Cookstown clergy on fact-finding visit to Maiden City cross Peace Bridge
Both past and present members of the Cookstown and District Clergy Forum recently accepted an invitation to visit Londonderry as part of their ongoing outreach programme.
The group visited a cross- section of churches in the city, as well as crossing the Peace Bridge which was opened in June last year, creating a new pedestrian link between the Cityside and Waterside areas of the city and symbolising a new connection between formerly divided communities.
As part of their outreach policy, members of the Forum had previously visited Christian communities in Bradford, Coventry, Liverpool, London, Walsingham, Glasgow, Iona and Rome; the visit to Londonderry marked the next stage in the programme.
AUSTERITY CHALLENGES SCHOOLS
Education in the Republic has not been spared the swingeing cuts of the recent austerity budget. The decision to cut capitation payments each year for the next four years is uncomfortable at the least and the removal of the minor capital works grant from primary schools will draw a sudden halt to the ongoing improvement of buildings and will lead to the ending of energy conservation measures.
There was relief, however, that the general pupil/teacher ratio is not to be altered in 2012 and the decision to alter detrimentally the ratio affecting the fee- charging schools was well flagged and difficult to resist, as a number of schools had been slow to develop an inclusive policy to enrol children from financially disadvantaged families.
The innocuous phrasing of the Department’s briefing note that phased adjustments to the staffing schedules of schools with four or fewer class teachers would begin, and that the phasing provided the schools concerned with time to consider their future and the potential for amalgamation, is, however, a death knell for rural communities that have seen their fabric of post offices, banks and garda stations steadily reduced and removed.
The collateral damage of these phased adjustments will surely be the destruction of many of the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian national schools – schools that have gone through repeated rationalisations resulting in considerable distances between each unit. The Minister points to the savings in teaching posts that will result from his policy, but fails to mention the increased cost of transport to the remaining central schools or the capital costs of additional classrooms.
The conspiracy theorists may feel that the closures and amalgamations are designed to lead to schools which have co-patronage – joint Roman Catholic and Protestant. This has been described as ‘Educate Together lite’. More realistically, it may be the working out of the McCarthy proposals and the pressures arising from the demands of the European union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund troika. Whatever is the driving philosophy of Minister Quinn, it behoves patrons, parents and boards of management to work together urgently to resist the unravelling of the schools that are the very weft and weave of rural life.
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