Calling an apple an orange

County View

County View
John Healy

Had they not been alerted to the great news by that bells-and-whistles announcement, the good citizens of Castlebar would have been totally unaware that they woke up one recent morning to find they were living in a university town.
Nothing seemed to be any different from the day before, or from the day before that, except that the triumvirate of Connacht Institutes of Technology seemed well pleased with themselves to deliver the shimmering good news to the county town.
Alas, you can call an apple an orange as many times as you like, it still remains an apple. And unless the honeyed promise of the academic paradise just around the corner is backed up in dates and times and specifics, we would be well advised not to hold our breath.
It took Cllr Donna Sheridan to challenge whether the news of the new technological university for Castlebar was simply a rebranding exercise, where only the name would change. A review of the history of the Mayo campus since it opened 27 years ago would suggest that, unless there is some new commitment, things won’t change all that much.
As Cllr Sheridan correctly pointed out, the number of CAO courses now on offer at Castlebar has been drastically reduced since 1994. Where, ten years ago, the campus could offer course choices over seven disciplines, the prospectus is being reduced now to the two areas of nursing and social care.
It is a regression that confirms the widely held belief that the Mayo campus has always been the poor relation of Galway, without the autonomy to make its own decisions, and living on the crumbs from the Galway table.
It took street protests in Castlebar four years ago to stave off what looked like the campus closure, when 15 staff members lost their jobs and five courses were axed and transferred to Galway. More recently, there was the farcical situation where a leaking roof meant that, for the 12 months until it was repaired, a collection of buckets was required to catch the rainwater pouring down on the lecture hall.
And then, there was the long-requested allocation of a minibus to the campus to facilitate student field trips, but with the proviso that it could only be used one day a week.
More recently, students returning to continue their business studies course were stunned to be told that the course had been cancelled and had been transferred to Galway.
Perhaps it was a case of complacency setting in when the battle for a Mayo RTC seemed to have been won, but our public representatives fell asleep at the wheel while the nest was being robbed.
Bizarrely, not one elected Mayo councillor sits on the 18-member governing body of GMIT (in contrast with our neighbours, who have several councillors on the body). Even more bizarrely, that situation has been met with passive acceptance by Mayo County Council right from day one.
Those familiar with the long struggle to secure an RTC for Mayo are aware that it was driven by people power and not by sustained political impetus. There was no shortage, of course, of political band-waggoning, but it came only after the fuse had been well and truly lit by the tenacious Paddy McGuinness, and the purposeful teams of ordinary citizens all over Mayo who supported him.
The past is the past, and what is now needed is meaningful Mayo representation on the governing board of the new Technological University. Mayo needs to be at the centre of the decision making, ensuring that our voice is heard and demanding that the Castlebar campus be given its rightful place.
Otherwise, the apple will still remain an apple.