Newpark Academy of Music closure: Department accused of taking ‘pass the buck’ view

Richard Boyd Barrett appeals for Minister to urgently intervene, citing Government pledge to give access to music to all young people and students

The Department of Education has been accused of taking a “pass the buck, nothing to do with us” response to the “shock and unexpected” announcement that the Newpark Academy of Music in south Dublin is to close.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett had called on the Government to urgently intervene in the closure of the academy where some “40 staff will lose their jobs and 600 students will have no school”.

“I remind the Government it has a very explicit commitment to access to music, art and culture in the education system in schools and for young people,” the Dún Laoghaire TD said.

But Minister of State James Browne said it was a “privately-owned” academy. Standing in for Minister for Education Norma Foley in the Dáil he said that while the academy uses the building on the Newpark Comprehensive School property which is owned by the department, “the academy itself does not actually fall under the remit of her department”, and it was not involved in the closure decision.

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The department’s primary role is “to cater for and deliver primary and post-primary educational needs in any locality. It is important to recognise the distinction in relation to the privately-owned academy.”

Mr Boyd-Barrett said that was “a shocking response. That’s ‘pass the buck, nothing to do with us’.” He said Mr Browne should “have a bit of respect”, and appealed to him “to not have a tick-box it-is-nothing-to-do-with-us response”.

The Minister understood the decision was made “based on operational and financial concerns on the part of the academy”, but Mr Boyd-Barrett said there was no indication of any financial difficulty “or certainly no explanation to that effect has been given to anybody”.

He added that the “fact that the workers have only been given one week’s notice seems, without question, a breach of the Employment Act because there is supposed to be a 30-day consultation period if more than 10 workers are let go in a liquidation”.

“One of the board members is the principal of Newpark School who, to date, has not engaged in any meaningful communication with the staff to give any explanation as to why any of this has happened.”

Referring to Mr Browne’s comment that the school was privately-owned, Mr Boyd-Barrett said “it is a not-for-profit registered charity that has the principal of the school on its board. This is a community service for students and young people to access music.”

He asked Mr Browne “to think, for a moment, what the world would be like without music. I’m sure you enjoy music. It makes the world a better place.”

But he asked “how do you think music gets produced? It’s because somebody teaches people how to play musical instruments and learn about music. We need more access to it, and the Government has committed to give access to all young people and students”, and it was in the programme for government.

Calling on the Minister to intervene for the students and staff, he said he should “look beneath the bonnet of this because there is no reason to believe there is any major financial difficult with the school. It was self-financing.”

Mr Browne replied that he fully appreciated the concern and “no disrespect was shown”, but he was simply setting out the factual situation. But “I will bring the Deputy’s comments to the attention of the senior Minister”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times