North Mon trustees face Dáil grilling over amalgamation plans

The trustees of a Cork city school whose management and parents oppose plans to close it are being asked to explain their proposal to TDs and senators next month.

Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley, patron of all-boys’ Scoil Mhuire Fatima at the North Monastery, is also to be invited to the March 12 Oireachtas education committee hearing on planned closures and amalgamations. But a spokesperson said he would be at a spring meeting of the bishops’ conference.

Although a request to approve amalgamation proposals may come to the bishop, the spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for him to interfere with religious orders or trustees in the running of their schools.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) would not say last night if it will attend the public meeting. Along with trustees of three other local schools, it proposed earlier this month to move pupils of North Mon to a new school to be formed by its amalgamation with St Vincent’s primary school on the convent school’s grounds across the road.

ERST chief executive Gerry Bennett said the board of Scoil Mhuire Fatima is overseeing a consultation process with parents and teachers, expected to conclude by the end of next week.

“Rather than us interfere with that process, ERST believes that it would be preferable to wait until the board of management has completed its work in this regard,” he said.

The board has publicly stated its opposition to the plans, which include Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers — whose board is satisfied with the capacity of its current location in nearby Farranferris — moving to the vacated North Mon primary school building.

There is also strong parent opposition to the proposed amalgamation, with a Save the North Mon Primary protest planned for Cork city centre tomorrow afternoon. It is understood that a ballot of St Vincent’s parents found overwhelming opposition to the plans there too.

Local Sinn Féin TD and Oireachtas education committee member Jonathan O’Brien said he proposed the meeting with patrons or trusts with plans to close or amalgamate schools, including Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and another religious order, to allow them account for decisions he said would profoundly impact children’s education.

“This will present an opportunity to question the ERST in a formal setting on its decision regarding the North Mon. I have already stressed that all options must be explored to preserve the contribution of the Mon to the life of Cork’s northside,” he said.

Cork City Council this week unanimously passed a motion calling on ERST to withdraw the plans, which were discussed in the Dáil on Tuesday, and in the Seanad yesterday by Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke.

A proposal for amalgamation would have to be put by the trustees to Bishop Buckley for approval, but Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s approval would be needed for any plan to proceed. Minister of State Sean Sherlock told the Seanad there has been no formal communication on the proposal to the Department of Education.


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