirί) at the meeting.

Maurice Roche, Killorglin Technical School, the Chairman of the new “Headmasters’ Association”, wrote to Charles McCarthy, General Secretary of the VTA, requesting that the Executive would recognise the Association. He stated – “We do not, nor will we ever, seek separate powers of negotiation – that is enshrined in the constitution of CAME (Cumann Ard-Mháistrί na hÉireann). Finally, we never intend to take any type of action which would alienate or antagonise the members of our teaching body or our general Organisation in the slightest manner.” (Past-Presidents)

On 12th December 1970, the Standing Committee of CAME met to “examine, discuss and revise … the new draft constitution.” In attendance were Peadar Ó hAilpίn, Leas-Chathaoirleach; Muiris Holly C.G.M., President of VTA; Tomás Mac Dόnaill, Cill Dara; Pádraic Ó Súilleabháin, Ciarraί; Brian Ó Gallachabhair, Áth Cliath; Conchúir Ó Laighin, Luimneach; TG Carney, Cathair Áth Cliath; DJ Dunne, North Tipperary; Tadhg Ó Rίordáin, Co. Chorcaί; Mίcheál Ó Murchú, Coachford, Rúnaί (An Gabha Gaelach.) The meeting also considered part-time points, teaching hours, school transport and monies for reference libraries.

The name of the association was also finalised “Cumann Prίomh-Oidί na nGairm-Scoileanna –Association of Principals of Vocational Schools (APVS.) A Convention to ratify the Constitution was held in Athlone in January 1971.

Earlier that month, Charles McCarthy presented a memo to the Executive of VTA regarding a meeting between the representatives of the VTA and the “Headmasters’ Association.” It recorded agreement that

  • the Headmasters’ Executive Committee be formally constituted as a sub-committee of VTA
  • “the Headmasters’ Committee would essentially be an initiating committee and would not see itself as a committee which would act merely on the request of the Executive Committee.”

The Annual Report of the VTA Congress 1971 included the following … “The Executive at its meeting of 13th February agreed that the Headmasters’ Association should be formally recognised by the Executive Committee and furthermore that it be recognised as the only formal body apart from the prior position of the Branch with which the Executive Committee would have relations concerning Headmasters’ problems. It was further agreed to constitute the Executive Committee of the Headmasters’ Association as a sub-committee of the Executive Committee of Cumann na nGairm- Mhúinteoirί. Arising from this meeting the Executive Committee decided to approach the Minister for Education on the question of clerical assistance in schools and also the question of libraries.”

On 17th May 1971 the General Secretary wrote to Branch Secretaries and the Executive Committee inviting all VTA principals, and vice-principals where the principal was not a member, to a consultative conference. The key purpose of the conference was to consider the Department’s decision requiring Vocational Schools to get specific consent before a new senior cycle would be introduced. Another aim of the conference was to press universities to recognise technology subjects for the purpose of progression to higher education.

APVS also produced a newsletter on policy and developments. In January 1972 the Newsletter of APVS contained an item referring to discrimination in enrolment practices in secondary schools. The matter was taken up by Barry Desmond TD, Labour spokesperson on Education, who stated on 24th February “A very strongly-worded statement was made recently at a meeting of the Association of Principals of Vocational Schools in Athlone. Those people are extremely concerned about the selection procedures in post-primary education.”

The Newsletter detailed a Q&A session between Deputy Desmond and the Minister for Education, Pádraig Faulkner, on the practice.

“To ask the Minister for Education … if he will as a first step towards the eliminating of this abuse prescribe a date for enrolment to all post-primary schools and to bring to their notice that priority should not be given to any pupil by reason of scholastic attainment, family connection with the school or prior enrolment in a private school attached to the post-primary school, and if he will further take steps to have enrolment procedures supervised by his Department to ensure that all pupils be equitably treated where public funds are disbursed.”

The Minister replied as follows – “My task is to endeavour to provide post-primary education for every pupil who seeks it. The discharging of this task does not enable me to seek to control the enrolment procedures in individual schools.”

These examples of consultation with specialist grades within the Union and initiatives on policy by APVS illustrate how the union as a whole gained expertise and influence as a pressure group and professional body within a short period.

