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Castlebar campus should have parity of esteem – McGuinness

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SPEAKING OUT  Paddy McGuinness speaking at a public meeting on the future of GMIT in the TF Hotel last Friday night. Also at the top table were meeting organiser Lisa Chambers, TD; Wilson Bird, Castlebar Chamber of Commerce and former student Celine King.  Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Áine Ryan

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny may be more concerned with bowls of shamrock this week but his old friend, and former Fine Gael councillor, Paddy McGuinness hopes he will ensure the future of GMIT’s Castlebar campus during the final days of his leadership.
Speaking to The Mayo News last night, in the aftermath of Friday’s public meeting organised by Fianna Fáil TD, Lisa Chambers, Mr McGuinness reiterated his belief that the issue was ‘a fuse waiting to be lit’.
“The people of County Mayo are unbelievably loyal to the RTC [as it was originally called] and it is important to remember that back in 1994 they were prepared to ignore party-political loyalty when I went forward as a single-issue candidate,” Mr McGuinness said.
He urged that the candidates in the next General Election – which, he believes ‘is not too far away’ – should refuse to accept their party nominations unless there is a promise to secure the Mayo campus’s future.
“It’s time to give the Mayo campus parity of esteem with its own funding, just like the ITs in Galway, Sligo and Donegal. They can then work as clusters when it makes sense for increased efficiencies,” he said.
Mr McGuinness was referring to a HEA (Higher Education Authority) review carried out by the ESRI (Economic and Social research Institute) which proposed the regional clustering of  institutes of technology.   
Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, who also attended the meeting, said last night that ‘the sustainability of the Mayo campus is a political decision’.
“It can only reach its full potential by ring-fencing capital investment and multi-annual funding. It is clear that autonomy of decision-making must be held by those who fully understand the importance of the Mayo campus to education, employment and viability of Mayo as a county. I and Sinn Féin are fully committed to securing the future of the Mayo campus and this will be reflected in our manifesto,” Ms Conway-Walsh said.
She added: “As someone who pursued third-level education as an adult learner, I believe it is imperative that the opportunity continues to be available within Mayo.”

Funding deficit
LAST Friday’s meeting was told that the Castlebar campus of GMIT was scheduled to lose five courses for the new academic year and is running at a deficit of some €2 million. Addressing the meeting, Deputy Chambers acknowledged that Dr Fergal Barry, GMIT President, had assured her there were no plans to downgrade the Castlebar campus, but, however, the question must be asked if ‘the Mayo campus was shouldering cuts to support other IT campuses?’
Ms Chambers confirmed she had ensured the ratification of Mr Seán Purcell, the Chief Executive of Mayo-Sligo-Leitrim Education and Training Board, onto the board of GMIT. His nomination had been with the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, for the past 18 months, it emerged.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Senators Michelle Mulherin, Paddy Burke and John O’Mahony confirmed they had met with the Minister Richard Bruton to highlight the issues. Ms Mulherin said he plans to visit the campus later in March and, moreover, that the Government was committed to the future  growth of the campus.  
Last May the TUI members of the staff at GMIT threatened to take strike action if Government didn’t restore its core funding and agree a five-year investment strategy to ensure GMIT is in a position to enhance its regional and rural provision as a multi-campus. An emergency meeting held the previous week called on Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, to immediately restore the €2m budget cut of 2014-2015. This cut added to a 40 percent core funding cut between 2008 and 2014.

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