Wednesday, 4 May 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. F. McGrath: This is an important matter regarding Coláiste Mhuire Training College, Marino. As a teacher, parent, taxpayer and Deputy for the area, I have major concerns about recent developments in the college. I express my solidarity and support for the former president of the college, Caoimhe Máirtín, one of the top educationalists on the island and a woman of ability, professionalism and great integrity who cares passionately about education. The bottom line is that Caoimhe Máirtín was bullied out of the college which leaves serious questions to be answered by the college governors and trustees.
It saddens me to raise this issue as I care deeply about primary education. I must, however, stop the rot when an issue of this nature reaches the educational and political agenda. This is a story of bullying, intimidation and psychological abuse and of a top college of education being severely damaged by a group of people who have put the college in complete disarray.
The issue also involves €4.2 million of taxpayers’ money and raises the urgent need for accountability. Under the rules of the 1996 instruments of governance two separate bank accounts should have been created. Serious questions arise regarding the use of conference funds and strong evidence is available in this regard. The three core issues, therefore, are bullying and intimidation, damage to a top quality college and accountability for public funds. The staff, students and many others with an interest in education are telling the trustees and governors that an inquiry, openness and, above all, accountability are required.
I also have major concerns about the role of persons from outside the education sector. I have heard complaints that a governor from Treasury Holdings informed others that they were sitting on 43 acres of prime real estate. I have also heard that in July 2004 the president of the college was hunched over and crying having been abused by governors. These serious issues must be tackled head on and must not be swept under the carpet. Hard questions must be answered. I cannot tolerate a top quality educationalist being abused and shafted for asking difficult questions.
I thank and commend Brother Rory Geoghegan and others for speaking out about the treatment of staff at the college. He, too, suffered the consequences when he was moved to Africa. I call on the Minister for Education and Science and the Government to sort out this matter, which relates not only to a president of a college being bullied out of a job but to education, students, teachers, staff and public money. It is time for action and change.
Ms Enright: Neither the Minister for Education and Science nor the Government can wash their hands of this matter. Coláiste Mhuire Marino receives substantial Exchequer funding, taxpayers’ money, which amounted to several million euro last year alone. The Minister has a duty to ensure this money is spent for the purpose for which it was provided, namely, primary teacher training. Serious questions have been raised in this regard and must not be left unanswered.
Ongoing unhappiness with the manner in which Coláiste Mhuire Marino is governed culminated in the resignation of Caoimhe Máirtín. Staff and students have been affected by the problem and some governors have gone so far as to resign. The institution, which is about to celebrate its centenary, has served our education system well. Unless the Minister takes steps to address this matter the problem can only escalate.
I understand that the issue behind the recent settlement involving Ms Máirtín related to bullying and procedures involved therein and that three other grievance procedures related to bullying behaviour by former or current members of the board of governors are progressing. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to have this matter investigated.
Who will pay the costs of the recent settlement and the legal fees arising on both sides therefrom? Will the Minister of State assure the House that none of these costs will be paid through Exchequer funding which is supposed to be spent on primary teacher training? I am disappointed the Minister or either of the Ministers of State in her Department are not present to address this matter. Will the Minister of State indicate whether an external audit has ever taken place in the college? If so, when did the most recent audit take place?
It is important that answers are given on this issue. Excuses which have been used about employer-employee relationships do not have a bearing on this matter, nor do they go to its heart. Much more is involved and I call on the Minister to ensure the matter is investigated immediately.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern): I will respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, who unfortunately cannot be present this evening because she is abroad on official business.
As Deputies are aware, the president of Coláiste Mhuire Marino, Ms Caoimhe Máirtín, resigned from her position on Friday, 29 April. It is understood the resignation relates to reported difficulties at Coláiste Mhuire in connection with the employee-employer relationship between the head of Coláiste Mhuire Marino and her employers, the Marino Institute of Education. It is always regrettable when employee-employer difficulties cannot be resolved and an individual leaves his or her employment in such circumstances.
