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Councillor blocks school

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DECISION TO BE MADE An Bord Pleanála will now make a decision on whether or not an Educate Together school can be situated in Marsh House in Castlebar. Pic: Google Maps

Frank Durcan objecting to Castlebar Educate Together school

Áine Ryan

ITS opening has already been delayed by a year, and now a Castlebar councillor has dubbed Educate Together as ‘elitist’ and objected to the establishment of a school in the county town’s former municipal building, home to the town council until 2014.
Independent Cllr Frank Durcan has cited 19 objections in his appeal to An Bord Pleanála against Mayo County Council’s recent granting of planning permission to the Minister of Education, Richard Bruton, for the change of use of the protected structure.
The county’s second Educate Together school was due to open at Marsh House at the beginning of September, with some seven pupils already enrolled and numbers projected to grow.
However, Jarlath Munnelly, Educate Together’s regional development officer, confirmed that a temporary school will be opened in another town-centre premises while the planning appeals board deliberates on the objection.
Originally, the multi-denominational and multi-ethnic school was scheduled to open in September 2015 in the former Burren NS. However, at the eleventh hour, it was mired in controversy when the building, divested by the Catholic Church to Educate Together, was deemed not fit for purpose.
The former school, which was closed by the Catholic Church over 20 years ago, is situated five miles from the county town and was in significant disrepair.
Objections
A proposal to lease Marsh House was ratified, subject to amendments, by Castlebar Municipal District last month, and subsequently rubber-stamped by the county council.  Councillors in the district, with the exception of Cllr Durcan, had agreed to lease the building to Educate Together for four years and nine months at a rent of €20,000 per annum.
At the meeting, Independent councillor Frank Durcan said that Educate Together was ‘an elitist group’ and, moreover, that the existing system already educated children irrespective of their creed or colour.
“I don’t understand that an elitist group or another minority group should expect the taxpayers or the people of Ireland to provide schools, teachers and facilities for small minority groups.
I am sincerely of the belief that children who play together outside education should be educated together,” he said.
In the list of objections, sent to the planning-appeals board on August 4, Cllr Durcan claims the granting of planning permission contravenes numerous sections of the town plan.
He claims the there is not enough land around the school, and that there are public rights of way through the grounds that should have been extinguished first.
He also cites a number of health and safety issues relating to a fire hazard and the fact that the building was erected during the 16th century. Another objection was initially lodged with Mayo County Council against the development.
Two years ago, Taoiseach Enda Kenny officiated at the opening of Mayo’s first Educate Together School in Newtownwhite, Ballina. At that opening Mr Kenny remarked on the importance of Irish children being raised ‘in an ethos that gives them a sense of values, principles, ethics, environment, of issues about human rights and humanity’.