School principal challenges removal

 

A SCHOOL principal has brought a High Court challenge to a ministerial order for her removal on grounds she was “unfit for office”.

Catherine McSorley, Annamult, Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny, was appointed principal of Kilkenny City Vocational School in 1999 and, her counsel said, had “turned the school around” from a state of decline. Her removal was ordered on the basis of a “fatally flawed and unsound” report, it is alleged.

In proceedings against the Minister for Education and Co Kilkenny VEC, she is seeking an order quashing the decision of the Minister for Education on July 28th, 2011, to dismiss her.

She is also seeking an injunction restraining the Minister and the VEC from terminating her employment or stopping the payment of her salary, benefits and pension.

Outlining the case yesterday, senior counsel Ercus Stewart, for Ms McSorley, said the Minister’s decision last year was irrational and the removal of Ms McSorley from her post would be the end of her chosen career.

When Ms McSorley took over at the school, it had been in decline for several years, but she had turned it around, he said. Enrolments had increased by 54 per cent and the principal was popular with pupils, parents and teachers.

The court was told the then minister for education, Mary Hanafin, had in 2006 appointed Torlach O’Connor, a retired assistant chief inspector, to carry out an inquiry into Ms McSorley’s performance.

The terms of reference of the inquiry were drafted to include various allegations regarding the management of the school, which had been the subject of four previous investigations. Many of those allegations were made in the media, counsel said.

The minister had specifically ordered an investigation into the organisation and administration of the school in the area of human resource management; alleged failure of Ms McSorley to effectively apply the school’s disciplinary policy; her alleged engagement in bullying staff members and her alleged payment to students to attend school.

Mr O’Connor’s report resulted in none of the allegations against Ms McSorley being upheld, counsel said. The report had also advised Ms McSorley was “a very considerable force for good” in the school and there was “no doubting her commitment” to the school.

It is claimed Mr O’Connor acted outside his powers by purporting to extend the terms of reference in late 2007 to include eight entirely new matters relating to allegations of a financial nature. It is claimed those matters were never the subject of concern, complaints or any investigation prior to that.

The Minister had acted outside his powers in making “an unjustified, irrational and grossly unfair” decision on the basis of a “fatally flawed and unsound” report, it is claimed. Five of the new allegations were unproven against Ms McSorley, the court was told.

In an affidavit Ms McSorley’s solicitor said Ms McSorley had been forced to vindicate her good name and character and defend her actions as principal time and time again for over eight years. There was no doubt the school was thriving and the principal enjoyed the full support of the board of management, teachers, students and parents, he said.

The case continues.