Cork teacher faked student numbers to earn extra grants

Aileen Ní Cheallagh.
Aileen Ní Cheallagh.

The former principal of a gaelscoil was given a suspended one-year prison sentence yesterday for overstating the numbers of children enrolled in the school so as to get higher grants for the benefit of the school and the pupils.

The prosecution and defence agreed with Aileen Ní Cheallagh that the deception was carried out not for her own benefit but to increase the advantage of the school and the children attending it.

Tom Creed, defending, said it was the DPP that recommended that Ní Cheallagh be prosecuted even though it was recommended by gardaí that she would receive an adult caution and not be prosecuted.

Mr Creed asked for er to be given the benefit of a dismissal under the Probation of Offenders Act following her guilty plea.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin rejected this application and said her position at the time was one of too great a responsibility and that the offending behaviour went on over too long a period. He imposed the 12-month sentence, which he then susended.

Ní Cheallagh, aged 36, of 14 Mill Rd, Midleton, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to five counts of deception. Each charge stated that, “at Gaelscoil Mhuscraí, Blarney, Co Cork, she did dishonestly, with the intention of making a gain for yourself or another, in furnishing information for the Department of Education and Skills in relation to the enrolment submissions for the school year 2005/2006 produce or make use of a document made or required for accounting purposes which to your knowledge was misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular, contrary to the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001”.

In essence, she said the numbers of children at the school in a given year was greater than it was so the school would get a higher level of grant aid for the provision of accommodation and the payment of teachers.

In respect of the school year 2006/2007, she overstated enrolment numbers by eight, resulting in an overpayment of €96,000. In 2007/2008 she showed 10 extra students and the school received €96,000 extra. In 2008/2009, the enrolment figures showed four extra pupils resulting in over €69,000 extra.

The total overpayment was approximately €244,000.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said: “She got money from the department and spent it on the school.” Detective Garda Alan McCarthy said she was motivated by wanting the school to be a success.

Mr Creed said the school was in its infancy at the time. The defendant was only one year out of teacher training when she was made principal.

Ní Cheallagh is no longer the principal but is teaching elsewhere, said Mr Creed.


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