PROTEST SITE Students at GMIT, Castlebar staged a protest at the college last week. Pic: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
A lack of sufficient political intervention to secure the future of the GMIT campus in Castlebar will lead to people standing for election on the issue.
That’s according to Paddy McGuinness, the leading activist behind the establishment of GMIT’s Castlebar campus in 1994. McGuinness himself stood as a single-issue candidate campaigning for the opening of the campus in a by-election earlier in 1994 caused by the appointment of Padraig Flynn as an EU Commissioner. McGuinness was not elected but his strong showing was central to Beverley Flynn’s failure to be elected and Michael Ring’s taking of the seat.
Now, 23 years on, McGuinness argues a similar situation could repeat itself. Last week GMIT management informed staff at the campus and local councillors of plans to cut four courses at the campus.
McGuinness described the news as ‘a source of great concern to me’, and he has called for political intervention.
“GMIT in Castlebar’s original provision was a political decision, and its saving and advancement will be a political decision,” Mr McGuinness told The Mayo News. “Its safekeeping will never come from a Department [of Education] official. Political will is what will have to come in to secure GMIT Castlebar.
“I’d call on political parties to take ownership of it and not leave it to individuals as it was before. I do know that if Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin are found wanting here, there are certainly one or two people willing to run on the issue. It is a fuse waiting to be lit. People will go mad if the future of the campus is in doubt,” he added.
He said he would ‘certainly not’ run himself but welcomed plans for an ‘inclusive’ public meeting on the issue.
“There are signs of a united front. Lisa Chambers (Fianna Fáil TD) is organising a public meeting, and she seems to want it to be all-inclusive. That is to be welcomed. This needs to be above politics.
“I think if it is given proper support, I’d have no fear at all for GMIT in Castlebar. It is a wonderful development for the region but it is not getting fair play at all,” he added.
Mr McGuinness said it is unclear whether management at GMIT in Galway want to downgrade the Castlebar campus or secure it.
“Going on evidence heretofore, there is no great signal of any commitment from Galway to the development of the Mayo campus. There are many instances to support the argument to the contrary,” he said, citing examples of the Galway campus being prioritised for funding over the Castlebar campus.
Mr McGuinness also argued that while there has been talk of new courses in Castlebar, those courses could have been rolled out to coincide with the announcement of the culling of four courses – Business, Heritage Studies, Building Management and Digital Media – last week.
Meanwhile one of the people behind a campaign to save GMIT in Castlebar has called on people in the town to do all they can to attend a public meeting on the future of the campus next week.
Martin Corcoran, himself a former student at GMIT Castlebar, is behind the Facebook page Save Castlebar GMIT which has already attracted close to 1,000 likes within a week of being set up.
The public meeting, called for by Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers, is due to take place at the TF Hotel, Castlebar at 7.30pm on Friday, March 10.
“I’m calling for support for this meeting. It is the most meaningful way you can support the future of GMIT, by turning up. It will not be a Fianna Fáil gig, Lisa is open minded on that. Political parties can park their flags at the gate,” Mr Corcoran told The Mayo News.
He graduated from GMIT’s Business course in 2009 and set up the Facebook page with a group of former students. He said they felt compelled to do something.
“We said we’d have to stand up. We want future generations to have the college. We can’t stand by and let this happen. The campus has been downgraded gradually over the years and these courses being pulled is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
Mr Corcoran told The Mayo News many members of staff and the Students’ Union in the college have expressed their support for their campaign and added that ‘I’ve never seen the town of Castlebar so united behind something’.
“Mayo County Council, Enda Kenny and (Minister for Education and Skills) Richard Bruton need to intervene to give us a fair share and the opportunity to develop in Mayo.
“It is an ideal opportunity for Enda Kenny in the winter of his political career to step up and leave a legacy,” Mr Corcoran added.
Deputy Lisa Chambers expressed concerns about the impact the cutting of the four courses would have on the range of options in GMIT Castlebar and its long-term future.
“It is vitally important for the future sustainability of the campus that a broad range of courses are offered across all major fields. There appears to be a strong focus on care courses such as nursing and social care, which are very successful, but we cannot forget our business and IT courses. We must cater for as many prospective students as possible otherwise we will see a gradual downgrading of the campus over time,” she said.
Meanwhile in a letter to the Governing Body of GMIT, seen by The Mayo News, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne has urged the body to reject plans to cut courses at the Castlebar campus.
The Mayo News understands a priority motion demanding that courses are not culled and demanding adequate funding for the Castlebar Campus will be tabled at the start of next Monday’s meeting of Mayo County Council. Support for GMIT Castlebar was also expressed by Cllr Tereasa McGuire at yesterday’s monthly meeting of the West Mayo Municipal District.