Coláiste Mhuire Marino and the Marino Institute of Education are privately owned entities, the college being a constituent part of the Institute of Education. As the matters surrounding the resignation concern the employee-employer relationship between the president and her employers, the role for the Department of Education and Science is limited. The Department does not have a role in employee-employer relations of this kind.
Given that the circumstances surrounding the departure of Ms Máirtín have been subject to legal proceedings, it is considered that it is not appropriate for the Department to comment on them and, accordingly, I will not make any comment on them.
Mr. N. Ahern: Coláiste Mhuire Marino is one of five privately owned denominational colleges of education recognised by the Department of Education and Science for the purpose of training primary teachers. The Department funds Coláiste Mhuire Marino on a per student basis as certified annually by the college president. It is estimated that some €5 million will be allocated to the college in 2005. It is important to note that the Department is not prescriptive in how this money is spent by the college. It prescribes only that, in accordance with regulations governing all public expenditure, the moneys are spent in accordance with the purposes for which they are allocated, in this case teacher training.
Coláiste Mhuire Marino and the Froebel College of Education are funded on a per student basis. The Church of Ireland College, Rathmines and the two colleges of education for home economics, St. Catherine’s College, Blackrock and St. Angela’s College, Sligo, are funded on a budget basis, which involves the colleges submitting annual returns and financial projections for agreement by the Department.
It is understood the accounts of Coláiste Mhuire Marino and the Marino Institute of Education are audited by a private sector auditor. This is a common practice for privately owned third level institutions. As Coláiste Mhuire Marino receives public funding for teacher training, Deputies should also note that its annual accounts may be subjected to an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. This position is similar to his role vis-à-vis many other bodies and agencies in receipt of public funds.
As matters stand, there is no information to suggest that any part of the funding provided to Coláiste Mhuire Marino for the training of teachers was not used for that intended purpose. If anyone has any information to the contrary, it should be forwarded to the Department of Education and Science for immediate consideration and investigation, if necessary. It would be a matter of grave concern to the Minister if funding provided to Coláiste Mhuire Marino was not used for the training of teachers.
The Department of Education and Science has confirmed that it has received some correspondence from Brother Rory Geoghegan, a Christian Brother who formerly taught in Coláiste Mhuire Marino. This correspondence was received last Friday, 29 April and is under consideration. I assure Deputies it is being treated as important and urgent. The correspondence raises a number of issues concerning the management and operation of Coláiste Mhuire Marino and its relationship with Marino Institute of Education, in particular staffing matters and apparent interpersonal issues. Given the nature of the correspondence, it is not appropriate to discuss the contents of the letter. The correspondence has been passed to the trustees of Marino Institute of Education with a request that they provide their response to the issues raised by Brother Geoghegan.
The importance and urgency of the matter have been emphasised to the trustees. The issues involved internal matters concerning the relationship between Coláiste Mhuire Marino and Marino Institute of Education, a number of which relate to employee-employer relationships. As mentioned previously in regard to the president of Coláiste Mhuire, the Department of Education and Science cannot have a role in the individual employer-employee relationships of a privately owned third level institution such as Coláiste Mhuire. A similar position will also apply in the case of Brother Geoghegan, given that he has been employed in Coláiste Mhuire as an employee of Marino Institute of Education.
A meeting has been scheduled for next week between officials in the Department of Education and Science and the trustees of Marino Institute of Education. At that meeting a number of matters relating to the resignation of Ms Máirtín and Brother Geoghegan’s correspondence will be discussed. At this stage I do not wish to pre-empt the discussions between the Department and the Marino Institute of Education trustees by dwelling on the matter any further but I assure the Deputies that the Minister for Education and Science is well aware of the concerns in regard to the resignation of Ms Caoimhe Máirtín, president of the college, and the issues surrounding the resignations are being treated as urgent. The Minister will be better informed after the meeting next week and able to comment further.
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