Hanafin under fire over local schools controversy

Following an article in the last issue of Community Voice, the start-up committee of Carpenterstown Educate Together National School held a public meeting in the Castleknock Hotel on Wednesday 30th April – after this issue of the paper had gone to press.

However since the article appeared, matters have been heating up and relations between Educate Together and the office of the Minister for Education have definitely taken a frosty turn with Educate Together threatening to take a legal challenge against the Minister for her refusal to sanction a school for the Carpenterstown area.

According to a spokesperson for Educate Together, the minister’s decision not to sanction the school was purely political. “It is aimed at imposing a new VEC pilot school on the parents in the area without consultation and without any regard to their expressed wishes. The minister appears to be acting as a judge in her own case as she is currently the patron of the VEC pilot schools.”

This claim arises from the fact that in its submission for the new school, Educate Together had proposed that initially the school could be housed in empty classrooms in the new school being built for Scoil Choilm in Kellystown. However, Community Voice understands that no application had been made to the new school (to be run under the patronage of the Co. Dublin VEC) and this was the main reason the application was not accepted.

A spokesperson for the Minister’s office has rejected the Educate Together claims saying the new VEC model aimed to accommodate parental preferences for religious education as part of the school day — not oppose it. “If parents in the Carpenterstown area wish their children to attend an Educate Together school they already have two choices in the area – one in Castleknock and the other in Castaheany. All parents living in Carpenterstown have an Educate Together school within a two-mile radius of their home” she said

Despite the fact that over 260 children are already pre-enrolled for the proposed Carpenterstown school, the Department of Education appears to be adopting a hard line on the issue. “Wwe will not be building an additional school when there is provision in the multi-denominational sector with Scoil Choilm, which opened under the temporary patronage of the Catholic bishop last year to meet demand for places, but is transferring to the new community model this year and in new purpose built premises,” said the spokesperson.

However the VEC model is not an acceptable alternative for many of the parents who have enrolled their children for the Educate Together school. According to a spokesperson what was being proposed involved the registration of children according to the religious identity of their parents and their compulsory separation on religious grounds during the school day.

“It also involves the preferential treatment of religions considered ‘main’ by the school, which may be illegal under our current equal status legislation,” said a spokesperson.

Meanwhile there is also some controversy surrounding the new VEC Community National School which is scheduled to open on the Phoenix Park racecourse lands in September.

Local Fine Gael TD, Leo Varadkar has called on the Minister for Education and Science to defer the opening “for at least two years.” According to the deputy “it is clear that the new primary school will not be needed due to the fact that the anticipated demand for primary school places in the Castleknock area has not materialised. In recent weeks, I have been in contact with the principals of the Church of Ireland and three Catholic primary schools in the Castleknock area. All of these schools have been able to cater fully for local demand and have even been able to accept children from other parts of Dublin 15. Castleknock Educate Together, the local multi-faith school, has advised me that while their school is full, they have not had any applications from parents who could not get their child into school,” he told Community Voice

Deputy Varadkar also revealed that he had been informed by County Dublin VEC that less than a dozen applications for places in the new school had been received by the deadline for receipt of applications and as a result the application deadline has been further extended.

The TD was one of those who has been highly critical of the government for its failure to provide additional schools in the area to meet the growing demand. However he now appears to accept that perhaps he may have overstated the problem. “It is clear to me that the demand for primary school places in Castleknock is not a great as we thought it would be. This is probably due to the provision of additional places last year, the collapse in new building and the departure of some immigrants due to the worsening economic crisis. It is appears that government may have over-reacted in establishing this new school,” he said.

In recent months local school managements in the area have been highly critical of the decision to start work on the new school while at the same time promised improvement works to existing school buildings had been shelved. Deputy Varadkar has now issued a demand that Minister Hanafin should “postpone the establishment of this school for at least two years and use the funds to advance the delayed school building projects in St Brigid’s, St Mochta’s and Castleknock Community College instead.”

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