Committee to fight schools’ amalgamation

A committee is to be set up to fight the proposed amalgamation of Roscommon’s two single-sex secondary schools, following a public meeting on the issue on Monday night last.  Approximately 200 concerned parents, many of them past pupils of the two schools involved, gathered in the Abbey Hotel on Monday last for a meeting.             The meeting was chaired by Seamus Duke and two parents outlined the events which took place at the recent meetings in the Convent of Mercy and CBS schools. Martina McGrath summed up what happened at the meeting in the Convent of Mercy, while Grace O’Reilly was at the CBS meeting and informed those present of what happened there. Una Ní Chuinn was also a member of the team at the top table.             Speaking of the meeting held at the Convent of Mercy secondary school, Ms. McGrath said that it was well attended and she said that at the meeting a representative of the trustees of the school said that that the trustees had been in negotiation with the Department of Education about the future running of the school. To that end, the meeting also heard that the Catholic Education in Irish Schools Trust is taking over the role of the trustees in May and this represents an amalgamation of various religious orders. Sr. Phyllis informed the meeting that the meeting with parents was the beginning of a consultation process of looking at education in Roscommon.             Ms. McGrath also said that Sr. Phyllis informed the meeting that the Department of Education plan is a one-centre voluntary Catholic community school amalgamating all the schools in the town. It was also suggested at the meeting that continuing with two separate schools could jeopardise capital projects.             ‘The mood could only be described as very emotional, anger, shock, sadness, disbelief,’ said Ms. McGrath. ‘There was huge annoyance expressed that the times of the meetings coincided and people with both boys and girls had to choose which meeting to attend. The sisters explained that that was done deliberately so that people could get the information at the same time.’ Ms. McGrath also pointed out that the trustees said that there had been no talk of a greenfield site and no negotiations to date on a greenfield site. A show of hands against the proposed amalgamation was unanimous at the Convent meeting.             Grace O’Reilly reported back from the CBS meeting. She said that parents were very surprised and disappointed that 15 months had gone by since the trustees had contacted the Department and the parents had not been involved in any discussions. A booklet outlined the steps that would be taken when schools were amalgamating. ‘It was not if, but ‘when’ and people did question that.’             ‘Management and staff could only be pleased with the response parents gave with regard to the standard of education presently and in the past,’ said Ms. O’Reilly. ‘It was very obvious that parents were very very satisfied with the quality of what was already produced and very very concerned about the changes that would be wrought were the schools to amalgamate.’ Ms. O’Reilly said that one of the main concerns of parents was the size of the new school which would be created.             Ms. Una Ní Chuinn said she is a parent of two children who she hopes will attend second level in Roscommon. After the meeting in the Convent of Mercy Secondary School, she contacted the Department of Education to find out their stance and spoke to a Christina McGuire. She asked about the point raised at the meeting in the Convent at which it was said that the Department’s view on secondary education was that there should be one centre for secondary education in the town. ‘She said that is not the case. It is not the Department’s view – the department will not push amalgamation. They will only ever respond to what’s coming from the trustees. The department is not putting out there what is the best way.’             In terms of funding, Ms. Ní Chuinn was informed that each application is judged on its own merits by the Department. She also asked if there was any point in meeting the Department and was asked why parents want to meet with the department as the department is not pushing amalgamation.             The meeting was also told that Sr. Phyllis had been invited but said she wasn’t in a position to attend but hoped that it would be an open and frank meeting.             At 9.15 the meeting was opened to the floor and views ranged from those in favour of amalgamation to those staunchly opposed to amalgamation and who wanted to see the status quo retained.             The meeting was also addressed by politicians including Michael Finneran, Fianna Fáil TD, Fine Gael general election candidate Senator Frank Feighan and Sinn Féin candidate and Leitrim County Councillor Martin Kenny.             At the conclusion of the meeting a show of hands was taken and the vast majority were against the proposed amalgamation and for the setting up of a committee to fight the amalgamation. That committee is now going to be set up and parents and interested parties will be contacted about the matter in the near future.