Educate Together national school in Mayo fails to open amid row

Minister and Educate Together blame each other for problems at former church school

Thousands of pupils are starting school around the country this (Thursday) morning but one building that remains firmly closed is a planned new Educate Together national school in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's constituency.

The school had been due to be open on September 1st in a derelict premises in Castlebar which was surrendered by the Catholic Church under the "divestment of patronage" process.

However, in a statement on Wednesday, Educate Together said it was “with deep regret” it was announcing that the national school would not open this year.

The non-denominational patron blamed the Department of Education for the decision, saying it had been issued with “an ultimatum” either to accept the derelict church premises as permanent accommodation or else postpone the opening.


However, in a statement last night Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said Educate Together’s comments were “a misplaced effort to apportion blame for the consequences of their own decisions”.

She said the department had “done everything possible within the parameters of the divesting process to progress” the Castlebar project, and the Department had proceeded with its plans to bring the building back into use on the basis of Educate Together’s acceptance.

“I look forward to continuing to work with all partners in education to make further progress on this agenda, and would urge Educate Together to similarly focus on this important work, rather than seeking to distance themselves retrospectively from agreements they have entered into with the department,” she said.

The site offered by the department is the former Burren National School, which was closed by the local Catholic diocese 20 years ago and has since fallen into disrepair.

The church, which is patron of over 90 per cent of the state's 3,200 primary schools, has to date vacated just one other premises - in Basin Lane, Dublin - to facilitate alternative patrons.

In its statement, Educate Together said the building offered was “inaccessible, not viable in the long term, and does not serve the needs of the communities it is meant to serve”.

It said: “The overwhelming majority of parents have told us that they will not send their children to Castlebar ETNS if it means accepting that the Burren is their ultimate intended school premises.

“Therefore, given the limited options available to us, we have decided under duress to defer the opening of Castlebar ETNS until 2016 pending a full review of the accommodation options and possibilities for the school in a more central location in the Castlebar area for 2016.”

The parents of ten children who had been scheduled to start at the school next month are now scrambling for places in alternative schools in the area.

Educate Together points out that there are 16 Catholic primary schools in the Castlebar area but no alternative school choice.

One of the parents Tony Geraghty said “the children of Castlebar have a right to an equality-based education... It is infuriating and frustrating that bureaucracy and lack of imagination has meant that children will be denied such an education for at least another year.”

Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe, who met officials from the department on Monday over the issue, said he was disappointed it "could not better approach the constitutional and human rights of the children and parents involved".

Dozens of schools are opening Thursday, with the majority starting term next week for more than 540,000 primary pupils.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column