South Dublin principal feels ‘betrayed’ by land sale
Clonkeen College head calls for State to take over school amid row with Christian Brothers
Principal of Clonkeen College Edward Melly has criticised the Christian Brothers’ decision to sell 3 hectares (7.5 acres) of playing fields behind the school. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
The principal of a Catholic secondary school in south Dublin has called on the Department of Education to take it over and for its patron, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST), to step aside.
He says the school had been “betrayed” and “cast adrift” by both the trust and its founders, the Christian Brothers.
The Brothers have said the sale of the land is necessary to discharge its debt of €10 million to the redress board (for historical abuse of children who had been in their care) and for the future support of ageing brothers. The land is being sold for housing for a reported €18 million.
The school board was told by the Brothers on May 3rd that contracts had been entered into for the sale of the land.
The school had no prior warning, from either the Brothers or the trust (which is licensee of these lands), despite both parties being aware of the plans over the past 12 months.
In recent years the school and the Department of Education have spent about €700,000 to drain, level and fence the land, to make it playable.
It now accommodates GAA and football pitches. If sold, the school, which is one of the few non-fee-paying schools for boys in the area, “won’t have a blade of grass” according to Melly.
Following recent building work the school is set to grow, from about 520 students to more than 600. The Brothers say they are transferring 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres) of land to the school and making a €1 million contribution to develop an all-weather sports facility. However, Melly says hard courts are already on this land.
“How can they say they have made provision for our needs when they have not even asked us what our needs are?”
“If it came to a choice between saving our pitches and ensuring we have a modern school under some new model of patronage, or losing our pitches I am quite confident the parents and board would choose to keep the pitches.
“We feel the department should come in as partners to stop this. If that means the department taking ownership of the building as well as the lands we’d support that.”
The school was opened by the Brothers in 1968 on land they owned. In 2008, the building and management of the school was handed over to the newly established ERST, a lay-body which owns and manages about 100 former Christian Brother schools.
In an interview with The Irish Times in 2008, Br Edmund Garvey, then Christian Brothers communications director and now its provincial leader, said use of lands around schools transferred to the new trust would be given on licence.
However, these licences could not be revoked as long as the school remained in existence, he was quoted as saying.
‘Trust is damaged’
Melly says the school was assured by two senior Christian Brothers, at a meeting in 2006, that the lands now being sold would not be sold and were “safe for the school”.
“Trust in the trust is damaged,” he says. “It’s put us in a difficult position with our patron. We feel very isolated and the board of management is exploring all legal avenues to stop this.
“The Brothers gave us repeated permission to invest in and carry out works on the lands. They gave us no indication at any point they were at risk. We made extensive investments based on that information.
“The overall mood after was disappointment,” says Melly. “The Minister was very non-committal, said he would find out if the contracts the Brothers have entered into are legally binding.
“This is a golden opportunity for the State to take ownership of these schools. They say school lands are being transferred to the State. Why not take the buildings too?
“There is a huge amount of family housing being built all over south Dublin. No one seems to be thinking about where all the children are going to go to school, or play sports.”
Boyd Barrett said it is “outrageous that this and future generations of students could be punished and pay for the Christian Brothers’ crimes against past generations.
The Minister needs now to intervene and take the school from the trust to secure it and its facilities for the future.”
Br Garvey said the sale was “not an easy decision” but “was taken having made very substantial provision for the college’s reasonable future needs, having sought professional advice, and having consulted with the ERST”.
A spokeswoman for the ERST said the decision had been made, “solely by the Christian Brothers . . . ERST will continue its efforts to ensure the . . . proposed sale impacts as little as possible on the school.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it was not “privy to the deliberations within the congregation that led to their decision to sell off these lands for property development.
“The department has written to the congregation seeking clarification on a number of points including whether the land in question is now subject of a legally binding agreement with a builder.”