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'Breakdown of trust' led to sacking of school head

THE board of management, parents' committee and patron body of the all-Irish inter-denominational school at the centre of a row over religious education yesterday defended the decision to sack the principal.

Susan Power chairperson of the board of management at Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg, Dunboyne, Co Meath insisted Tomas O Dulaing had not been dismissed because of religion and that it was "a clear issue of who's managing the school".

Lorcan Mac Gabhann, cathaoirleach of the patron body, An Foras Patrunachta, said Mr O Dulaing did not have the authority to take the position he adopted and there had been a "complete breakdown of trust and confidence" between the employer and employee.

Grainne Kelly, chairperson of the Parents' Committee insisted that the board of management and the patron body had done the right thing because Mr O Dulaing together with a small group of parents sought to impose their interpretation of how interdenominational religious policy should be enforced in the school.

"What Tomas O Dulaing wanted to do was to segregate Catholic children after school while at the same time advocating that he didn't want to have Church of Ireland/protestant children segregated in the classroom. That's not what the parents signed up to," she said.

Meanwhile, INTO general secretary John Carr called on Education Minister Noel Dempsey to set up a Forum on Interdenominational Education to examine the rights of parents, the responsibilities of teachers, the competing rights of churches, changing demographics and the implications for schools of legislation such as the Equal Status Act.

Pending the outcome, he said no more interdenominational schools should be established (three are due to open in September) and a replacement principal teacher in Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg should not be sanctioned.

The dispute arose over whether the teaching of doctrine to pupils preparing for the Sacrament of Communion should take place in school hours, in the presence of Church of Ireland pupils as directed by the patron body, or outside schools hours, as proposed by Mr O Dulaing.

Mr O Dulaing said last night that the issue was not about teaching religion at school, but dealing with doctrinal areas of difference.

He said that schools had choices legally as to how they would fulfill their ethos and it was only a particular subjective viewpoint which says that all religion must be taught within school hours.

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But Mr Mac Gabhann, also chairperson of a board of management at a Gaelscoil in Kilternan, Co Dublin, said that "what inter-denominational means is bringing together people based on differences, not on common ground.

"So 95p was common, and what the principal in this case wanted to do was to run away from the difference; he wanted to cover the differences up. Parents send their children to these schools to be exposed to differences, not to run away from them."

He challenged the level of support among parents for Mr O Dulaing. An ad hoc parents group, operating outside the Parents' Committee, claimed that the majority of parents backed the principal.

He said An Foras was a secular body, and not, as had been suggested in some quarters, "a right wing Catholic organisation.

Mr Mac Gabhann also confirmed that one member of the 12-member body, Eamonn O Murchu, had resigned as a consequence of the decision.

The president and vice-president of the Gaelscoileanna organisation are members of the board, seven are elected from Gaelscoil communities and three are representatives of multi-denominational, inter-denominational and denominational education, respectively.

Mr McGabhann said that An Foras had employed a facilitator "at great cost to ourselves" to help resolve the issue, but said they would have to discuss his report before publishing it.

The Department of Education and Science says it cannot intervene in disciplinary matters and says it is a matter for a patron body to decide on a school's ethos.

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