Dublin school patronage vote suspended over ‘misinformation’

Catholic Archdiocese says parents should be fully informed amid claims Christmas ‘will be cancelled’

A vote was due to take place next week by parents to measure their interest in divesting from a Catholic school to another patron body in the area. Photograph: Thinkstock

A vote was due to take place next week by parents to measure their interest in divesting from a Catholic school to another patron body in the area. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The Archdiocese of Dublin is to postpone voting over plans to divest a Catholic school of its patronage in the north of the city following “confusion and misinformation” over the implications for pupils.

A row over plans to divest one Catholic school out of eight in the Malahide and Portmarnock areas sparked claims that students would be prevented from celebrating events such as Christmas, Easter or St Patrick’s Day under a multidenominational patron.

A vote was due to take place next week by parents to measure their interest in divesting from a Catholic school to another patron body in the area.

However, in a letter to the boards of management and principals of the eight schools, the archdiocese says it recognises that the “prospect of change can be difficult and that it is vital that all stakeholders are fully informed of what a change in patronage entails”.

It said it now wanted to ensure that a survey conducted by the local Education and Training Board into the preferences of pre-school children in the area was published and made available to all.

As a result, it plans to postpone a vote by parents which was due to take place next week.

In the letter, Mgr Dan O’Connor of the archdiocese states that “confusion and misinformation had arisen in the public domain about the nature of the divestment process and what it means in a practical sense for pupils, parents and schools”.

It adds: “The Archdiocese is committed to working with the Minister for Education and Skills and his officials, along with other patron bodies, in providing choice for parents and teachers in the education of our young people.

“The diocese has successfully divested schools in four other areas and is currently working with two schools who have expressed an interest in changing from Catholic patronage to an alternative patron body.”

It is understood that the pre-school survey found that 26 per cent of pre-school parents in the area wanted greater access to multi-denominational education, but the report has not yet been published.

Misinformation by schools over the implications of a change in patronage prompted criticism from the Minister for Education Joe McHugh earlier this week.

A spokesman for the Minister said he acknowledged the statement from the Archdiocese and the acceptance that misinformation was being spread about what a change in patronage would mean.

“He would also like to note that there’s no pressure on the communities in Portmarnock, Malahide, Kinsealy and Yellow Walls or elsewhere to decide on their views towards a possible patronage change,” he said.

“There is no immediate urgency. References to a September 2019 deadline were completely inaccurate. The minister also welcomes the fact that the Archdiocese is working with two schools which want a change of patron and wishes them well in that.”

Mr McHugh earlier this week criticised school authorities for issuing misinformation in relation to the "cancellation of Christmas" and other claims.

However, Scoil An Duinnínigh, a Catholic school which is one of the eight being canvassed over divestment, has responded angrily to his criticism.

In a letter to the minister sent yesterday, the school’s board of management rejected claims that it was scaremongeing over warnings that relgious events like Christmas would not be celebrated.

“Christmas is marked along with other festivals in multidenominational schools, but in a Catholic school Christmas is celebrated. The children sing carols, draw and craft religious items, listen to readings from the Bible and so forth,” the letter states.

“Are you guaranteeing that this will continue in school time no matter which patronage body is eventually selected as the one for the divested school?”

It added that it was “frustrated and annoyed” over the divestment process, with “absolutely no information coming Government”.