The Newsletter of 1972 included a reference to requests by APVS to have allowances for Principals improved and to get agreement from the Department to have the senior Principal in a VEC scheme appointed to the position of acting CEO instead of giving preference to non-teachers in the sector.

The Newsletter also contained advice for APVS branch secretaries on the need to inform VTA  branch secretaries of meetings and urged APVS members to attend VTA branch meetings, thus minimising the chances of division within the Union.

In 1973 it was agreed that a VTA Executive member would attend future meetings of the APVS Executive.

A year later, APVS organised a ballot on industrial action relating to clerical assistance for schools. VTA was requested to sanction the industrial action. In September 1974 the General Secretary responded, informing APVS that “the Executive Committee is the only body entitled to hold a ballot on national issues.”

At Arbitration Board hearings in 1973 and 1974 regarding increased allowances, the APVS representatives were included as part of the official negotiating team of the VTA.

Notwithstanding this progress, the APVS held a special Convention to consider its future within or outside of VTA. Members were asked to consider the options prior to Annual Conference in November.

Letters were exchanged between Orwell Road and APVS. The General Secretary wrote on 23rd October outlining the VTA discussions with the Department on Principals’ claims and stated that further communication would cease until a meeting was held to clarify allegations. Meetings took place and the matter was resolved.

In 1980 a meeting was held after the APVS Convention in Carlow. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (formerly the VTA) requested the organisation not to make an oral submission to the Review Body on Teacher Pay. APVS proceeded to make a submission and TUI withdrew recognition from the Association. In 1982 an agreed statement was signed by the Presidents of TUI and APVS which included the following – “It was agreed that the Principals’ Association will operate through the agency of the Union in matters affecting Principals either individually or as a body. The Union for its part recognises the expertise and responsibilities of Principals in specific areas, and will seek this expertise and utilise it, where necessary.”

More recently, a motion to TUI Congress that Deputy Principals be eligible for membership of the Association was not reached. The Executive took a decision to allow the inclusion of Deputy Principal and the subsequent TUI Congress adopted the Annual Report which included the decision.

The new organisation PDA represents a logical development which strengthens the organisation. The challenge now is to maximise membership in the only organisation which has direct access, as a sub-committee of TUI, to direct negotiations on conditions of service for Principals and Deputy Principals.


Seán has also included a little information on the people and organisations which preceded the TUI.

Horace Plunkett, agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist MP, Irish Senator and author, founded the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society in 1894. By 1903 there were 370 dairy societies, 201 cooperative banks and 146 agricultural societies under the auspices of the IAOS. These figures had reached over 1,000 societies and nearly 90,000 members by 1914. Plunkett was chairman of the Recess Committee and the author of a report on the Agriculture and Industries (Ireland) Bill of 1897. This report led to the passing in 1899 of an Act establishing the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI) for Ireland. As vice-president, Plunkett was the driving force behind DATI and the guide of policy and administration in its first seven years. By 1914 DATI had 138 instructors travelling the country, informing farmers about new methods in agriculture, horticulture and poultry-keeping. This led in 1917 to the establishment of The Representative Committee of Associations of Officers of Agricultural and Technical Instruction in Ireland.

In 1923 this became the Irish Agricultural and Technical Instruction Officers’ Organisation. George Russell (Æ), writer, editor, critic, poet, artist and nationalist, friend and colleague of Horace Plunkett, and Assistant Secretary of the IAOS, was President of the organisation.

The 1930 Vocational Education Act restructured vocational education in Ireland, identified the Department of Education as the department responsible and established new employing authorities, the Vocational Education Committees. The organisation of teachers was also restructured. The new Vocational Education Officers’ Organisation was not exclusively a teachers’ one as chief executive officers and clerks were members.


Towards the end of a period of turmoil in 1953/54, the organisation was known as Cumann Mhúinteoirί Gairm Oideachais. It was named Eagraίocht na nGairm-Mhúinteoirί in 1954/55, becoming an explicitly trade union body and excluding chief executive officers and clerks.  In 1955, it became Cumann na nGairm-Mhúinteoirί (Vocational Teachers’ Association). This was followed in 1973 by a change to its current designation, Aontas Múinteoirί Éireann (Teachers’ Union of Ireland).