Wednesday, 8 March 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. O'Toole: Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus buíochas a ghabháil léi as ucht plé leis an díospóireacht atrátha seo í féin. Táim thar a bheith buíoch di. Tá an t-ábhar seo idir lámha agam féin agus ag an Seanadóir Fitzgerald mar gheall ar go mbaineann sé le Daingean Uí Chúis, ár bparóiste féin. Is iad atá i gceist againn anseo ná traidisiún na Gaeilge agus cultúr na tíre. Dár linne, is scannalach an rud é go bhfuil sé ar intinn anois an scoil seo a dhúnadh. Tá Coláiste Íde ar an Daingean níos faide ama ná mar atá cuimhne agamsa air. I cannot remember how long it was there or when it was established. Ag éirí aníos dúinne, ba chuid de shaol an Daingin agus saol an pharóiste Coláiste Íde. Níos mó ná aon rud eile, bhí an-bhaint aige le múinteoirí na tíre seo. Bheadh a fhios ag an Aire féin go ndeachaigh a lán de na cailíní a d'fhág Coláiste Ide isteach sa bhunmhúinteoireacht go mórmhór. Chuaigh a lán de mo chlann go dtí an coláiste seo. In a lán slite. ó thaobh bhunoideachas na tíre seo de. d'fhéadfá a rá le fírinne gurb é Coláiste Íde foinse na Gaeilge dóibh siúd a chuaigh isteach sna coláistí oiliúna agus astu sin amach  go dtí na scoileanna. Is ó na múinteoirí sin a d'fhoghlaim aos óg na tíre seo a lán dá gcuid Gaeilge. Mar gheall air sin, is feall é anois nach bhfuil aon todhchaí ag an scoil seo. Cuireann sé sin isteach go mór ormsa agus cuireann sé isteach go mór ar muintir na h-áite. Is deacair do dhaoine nach ón áit iad tuiscint a bheith acu ar an suíomh aláinn atá ag an gcoláiste seo: tá sé ar imeall Chuan an Daingin. Is scoil í a bhfuil clú agus cáil uirthi leis na cianta. An rud a ritheann trí mo aigne — agus is cuimhin leis an Aire é — ná an deacracht a bhí agamsa le mná rialta an bhliain seo caite thall i Milltown nuair a chuadar chun scoil agus suíomh a dhíol agus fuaireadar na milliúin punt.
Coláiste Íde is situated on the edge of Dingle harbour looking across to the town. This extraordinary, beautiful location was chosen by Lord Ventry as his family home. It is an ideal location for some sort of commercial enterprise and I am worried about that. I suppose I can say things other people cannot.
I am unhappy and disappointed that the order of nuns was not prepared to keep faith with the local people. They had an agreement with the local people, Cáirde Coláiste Íde, who wished to take over the running of the school. They are prepared to do for the school what another local community did for Tourmakeady College. Incidentally the O'Toole side of my family are very much part and parcel of that project in Tourmakeady, County Mayo, and were involved in taking over the college which is now being run successfully. We believe this can also be done in Coláiste Íde.
I realise this topic is coming on the Minister suddenly and neither myself nor Senator Fitzgerald expect her to have an answer to it tonight. We ask her to take a personal interest in it, to intervene and try to make budget support available for the continuation of what is, as far as I know, the only all Irish girls boarding school in the State. It is an important part of our tradition and we should protect it. I know the Minister  has an interest in Gaeilge and she has always been supportive of such initiatives. It is something special and precious.
In a lán slite d'fhéadfadh an scoil seo bheith ina sheoid do mhúineadh trí Ghaeilge ar an oileán ar fad. Ba mhaith liom dá gcuirfeadh an tAire áirgead ar fáil do Cháirde Choláiste Íde. This would enable them to take over the running of the school and continue the proud traditions that have looked after generations of primary school teachers and their children. I know children from Dublin who went down there and loved the location and the place. There will be many tears shed if this is not continued. I ask the Minister, on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Dingle and Cáirde Coláiste Íde, to intervene.
