Priest cleared of abuse challenges Minister for Education’s decision to withdraw salary
Fr Conroy tells High Court school has not re-engaged him following investigation of claims made by student, leaving him ‘penniless’
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. Photograph: Frank Miller
A “penniless” schoolteacher priest, who was cleared by his school board of allegations of sexually abusing a student, has been granted leave by the High Court to challenge a decision by the Minister for Education not to pay him his salary.
Fr Tommy Conroy, of Clonamona, Craanford, Gorey, Co Wexford, is also challenging a decision of Gorey Community School not to re-engage him following administrative leave with pay pending school board inquiries into the allegations made against him.
Barrister Oliver Costello told the High Court yesterday Fr Conroy had not been paid since the end of May last and was now virtually penniless. Mr Justice Daniel Herbert granted him leave to judicially review both decisions.
Fr Conroy stated in an affidavit that, following a full investigation by the school’s board in October 2012, the board decided he had not engaged in sexual impropriety with the student and no disciplinary action was taken or proposed against him.
He had remained on leave with pay and agreed to a request from the board to undergo a risk assessment, which he had completed.
Fr Conroy said that during leave of absence he had not received correspondence – sent to the school and not to his home – about renewal of his certificate to teach which is issued by the teaching council. Through inadvertence it had lapsed and he had omitted to renew it.
The council had recently refused his application for a renewal and he was appealing its decision through its internal appeals process.
Since October last year he had been willing and anxious to resume his teaching duties at the secondary school but the board had refused to allow him to resume pending the reissue of his certificate.
Fr Conroy, “for the avoidance of doubt”, said there was no disciplinary process in being against him at the behest of the Minister or the board and so far as he was aware none was contemplated.
On May 29th, 2013, the Minister notified the school of his decision to no longer pay Fr Conroy’s salary and he had been without income since. He believed the decision to be in breach of fair procedures and natural justice.
Mr Costello told the court he believed the Minister had acted in excess of his powers and submitted there was evidence of teachers being allowed to teach while not holding a valid certificate.
He said the matter of the certificate may have been used as a smokescreen to prevent Fr Conroy from taking up his duties again. His solicitor had an apprehension that other forces were at play that were not the ones being advanced.
The Minister had attached no or inadequate weight to the fact that the board investigation had cleared Fr Conroy of the substantive allegations against him and, while no disciplinary action had been taken or proposed, the Minister, by stopping his salary, was effectively imposing a disciplinary sanction against him.
Fr Conroy will be asking the High Court to quash the Minister’s decision to refuse payment of his salary.