Bishop’s plan to merge schools sparks opposition

Amalgamation of Athlone schools should not go ahead, says campaigner

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin (left): said schools merger decision was made after  discussions and consultations over a number of years, which started before his appointment as bishop  in 2014. Photograph: Alan Betson

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin (left): said schools merger decision was made after discussions and consultations over a number of years, which started before his appointment as bishop in 2014. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Catholic Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran has been criticised by a campaigner over how the proposed amalgamation of two Athlone schools has been handled.

The decision to merge two diocesan secondary colleges in the town – St Aloysius and St Joseph’s, Summerhill – was announced last September.

It is planned that both will open as a new school, Coláiste Chiaráin, on the Summerhill site in September of next year.

Bishop Doran told The Irish Times the decision to merge the schools was made “following discussions and consultations over a number of years”, which started before his appointment as Bishop of Elphin in 2014.

This consultation process included “an initial survey of all interested parties in the catchment area of both schools, to which the public were invited to contribute” and “a public meeting to which all interested parties in the local community were invited, [and] consultations with boards of management and teaching staffs of both colleges,” he said.

Objections

Department of Education and Skills

London-based businessman and former St Aloysius pupil Freddie Madden has asked for “evidence of such meetings with dates and who attended”.

Mr Madden said he had attended “several” meetings in Athlone of people opposed to the amalgamation proposed and whom, he said, “represented 50 per cent of those who had attended St Aloysius before 1995”.

He had been asked “as spokesman, to raise objections to interference with the running of St Aloysius in its current format”.

In a letter to the Minister for Education Richard Bruton, he wrote that “in 2005, a Sunday Times survey covering over 600 Irish post-primary schools, it was ranked fourth on the basis of its outstanding Leaving Certificates results. Its facilities are up-to-date in every respect”.

In 2015, “fewer than a dozen students enrolled at St Joseph’s; the enrolment at St Aloysius College was 62 in the same year. An inspection of St Joseph’s College, Summerhill, will reveal that it is scarcely fit for the accommodation of students,” he said.

Mr Madden said that, last September, Bishop Doran announced the amalgamation, “to the amazement of some and the surprise of many”.

‘Unnecessary expense’

Mr Madden wrote a similar letter to Northern Ireland Minister for Education, DUP member Peter Weir.

A reply on Mr Weir’s behalf assured Mr Madden that where significant change involving a school in Northern Ireland was proposed “there is a legal process which must be followed”, including consultation with all stakeholders.