Mayo politician objects to ‘elitist’ Educate Together

Cllr Frank Durcan opposes conversion of building into school to be run by group

A proposal to lease Marsh House was ratified, subject to amendments, by the Castlebar Municipal District last month.

A proposal to lease Marsh House was ratified, subject to amendments, by the Castlebar Municipal District last month.

 

A Mayo county councillor is objecting to the conversion of Castlebar’s former municipal building into a school to be run by the non-denominational Educate Together group, which he says is an “elitist” organisation.

Cllr Frank Durcan (Independent ) has appealed to An Bord Pleanála over the council’s recent decision to grant the Minister of Education permission to convert Marsh House, home to the town council until 2014, into a school.

The opening of the school, the second Educate Together facility in the county, has already been delayed by a year. The group was to move into the former Burren National School outside the town last September but this was put off as the building, divested by the Catholic Church to Educate Together, was deemed unfit for purpose.

The Marsh House school was due to open in September, with some seven pupils already enrolled and numbers projected to grow significantly.

However, Educate Together’s regional development officer Jarlath Munnelly said, pending the appeal, a temporary school would open in another town centre premises.

“We could spend the entire first year there pending the appeals board’s decision and, if in the affirmative, some necessary works that must be undertaken,” said Mr Munnelly, who is a Fine Gael county councillor for Mayo.

A proposal to lease Marsh House was ratified, subject to amendments, by the Castlebar Municipal District last month, and subsequently rubber-stamped by the county council.

Rent of €20,000

Councillors in the district, with the exception of Cllr Durcan, agreed to lease the building to Educate Together for four years and nine months at a rent of €20,000 per annum.

Mr Durcan told the meeting Educate Together was “an elitist group” and, moreover, that the existing system already educated children irrespective of their creed or colour.

“I don’t understand that an elitist group or another minority group should expect the taxpayers or the people of Ireland to provide schools, teachers and facilities for small minority groups,” he said. “I am sincerely of the belief that children who play together outside education should be educated together.”

In his appeal to An Bord Pleanála, Cllr Durcan says granting permission for the school contravenes numerous sections of the town plan.

He claims the there is not enough land around the school, a number of health and safety issues relating to a fire hazard and the fact that the building was erected during the 16th century.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny officiated at the opening of Mayo’s first Educate Together School in Newtownwhite, Ballina, in 2014.

At that opening Mr Kenny remarked on the importance of Irish children being raised “in an ethos that gives them a sense of values, principles, ethics, environment, of issues about human rights and humanity”.