A public meeting will take place this evening (Friday), January 4, at 8pm in the Town Hall in Belturbet to discuss the planned closure of two secondary schools in the west Cavan area.
It concerns plans by the Cavan-Monaghan Education and Training Board (CMETB) to amalgamate St Bricin's and St Mogue's into a brand new €15M school in Ballyconnell in the next five years.
The public meeting in Belturbet follows another in Bawnboy last month on the issue.
Meanwhile, the CMETB has said it will convene a “special meeting” in January to meet communities affected by the closure of two local secondary schools.
CEO John Kearney told Board members at their December meeting in Breifne College that the local educational body would “look favourably” on a request to meet those opposed.
He added, when speaking to The Anglo-Celt afterwards: “A formal request will be made and we will facilitate that by meeting either a delegation, or delegations in time.”
Prior to the ETB meeting taking place, gardaí were called when people with placards stood directly outside the doors of the secondary school. They were however soon dispersed, and rejoined a larger group of protestors by the roadside at the school’s main entrance gate.
Four protestors did manage to make their way inside, where they stayed until a demand to speak with ETB CEO John Kearney directly was met.
Among the four was Fr John Phair, parish priest in Templeport, who from the pulpit of St Mogue’s Church has spoken of the importance of retaining the a school in the village.
He told the Celt the last thing anyone from either community wanted was to resort to disruptive tactics, but they felt as if they had “no other choice” in order to be heard. “The point is so the Board members know what the feeling is in West Cavan. There is great anger. People are in shock.” Outside that same sense of outrage was palpable. Chilly winter evening and smattering of rainfall did little to quell or quench the protestors’ collective ire.
Steadfastly they stood with signs in their hands, the toots of passing traffic serving only to embolden their position.
“This was done with what seems like the stroke of a pen and no talking to anyone. It’s just a disgrace,” said Peter McKiernan from Bawnboy.
With local elections looming in May, the proposed merger is almost certain to be a hot political potato. Several elected members on the council are already facing a backlash.
Mr McKiernan, whose daughter will attend St Mogue’s next year, is calling on the local authority to object to CMETB’s plans. “Councillors Damien Brady and Peter McVitty stood in a meeting in Bawnboy and promised support for St Mogue’s, and then went into a County Council meeting and, we feel, stabbed our community in the back.”
Back inside, as the CMETB meeting finally got underway, it was clear there remained plenty of support for the plans. However, there was a greater acceptance that the concerns of communities must also be addressed.
“It’s only right,” said Fianna Fáil’s PJ O’Hanlon, who along with fellow member Joe McGrath, had also spoken with the protestors.
Mr McGrath noted there was an “lot of misinformation” out there about the proposals, and this mixed with the inevitable emotion attached to the announcement, had combined to form a “cocktail” that was not ideal.
“The facts need to be put on the table,” Mr McGrath said. “What we saw is highly emotional people out there. There is a job of work to be done selling this idea to them.”
Newly Independent Cllr Sarah O’Reilly, who missed the ETB meeting at the Slieve Russell Hotel where plans to merge the schools were first unveiled, questioned how the decision was taken without first consulting with the local communities, as required by the Department.
In a reply to the Celt, the Department had said any proposed school changes must involve “extensive negotiations” at local level, and be “well planned and managed” in a manner that accommodates the interests of students, parents, teachers and local communities.
Speaking to the Celt, following the meeting, Mr Kearney said: “There is a good four years lead into it, so there is plenty of time for consultation and engagement and we’re committed to that. We know for this project we need everybody behind it and, as part of that, extensive engagement is will be key to that.”