Dublin primary school transfers from Catholic patronage as Archbishop commits to continuing process

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: PA

Katherine Donnelly

Another primary school is transferring from Catholic patronage to multi-denominational ethos.

St Enda’s NS, in Dublin’s south east inner city, will become a community national school (CNS) in September.

It will be the first community national school to operate under the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.

The 137-pupil, co-educational school is in Whitefriar Street, and is affiliated to the Carmelite Community Centre and Whitefriar Street Church.

The transfer is happening under the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity Process, which aims to offer choice in areas where there is little or no multi-denominational provision.

This is a Department of Education initiative, which, in collaboration with bishops, has been working with a number of school communities around the country over the past year.

But progress has been slow and, recently, a move to transfer one of three Catholic primary schools in Raheny, in north Dublin, floundered because of opposition from parents and staff.

But the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Farrell, today indicated a strong commitment to continuing to seek the transfer of schools under his patronage to multi-denominational ethos.

Welcoming the St Enda’s announcement, Dr Farrell said it came with his “full approval and agreement”.

In a broader comment, Dr Farrell confirmed his support for the reconfiguration of patronage within the archdiocese “in order to reflect the growing diversity of Irish society”.

Dr Farrell, who is patron of all Catholic primary schools in the archdiocese, said he looked forward to continuing cooperation with the Department of Education in order to bring this about.

“Much has been learnt from the existing process which can now be built on. As has been shown, there are no easy solutions to a complex situation - consensus is vital,” he said.

Dr Farrell said he, along with the other Catholic patrons, would continue to work with the department to identify remaining barriers to the building of that consensus.

“This includes reassuring Catholic parents that their choice of a school with a Catholic patronage and ethos will continue to be secured and facilitated within the education system,” he said.

The Carmelite Order has been involved as trustees of St Enda’s from its foundation in 1894.

Fr Michael Troy Prior Provincial, Irish Province of Carmelites, said faith formation classes and religious instruction in preparation for the sacraments, for families and pupils of the new school who desire it, will be co-ordinated and provided by Whitefriar Street parish.

He said St Enda’s had “a very bright future” and “it will continue to flourish within the local community”.

Efforts to reduce the dominance of the Catholic Church in primary education have been under consideration for more than decade.

More than eight in 10 of about 3,100 primary schools are Catholic and since 2012 only about a dozen have transferred from Catholic patronage.

The Programme for Government commits to having at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030, an increase from 5pc of 13pc.

In an effort to invigorate the process Education Minister Norma Foley launched the current initiative a year ago, and it has involved the use of one of a number of independent facilitators to help school communities to arrive at a decision.

Parents, staff and the board of management are all consulted about a switch in patronage and, where that is agreed, their preference for a new patron.

Following the consultation at St Enda’s, the patron notified the department of his intention to hand over the school and the department decided that patronage should be transferred to City of Dublin ETB, with the school becoming a CNS.

Ms Foley said the transfer of patronage of St Enda’s marked another important moment in the reconfiguration for diversity process.

She thanked the patron and trustees and the St Enda’s school community for their “positive, constructive engagement in the process”.

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) general secretary Paddy Lavelle said the school would join the CNS family, along with at least one other primary school, in September 2023.

“I have no doubt that many more primary schools in the City of Dublin ETB geographical region will choose to become a CNS in the future,” he said.

While the department has indicated a preference for schools that transfer to become community national schools, other patron bodies offering multi-denominational education may also canvass for support.

Today’s announcement brings to 13 the number of new community national schools established in the context of a transfer from a different ethos, mainly the Catholic Church.

In addition in 2021, an Irish-medium gaelscoil transferred patronage from its Catholic patron to An Foras Pátrúnachta and offers junior infants the choice of an ethics and morality programme or a Catholic programme.

Separately, another gaelscoil under the patronage of An Foras Pátrúnachta changed to a multi-denominational ethos, on a phased basis from September 2022.