Independent councillor Frank Durcan this week disagreed with the rationale for setting up an Educate Together school in Castlebar. At the July meeting of the Castlebar Municipal District, the elected members approved the lease of Marsh House in the town to the Department of Education and Skills for a four year and nine month term for the provision of a new Educate Together school.
However Cllr Durcan told the meeting: "Our country and our town have a very proven history of an Educate Together system since the foundation of the State where children of all nationalities, irrespective of their creed, colour, or sexual orientation were respected.
"I don't understand that an elitist group or any other minority group should expect the tax payers and people of Ireland to provide schools, teachers, and facilities for small minority groups, it is not done in most if not all of our other European countries. I'm sincerely of the belief that children who play together outside of school hours, should be educated together. We should be promoting integration rather than segregation of all people in our country. We should not under any circumstances encourage a situation of 'them and us' as existed in Northern Ireland over 50 years and no good came of it.
"I'm informed there is more than ample space in our existing schools in our town to facilitate the number of children mentioned. It may cause redundancies of teachers in other well respected schools in our town. If Castlebar Municipal Council [District] were to facilitate every minority group, all seeking such support as yourself, there is no way financially or otherwise we could.
"We're changing the culture of this country, we maintained our Irish language, we've maintained a lot of our traditions, but this new educational system is going to interfere with the whole culture that we have enjoyed in this country since the foundation of the state. And I disagree with the letting of Marsh House for the sake of educating something between seven and 14 children, with four classrooms, and if you divide the number of classrooms into the number of people, then you will have maybe four children being taught by each teacher in each classroom.
"This never happened before in this town, I remember I grew up with a family in Chapel Street, of 14 Church of Ireland children and most of that family went to the De La Salle brothers in Chapel Street and subsequently to the college (St Gerald's College ), some of them. There was no problem, we were all educated together, all religions. I don't see any necessity whatsoever to open another school system in our town, county, or in our country."
However there was a strong rebuttal to his views from Sinn Féin councillor Therese Ruane who said: "In relation to this, in relation to the Educate Together school, this is based on evidence based research, a survey was carried out nationally, parents got the opportunity to have their input and say into the type of education they would like for their children.
"This school, this is based on evidence imputed by parents nationally, the parents of this area identified that Castlebar is a town where an Educate Together school should be placed. Since then there has been Trojan work to have that developed, last year as we know this got scuppered, because negotiations with the Department of Education were put on hold for a year. There are so many disappointed parents in Castlebar that this did not go ahead last September. There is a real onus on us to make the right decision here today and to ensure this goes ahead and the parents who have subscribed to this school can start the journey.
"To call this an elitists' minority group is absolute farce and totally misrepresents, in this country 90 per cent of our school are Catholic schools, if you do not subscribe to the catholic religion, you have no choice. This about choice in education and I mean you talk about other countries, France and on the continent, they are state schools and people have the choice to send them to a religious school if they want, but there is state education provided. There is little or no state education that is multi-denominational and caters for people who are of different religion or none. There is this myth that this is going to be migrant children or people of other nationalities, people who have come to live in this country, in my view and my experience this isn't true at all, the majority of children that I envisage are children who are white, indigenous, Irish children who want choice in education.
"For the first time parents of this town will have choice and I hope this happens in September."