Protestant schools 'weary' following cuts, synod is told


THE PRECARIOUS fate of Church of Ireland primary schools in the Republic, due to spending cuts, exercised many speakers at the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin yesterday.

Rev Craig McCauley, rector at Virginia Co Cavan, spoke of “the desperate need for support” for such schools. Cut backs in special needs assistants and learning resource teachers had left people “weary, undermined, demoralised”, he said.

At one Church of Ireland rural school four miles from Virginia, 99 per cent of the children needed transport, as the nearest Church of Ireland primary schools at Kells and Cavan were each 20 miles away. Transport costs would soon be €100 per child.

It was another “stealth tax” and meant the only option for some parents was to send their children to nearer Catholic schools. While not complaining of such schools, the situation “undermines our ethos the morale of the school,” he said. Further, with all schools seeking to increase numbers it was becoming “dog eat dog” locally which was “undermining good relations”.

Bishop of Cashel Michael Burrows held up a letter which he said he was sending to Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn last night. It was to announce the closure of the Church of Ireland primary school at Clonroche, Co Wexford, with effect from the autumn.

He recalled that Mr Quinn had said he was not closing any schools; it was up to the patrons.

The school at Clonroche was “not sustainable” and was “the first example of something that will happen Church of Ireland schools again and again”, he said.

Considering the growing number of one-teacher schools, he asked, “How on earth can the one teacher school work” with current child protection as well as health and safety regulations?

Bishop of Tuam Patrick Rooke said his diocese had six of the 174 Church of Ireland primary schools in the State, and three of these were in danger of closing. He felt Church of Ireland schools were “being targeted unfairly in that a disproportionate number of Protestant schools are being affected” by cuts.

Rev Brian O’Rourke, rector at Shandon in Cork, said that within four years there were likely to be 20 one-teacher Church of Ireland primary schools, which was likely to rise to 40 by 2015 should numbers drop in a further 20.

Dr Anne Lodge, of the Dublin archdiocese, said current education policies could have “potentially devastating consequences for our small schools”.

A motion reaffirming traditional Church of Ireland teaching on marriage, which was withdrawn from the general synod on a point of order last Thursday, is to be reintroduced today. Originally three separate motions, it has been reduced to one motion.

The church’s two archbishops have spoken about the impact of ongoing scandals in the Catholic Church on the Church of Ireland.

At the beginning of yesterday’s session, the Church of Ireland primate, Archbishop Alan Harper, said the majority of the bishops were of the view discussion on the motion should be facilitated and is to take place this morning.

Speaking to the media, Archbishop Harper said abuse scandals “over a significant number of years, don’t just have impact on the Roman Catholic Church, they impact on the whole Christian community in Ireland”.