Mr. Fitzgerald: Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire ós rud go bhfuil sí anseo í féin chun an rún seo a phlé. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir O'Toole as ucht cuid dá am a thabhairt dom chun mo chás a chur in iúl: chun Coláiste Íde a choimeád ar oscailt agus, b'fhéidir, airgead a fháil chun é a choimeád ar oscailt. Ba mhaith liom a rá freisin go bhfuilim in aon ghuth leis an Seanadóir O'Toole mar gheall ar Choláiste Íde. Gach rud atá ráite aige mar gheall ar Choláiste Íde, aontaím leis.
I thank the Minister for coming here in person to hear what we have to say. I agree with Senator O'Toole's comments. I do not expect a full answer from the Minister tonight. As we speak, a public meeting is being held in the Hillgrove Hotel in Dingle about the closure of Coláiste Íde.
In October 1993 the Superior General announced that Coláiste Íde would close in July 1996. Last November at the annual general meeting of the parents and friends of Coláiste Íde an ad hoc committee of 12 people was established to try to keep the school open. Something had to be done to maintain continuity so that those who registered in 1995 could complete their school term to 1997. This committee was met with  open arms by the Superior General of the Mercy Convent who seemed open to its suggestions. She encouraged the people in their work and she advised them on obtaining a manager to run the school.
A few weeks ago they held another meeting after discussions with the Department of Education. They have the full support of Roinn na Gaeltachta, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the local canon in Dingle, An tAthar Ó Fiannachta, who is a great Gaelgeoir and a former Dean of Maynooth College. Last week they were devastated when they were told that their proposal was no good and that the school would close in 1996. Senator O'Toole, like myself, was born and reared in Dingle for many years. He knows that this school is part of the Dingle Peninsula and of the Gaeltacht. Girls from all over Ireland got a good education there because it was an extremely good college.
I ask the Minister to intervene and perhaps meet the ad hoc committee to discuss its views and proposals because it would be a shame if the college closed. I know it is difficult for the Minister to make a decision about this matter now, but decisions must be made in the next two or three months in the interests of continuity. No one will check into a boarding school at the end of 1995 if they will only be there for a year because they will want to finish their education.
This is an institution owned and managed by the Mercy Order of Nuns. In 1990 the Mercy Order took the decision to withdraw at the end of 1995-96 and it cited a shortage of religious personnel as the reason for this decision. At that  stage the Mercy nuns had hoped and had indicated to people that they expected this school to continue in operation after 1996, under a different management. However, in 1993 the Order informed the Department that, despite protracted discussions with different groups regarding a future alternative management structure, no satisfactory proposal had been received. Accordingly, the Mercy Order announced that it had decided to close the school in 1996.
In late 1993 Cáirde Choláiste Íde was formed by parents of pupils in the school with the aim of keeping the school open after 1996. Officials of the Department met with a deputation representing the group in March 1994. The Department's position was set out at the meeting; the Minister and the Department had to be satisfied as to the suitability of any arrangements made for the management of the school following the withdrawal of the Mercy Order from trusteeship and management. Accordingly, it would be necessary to submit to the Department detailed proposals dealing with such matters as accommodation, management and future development. Given the unique position of Coláiste Íde as the only all-Irish boarding school for girls remaining in the State, it was indicated to the group that any such proposals would be given detailed consideration. However, it was also stressed to the group that, as owners of the school, the Mercy Order's agreement to any such proposals would have to be secured. In the event that management and ownership of the school did satisfactorily transfer to a new body, it would, of course, become eligible to receive the normal grant aid available from the Department for recognised secondary schools.
No detailed proposals have been submitted to the Department to date. However, I understand that Cáirde Choláiste Íde did submit proposals to the Mercy Order regarding the future running of the school. The Order has now informed the Department that it does not consider these proposals to be  feasible and that it is proceeding with its original decision to close the school in 1996. As Coláiste Íde is a voluntary secondary school, that decision is primarily a matter for the owners, the Mercy Order.
While the proposed closure of Coláiste Íde is regrettable, I would point out that school-going children in the Dingle area would not be inconvenienced in that event. They are catered for at  present in two all-Irish post-primary schools in Dingle, the Christian Brothers school for boys and the Presentation secondary school for girls. These two schools are shortly to amalgamate into a co-educational secondary school once a new school building is provided, the planning of which is now under way.
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