Thursday 24 October 2019

'Penniless' priest fights for school pay

Teacher cleared of sex abuse allegations has not got salary since May

Ray Managh and  Aodhan O Faolain

A "PENNILESS" schoolteacher priest, who was cleared by his school board of allegations of sexually abusing a student, has been granted leave by the High Court to challenge a decision of the Minister for Education not to pay him his salary.

Fr Tommy Conroy, of Clonamona, Dranford, Gorey, Co Wexford, is also challenging a decision of Gorey Community School not to re-engage him following administrative leave with pay pending school board inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse made against him by a student.

Barrister Oliver Costello told the High Court yesterday that Fr Conroy had not been paid since the end of May and was now virtually penniless.

Mr Justice Daniel Herbert granted him leave to judicially review both decisions.

Fr Conroy stated in an affidavit that following a full investigation by the school's board of management in October 2012 the board decided he had not engaged in sexual impropriety with the student and no disciplinary action was taken or proposed against him.

He had remained on leave with pay and agreed to a request from the board to undergo a risk assessment which he had completed.

Fr Conroy said during leave of absence he had not received correspondence from the Teaching Council about renewing his certificate to teach. This was sent to the school and not to his home.

Through inadvertence it had lapsed and he had omitted to renew it at the time.

The council had recently refused his application for a renewal and he was currently appealing its decision through its internal appeals process.

DUTIES

Since October last year he had been willing and anxious to resume his teaching duties at the secondary school but the board had refused to allow him to resume pending the reissuing of his teaching certificate.

Fr Conroy, "for the avoidance of doubt", stated there was no disciplinary process in being against him at the behest of either the minister or the board and so far as he was aware none was contemplated. On May 29, 2013, the minister notified the school of his decision to no longer pay his salary and he had been without income since. He believed the decision to be in breach of fair procedures and natural justice.

Mr Costello told the court he believed the minister had acted in excess of his powers and submitted there was evidence of teachers being allowed to teach while not holding a valid teaching certificate.

He said the matter of the certificate may have been used as a smokescreen to prevent Fr Conroy from taking up his duties again. His solicitor had an apprehension that other forces were at play that were not the ones being advanced.

The minister had attached no or inadequate weight to the fact that the board investigation had cleared Fr Conroy of the substantive allegations against him and, while no disciplinary action had been taken or proposed, the minister, by stopping his salary, was effectively imposing a disciplinary sanction against him.

Irish Independent

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