School board seeks Minister’s backing in row with Christian Brothers

Board of Clonkeen College facing dissolution in dispute over €18m sale of playing fields

Clonkeen College in Deansgrange, south Dublin:  The Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which manages 100 Christian Brothers schools across the State,  has moved to dissolve the board of management, but need the approval of Minister for Education Richard Bruton

Clonkeen College in Deansgrange, south Dublin: The Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which manages 100 Christian Brothers schools across the State, has moved to dissolve the board of management, but need the approval of Minister for Education Richard Bruton

 

The board of a Catholic secondary school in south Dublin has appealed to Minister for Education Richard Bruton to “back the school” in a dispute with its patron.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) has moved to dissolve the board of management at Clonkeen College in Deansgrange over “serious concerns that the functions of the BoM are not being effectively discharged”.

This comes amid an ongoing dispute between the school and its founders, the Christian Brothers, over the planned sale of 7.5 acres of playing fields for a reported €18 million.

The ERST, a lay organisation, manages 100 Christian Brothers schools across the State.

The school has taken legal proceedings against the congregation, disputing its right to sell the land. The case is due to go to trial in March and, until it is resolved, the sale cannot complete.

In a letter dated December 21st, the trust gave the board a month’s notice of its intention to dismiss all eight members. Membership of the board is voluntary. It said the Christian Brothers had previously made “an improved offer” of lands and money for the school. “The ERST is firmly of the view that this improved offer is in the best interests of Clonkeen College and should be accepted.”

Minister’s approval

The trust, in the letter, warns it should be seen as “a formal notice” of its plan to dissolve the board. Under the 1998 Education Act the trust cannot, however, dissolve the board without the approval of the Minister for Education.

Board member Larry O’Gara said they sought clarifications in December on the “improved offer” but had not received any.

“We have never refused the offer. We were not given enough information to make a decision. We are appealing to Minister Bruton to back the school, to at this stage decide whether he supports the school or the Brothers.”

Mr Bruton said: “I have a statutory role to evaluate whether the case that is being made by the Edmund Rice Schools Trust in abolishing the board is justified. I need to hear from all sides so I cannot comment on an issue without hearing the evidence from all sides and the basis on which this issue is being proposed. I will be taking the time and space to weigh this properly and make an informed decision on it.”

In a statement , the ERST reiterated its view the offer should be accepted. “Given the legal process of dissolution now in train, ERST is limited in making subsequent statements on the matter until the dissolution process or otherwise is complete.”

Local People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who has been advocating for the school, said: “Under no circumstances should Minister Bruton agree to dissolve the board in what is clearly a vindictive act of retribution against a voluntary board. He should get off the fence and stand up for the school. This case shows the need for removing unaccountable religious patrons from any control over our schools.”