It was the one topic that everyone wanted to have their say on and throw their support behind at the March meeting of Mayo County Council. The future of the GMIT campus in Castlebar has been a major topic of discussion around the county in recent weeks and it was no different inside the council chamber. Some 25 councillors spoke on the topic in a debate that lasted well over an hour, and the one strong message coming from all of those who spoke was that everything that could be done to ensure the survival and the future growth of the third level facility in the county would be done.
There was plenty of criticism laid at the door of Dr Fergal Barry, president of GMIT, a number of councillors alleged he was arrogant towards them when councillors and other elected officials met him last month. A number of councillors also lambasted the fact that there were no Mayo representatives on the board of governance of GMIT, while there were Mayo representatives on the board of governance of IT Sligo (members of the Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim ETB sit on the board in IT Sligo ).
Fianna Fáil Swinford based councillor Michael Smyth led the charge on the issue, in a wide ranging contribution, saying: "The insidious nature of the process which has been undertaken by GMIT to undermine the growth and development of the campus in Mayo is extremely concerning." He also said tat the Mayo campus of GMIT was operating without a published strategy, since its last one expired in December 2016, with a new one supposed to have been published in September 2016, but it has not yet been published. Cllr Smyth added that having a third level institution in the county had enabled a large number of people undertake third level courses that they simply would not have been able to do without it, as travelling to study in Galway was simply not an option.
Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan said that securing the future of the GMIT campus in the county was of "critical importance to Castlebar, the county, and the region," and he proposed that a delegation from the council meet the Minister of Education to discuss the current situation as soon as possible.
Fine Gael councillor Theresa McGuire spoke about the positive influence the Mayo campus has had on the thousands of students who have passed through it since it opened in 1997, and said the Mayo campus was being let down badly by management in Galway. Independent councillor Gerry Ginty told the meeting: "We owe it to all the people who had fought so hard to get this in place in the first place to do all we can to ensure its future. It was grudgingly given in the first place and when things are like that, you often find they are chipped away at to make sure they don't succeed, by the powers that be."
Fine Gael councillor Henry Kenny said: "This asset has to be retained in this town and all I can say is that I will personally intervene with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education if it is proposed that a delegation go to see him to ensure that this happens." The proposal of sending a delegation to see the Minister for Education was passed by the council, with Cllr Al McDonnell, Cllr Henry Kenny, Cllr Michael Smyth, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne, and Cllr Theresa McGuire nominated to make up the delegation.